Sea Ice Diversity

net haul

Currently our impression of ice diversity for the single cells & invertebrates is as follows:

Phyla Group Species Diversity
Diatoms   731
Other Protists   296
Cnidarians hydromedusae 1
Nematods   11
Annelids polychaetes 4
Crustaceans copepods 12
amphipods 7
Fish cods 2

An overview of the Sea Ice realm

The Arctic sea ice covers approximately 7x106 km2 in the summer and twice that in the winter. The multi-year sea ice reaches a thickness of 2–3m and covers nearly all of the central deep basins.

The Arctic sea ice and its related biota are unique, and its year-round existence allowed the development of ice endemic species, meaning these species are not found anywhere else. The specialized, sympagic (=ice-associated) community within the sea ice is found in the tiny (mostly <1mm diameter) liquid filled network of pores and brine channels or at the ice-water interface. The organisms living within the sea ice are consequently small (<1mm), and dominated by bacteria, and unicellular plants and animals. Diatoms, a certain type of algae, are considered the most important primary producers inside the ice with more than 200 species occurring in Arctic sea ice. In addition, flagellates contribute substantially to biodiversity, but their species number is unknown.

Protozoan and metazoan ice meiofauna, in particular turbellarians, nematodes, crustaceans and rotifers, can be abundant in all ice types year-round. In spring, larvae and juveniles of benthic animals (e.g. polychaetes and molluscs) migrate into coastal fast ice to feed on the ice algae for a few weeks.

A partially endemic fauna, comprising mainly gammaridean amphipods, thrive at the underside of ice floes. Locally and seasonally occurring at several 100 individuals m-2, they are important mediators for particulate organic matter from the sea ice to the water column. Ice-associated and pelagic crustaceans are the major food sources for Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida) that occurs in close association with sea ice and acts as the major link from the ice-related food web to seals and whales.

While previous studies of coastal and offshore sea ice provided a glimpse of the seasonal and regional abundances and the diversity of the ice-associated biota, biodiversity in these communities is virtually unknown for all groups, from bacteria to metazoans. Many taxa are likely still undiscovered due to the methodological problems in analyzing ice samples. The study of diversity of ice related environments is urgently required before they ultimately change with altering ice regimes and the likely loss of the multi-year ice cover. For more information visit

Some recent references:

Gradinger, R.R., K. Meiners, G.Plumley, Q. Zhang,and B.A. Bluhm (2005) Abundance and composition of the sea-ice meiofauna in off-shore
pack ice of the Beaufort Gyre in summer 2002 and 2003. Polar Biology 28: 171 - 181

Melnikov I.A.; Kolosova E.G.; Welch H.E.; Zhitina L.S. (2002) Sea ice biological communities and nutrient dynamics in the Canada Basin of the Arctic Ocean. Deep Sea Res 49: 1623-1649.

Christian Nozais, Michel Gosselin, Christine Michel, Guglielmo Tita (2001) Abundance, biomass, composition and grazing impact of the sea-ice meiofauna in the North Water, northern Baffin Bay. Mar Ecol Progr Ser 217: 235-250


Horner, R. (1985) Sea ice biota. CRC press.

Melnikov, I. (1997) The Arctic Sea Ice Ecosystem. Gordon and Breach Science Publishers.

Thomas, D., Dieckmann, G. (2003) Sea Ice. An Introduction to its Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Geology. Blackwell.


Page Author: Rolf Gradinger
Updated: Sept 25, 2010
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