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A biological consequence of reducing Arctic ice cover: arrival of the Pacific diatom Neodenticula seminae in the North Atlantic for the first time in 800 000 years


Philip (Chris) Reid, The Laboratory, Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, Citadel Hill, Plymouth PL1 2PB, UK, tel. +44 1752 633269, fax +44 0 1752 600015, e-mail:


The Continuous Plankton Recorder survey has monitored plankton in the Northwest Atlantic at monthly intervals since 1962, with an interegnum between 1978 and 1990. In May 1999, large numbers of the Pacific diatom Neodenticula seminae were found in Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) samples in the Labrador Sea as the first record in the North Atlantic for more than 800 000 years. The event coincided with modifications in Arctic hydrography and circulation, increased flows of Pacific water into the Northwest Atlantic and in the previous year the exceptional occurrence of extensive ice-free water to the North of Canada. These observations indicate that N. seminae was carried in a pulse of Pacific water in 1998/early 1999 via the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and/or Fram Strait. The species occurred previously in the North Atlantic during the Pleistocene from∼1.2 to∼0.8 Ma as recorded in deep sea sediment cores. The reappearance of N. seminae in the North Atlantic is an indicator of the scale and speed of changes that are taking place in the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans as a consequence of regional climate warming. Because of the unusual nature of the event it appears that a threshold has been passed, marking a change in the circulation between the North Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans via the Arctic. Trans-Arctic migrations from the Pacific into the Atlantic are likely to occur increasingly over the next 100 years as Arctic ice continues to melt affecting Atlantic biodiversity and the biological pump with consequent feedbacks to the carbon cycle.

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