Essential omega‐3 fatty acids are depleted in sea ice and pelagic algae of the Central Arctic Ocean

Katrin Schmidt, Martin Graeve, Clara j. m. Hoppe, Sinhué Torres‐valdes, Nahid Welteke, Laura m. Whitmore, Philipp Anhaus, Angus Atkinson, Simon t. Belt, Tina Brenneis, Robert g. Campbell, Giulia Castellani, Louise a. Copeman, Hauke Flores, Allison a. Fong, Nicole Hildebrandt, Doreen Kohlbach, Jens m. Nielsen, Christopher c. Parrish, Cecilia Rad‐menéndezSebastian d. Rokitta, Sandra Tippenhauer, Yanpei Zhuang

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Microalgae are the main source of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), essential for the healthy development of most marine and terrestrial fauna including humans. Inverse correlations of algal EPA and DHA proportions (% of total fatty acids) with temperature have led to suggestions of a warming-induced decline in the global production of these biomolecules and an enhanced importance of high latitude organisms for their provision. The cold Arctic Ocean is a potential hotspot of EPA and DHA production, but consequences of global warming are unknown. Here, we combine a full-seasonal EPA and DHA dataset from the Central Arctic Ocean (CAO), with results from 13 previous field studies and 32 cultured algal strains to examine five potential climate change effects; ice algae loss, community shifts, increase in light, nutrients, and temperature. The algal EPA and DHA proportions were lower in the ice-covered CAO than in warmer peripheral shelf seas, which indicates that the paradigm of an inverse correlation of EPA and DHA proportions with temperature may not hold in the Arctic. We found no systematic differences in the summed EPA and DHA proportions of sea ice versus pelagic algae, and in diatoms versus non-diatoms. Overall, the algal EPA and DHA proportions varied up to four-fold seasonally and 10-fold regionally, pointing to strong light and nutrient limitations in the CAO. Where these limitations ease in a warming Arctic, EPA and DHA proportions are likely to increase alongside increasing primary production, with nutritional benefits for a non-ice-associated food web.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere17090
Number of pages23
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number1
Early online date19 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2024


  • Bering Sea
  • Central Arctic Ocean
  • DHA
  • EPA
  • ice algae
  • light
  • Melosira arctica
  • MOSAIC expedition
  • nutrients
  • temperature


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