UK scientists to explore Changing Arctic Ocean to measure climate change threat

Iceberg floating on water

A new £10 million research programme to investigate how the Arctic Ocean is changing kicks off today with its first cruise to the Barents Sea.

Over 20 researchers from 16 UK research institutes, including a team from Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) and led by Scottish Association for Marine Science, University of Liverpool and University of Leeds, have joined forces to understand the knock on effects of rapid warming and sea ice loss in the Arctic region. The ultimate goal of Changing Arctic Oceans is to generate a better understanding of the Arctic so models can predict more accurately future change to the environment and the ecosystem.

Some of the clearest signs of change are the thinning and retreat of sea ice and the migration of species into the Arctic that normally live at lower latitudes. These changes are likely to have an unprecedented impact on how the Arctic ecosystem operates. For example, as the fastest warming oceanic region in the world, the Arctic could be free of sea ice in summer within a few decades. This change is likely to affect the UK climate and economy, with anticipated impacts on industries like tourism and fisheries.

The Changing Arctic Ocean scientists will contribute to international efforts to build a comprehensive picture of the constantly changing Arctic environment. They will look at a wide range of complex interactions between different organisms in the ocean and at the seafloor.

The overall research programme is split into four projects and cover different aspects of the programme’s investigations into:

  • the way change in the Arctic is affecting the food chain, from small organisms at the bottom to large predators at the top (ARISE)
  • how warming influences the single main food source at the bottom of the food chain (DIAPOD)
  • the effect of retreating and thinning sea ice on nutrients and sea life in the surface ocean (Arctic PRIZE)
  • the effect of retreating and thinning sea ice on the seafloor ecosystem (ChAOS)

PML are leading two research components within ChAOS and DIAPOD, and will be aboard this six-week research cruise to the cold waters north of mainland Scandinavia.

Within ChAOS, the PML team will focus on the impacts of ice loss on the biodiversity and functioning of coastal Arctic seabed sediments, organisms and nutrient cycling, as well as using pigments to determine the sources and fate of organic matter.

PML’s work within DIAPOD will use DNA fingerprinting techniques to screen significant numbers of Calanus specimens to determine unambiguously what species they are. Calanus are a key species in Arctic waters but are notoriously difficult to identify using traditional microscopy. By using molecular methods we can ensure Calanus at any developmental stage are correctly identified to species. In turn this means that specific species traits, such as size, lipid content and seasonality, are assigned to the correct species and therefore, accurately represented in Arctic models.

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