(NSF press release 12-034, 22 february 2012) -- Despite brutal cold and lingering darkness, life in the frigid waters off Alaska does not grind to a halt in the winter as scientists previously suspected. According to preliminary results from a National Science Foundation-funded research cruise, microscopic creatures at the base of the Arctic food chain are not dormant as expected. After working aboard the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy for six weeks in waters where winds sometimes topped 70 knots, wind chills fell to -40 degrees and samples often had to be hustled safely inside before seawater froze to the deck, researchers are back in their labs, assembling for the first time a somewhat unexpected picture of how microscopic creatures survive winter in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Although they have much more work to do before publishing their results, they say they are surprised on a number of fronts, including the discovery of active zooplankton--microscopic organisms that drift or wander in ocean, seas or bodies of fresh water. "The zooplankton community seemed to be quite active, said Carin Ashjian of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the chief scientist on the expedition. "They were feeding at low rates. That was a surprise." Ashjian is scheduled to discuss the preliminary results from the cruise during a session at the American Geophysical Union's 2012 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah this week.
Posted 27 February 2012; 10:40:40 PM. Permalink