Ice algae: the engine of life in the central Arctic Ocean

Published on
October 5, 2016

Studies based on the research net SUIT (Surface and Under-Ice Trawl) developed by Wageningen Marine Research strongly contribute to knowledge of the seasonal sea ice zones in polar regions.

Foto right: The ice associated amphipod Gammarus wilkitzkii (Photo: Hauke Flores)

Through detailed chemical analysis of lipids and isotopes found in organisms caught under Arctic sea ice using SUIT, our German Iceflux partners of the Alfred Wegener Institute have demonstrated the high importance of sea ice for the local food chain. Organisms directly living under the ice such as copepods and amphipods were found to derive between 60 and 90 percent of their carbon from ice algae. Deeper living organisms derived between 20 to 50 percent carbon from ice algae. Building evidence for the importance of the seasonal sea ice to polar food webs was the major driving force to develop the SUIT net. Comparable studies are done in our Antarctic research. These studies feed models that try to provide understanding of the impacts from global climate change.


Kohlbach, D., Graeve, M., Lange, B.A., David, C., Peeken, I. & Flores, H. 2016. The importance of ice algae-produced carbon in the central Arctic Ocean ecosystem: food web relationships revealed by lipid and stable isotope analyses. Limnology and Oceanography xx: xx-xx (online prepublication) (open access)

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