Can we detect changes in Arctic Ecosystems?

Lead Research Organisation: National Oceanography Centre
Department Name: Science and Technology

Abstract

Ecosystems are communities of organisms that interact with each other and their environment. They are often considered in terms of food webs or chains, which describe the interactions between different organisms and their relative hierarchies, known as trophic position. Ocean ecosystems provide key services, such as nutrition, control of climate, support of nutrient cycling and have cultural significance for certain communities. It is thus important that we understand how changes to the environment reshape ecosystems in order to manage climate change impacts.

The Arctic Ocean is already being heavily impacted by climate change. It is warming faster than any other ocean region and as it absorbs fossil fuel emissions, it is gradually acidifying. Arctic sea ice is declining by 10% per decade. This affects the availability of sea ice habitats for organisms from plankton to mammals and modifies the ocean environment. Finally, the Arctic is affected by changes in the magnitude of water movement to and from the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and composition of these waters. Thus Arctic ecosystems are being impacted by multiple concurrent stressors and must adapt.

To understand how Arctic ecosystems will evolve in response to multiple stressors, it is crucial to evaluate the effects of on going change. Often these questions are tackled by studies that focus on a specific ecosystem in one location and document the various components of the food chain. However the Arctic is diverse, with a wide range of environments that are responding to unique stressors differently. We require a new approach that can provide information on Arctic ecosystems from a pan-Arctic perspective over decadal timescales.

To effectively monitor changes to pan-Arctic ecosystems requires tracers that focus on key ecosystem components and provide quantitative information on ecosystem structure, providing information for management and conservation of ecosystem services. Our goal is to respond to this challenge. We will focus simultaneously on the base of the food chain, controlled by the activity of marine phytoplankton, and key Arctic predators, harp and ringed seals. Seals are excellent candidates to monitor the food web due to their pan-Arctic distribution and foraging behaviour, which means they are exposed to the changing environment.

Nitrogen and carbon stable isotopes are often used to examine ecosystems as they are modified during trophic transfer up the food chain. Hence, they can quantify seal trophic position and food chain length, key determinants of ecosystem structure. Crucial in this context however is the isotope value of the base of the food web, known as the isoscape, which is itself affected by a range of environmental characteristics and fluctuates in space and time. Equally, by virtue of changing migration patterns, seals themselves may feed on similar prey in different isoscapes, which would affect the interpretation of ecosystem structure from stable isotopes. These are the major challenges in using stable isotopes.

We will link stable isotopes to novel tracers of the food web, known as biomarkers. When these tracers are compared against observations of the shifting isoscape and data on seal foraging, they permit seals to be used to monitor the Arctic ecosystem by quantifying their trophic position and overall food chain length. Via a range of observational platforms, our new food web tracers will be mechanistically linked to the spatial and seasonal trends in the Arctic isoscape and seal behaviour. By then combining historical observations from around the Arctic basin with state of the art ocean and seal population modelling, we can quantify past and future changes in Arctic ecosystems. This will provide information on past changes to Arctic ecosystems, but also put in place an approach that can be used to monitor future changes and aid in the management and conservation of ecosystem services.

Planned Impact

The main beneficiaries of this project will be policy makers concerned with conservation of Arctic marine mammals, Inuit communities, school pupils, teachers and the wider general public.

Throughout much of their range, seals and other mammals are important cultural and nutritional resources for indigenous and non-indigenous communities. However, seals are being measurably impacted by climate change. Our project will provide observational and modelling evidence regarding the drivers of alterations to seals' trophic position, food web structure or foraging behaviour over decadal time scales. Using multiple tools, we will delineate if changes in seal trophic position, food chain length or foraging behaviour are due to environmental factors (e.g. sea ice changes), variations in the base of the food web (e.g. from reduced nutrient supply) or the addition of new trophic levels (e.g. migration of boreal species). Our work directly benefits ongoing programmes that monitor the Arctic, such as the Five-year Science Research Agenda from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Canada). Our work will benefit work by DFO and aid Inuit communities develop adaptation strategies (Letter of Support from Ferguson, DFO). We will disseminate results from our project to key international organisations, such as the International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES) and North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO), facilitated by NAMMCO General Secretary and project partner, Desportes. Other project partners (Stenson, Hammill, Ferguson and Hop) are also involved in ICES and NAMMCO, as well as the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Programme (CBMP), making them able to disseminate our results in the context of management and policy. A one year PDRA will collate, analyse and model historical data on harp and ringed seal body condition and fecundity alongside environmental variables and determine the factors driving long term change in seal populations, disseminating their findings to ICES and NAMMCO at international meetings. This will allow the practical and applied project outputs to inform management and policy for marine mammals in the Arctic, with the potential to affect future decision making for seal populations. Thus, we directly address NERC strategy by providing tools for the 'Management of Environmental Change'.

