Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Arctic Kelps: Underwater forests in the Arctic

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kelps

Mains level : Impact of climate change on the underwater ecosystem of the Arctic


  • Climate change is altering marine habitats such as kelp forests on a global scale.
  • In Western Australia, eastern Canada, southern Europe, northern California and eastern United States, kelps are disappearing due to warming temperatures.

Arctic Kelp Forests

  • Kelp is a type of large brown seaweed that grows in shallow, nutrient-rich saltwater, near coastal fronts around the world.
  • They occur on rocky coasts throughout the Arctic. The longest kelp recorded in the Arctic in Canada was 15 metres, and the deepest was found at 60-metre depth (Disko Bay, Greenland).
  • Kelps function underwater in the same way trees do on land. They create habitat and modify the physical environment by shading light and softening waves.
  • The underwater forests that kelps create are used by many animals for shelter and food.
  • More than 350 different species – up to 100,000 small invertebrates – can live on a single kelp plant, and many fish, birds and mammals depend on the whole forest.
  • Kelp forests also help protect coastlines by decreasing the power of waves during storms and reducing coastal erosion.

What makes Kelps special?

  • Many find it surprising that marine plants can grow so well in harsh Arctic environments. Kelps have adapted to the severe conditions.
  • These cool water species have special strategies to survive freezing temperatures and long periods of darkness, and even grow under sea ice.
  • In regions with cold, nutrient-rich water, they can attain some of the highest rates of primary production of any natural ecosystem on Earth.

Threats to Kelps

  • Coastal conditions in the Arctic are changing dramatically and the region is warming faster than the rest of the world, but these changes could actually be good for kelp.
  • In Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Norway and Siberia, permafrost soils that have been frozen for thousands of years are receding by half a metre per year.
  • Thawing permafrost and crumbling Arctic coasts are dumping sediments into coastal waters at alarming rates, which blocks light and could limit plant growth.
  • The run-off from melting glaciers will also lower salinity and increase turbidity, which impacts young kelp.

Importance of Kelps

  • Kelp forests throughout the world play an important role in coastal economies, supporting a broad range of tourism, recreational and commercial activities.
  • Kelp is making its way onto the plates of North Americans, and the kelp aquaculture industry is growing at a rate of seven per cent per year for the last 20 years globally.
  • Kelp is a coveted food source in many countries which is full of potassium, iron, calcium, fibre and iodine.
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