Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Arctic Circle


Microplastics (MP) are recognized as a growing environmental hazard and have been identified as far as the remote Polar Regions, with particularly high concentrations of microplastics in sea ice. Little is known regarding the horizontal variability of MP within sea ice and how the underlying water body affects MP composition during sea ice growth. Here we show that sea ice MP has no uniform polymer composition and that, depending on the growth region and drift paths of the sea ice, unique MP patterns can be observed in different sea ice horizons. Thus even in remote regions such as the Arctic Ocean, certain MP indicate the presence of localized sources. Increasing exploitation of Arctic resources will likely lead to a higher MP load in the Arctic sea ice and will enhance the release of MP in the areas of strong seasonal sea ice melt and the outflow gateways.

Concepts: Canada, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Arctic, Arctic Circle, Arctic shrinkage, Sea ice, Polar ice packs


Fossils attributable to the extinct waterfowl clade Presbyornithidae and the large flightless Gastornithidae from the early Eocene (~52-53 Ma) of Ellesmere Island, in northernmost Canada are the oldest Cenozoic avian fossils from the Arctic. Except for its slightly larger size, the Arctic presbyornithid humerus is not distinguishable from fossils of Presbyornis pervetus from the western United States, and the Gastornis phalanx is within the known size range of mid-latitude individuals. The occurrence of Presbyornis above the Arctic Circle in the Eocene could be the result of annual migration like that of its living duck and geese relatives, or it may have been a year-round resident similar to some Eocene mammals on Ellesmere and some extant species of sea ducks. Gastornis, along with some of the mammalian and reptilian members of the Eocene Arctic fauna, likely over-wintered in the Arctic. Despite the milder (above freezing) Eocene climate on Ellesmere Island, prolonged periods of darkness occurred during the winter. Presence of these extinct birds at both mid and high latitudes on the northern continents provides evidence that future increases in climatic warming (closer to Eocene levels) could lead to the establishment of new migratory or resident populations within the Arctic Circle.

Concepts: Earth, Bird, Canada, Arctic Ocean, Dinosaur, Arctic Circle, Eocene, Latitude


In extreme high-latitude marine environments that are without solar illumination in winter, light-mediated patterns of biological migration have historically been considered non-existent [1]. However, diel vertical migration (DVM) of zooplankton has been shown to occur even during the darkest part of the polar night, when illumination levels are exceptionally low [2, 3]. This paradox is, as yet, unexplained. Here, we present evidence of an unexpected uniform behavior across the entire Arctic, in fjord, shelf, slope and open sea, where vertical migrations of zooplankton are driven by lunar illumination. A shift from solar-day (24-hr period) to lunar-day (24.8-hr period) vertical migration takes place in winter when the moon rises above the horizon. Further, mass sinking of zooplankton from the surface waters and accumulation at a depth of ∼50 m occurs every 29.5 days in winter, coincident with the periods of full moon. Moonlight may enable predation of zooplankton by carnivorous zooplankters, fish, and birds now known to feed during the polar night [4]. Although primary production is almost nil at this time, lunar vertical migration (LVM) may facilitate monthly pulses of carbon remineralization, as they occur continuously in illuminated mesopelagic systems [5], due to community respiration of carnivorous and detritivorous zooplankton. The extent of LVM during the winter suggests that the behavior is highly conserved and adaptive and therefore needs to be considered as “baseline” zooplankton activity in a changing Arctic ocean [6-9]. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

Concepts: Moon, Arctic Ocean, Marine biology, Zooplankton, Plankton, Arctic Circle, Svalbard, Diel vertical migration


BACKGROUND: Prior studies have suggested that the darkness of winter impacts the level of mental distress and sleeping problems. Our study investigated whether people living in the sub-arctic had more sleeping problems or mental distress during winter. METHODS: The cross sectional population Troms[latin small letter o with stroke] Study was conducted in Troms[latin small letter o with stroke], North Norway, at 69.4 degrees North and above the Arctic Circle. The study included entire birth cohorts and random samples of the population aged 30 to 87 years. Data was collected continuously from 1 October 2007 to the end of December 2008 except July. 8951 persons completed questionnaires including the HSCL-10 and the MCTQ. RESULTS: There were no significant differences in the reporting of current mental distress depending on season. Significantly more reported current sleeping problems in winter than in the other seasons, and less sleeping problems was found in spring. CONCLUSIONS: In this sub-arctic population, insomnia was most prevalent in winter, but there were no significant seasonal differences in mental distress. Although some people in the sub-arctic clearly are mentally negatively affected by the darkness of winter, the negative impact of winter on mental distress for the adult population is not conclusive.

Concepts: Season, Norway, Arctic Ocean, Arctic, Spring, Winter, Arctic Circle, Tromsø


Phytoplankton blooms over Arctic Ocean continental shelves are thought to be restricted to waters free of sea ice. Here, we document a massive phytoplankton bloom beneath fully consolidated pack ice far from the ice edge in the Chukchi Sea, where light transmission has increased in recent decades because of thinning ice cover and proliferation of melt ponds. The bloom was characterized by high diatom biomass and rates of growth and primary production. Evidence suggests that under-ice phytoplankton blooms may be more widespread over nutrient-rich Arctic continental shelves and that satellite-based estimates of annual primary production in these waters may be underestimated by up to 10-fold.