It is essential that our research outcomes are disseminated to the UK community. This is challenging but vital to recruit students into sciences, convince the public that it is worthwhile funding this type of research and increase awareness of the sensitivity of the Arctic to a changing climate. Our project will provide teachers with tools to demonstrate key concepts in our research programme. To this end, we will produce three posters to convey for example, 'Arctic food webs', 'Stable isotopes in Arctic ecology' and 'Impact of climate change on the Arctic' to school pupils in order to demonstrate how food webs operate in the Arctic. Posters will be hand-drawn by a visual artist with experience of communicating complex ideas concisely and digitized by co-PI Heath.

The general public tends to engage with popular wild life television programmes that illustrate the fauna of the Arctic and the pressures imposed by climate change. We will explain the vital role of microscopic phytoplankton and nutrients within the environment by creating one short accessible scored video, with combinations of film, hand and digital animations with commentaries aimed at the general public. The video will be distributed via a project YouTube channel and via our own website.

At the programme level we suggest (a) creating a dedicated programme website and social media outlets, (b) soliciting the BBC or Discovery Channel to produce a short documentary about the programme and (c) hiring an expert in science communication and impact to represent the programme and/or train members of the research programme in science communication.

Publications

10 25 50

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
NE/P006000/1 01/02/2017 31/10/2019 £216,634
NE/P006000/2 Transfer NE/P006000/1 01/11/2019 29/01/2021 £46,940
 
Description - Phytoplankton uptake depletes nitrate in the Barents Sea euphotic zone and new production is connected to Atlantic Water supply
- No isotopic or stoichiometric evidence for benthic denitrification imparting a signature on pelagic nitrate in the Barents Sea
- Atlantification may decrease productivity in the Barents Sea
- During the summer in the Fram Strait, particulate nitrogen isotopes values in Polar Surface Water (PSW) are higher than in Atlantic orgiin water, reflecting an Arctic source of nitrate and more complete utilisation. Our findings demonstrate greater nitrogen utilisation and limitation in the PSW driven by salinity stratification and a low nitrate supply from the Arctic. In Atlantic Water, a less stratified water column, a shallower nitricline and Si limitation may impede full uptake of nitrate. We suggest that warming of the Arctic over the forthcoming decades may further exacerbate these differences with local and far-field effects involving altered nitrogen isotope signals, phytoplankton composition and the exchange of nutrients through the Fram Strait.
Exploitation Route These findings will help inform and test future projections of Arctic change and the impact on the ecosystem
Sectors Environment

 
Description Contribution to written evidence submitted to the Commons Select Environmental Audit Committee Changing Arctic Inquiry
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Nitrogen fixation in the Arctic Ocean
Amount £733,137 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/T001240/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2021 
End 07/2023
 
Title JR16006 CTD Data 
Description Fully processed CTD data from cruise JR16006 to the Barents Sea 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Used in CAO publications - papers still in review 
URL https://www.bodc.ac.uk/data/published_data_library/catalogue/10.5285/89a3a6b8-7223-0b9c-e053-6c86abc...
 
Title JR16006 VMADCP data 
Description Vessel Mounted ADCP data from cruise JR16006 to the Barents Sea (horizontal current velocities, depth resolved) Hopkins J.(2019). Vessel Mounted Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (VMADCP) data from NERC Changing Arctic Ocean Cruise JR16006 on the RRS James Clark Ross, July 2017. British Oceanographic Data Centre, National Oceanography Centre, NERC, UK. doi:10/dg53. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Publication submitted to a Special Issue in Philosophical Transactions A 
 
Title JR17005 CTD data 
Description Hopkins J.; Brennan D.; Abell R.; Sanders R.W.; Mountifield D.(2018). CTD data from NERC Changing Arctic Ocean Cruise JR17005 on the RRS James Clark Ross, May-June 2018. British Oceanographic Data Centre - Natural Environment Research Council, UK. doi:10/cspz. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Core physics database in support of the whole CAO programme (16 projects) 
URL https://www.bodc.ac.uk/data/published_data_library/catalogue/10.5285/726f6dc8-cebf-427d-e053-6c86abc...
 
Title JR17005 Ships Underway Data 
Description Ships underway measurements of sea surface ocean variables and meterology collected during May-June 2018 as part of ARISE, Changing Arctic Ocean cruise JR17005 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This data set is freely available for use by the CAO community and its partners. 
URL https://www.bodc.ac.uk/data/published_data_library/catalogue/10.5285/a0817374-6342-51bf-e053-6c86abc...
 
Description AWI berth access and expert advise 
Organisation Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research
Country Germany 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Access to CTD data collected on CAO cruises to the Fram Strait and East Greenland Shelf Co-authorship of publications
Collaborator Contribution Berth access on cruise PS114 (September 2018) to allow sample collection Access to Fram Strait Mooring data Expert knowledge of Fram Strait hydrography and circulation
Impact Too early in the project
Start Year 2017
 
