Can we detect changes in Arctic ecosystems?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences

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.
 
Description Bursary from UK Arctic Office for James Grecian at St. Andrews
Amount £17,963 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 03/2020
 
Description NERC - outreach funds for CAO puppet show
Amount £14,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2018 
End 01/2020
 
Description NERC DTP studentship
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2018 
End 03/2022
 
Title Identification of arctic copepods using 16S DNA barcoding primers 
Description Identification of a subset of arctic copepods preserved in RNAlater from a cruise was made possible using the general primers for mitochondrial 16S genes in animals. 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This assay has previously been used on other animals, buts its application in arctic copepods will improve identification tools in copepods significantly, especially in light of their poor representation in public databases. 
 
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...
 
Description AWI: access to berths on research cruise 
Organisation Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research
Country Germany 
Sector Public 
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 Akva-Niva: Ferrybox 
Organisation Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA)
Country Norway 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Access to berth on commercial ship to sample to Barents Sea on a seasonal basis for stable isotopes of dissolved and particulate material
Collaborator Contribution Access to berth on commercial ship to sample to Barents Sea on a seasonal basis for stable isotopes of dissolved and particulate material
Impact Too early
Start Year 2017
 
Description Collaboration with Norwegian Polar Institute 
Organisation Norwegian Polar Institute
Country Norway 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution No contributions yet, too early
Collaborator Contribution Access to research cruises in the Arctic Ocean
Impact Too early.
Start Year 2017
 
Description DFO Canada: access to samples and data sets 
Organisation Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Country Canada 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We will provide expertise in processing of samples using compound specific stable isotopes and processing of data sets using new model approaches.
Collaborator Contribution Provided access to sample archives and data archives
Impact No impact yet, too early.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Florida State University: access to river samples 
Organisation Florida State University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Analysis of sample collected from Arctic rivers for stable nitrogen and oxygen isotopes of nitrate
Collaborator Contribution Access to samples collected from 6 rivers in the Arctic Ocean
Impact Too early
Start Year 2017
 
Description IMR Norway: assistance with seal tagging and access to sample and data archives 
Organisation Norwegian Institute of Marine Research
Country Norway 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We will provide analysis of sample archives using compound specific techniques and new approaches to analyses archive data sets using statistical models. We will also provide funds for tags for seals.
Collaborator Contribution Provided archives samples and archive data sets. Provided a means to tag seals in the Arctic Ocean during Norwegian led fieldwork.
Impact Too early .
Start Year 2017
 
Description LSCE: access to PISCES-iso model 
Organisation Laboratory of Climate Sciences and the Environment (LSCE)
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution No contributions yet, too early.
Collaborator Contribution Provided access to model PISCES-ISO
Impact No impact, too early.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) 
Organisation Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA)
Country Norway 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution ARISE technical and Doctoral students will be taking nutrient and biological data on board the ship of opportunity, Norbjørn, from Tromso in Norway to Longyearbyen, Svalbard. This arrangement was made as a direct result of ARISE grant proposal
Collaborator Contribution Researchers at NIVA will help organise access onto Norbjørn vessel and share abiotic data from the ferrybox system installed in this ship by NIVA.
Impact Knowledge exchange agreement and ship access
Start Year 2016
 
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: remote sensing data sets 
Organisation Stanford University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution No contribution yet. Too early.
Collaborator Contribution Research group led by Kevin Arrigo at Stanford University has provided remote sensing data sets.
Impact Too early for outcomes
Start Year 2017
 
Description Stockholm University: access to sample archives for sediments 
Organisation Stockholm University
Country Sweden 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Analysis of sediment samples by PhD student using specialised organic geochemical techniques to detect terrestrially derived organic matter
Collaborator Contribution Provided access to sediment samples collected from the continental shelves of the Arctic Ocean
Impact Too early.
Start Year 2017
 
Description UBC: access to GEOTRACES datasets 
Organisation University of British Columbia
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution No contribution yet
Collaborator Contribution Access to GEOTRACES dataset on the stable nitrogen and oxygen isotope composition of nitrate in the Arctic Ocean
Impact Too early
Start Year 2017
 
Description University of Connecticut: access to GEOTRACES data sets 
Organisation University of Connecticut
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution No contribution yet
Collaborator Contribution Access to GEOTRACES data sets on stable nitrogen and oxygen composition of nitrate in the Arctic Ocean
Impact Too early
Start Year 2017
 
Description ASLO Ocean Sciences conference 2018: Poster presentation 
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 at international conference on the objectives of the project and some preliminary data on the isoscape.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
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 Development of project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact New website created for the project, including project team, objectives, fieldwork etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://arcticarise.wordpress.com
 
Description Dr. Camille de la Vega attended Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromso, Norway 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Dr. Camille de la Vega presented a poster on findings in ARISE at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromso, Norway in February 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
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 James Grecian Presentation at Liverpool 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact James Grecian presented material based on preliminary ARISE work to colleagues at Liverpool University in a seminar
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Mahaffey and Jeffreys interviews for Science Cafe on Radio Wales 
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 Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Rachel Jeffreys and Claire Mahaffey were interviewed alongside Yeung Lenn for Science Cafe on BBC Radio Wales about the ARISE project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Oral presentation at the Nansen Legacy kick off meeting in Tromso Norway 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Oral presentation at the kick off meeting for the Norwegian led project, the Nansen Legacy. Invited to attend.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
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 UK Arctic conference: Oral presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Oral presentation at UK Arctic conference on the objectives of the project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017