Microbes to Megafauna Modelling of Arctic Seas (MiMeMo)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Strathclyde
Department Name: Mathematics and Statistics


Marine ecosystems are under pressure from a range of human activities as well climate change, and there is a need to develop more integrated plans to maximise their value to society in a sustainable way. These pressures are peaking in the polar regions, especially the Arctic, where the well documented progressive reductions in extent of sea-ice cover represent a rapid, massive and fundamental change in the environmental conditions to which the species which make up Arctic marine food webs have, for millennia, been adapted: it is possible that the pace of change in the Arctic is now more rapid than the pace at which life can evolve.

We already know that the shrinking of ice-cover is resulting in increased primary production in the Arctic seas. However, the way and extent to which this increased production at the base of the food web propagates up to the higher trophic levels and charismatic megafauna such as whales, seals and polar bears, is extremely uncertain and hard to predict. Other features of the habitat than sea-ice such as currents and waves, seabed topography and sediments, and land-based freshwater and nutrient inputs, also dictate patterns of production and suitability for individual species.

In this project we will employ mathematics and computer science to predict the likely flows of nutrient through the marine food web, from microbes to megafauna, as the physical environment in the Atlantic Arctic changes, as it is expected to do over the coming decades. The mathematics will be incorporated into computer models which describe the complex network of interactions between living components of the food web and the dissolved and particulate, inorganic and organic nutrients. This whole complex web is driven by the seasonal fluctuations in sunlight arriving at the sea surface, and coupled to the physical circulation and three-dimensional mixing of the marine environment by winds, tides and freshwater-driven currents, which transport all the components of the food web around in space. To accomplish this we need to summarize scientific information from across the whole range biology, chemistry and physics and represent it in our models.

We start the project with the legacy of two different working models of marine ecosystems developed for temperate shelf seas, which include most of the basic elements that we need to model the food webs in the Barents Sea, Fram Strait, and the wider Atlantic-Arctic in this project. We will be working with researchers in all of the already-funded Changing Arctic Ocean projects to develop the models, so as to best represent the special features that are needed to simulate high-latitude ecosystems, especially the role of sea-ice on the ecology.

By the end of the project we will be able to quantify the extent to which climate change may affect the potential fishery yields of fish and invertebrates from the Atlantic Arctic, and also the trade-offs that exploiting these resources may entail with respect to the culturally important abundances of Arctic megafauna which rely on fish and invertebrates for their survival.

Planned Impact

Our aim is to deliver balanced and objective insights and stories emerging from our science which, first and foremost, are relevant and useful to the people that live in the Arctic and its surrounding countries. However, interest in Arctic ecosystems and their responses to climate change is not confined to Arctic communities - there is global interest in the issues and indeed, these also extend to the Antarctic. We aim to reach these audiences through collaboration with the Conservation of Arctic Fauna and Flora (CAFF) Working Group of the Arctic Council, and by contributing to NERC's participation in the Arctic Circle Assembly.

The UK and Germany have 'Observer Country' status in the CAFF Working Group. Our plan is to contribute to CAFF activities, through our national delegates, by producing a series of short, plain-language video and audio products explain our science and findings to extend and complement the webinar series and YouTube Channel already hosted on their website. Our preferred outcome is that CAFF are able to host our audio and video products since their website is already designed to reach the target audience. Alternatively, we can host them ourselves probably via the MASTS (Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland) website which already carries an active webinar programme. Our 'dream outcome' is that this engagement with CAFF becomes a two-way process with members and the communities they represent able to engage with the project and feed their insights, knowledge and data into our project to improve it and make it more relevant.

In addition to engagement with CAFF, we will communicate the project's research results to non-academic stakeholders and interested parties through the NERC Arctic Office Twitter feed (@Arctic_Office) as well as our own institutional press offices.

Climate change science has been particularly susceptible to challenge in recent times by purveyors of so called "alternative facts", poorly substantiated opinions, and even "fake news", as witnessed by attacks on the highly successful NERC Ocean Acidification Programme described by Phil Williamson (2016, Nature 540, 171). Encouraging public engagement with science through the sort of dialogues that we aim to achieve with CAFF is an important part of countering and forestalling such attempts to erode the credibility of scientific research.


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Description A prototype model of the Barents Sea food web has been implemented with the StrathE2E model and used to scope the impact of loss of sea-ice cover in a preliminary way. The model showed that loss of sea-ice resulted in enhancement of the benthic food web pathway as opposed to the pelagic food web. These reasults are an early guide as to what the project may eventually produce, but cannot yet be regarded as definitive results because there is more model development work to be carried out.
Exploitation Route Too early to be taken forward by others yet
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Environment

Description MASTS Annual Science Meeting - Special Session: The Changing Arctic Ocean: Identifying and quantifying the Arctic response to climate change 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Science presentatiion entitled "Modelling the effects of changes in sea-ice extent on Arctic marine food webs"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.masts.ac.uk/annual-science-meeting/2018-programme-and-abstracts/thurs-1st-nov/