Description AWI: access to berths on research cruise 
Organisation Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research
Country Germany 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution No contribution yet. Too early but will provide access to data sets.
Collaborator Contribution Provided access to berths on research cruise to the Fram Strait
Impact No outcomes, too early.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Project partnership with the Norwegian Polar Institute - access to berths on research cruises 
Organisation Norwegian Polar Institute
Country Norway 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution ARISE have allocated a berth to NPI on the NERC Changing Arctic Ocean cruise JR17005 (to the Fram Strait- Greenland shelf) to allow them to collect CDOM, d18O and DOC samples at an undersampled time of year.
Collaborator Contribution NPI have given the ARISE team access to a berth on the RV Lance to enable sample collection: (1) MOSJ 2017 (Kongsfjorden and Hausgarten) and (2) FS2017 (Fram Strait)
Impact More than 500 samples collected for the ARISE project
Start Year 2017
 
Description Stanford University (Arctic Primary Productivty data) 
Organisation Stanford University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Expertise in measuring vertical nutrient fluxes which can be used to make estimates of productivity
Collaborator Contribution Access to a model and remote sensing based estimate of (surface) primary production in the Arctic. Re-processing of this data set up until the end of the CAO observational period.
Impact Too early for direct outcomes
Start Year 2017
 
Description Cruise report for the UK Challenger Marine Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Informal blog describing the aims of the cruise and the activities that took place onboard. Designed to be easily accessible and to promote Arctic research. The coordinator reported the blog to have had one of the highest hit rates (> 100 reads).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://challengercaptainsblog.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/a-summer-spent-in-the-changing-arctic-ocean/
 
Description Ice Worlds Event linked to RRS Sir David Attenborough naming ceremony (Liverpool) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The ARISE team put together an interactive display during a 3 day event held at Birkenhead, Liverpool (26-28 Sep 2019) to mark the naming of the RRS Sir David Attenborough. Hundreds of people attended this ticketed event, including parties from local schools. Children (and adults) learned about Arctic seals, how we track them and learn about their behaviour and how climate change is affecting them.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.bas.ac.uk/media-post/rrs-sir-david-attenborough-naming-ceremony-tickets-available/
 
Description Imperial College Seminar (2018) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Seminar on the Changing Arctic Ocean at Imperial College London in the Faculty of Engineering, Department of Earth Science & Engineering
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Interview and on-line video with BBC Radio Solent for the first Chnaging Arctic Ocean cruise, JR16006 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Jo Hopkins was interviewed and filmed by a BBC Radio Solent news reporter onboard the RRS James Clark Ross just before the ship sailed for the first Changing Arctic Ocean research cruise. She explained the goals of the ARISE project and the wider Arctic programme and explained how many of the measurements would be made during the cruise. The Interview was broadcoast on the 29th June 2017 on the Julian Clegg show and the video posted on the BBC Radio Solent Facebook page.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.facebook.com/BBCRadioSolent/videos/1381007702019321/
 
Description Interview on the changing Arctic Ocean for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact I was interviewed for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme for a multi-day series on the Arctic Ocean. My segment was broadcast on the 12th March 2019. The work I described focused on changes in Arctic productivity and the role of sea-ice changes in this, and made use of the model I'm using in Changing Arctic Oceans and UKESM1 activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00035t9
 
Description NOC annual science open day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The NOC annual science open day is open to the general public, with typically 500+ people of all ages and interests visiting the centre.

The modelling exhibition uses electronic displays, latterly interactive ones, to illustrate the properties of the ocean - physical and biological - that are the focus of our work. This allows us to talk to individual visitors or groups on general topics around ocean physics (circulation, seawater properties) and marine biology (productivity, nutrients), and on high-interest contemporary topics such as climate change and ocean acidification (including how these will affect general ocean properties). Ongoing Arctic change and wider Earth system science are particular focuses.

Our open day presentations aim to (a) introduce general oceanographic concepts (as illustrated by models), (b) introduce and explain the role of modelling in oceanography and Earth science, (c) entrain and inform school pupils and undergraduate students about careers and career paths in oceanography.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
URL https://noc.ac.uk/education/open-days
 
Description Poster presentation of ARISE at Ocean Sciences 2018, Portland, Oregon 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Poster presentation to Internatioal attendees of Ocean Sciences 2018 in Portland, Oregon. Louisa Norman, Rachel Jeffreys, Claire Mahaffey, Alessandro Tagliabue, George A Wolff, Andy Heath, Joanne Hopkins, Raja Ganeshram, Sophie Smout, Andy Yool, Rowena Stern, Claudia Castellani, Camille De La Vega, Robyn E Tuerena and James Grecian (2018), Can we detect changes in Arctic ecosystems? (ARISE) , Abstract HE44A-2965 presented at 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting, Portland, OR, 12-16 Feb.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008
URL https://osm.agu.org/2018/
 
Description Royal Society Summer Science Festival primarily representing UKESM1.0, but also associated modelling activities such as ARISE 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Royal Society Summer Science Festival is primarily aimed at the general public and schools. It serves up a broad sweep of UK science activities, with scientists serving as presenters and representatives of these activities. Most activity is showcasing materials associated with the stand (e.g. talking about display materials, engaging via our climate quiz, discussing climate issues).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://royalsociety.org/science-events-and-lectures/2017/summer-science-exhibition/
 
Description School visit and story telling (Aviles, Spain) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Slide show and story telling about the Arctic to approx. 20 infant school aged pupils. The children asked lots of questions about polar bears!
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019