Some 800,000 years ago about the time early human tribes were learning to make fire a tiny species of plankton called Neodenticula seminae went extinct in the North Atlantic.
Today, that microscopic plant has become an Atlantic resident again, having drifted from the Pacific through the Arctic Ocean thanks to dramatically reduced polar ice, scientists report.
The melting Arctic has opened a Northwest Passage across the Pole for the tiny algae. And while it's a food source, it isn't being welcomed back by experts, who say any changes at the base of the marine food web could, like an earthquake, shake or even topple the pillars of existing Atlantic ocean life.
The discovery represents "the first evidence of a trans-Arctic migration in modern times" related to plankton, according to the UK-based Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, whose researchers warn that "such a geographical shift could transform the biodiversity and functioning of the Arctic and North Atlantic marine ecosystems."
The tiny marine plant's migration parallels, near the extreme opposite end of the ecological weigh scale, the arrival last year of a Pacific gray whale spotted off the coasts of Spain and Israel, a species that vanished from the Atlantic three centuries ago, likely because of over-hunting. Scientists believe the ice-reduced Arctic allowed the whale to cross into the North Atlantic, from where it wandered its way to the Mediterranean Sea.
These are among a number of reports about the marine life upheaval underway in the North Atlantic due to climate change, findings being captured and cataloged by project CLAMER, a collaboration of 17 marine institutes in 10 European countries.
The project is synthesizing the results of almost 300 EU-funded climate change-related research projects over 13 years in Europe's oceans and near-shore waters, as well as the Mediterranean, Baltic and Black Seas.
|Contact: Terry Collins|
Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ)