Unlikely creatures reveal the story of early Arctic seas

They can help scientists better predict impacts from a changing climate

Unlikely creatures reveal the story of early Arctic seas

Fifteen feet beneath the surface of the Bering Sea, thick kelp ensnared Jochen Halfar as he tried to surface. He was diving in frigid waters off the tip of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to chisel off pieces of a 700-year-old hardened pink plant, called coralline algae, coating the region’s ocean floor. The margin of error for field researchers collecting data in the Arctic, he knew, was slim — access to life-saving medical care is often thousands of miles away. “In the Arctic, an accident is fatal,” he says.

He made it out of the water that day in 2008, but Halfar no longer dives in remote, icy waters. He’s had one too many encounters with a snapping sea lion, heavier than a grizzly bear. Others from his research team still brave the Arctic seas to find and extract the oldest, best-preserved samples of the algae, Clathromorphum compactum, from the watery depths. This bubblegum crust deposits layer after layer of growth each summer, when the sun finally graces the polar sky after its long annual hiatus.

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