Rejoice, ‘tis the real Bloom’s Day (to be sure…)

Image: Leopold Bloom, as sketched by James Joyce.

Image: Leopold Bloom, as sketched by James Joyce.

June 16th is the date upon which cer­tain indi­vidu­als around the world cel­eb­rate Irish writer James Joyce’s 1904-set lit­er­ary clas­sic Ulysses. Termed Bloom’s Day – after Leopold Bloom, the fam­ously impen­et­rable novel’s main char­ac­ter, whose Dublin comings-and-goings are minutely cata­logued over a 24-hour period – this is only a day-long phe­nomenon. A recently dis­covered bloom of another – phyto­plank­ton – kind, and which lasts far longer than one day, is repor­ted by Kevin Arrigo et al. But such blooms – a ‘rapid increase or accu­mu­la­tion in the pop­u­la­tion of algae… in an aquatic sys­tem’  – are com­mon enough, and the well-documented, annual spring bloom is cru­cial in driv­ing the pro­ductiv­ity of the oceans, so what’s so spe­cial about this one? Well, it’s only gone and ‘developed beneath the 0.8– to 1.3-m-thick first-year sea ice on the Chukchi Sea con­tin­ental shelf’, in the Arctic. Hitherto light levels beneath ice have been con­sidered too low to pro­mote bloom­ing of algae. Although algal blooms can be harm­ful, this one, which was iden­ti­fied in July 2011, exten­ded more than 100 km lat­er­ally beneath the ice to depths greater than 50 m and con­sisted pre­dom­in­antly of diatom gen­era, which are not harm­ful. Furthermore, phyto­plank­ton bio­mass in open waters in that region was markedly lower than in the sub-ice bloom. Whether any much-publicised ice-thinning (which has been linked to global warm­ing) in that area might have per­mit­ted greater light pen­et­ra­tion, thus encour­aging bloom­ing, and/or if extra sup­plies of the essen­tial micronu­tri­ent iron are being intro­duced in the region from melt­ing ice­bergs is partly respons­ible remains to be seen, but it would be a para­dox­ical bonus to that oth­er­wise doom-and-gloom global warm­ing scen­ario because phyto­plank­ton are regarded as one hope for sequest­ra­tion of excess atmo­spheric CO2. One thing’s for sure: this rev­el­a­tion not only means that the text­books will need to be rewrit­ten (again…), but also – and more import­antly – estim­ates of ocean pro­ductiv­ity in those cold north­ern waters will require ser­i­ous revi­sion – upwards! The legendary repro­duct­ive powers of these prot­ists – in which their num­bers can increase 100 % in a day (and known — allegedly — as the Dublin rate) – makes these more than fec-und enough for even the most sedent­ary of TV-based Irish cler­gy­man. And if there was any linger­ing doubt about the power of algae, phytoplankter’s land-dwelling rel­at­ives have been known to halt the urgent and essen­tial ter­restrial com­mu­nic­a­tion activ­it­ies of the once-mighty mono­lithic mono­poly in the UK known as the Royal Mail!

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.