Light-loving algae grow under ice during the dark Arctic winter

Each winter, Baffin Bay freezes over as polar darkness descends over the top of the world.

Come spring, phytoplankton will bloom in these cold waters between Greenland and Canada, bolstering a bustling ecosystem of beluga whales and narwhals (SN: 4/8/20). But scientists have long assumed that the photosynthetic algae remain largely dormant in winter, blocked off from light by thick sea ice and snow.

New research challenges that assumption, however, finding that phytoplankton under the bay’s ice start growing as early as February, when the sun barely blips above the Arctic’s horizon.

Achim Randelhoff, an oceanographer at Université Laval in Quebec City, and colleagues deployed autonomous submersible floats in Baffin Bay that can measure photosynthetic activity and algae concentrations underwater.

In February, when light was barely detectable

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