Arctic Ocean research to measure climate change

The Royal Research Ship (RRS) 'James Clark Ross' will transport the scientific team to the Fram Strait Region The Royal Research Ship (RRS) 'James Clark Ross' will transport the scientific team to the Fram Strait Region

The £16 million, UK flagship programme of Arctic research is returning on a scientific cruise to the Arctic Ocean.

Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), researchers from institutes across the UK are heading to the Fram Strait region between Greenland and Svalbard to look at the effects of warming on Arctic marine life.

With warmer winters across the polar region, the Arctic Ocean is now experiencing year-on-year record lows of sea ice. These changes are having an unprecedented impact on how the Arctic ecosystem operates. Changes to the lower part of the food chain are a serious concern because this is dominated by one type of zooplankton (copepods, small crustaceans the size of a rice grain). As fish and other species rely on zooplankton for their main source of food, the Arctic food chain is precarious in the face of climate change and susceptible to dynamic change.

The on-board scientists from two of the programme’s projects will spend a month at sea looking at how these zooplankton are coping with a warming Arctic Ocean (DIAPOD project), and the impact of warming on the Arctic food chain (ARISE project). The scientists will collect zooplankton samples and examine them to check how healthy the animals are. The environments the zooplankton live in will also be investigated by sampling the water column for its chemical composition and by looking at seafloor sediments using a camera.

The ultimate goal of Changing Arctic Oceans is to generate a better understanding of the Arctic so models can more accurately predict future change to the environment and the ecosystem. Within the programme there are four main projects with more than 80 scientists combined, from 18 UK research institutes.

The four projects cover different aspects of the Programme’s goals: how 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) and on the ecosystem at the seafloor (ChAOS).

By Jake Frith

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