NASA hypes Arctic algal blooms as “unprecedented” but they are common

The NASA headline reads: “NASA Discovers Unprecedented Blooms of Ocean Plant Life.” Within the article we find:

“Scientists have made a biological discovery in Arctic Ocean waters as dramatic and unexpected as finding a rainforest in the middle of a desert. A NASA-sponsored expedition punched through three-foot thick sea ice to find waters richer in microscopic marine plants, essential to all sea life, than any other ocean region on Earth. The finding reveals a new consequence of the Arctic’s warming climate and provides an important clue to understanding the impacts of a changing climate and environment on the Arctic Ocean and its ecology.”

“If someone had asked me before the expedition whether we would see under-ice blooms, I would have told them it was impossible,” said Kevin Arrigo of Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., leader of the ICESCAPE mission and lead author of the new study. “This discovery was a complete surprise.” (See full article here)

Perhaps these NASA scientists should research the scientific literature more carefully. If they did, they might have discovered that Arctic algal blooms are not “unprecedented” or even unusual.

For instance, we have this paper from 1996 reporting on research in 1993:

Occurrence of an algal bloom under Arctic pack ice” by R. Gradinger, Marine Ecology Progress Series, Vol. 131.


“Summer melting of sea ice leads to the formation of under-ice melt ponds in Arctic seas. The biological characteristics of such a pond were studied in summer 1993. The chlorophyte Pyramimonas sp. (Prasinophyceae) formed a unialgal bloom with cell densities of 19.1 thousand cell per ml and a pigment concentration of 29.6 mg per cubic meter. A comparison with ice core data revealed differences in algal biomass and community structure. Physical data indicate that under-ice ponds are a common feature in the Arctic Ocean. Thus, communities within under-ice ponds, which have not been included in production estimates, may significantly contribute to the Arctic marine food web.”

I wonder if the Arizona Daily Star will, in a few days, report NASA’s “unprecedented” discovery just as the Star uncritically reported the last NASA “unprecedented” claim: Greenland “melting” and media hype.


See also:
The Arctic-Antarctic seesaw
Arctic ice reached record low extent in 2012 – or maybe not


  1. From NASA press release
    ‘During the July 2011 Chukchi Sea leg of ICESCAPE, the researchers
    observed blooms beneath the ice that extended from the sea-ice edge to
    72 miles into the ice pack.’

    At this point we don’t know whether these rich phytoplankton blooms have
    been happening in the Arctic for a long time and we just haven’t
    observed them before,”

    From Gradinger Article
    ‘ice thickness at Stn 231 varied between 0.2 and more than 4 m (Fig 1).’

    ‘estimated that the under-ice ponds could cover at least 5 % of the total ice area of the Arctic’

    Do you read this stuff or just look for headlines that support your opinion?

    Stop the hyperbole and division already. Science is not the enemy

    1. Perhaps NASA should get better writers for their press releases, one’s that know the meaning of “unprecedented.”

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