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Why Arctic warming might be accelerating even faster

Based on mathematical formulae and computer modeling, a research team has discovered that as the Arctic Ocean continues to warm, microscopic phytoplankton populations will increase in numbers. This population explosion will capture ever-more sunlight and this could well accelerate Arctic warming by over 20 percent. Phytoplankton are microscopic marine plants; they are a key food item in both aquaculture and mariculture. Although most are too small to be seen with the naked eye, convergences of phytoplankton can lead to a green discoloration of the water.

The argument is that as the darker-hued ocean water absorbs more sun than the lighter-colored ice. So as the climate warms and more ice melts, more heat is trapped, warming the ocean even more. Adding phytoplankton blooms to the mix, The Scientist notes, makes the situation even more complicated.

In an interview with The Washington Post, the lead researcher behind the study, Jong-Yeon Park of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, said: “Phytoplankton are changing the physical property of the ocean…If there is more phytoplankton in the ocean, then more shortwave radiation, radiant heating appears in the upper ocean, and less sunlight can penetrate into the deeper ocean. So, basically, it can change the vertical distribution of ocean heating.”

The research has been published in the journal PNAS. The research topic is called “Amplified Arctic warming by phytoplankton under greenhouse warming.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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