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Ice-Free Arctic Opening Up Prehistoric Migration Route July 1, 2011
Satellite Image
The ice-free waters of the Northwest Passage during summer have opened up a prehistoric path for marine species to once again migrate.
The recent extensive melting of the northern polar ice cap during summer is allowing marine species to migrate across the Arctic for the first time in hundreds of thousands of years.

A gray whale apparently made the voyage from the North Pacific to just off Israel last year by wandering through the normally ice-bound route through Arctic Canada.

Plankton not found in the North Atlantic for at least 800,000 years seem to have taken the same path.

“The implications are enormous. It’s a threshold that has been crossed,” said Philip C. Reid, of the Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science in Plymouth, England.

Reid told The Associated Press that the last time such a major incursion occurred from the Pacific was 2 million years ago, when it had “a huge impact on the North Atlantic.”

It drove some species to extinction as the newcomers won out in the competition for food.

Image: NOAA