Could climate change help the Arctic's kelp flourish? Researchers are trying to find out

A warmer ocean could bring kelp closer to their optimal growing temperature.

Kelp can grow under sea ice, in freezing temps and in polar darkness

A kelp forest near Sommaroy, Norway. (Submitted by Karen Filbee-Dexter)

Researchers are heading to Baffin Island this summer to learn about a difficult to get to, but very important Arctic habitat.

Karen Filbee-Dexter, a research fellow at Laval University, is starting her first year of field research studying underwater kelp forests near Pond Inlet, Nunavut, and in Hudson Bay.

"There is not much known about what is happening with kelp forests in the Canadian Arctic," said Filbee-Dexter.

Kelp forests provide the ocean with a habitat that is as valuable as a coral reef, said Filbee-Dexter. They are just as valuable, but often much more difficult to access.

Karen Filbee-Dexter will be looking at kelp near Hudson Bay in August, and near Pond Inlet in September. (Submitted by Frithjof Kupper)

In order to study them, researchers often need to dive into the ocean. Lasers on boats can also be used to remote sense the kelp to avoid diving.  

This project is linked with research Filbee-Dexter is also doing in Norway and Greenland. She is looking to see if climate change is helping kelp forests grow because of a decrease in sea ice and warming ocean temperatures.

Kelp can grow under sea ice, in freezing temperatures, and in polar darkness. A warmer ocean could bring kelp closer to their optimal growing temperature.

However, coastlines where permafrost is eroding into the ocean can have a negative impact on growth.

"If they are expanding and becoming more productive it could be a really interesting thing to understand," said Filbee-Dexter.

Filbee-Dexter and her research lead Philippe Archambault are working with the community of Pond Inlet and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to understand the importance of kelp to the community.

"[The people in Pond Inlet] have a way better idea about where these kelp forests are than we do so we are collaborating with them to try and understand more," said Filbee-Dexter.

She will be looking at kelp near Southampton Island in Hudson Bay in August and in Pond Inlet in September.


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