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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Global Warming Alters Arctic Food Chain, Scientists Say, With Unforeseeable Result

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The Arctic Ocean may seem remote and forbidding, but to birds, whales and other animals, it’s a top-notch dining destination. “It’s a great place to get food in the summertime, so animals are flying or swimming thousands of miles to get there,” said Kevin R. Arrigo, a biological oceanographer at Stanford University.

But the menu is changing. Confirming earlier research, scientists reported Wednesday that global warming is altering the ecology of the Arctic Ocean on a huge scale. The annual production of algae, the base of the food web, increased an estimated 47 percent between 1997 and 2015, and the ocean is greening up much earlier each year.

These changes are likely to have a profound impact for animals further up the food chain, such as birds, seals, polar bears and whales. But scientists still don’t know enough about the biology of the Arctic Ocean to predict what the ecosystem will look like in decades to come.

While global warming has affected the whole planet in recent decades, nowhere has been hit harder than the Arctic. This month, temperatures in the high Arctic have been as much as 36 degrees above average, according to records kept by the Danish Meteorological Institute…

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