Studying where some of the smallest organisms in the ocean are located can be difficult when they are found beneath the surface. In the late summer and early fall, phytoplankton in the Chukchi Sea are usually found in thin, patchy layers that can only be observed using shipboard surveys. In a collaborative effort between PMEL’s EcoFOCI group and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, scientists were able to map the distribution of subsurface phytoplankton using a novel high-resolution towed instrument platform. A significant fraction of the phytoplankton biomass is contained in these layers, nearly double previous estimates, indicating they are important contributors to the net biomass. The phytoplankton are also affected by the changes in sea water that accompany ice melt. Subsurface phytoplankton found in colder, nutrient-rich water are larger and have more biomass than those found in warmer, nutrient-poor water.
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