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Checking Out the Bottom Dwellers

The Bering Sea is a cold, cold place, but it’s home to animals from walruses to worms. One of the prime places to find animals at the smaller end of the scale is the muddy bottom of the sea. Scientist Katrin Iken from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks is studying those animals to find out what they eat.

Animals from the bottom are collected, sorted, then frozen on the ship. They live on organic matter that sinks down to the bottom—dead algae and animals, animal waste, and so on. Back in Fairbanks, Iken will analyze the samples to see if the animals are getting more energy from algae that grows in the ice or from phytoplankton that drifts in the water.

As the climate changes, shifts in sea ice should also affect the ice algae. The clams, snails, worms, and crustaceans on the bottom of the sea, in turn, are food for larger animals. If these mud-dwelling creatures get a lot of their energy from the sea ice, a change in ice cover in the Bering Sea could ripple through the ecosystem.

Read on about our adventure in the slideshow below. Can't see the slideshow? Get the Flash plug in »

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