Phytoplankton in the Bellingshausen Sea Off Coast of Antarctica72.2S 81.5W
The Bellingshausen Sea is an area along the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula, between Alexander Island and Thurston Island. It takes its name from Admiral Thaddeus Bellingshausen, who explored in the area in 1821. Here, a faint green phytoplankton bloom is visible in the sea, not far from the icy shores of Antarctica.
Recent scientific research has shown that as the cold, dry climate of the western Antarctic Peninsula becomes warmer and more humid, phytoplankton – the bottom of the Antarctic food chain – is decreasing off the northern part the peninsula and increasing further south. Marine scientists have reported that levels of phytoplankton off the western Antarctic Peninsula, where temperatures have been rising, have decreased 12 percent over the past 30 years.
The reason for the decrease in the North and the increase in the South is that in the North, sea ice cover has become minimum while wind mixing of the waters and the number of cloudy days have both increased. This increase in mixing and cloudiness means less light, which means less photosynthesis and less phytoplankton. In the South there is also less sea ice, but, contrary to in the North, there is also less mixing and fewer clouds, meaning more illuminated waters, more photosynthesis and more phytoplankton.