Studying gas exchanges and zooplankton in the Arctic

A research team, including scientists from PML, recently set off on a scientific cruise to the Arctic Ocean this weekend in a bid to understand the behaviour of tiny organisms that are key to the food chain.

The scientists will conduct sampling and a number of experiments for four projects – DIAPOD, CHASE, Micro-ARC and PETRA – that are part of the £20 million Changing Arctic Ocean scientific research programme. The programme – funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research – seeks to understand the impacts of climate change on marine life in the Arctic.

Arctic greenhouse gases

The PETRA (Pathways and emissions of climate-relevant trace gases in a changing Arctic Ocean) team – led by Plymouth Marine Laboratory and GEOMAR (Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Germany) – will use state of the art experimental approaches and computer modelling to investigate the impact of melting sea ice and exposure of the ocean’s surface on release of climate-sensitive greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

PML biogeochemist and co-lead investigator of the PETRA project, Dr Andy Rees, said, "The 4 members of the PETRA team from PML will be making their second investigation into the impact of the changing Arctic environment on the biological and chemical processes affecting the production of greenhouse gases (nitrous oxide and methane) and their release to the atmosphere.

"We will be working closely on-board with our colleagues from GEOMAR, Germany who will be investigating the exchange of two further gases, carbon monoxide and di-methyl sulphide, which also play an important role in atmospheric processes. This is a fantastically exciting opportunity for PETRA to collaborate further with the DIAPOD and CHAOS teams to maximise our efforts into researching the effects of our changing climate on this threatened ecosystem."

Zooplankton research on board and in the lab

Professor David Pond from the Institute of Aquaculture at Stirling, who is heading up the cruise, is lead investigator on the DIAPOD project and said, "We are all excited ahead of this very important research cruise to the Arctic. As part of the DIAPOD project, we will study zooplankton – copepods, small crustaceans the size of a rice grain – which are the main source of food for fish and other species.

“Due to the reliance on a single type of zooplankton as a vital source of food, the Arctic food chain is precarious in the face of climate change and susceptible to dynamic change.”

Professor Pennie Lindeque from Plymouth Marine Laboratory said, “We are excited to be receiving the copepod samples from this latest cruise when the ship returns to port. An important element of the DIAPOD project is to unambiguously identify the important copepods to species level.

 ”Morphologically the different species can look very similar, especially at the immature stages. Our role back at the laboratory is to use genetic characters to provide unambiguous taxonomic discrimination to species level – much in the same way as DNA fingerprinting for humans.

“We need to understand what is happening to these important mini beasts of the ocean at the species level, as the impact of climate change varies for different species, with potentially diverse consequences to the regulation of global climate and the production of harvestable resources such as fish.”

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