I was in the Zodiac today travelling to Lady Franklin Island. The sun was shining and the air was crisp. The occasional spray from the boat crashing through the waves reminds me that this is a true Arctic environment.
As we approached the steep rock cliffs of Lady Franklin Island, we could see the thousands upon thousands of Thick-billed Murres sitting and nesting along the edges of the cliff. I wondered why there were so many birds in this remote location?
Today, I had a net to collect plankton in the ocean waters. From the Zodiac, I submersed the net and lowered it into the water by two meters. Then, by slowly pulling the net up to the surface, I collected much of the microscope life in that water. The water filtered through the net slowly and as the net got closer to the surface I pulled up hard to find it full of microbes, or what I like to call “microbe soup”.
Back on the ship, some students joined me to examine the samples under a microscope. I was amazed at just how thick with life the sample was. Just one drop of water and I could see how many microbes are in the “soup”. The microscope showed round ones, chains of cells and even pointed cells. These microbes have a wide selection of shapes and forms. It is truly a magical hidden world that we never get to see.
This had me thinking about the Thick-billed Murres I had seen today. Why were there so many? The answer is the productive Food Web in this part of the Arctic. The Murres have an extremely rich supply of marine fish for food. The larger fish are feeding on smaller fish and also the rich animal plankton (zooplankton). The zooplankton is then feeding on the phytoplankton that is capturing the energy from the sun. The phytoplankton “soup” needs sunlight and nutrients to grow and these nutrients are coming from the bottom waters of the ocean.
In this part of the Arctic, the bottom ocean waters are reaching the surface through natural global and regional circulation patterns that bring nutrients to the surface waters and the phytoplankton. It is amazing to be able to document and capture the significance of the Food Web, even in the Arctic. I continually marvel at the importance of the Food Web everywhere we go and this is especially evident and important in the Arctic.