Concepts: Canada, Phytoplankton, Arctic Ocean, Plankton, Arctic Circle, Sea ice, Wrangel Island, Bering Strait


We carried out upper air measurements with radiosondes during the summer over the Arctic Ocean from an icebreaker moving poleward from an ice-free region, through the ice edge, and into a region of thick ice. Rapid warming of the Arctic is a significant environmental issue that occurs not only at the surface but also throughout the troposphere. In addition to the widely accepted mechanisms responsible for the increase of tropospheric warming during the summer over the Arctic, we showed a new potential contributing process to the increase, based on our direct observations and supporting numerical simulations and statistical analyses using a long-term reanalysis dataset. We refer to this new process as “Siberian Atmospheric Rivers (SARs)”. Poleward upglides of SARs over cold air domes overlying sea ice provide the upper atmosphere with extra heat via condensation of water vapour. This heating drives increased buoyancy and further strengthens the ascent and heating of the mid-troposphere. This process requires the combination of SARs and sea ice as a land-ocean-atmosphere system, the implication being that large-scale heat and moisture transport from the lower latitudes can remotely amplify the warming of the Arctic troposphere in the summer.

Concepts: Water, Climate, Water vapor, Atmosphere, Arctic Ocean, Troposphere, Arctic Circle, Atmospheric thermodynamics


The loss of Arctic sea ice is a conspicuous example of climate change. Climate models project ice-free conditions during summer this century under realistic emission scenarios, reflecting the increase in seasonality in ice cover. To quantify the increased seasonality in the Arctic-Subarctic sea ice system, we define a non-dimensional seasonality number for sea ice extent, area, and volume from satellite data and realistic coupled climate models. We show that the Arctic-Subarctic, i.e. the northern hemisphere, sea ice now exhibits similar levels of seasonality to the Antarctic, which is in a seasonal regime without significant change since satellite observations began in 1979. Realistic climate models suggest that this transition to the seasonal regime is being accompanied by a maximum in Arctic amplification, which is the faster warming of Arctic latitudes compared to the global mean, in the 2010s. The strong link points to a peak in sea-ice-related feedbacks that occurs long before the Arctic becomes ice-free in summer.

Concepts: Climate, Season, Arctic Ocean, Antarctica, Northern Hemisphere, Arctic Circle, Arctic shrinkage, Sea ice


Arctic sea-ice loss is a leading indicator of climate change and can be attributed, in large part, to atmospheric forcing. Here, we show that recent ice reductions, weakening of the halocline, and shoaling of intermediate-depth Atlantic Water layer in the eastern Eurasian Basin have increased winter ventilation in the ocean interior, making this region structurally similar to that of the western Eurasian Basin. The associated enhanced release of oceanic heat has reduced winter sea-ice formation at a rate now comparable to losses from atmospheric thermodynamic forcing, thus explaining the recent reduction in sea-ice cover in the eastern Eurasian Basin. This encroaching “atlantification” of the Eurasian Basin represents an essential step toward a new Arctic climate state, with a substantially greater role for Atlantic inflows.

Concepts: Climate, Greek loanwords, Canada, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Holocene, Arctic Circle, Arctic shrinkage


Large-scale atmospheric circulation controls the mass and energy balance of the Greenland ice sheet through its impact on radiative budget, runoff and accumulation. Here, using reanalysis data and the outputs of a regional climate model, we show that the persistence of an exceptional atmospheric ridge, centred over the Arctic Ocean, was responsible for a poleward shift of runoff, albedo and surface temperature records over the Greenland during the summer of 2015. New records of monthly mean zonal winds at 500 hPa and of the maximum latitude of ridge peaks of the 5,700±50 m isohypse over the Arctic were associated with the formation and persistency of a cutoff high. The unprecedented (1948-2015) and sustained atmospheric conditions promoted enhanced runoff, increased the surface temperatures and decreased the albedo in northern Greenland, while inhibiting melting in the south, where new melting records were set over the past decade.

Concepts: Greenland ice sheet, Climate, Temperature, Thermodynamics, Gas, Arctic Ocean, Arctic Circle, Greenland


Anthropogenic activities have led to large-scale mercury (Hg) pollution in the Arctic. It has been suggested that sea-salt-induced chemical cycling of Hg (through ‘atmospheric mercury depletion events’, or AMDEs) and wet deposition via precipitation are sources of Hg to the Arctic in its oxidized form (Hg(ii)). However, there is little evidence for the occurrence of AMDEs outside of coastal regions, and their importance to net Hg deposition has been questioned. Furthermore, wet-deposition measurements in the Arctic showed some of the lowest levels of Hg deposition via precipitation worldwide, raising questions as to the sources of high Arctic Hg loading. Here we present a comprehensive Hg-deposition mass-balance study, and show that most of the Hg (about 70%) in the interior Arctic tundra is derived from gaseous elemental Hg (Hg(0)) deposition, with only minor contributions from the deposition of Hg(ii) via precipitation or AMDEs. We find that deposition of Hg(0)-the form ubiquitously present in the global atmosphere-occurs throughout the year, and that it is enhanced in summer through the uptake of Hg(0) by vegetation. Tundra uptake of gaseous Hg(0) leads to high soil Hg concentrations, with Hg masses greatly exceeding the levels found in temperate soils. Our concurrent Hg stable isotope measurements in the atmosphere, snowpack, vegetation and soils support our finding that Hg(0) dominates as a source to the tundra. Hg concentration and stable isotope data from an inland-to-coastal transect show high soil Hg concentrations consistently derived from Hg(0), suggesting that the Arctic tundra might be a globally important Hg sink. We suggest that the high tundra soil Hg concentrations might also explain why Arctic rivers annually transport large amounts of Hg to the Arctic Ocean.

Concepts: Electrochemistry, Climate, Chemical element, Liquid, Mercury, Atmosphere, Arctic Ocean, Arctic Circle