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Algae blooms are melting sea ice in the Arctic. Dayton researchers want to solve the problem

Algae blooms are breaking apart sea ice in the Arctic during summer months.
Ivan Sudakow
Algae blooms are breaking apart sea ice in the Arctic during summer months.

Algae is growing like upside-down plants on the underside of sea ice in the Arctic. Warmer temperatures have caused holes in the ice, meaning the algae is growing like never before, breaking the sea ice and warming the ocean. Two researchers at the University of Dayton recently got a $201,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the issue.

Assistant Physics Professor Ivan Sudakow says warmer temperatures in the Arctic during the summer have caused melt pools on top of the ice. Instead of reflecting the sun like sea ice, the pools create "windows" into the ocean. The sea ice, which Sudakow says holds nutrients like soil does, acts as a kind of anchor for algae so it can grow.

"We need to understand how all these components of the system could work, and we can predict something if we can understand how it may work," he said. "So we may predict how this algae blooming is crucial for destroying sea ice."

It's a problem that needs to be solved, he said, noting that Arctic sea ice melting impacts ecosystems throughout the world.

He's been to the Arctic to study sea ice in the past, but this grant is theoretical and will be conducted using artificial intelligence and satellites to study the years of melting sea ice.

Vijayan Asari, director of the UD Vision Lab, will lead the research on the AI front and says aircraft and satellite imagery will be used to detect the algae.

"If we look more closely into that water … we'll be able to see the greenish material and that is actually the 'plant' being bloomed," he said.

The artificial intelligence will also automatically detect and predict the growth of the melt ponds, he said.

Eventually, games for children K-12 will be developed to help young people understand the issue.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.