Measuring climate change in the Arctic

Measuring climate change in the Arctic
With warmer winters across the Polar Region, the Arctic Ocean is now experiencing record lows of sea ice.

The UK flagship programme of Arctic research returns to the Arctic Ocean on a scientific cruise, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), to look at the effects of climate change in the Arctic.

With warmer winters across the Polar Region, the Arctic Ocean is now experiencing record lows of sea ice. These changes are having an unprecedented impact on how the Arctic ecosystem operates and so scientists are measuring climate change in the Arctic and its effects.

Changes to the lower part of the food chain are a primary concern as it 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.

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 (the DIAPOD project), and the impact of climate change in the Arctic and on the Arctic food chain (the ARISE project).

How will the research be conducted?

The scientists will collect zooplankton samples and examine them to check how healthy the animals are. The environments that the zooplankton live in will also be investigated by sampling the water for its chemical composition and by looking at seafloor sediments using a camera.

Science Minister Sam Gyimah said: “Climate change has a devastating effect on our planet, from melting polar ice caps to rising sea levels and I am proud the UK is leading the way in tackling this harm. World-class researchers from 18 different UK institutes will be undertaking this vitally important work and through our modern Industrial Strategy we have committed to investing 2.4% of GDP on research and development to help tackle major global challenges.”

The ARISE project, led by Dr Claire Mahaffey at the University of Liverpool, will focus on the impact of environmental change on the Arctic food chain. She said: “It is important to understand how the Arctic Ocean is responding to a changing environment, and it is vital we are able to detect change to the Arctic ecosystem above natural ecosystem variability. Overall, ARISE will use a combination of biological markers at the base of the food chain and in Arctic seals alongside seal population ecology and mathematical models to develop a new framework to detect long term change in the Arctic Ecosystem. During the cruise to the Fram Strait, we will capture the biomarker signals at the base of the food chain during a key transition period from winter to spring in the Arctic. The ARISE team will be busy collecting large quantities of seawater, phytoplankton and zooplankton for biomarker analysis back in our laboratories.”

The ultimate goal of the research is to generate a better understanding of the Arctic so models can more accurately predict future change to the environment and the ecosystem.

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