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Arctic and Marine Life: In Winter Darkness, Creatures Stirring

Sep 24, 2015 05:29 PM EDT
The shrimp called Lebbeus polaris on the leaf of a Laminaria species, in far northern Norway
Marine life, seabirds and other creatures are busy in the pitch-dark Arctic night in far northern Norway. What are they doing?
(Photo : Professor Geir Johnsen (NTNU))

It turns out that despite the great and large darkness of the Arctic winter, animals in the region are keeping busy up there. Scientists who spent three winters in a row in Kongsfjorden, Svalbard, Norway, recently published their findings about the wild kingdom's lively doings in the dimly lit north, in the journal Current Biology.

"The dark polar night is not a period without any biological activity [as had been assumed]. Concealed behind the curtain of darkness is a world of activity, beauty, and ecosystem importance," said Jørgen Berge of UiT The Arctic University of Norway and the University Center in Svalbard, in a release.

Seeing the gorgeous luminescence of thousands of blue-green organisms in a Svalbard fjord one night prompted the researchers to pursue the study, said Berge in the release.

The researchers found greater diversity and reproductive action among some species in the winter. One example is that zooplankton such as copepods were reproducing, and Iceland scallops, continued to grow. The team collected time-lapse images of active crabs, amphipods and whelks.

Maybe most notably, seabirds were still able to find their usual foods in the darkness. "We do not know how they are able to do this, and we do not know how common it is for seabirds to overwinter at these latitudes. But we [now] know that they do," noted Berge in the release.

In a time of changing climate and proposed fishing and petroleum activities in the Arctic, Berge said in the release, "We can't simply assume that the dark polar night is a 'safe' period when things are not turned on. Rather, it turns out that the dark polar night is an important period for reproduction in a number of organisms, and, as such, it is probably more sensitive than other parts of the year."

For more information about marine life and climate studies in northern Norway, click here.

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