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The Ice Edge Bloom Cometh

Outside, everything looks blah. The water’s gray, the fog is gray, there’s only a few hundred meters of visibility. The bird surveyors say their only hope for entertainment tonight is if orcas show up and start jumping over the bow.

But below the surface, there is excitement. We’ve found the scientists’ big hope for this cruise: an ice edge bloom. An ice edge bloom is a burst of algae growth as the ice melts and recedes, letting sun hit the water for the first time in months. The algae leap into action, cranking up their photosynthetic machinery and turning carbon in the water into new cells. Zooplankton eat some of the algae, and some sinks to the bottom, feeding the animals that live there.

Last year’s cruise didn’t find much of an algae bloom, chief scientist Carin Ashjian told me before we got underway. “We found something, but it wasn’t as dramatic as we wanted last year,” she said. “Perhaps this year we will have better luck.”

The ship came across a bit of a bloom a few days ago. But the weather turned bad and we had to run to the north, leaving that bloom behind. And then we found ourselves in the middle of another bloom.

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