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NASA to investigate how melting Arctic ice is changing the life cycles of sea creatures

Focuses on the blooming population of phytoplankton for clues The US space agency said Tuesday it is sending a team of scientists on the second and final mission of a NASA field study of how melting Arctic ice is changing the life cycles of sea creatures.The five-week mission, which kicks off Saturday, focuses on tiny organisms called phytoplankton, whose population blooms can offer clues about the wider health of the ocean ecosystem and how a warming climate may change the ocean's ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.Phytoplankton blooms in the Arctic have been observed to peak as many as 50 days earlier than they did a dozen years ago, a development that could have implications for the larger food web, scientists have said.The microscopic organisms are the base of the food chain and drive the food and reproductive cycles of fish, seabirds and polar bears. How larger animals may react to phytoplankton changes remains unknown.Phytoplankton are also important because through the process of photosynthesis they remove about half of the harmful carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels worldwide.The mission, known formally as "Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment," or ICESCAPE, ...

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NASA mission will chart the saltiness of the ocean

Aims to improve climate change predictions An international mission will chart the saltiness of the ocean - from outer space.An Argentine-built spacecraft carrying instruments from the United States and other nations is set to launch Thursday from the Vandenberg Air Force Base along the central California coast aboard a Delta 2 rocket.The craft will circle 408 miles above the Earth and will use a NASA-built instrument to map weekly changes in the levels of brine in the sea. NASA's Aquarius instrument is so sensitive that it can detect changes down to a dash of salt in a gallon of water.Nearly three-quarters of Earth's surface is covered by water, which contains about 3.5 percent salt. Though the amount of salt in the world's oceans remains mostly unchanged, the brine concentration in the topmost layer varies around the globe.Understanding how brackish the sea surface is will help researchers better predict future climate change and short-term climate phenomena such as El Nino and its alter ego La Nina, which can have profound effects on weather around the world.A fleet of Earth-orbiting satellites routinely provides updates on sea surface temperatures, sea level changes and ocean winds. But measurements of dissolved salts in the ocean ...

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