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Episode 1504: Life in the Dark: The Polar Night

The small Norwegian community of Ny-Ålesund is home to the world’s northernmost year-round research station. Located in the Svalbard archipelago, Ny-Ålesund is less than 800 miles south of the North Pole. 

At this latitude, darkness reigns for four months of the year. It was long believed that little to no activity took place in the ocean during the polar night, since phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain, can’t grow without sunlight. Targeted research into polar night ecology didn’t begin until 2009, after an accidental discovery made scientists realize this wasn’t a dormant period in the ocean after all.

A team of scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has joined this growing field of research by studying some of the tiniest animals that are active during the polar night. They want to know if the larvae of invertebrates that live on the seafloor rely on an alternative food source during the dark months of the year. The researchers are also curious if these larvae, known as meroplankton, are able to undergo the energetically costly metamorphosis required to become adults and settle on the seafloor during this time. 

Through lab experiments and a unique autonomous camera system, the scientists are making exciting discoveries that will help explain some of the basic biology taking place during the polar night. Understanding these seasonal patterns is key in a changing climate, as temperatures in the polar regions are changing faster than elsewhere on the planet.


Meet the experts featured in this episode.

Image Credits

Changing Seas would like to thank the following individuals and institutions who kindly allowed their footage, images and other media to be used in this production:

Diane Burko 


Andrew Corso 


Kirstin Meyer-Kaiser, Ph.D.


Harald Faste Aas 

Jens Angard 

Ann Kristin Balto 

Ceslav Czyz 

Hilde Dørum 

Emily Geyman 

Kristin Heggland 

Femke de Jong

Leif Pedersen 

Anders Beer Wilse 

Norwegian Polar Institute 


Kharis Schrage 




UiT The Arctic University of Norway 


Mike Carlowicz 

Abby Heithoff

Veronique LaCapra 

Dawn Moran 

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Special Thanks:


Rune Jensen

Norwegian Polar Institute


Suzanne Pelisson 

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Web Extras

Perpetual Darkness: The Polar Night                                                                                         

CATAIN | Monitoring Settlers in Arctic Waters

Ocean Occupation Profile | Kharis Schrage

The Arctic Like You've Never Seen: A Journey to Ny-Ålesund                                                    

Ny-Ålesund | The World's Northernmost Research Station

GRWM for a Shoot in the Arctic                  

What are Plankton?                                                                                                                            

Episode Sneak Peek                                      

What is the Polar Night?  In Under 60 Seconds!                                                                                   

Ocean Occupation Profile | Kirstin Meyer-Kaiser, Ph.D. 👩‍🔬

Funding for this episode of Changing Seas was provided by: