"Never Could Have Anticipated In A Million Years"
The same year that NASA researchers launched the Icescape expedition to the Arctic -- the project that resulted in NASA's astounding new discovery -- there was a dire report on the world's phytoplankton.
A Canadian team said in the journal Nature, as The Times reported in July 2010, that the world's phytoplankton had been disappearing at a rate of about 1% a year for the previous 100 years.
"A global decline of this magnitude? It's quite shocking," Daniel Boyce, Dalhousie University marine scientist and lead author of the 2010 study, told The Times.
Phytoplankton -- the basis of the marine food chain -- "are key to the whole ecosystem," he said. "In terms of climate changes, the effect on fisheries, we don't know exactly what these effects will be."
Could his latest discovery of a mass of phytoplankton in the Arctic signal a turnaround for this crucial organism?
The jury's out. But it's a question scientists will be pursuing, according to Paula Bontempi, NASA's ocean biology and biogeochemistry program manager in Washington.
"The question becomes, if we take our current finding ... does it change that global picture," she said. "That's one of the things the science team is going to have to look at. ... It most certainly changes what we thought was happening in the Arctic."
Scientists also are looking at what this discovery could mean for global warming.
Phytoplankton are carbon dioxide munchers -- "plants need carbon dioxide," Bontempi said, "the major greenhouse gas." So this would be good news in terms of global warming, yes?