Phytoplankton research in Arctic may help deal with environmental accidents

Climate Change

Julia Willison | 22/02/12 | Vancouver, Canada

Is melting sea ice contributing to an overall increase in algae levels in Arctic waters?  Marcel Babin, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Remote Sensing of Canada's New Arctic Frontier at the Université Laval, thinks this might be the case. 

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, Canada, Babin explained that “Light is necessary for algae to grow. Less sea ice means more light, which means more algae if there are enough nutrients to support increased production. As the algae are at the basis of the trophic chain, we expect that all these changes will modify the structure of whole communities in marine environments."


Using state-of-the-art satellite remote sensing, Babin's team is developing new ways to track and document environmental changes and create complex computer models of Arctic ecosystems. Phytoplankton is a focus of this research.  "Phytoplankton fuels the whole trophic chain," Babin says. "So the experiments we are doing in the lab and at sea are designed to determine how it—and a number of other key organisms—respond to environmental factors such as temperature, light and nutrients."


By growing phytoplankton in his lab, Babin is able to simulate environmental changes by altering the nutrient, light, and temperature levels in a controlled setting. He then observes and documents the effects these changes have on the phytoplankton. Using these experiments and results, the team is then able to develop models that can be used to predict how ecosystems in the Arctic will be affected by different environmental changes in nature. For more information on Babin’s work, click here

Could such experiments be replicated as an IBSE activity in the classroom?  Let us know what you think.

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