The Arctic Ocean is changing rapidly but there are no long-term time series observations on the state of the phytoplankton community that could allow a link to be made from physical/chemical pressures to the impact on marine ecosystems. Here, we test the idea that space-for-time (SFT) substitution might predict temporal change in the Canada Basin premised on differences in the present state of phytoplankton in other geographic zones, specifically the ratio in the abundance of picophytoplankton to nanophytoplankton (Pico:Nano). We compared the change in Pico:Nano observed in the Canada Basin from 2004 to 2012 to the different average states of this ratio in 26 other ocean ecological regions. Our results show that as upper ocean nitrate concentration changed in the Canada Basin from year to year, the concomitant change in Pico:Nano was statistically commensurate with the difference that this ratio exhibits between Longhurst ecological provinces in relation to nitrate concentration. Lower average concentration of nitrate in the upper water column is associated with a higher value of Pico:Nano, a result consistent with resource control of phytoplankton size structure in the ocean. We suggest that SFT substitution allows an explanation of temporal progression from spatial pattern as a test of mechanism, but such statistical prediction is not necessarily a projection of future states.