What happens during the long, dark periods of the Arctic winter months? A lot more than we thought.
True
Sierra Club

Professor Jørgen Berge always thought animals, like people, preferred to spend their winters dormant.

Berge is a marine biologist and zoologist at the Arctic University of Norway and the University Centre in Svalbard, which means he's used to those long, dark winters where the sun literally does not rise for anywhere from 23 to 176 days.

This phenomenon is known as a " polar night," which means that no part of the sun's disc is visible on the horizon, and it occurs everywhere above the 67° latitude line, including parts of Alaska, the Yukon, the Denmark Strait, and parts of Greenland and Russia.


That might be a good environment for a nasty coven of evil vampires to feast on Arctic townsfolk, but it's probably less good for non-undead organisms that thrive on sunlight and warmth.

...right?

And I thought my winter ennui was bad. GIF from "Winnie the Pooh."

As it turns out, those cold polar nights are a hotbed of activity — particularly in the Arctic Ocean.

"We have basically assumed that when it is dark, there is no primary production and there is no activity. The system is just waiting for the light to return," Berge said in a recently published article in the Journal of Cellular Biology.

But he and his fellow researchers were inspired to take a second look after a chance encounter in a Svalbard fjord in the winter of 2013.

"Above us was a starry, winter night and below us were countless blue-green 'stars' in the deep produced by bioluminescent organisms. The beauty of it was stunning, and the fact that so many organisms were producing light was a strong indication that the system was not in a resting mode," he explained.

The scenic underwater Arctic. Photo by Elisabeth Calvert/ NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration.

A team of nearly 100 scientists from seven different nations cataloged the lives of some surprisingly active Arctic animals.

Over three winters, the team led by Professor Berge embarked on underwater filming, biodiversity counts, and analyses of the stomach contents of seabirds and fish.

"Instead of an ecosystem that has entered a resting state, we document a system with high activity levels and biological interactions across most trophic levels," he said.

This activity included:

  • scallops and shellfish feeding on the floor;
  • krill and zooplankton and other tiny critters all spawning like rabbits in the springtime;
  • and auks and guillemots who resisted the urge to head south for the winter and somehow managed to stalk their deep-sea prey in absolute darkness.

A seabird diving underwater for prey. Footage by Robert Staven/NTNU via BBC.

"They are not individuals that are left behind and about to die," Berge told the BBC. "They are doing well, they find their food in the dark. Many of them had very full stomachs."

Pretty amazing, right? And all they had to do was look in the one place that no one thought to look before!


And in defense of every other scientist ever, I completely understand not wanting to leave your bed in the middle of a pitch-black Arctic winter to dive through the ice on the off chance that you might find some surprising aquatic activity. GIF from "Doctor Who."

Unless ... maybe this overactive polar night is actually something new?

For better or for worse, Berge and his team would not have been able to conduct their research if it hadn't been for the rapidly rising global temperatures.

"If you go back 10 years, the fjords would freeze up at that time of year, and this wouldn't have been possible at all," Berge said. "At the same time, there has been warming. We have less sea ice, we have more influence of warmer Atlantic water masses — and that will also have influenced the system."

Could it be that this influx of activity is actually the result of climate change and the melting polar ice caps?

Well ... maybe.

We can't actually know for sure because there's simply not enough research yet to prove the theory. As far as Berge's team members are concerned, it really could go either way.

"It's surprising to see that the rates are so high — that the level of activity is comparable to what's there in the summer. That is impressive," said Dr. Donatella Zona, an Arctic ecologist at the University of Sheffield. "But it's not very surprising that there is activity during the cold period. The main problem is that there are so few data. It's very hard to quantify, because we are relying on so few measurements."

Granted, correlation is not causation. But climate change is still a serious concern, and it would stand to reason that it might have something to do with this newly discovered aquatic Arctic dance party.


One thing is certain: Climate change is affecting everything from animals to humans to the earth itself.

Regardless of whether climate change has a direct impact (yet) on animal activity in the Arctic Ocean, I think we can all agree that the Arctic environment is a unique and wonderful place full of mystery and life that should be explored.

But things like Arctic drilling are chipping away at that ecosystem at increasingly alarming rates.

Pretty much our relationship with the planet right now. GIF via Jordi Tosas.

Let's put a stop to the arrogant actions that threaten to destroy our planet so that we might live to discover more of the wonders our world holds.

True
Back Market

Between the new normal that is working from home and e-learning for students of all ages, having functional electronic devices is extremely important. But that doesn't mean needing to run out and buy the latest and greatest model. In fact, this cycle of constantly upgrading our devices to keep up with the newest technology is an incredibly dangerous habit.

The amount of e-waste we produce each year is growing at an increasing rate, and the improper treatment and disposal of this waste is harmful to both human health and the planet.

So what's the solution? While no one expects you to stop purchasing new phones, laptops, and other devices, what you can do is consider where you're purchasing them from and how often in order to help improve the planet for future generations.

Keep Reading Show less
Canva

I got married and started working in my early 20s, and for more than two decades I always had employer-provided health insurance. When the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka "Obamacare")was passed, I didn't give it a whole lot of thought. I was glad it helped others, but I just assumed my husband or I would always be employed and wouldn't need it.

Then, last summer, we found ourselves in an unexpected scenario. I was working as a freelance writer with regular contract work and my husband left his job to manage our short-term rentals and do part-time contracting work. We both had incomes, but for the first time, no employer-provided insurance. His previous employer offered COBRA coverage, of course, but it was crazy expensive. It made far more sense to go straight to the ACA Marketplace, since that's what we'd have done once COBRA ran out anyway.

The process of getting our ACA healthcare plan set up was a nightmare, but I'm so very thankful for it.

Let me start by saying I live in a state that is friendly to the ACA and that adopted and implemented the Medicaid expansion. I am also a college-educated and a native English speaker with plenty of adult paperwork experience. But the process of getting set up on my state's marketplace was the most confusing, frustrating experience I've ever had signing up for anything, ever.

Keep Reading Show less
True

$200 billion of COVID-19 recovery funding is being used to bail out fossil fuel companies. These mayors are combatting this and instead investing in green jobs and a just recovery.

Learn more on how cities are taking action: c40.org/divest-invest


The legality of abortion is one of the most polarized debates in America—but it doesn’t have to be.

People have big feelings about abortion, which is understandable. On one hand, you have people who feel that abortion is a fundamental women’s rights issue, that our bodily autonomy is not something you can legislate, and that those who oppose abortion rights are trying to control women through oppressive legislation. On the other, you have folks who believe that a fetus is a human individual first and foremost, that no one has the right to terminate a human life, and that those who support abortion rights are heartless murderers.

Then there are those of us in the messy middle. Those who believe that life begins at conception, that abortion isn’t something we’d choose—and we’d hope others wouldn’t choose—under most circumstances, yet who choose to vote to keep abortion legal.

Keep Reading Show less
via Lorie Shaull / Flickr

The epidemic of violence against Indigenous women in America is one of the country's most disturbing trends. A major reason it persists is because it's rarely discussed outside of the native community.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women under age 19.

Women who live on some reservations face rates of violence that are as much as ten times higher than the national average.

Keep Reading Show less