Ecosystem functions controlled by sea ice and light in a changing Arctic (Eco-Light)

Lead Research Organisation: NERC British Antarctic Survey
Department Name: Science Programmes

Abstract

SUMMARY

The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as any other region of our planet. This warming has led to quantifiable changes right across the Arctic; land, ocean and atmosphere. However, the most dramatic changes are possibly those associated with Arctic sea ice. For example satellite records have revealed a significant decrease in sea ice extent in all months, especially in summer. There has been a reduction in summer sea ice extent from about 7 million square kilometres in the late 1970s to around 3.4 million square kilometres in 2012; a reduction of over 50%. Time-series analysis of submarine records concluded that the mean thickness has declined by more than 40%, and taken together that these changes have led to a fundamental shift in the ice regime in the Arctic. The Arctic is no longer a region dominated by a thick multi-year ice (MYI), but it is a regime controlled by thinner, more dynamic, first year ice (FYI). In fact complex computer models predict that the Arctic Ocean is on track to become mostly ice free in summer within a few decades, if not earlier.

Our understanding of the functioning of the Arctic marine ecosystem has been overwhelmingly derived from a MYI setting, rather than the FYI dominated Arctic of recent years. As a result, our current state of knowledge of these processes and the validity of many of the parameterisations presently embedded in computer models becomes more questionable. For example, recent studies revealed that that the transition from MYI to FYI summer ice cover corresponds to an increase of 200% in light transmittance into the upper ocean. Light is one of the critical ingredients that controls primary production under sea ice, and in addition recent modelling studies have shown that the sea-ice algal blooms are triggered by light availability. Therefore if we are to understand and predict ecosystem function in this 'new Arctic', we must understand and correctly parameterise the light climate under this new FYI environment we find ourselves in today, and for the foreseeable future. To do this correctly we need a holistic approach that seamlessly brings biology, optics, sea ice and ocean physics, together with satellite remote sensing and cutting-edge modelling.

This programme, Eco-Light, does this by utilising the modelling and observational expertise of the United Kingdom and Germany to better understand the influence of changing Arctic sea ice on ecosystem function. This is achieved by observationally constraining and improving the parameterisations of processes of light transmission in this 'new' Arctic, and by doing so we will better understand its influence on ecosystem function. This information will be used to resolve euphotic depths for primary productivity, and to predict the effects of changing snow-ice-ocean constituents on the underwater light climate.

Eco-Light will undoubtedly produce a strong legacy for UK and Germany leadership in key aspects of Arctic observational science, ecosystem dynamics, and predictive modelling.

Planned Impact

IMPACT SUMMARY

Arctic change presents opportunities, but it also presents regional and global challenges and risks. Although Germany and UK are not Arctic nations, both play a proactive role on international Arctic bodies, such as our observer status in the Arctic Council. Over the past 12 months policy makers, businesses leaders and philanthropists have all been involved in meetings dedicated to the Arctic. A good example is the White House Science Ministerial which brought together leaders from around the world, with the aim to expand joint collaborations focused on Arctic science. The Arctic has impact.

To ensure our programme's impact goes beyond catchy headlines we will work in close contact with our Partners, and with the UK and German Arctic Office, to ensure the widest dissemination, and the involvement of a broad range of stakeholders. We will implement a range of activities with the aim of achieving the greatest potential for knowledge dissemination and socio-economic impact. We list some examples below:

Press office network:
The press offices at BAS, UCL, and AWI have a wide expertise in communicating with the media and public, as well as assisting and training staff in doing so. In order to attain a broader communication strategy, we will build on our established working relationship between our institutions. By doing so we are able to keep our press offices fully abreast of our project, and to facilitate communication to a wider audience, as well to co-ordinate 'on message' media activities. We appropriate we will actively pursue a reputable scientific journalist (BBC or similar) to participate and record our cruise and scientific discoveries.

Workshop
In the later stages of our project we will run a 2-day international impact workshop on Ecosystem function in the Arctic. Beside our international invitees we will provide dedicated space for key UK and German modelling and observational groups. This workshop will consolidate current understanding and include the new insight from this project, and identify the pathways to incorporating the new parameterisations in earth system models.

Outreach
Wider interest groups include school children, students and the general public. We will engage with them via outreach channels available to BAS, UCL, and AWI, including the press offices, websites and publications such as NERC's Planet Earth magazine, and presentations to the local community. Our cruise blogs will be of particular interest, as will our real time imagery from our autonomous platforms. We will use the knowledge gained within our project to develop new and innovative outreach activities to educate and enthuse a broad range of audiences about the importance of the Arctic in the climate system.

Website:
The website is the central point for gathering, redistributing, disseminating and enhancing project information and provides information on different aspects of the project, its topics, education and data accessibility. Additional impact will be achieved through, blogs, real-time data feeds from our drifting platforms, a Press Room for journalists, and more.

Training and Education:
Training and education within our programme will mostly be delivered through partner institutions via their post-graduate schemes, such as the course on 'Communicating science to the public'. Because of the nature of this project (UK-German collaboration) we will fund a minimum one month exchange between our early-career scientists so they can experience work at our respective organisations. The purpose of the exchange is to encourage these scientists to interact with institutes beyond their home counties and establish lifelong collaborations both nationally and internationally.

Publications

10 25 50

publication icon
Hayward A (2020) The Bottom of the Arctic's Food Web Is of Top Importance in Frontiers for Young Minds

publication icon
Castellani G (2020) Freezing in the Sun in Frontiers for Young Minds

 
Title AZFP buoy 
Description A newly developed autonomous Acoustic Zooplankton and Fish Profiler (AZFP) autonomous buoy has been developed. It has been continuously measuring the vertical zooplankton distribution in the water column under the ice and transmitted its data back to us via satellite. The device has 4 frequencies targeting different size classes of animals. It samples automatically at predefined intervals and transmits the data to a server in Europe via Iridium every day. It is possible to change the sampling parameters via a remote connection at any time. The AZFP has been collecting data since 12 September 2020. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The data collected by the EcoLight AZFP constitute the first hydroacoustic record of zooplankton distribution near the North Pole sampled with a fully autonomous system in the absence of disturbing light sources. 
URL http://frazil.nerc-bas.ac.uk/EcoLight/device.php?device=WIMBO-76
 
Title New field observations of light penetration through sea ice and snow. Development of new algorithms 
Description New field observations of light penetration through sea ice and snow. Development of new algorithms 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Better understanding of the Pan-Arctic underuse light field. 
 
Description Autonomous measurements of physical and ecological key parameters in the Arctic Ocean 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Arctic Frontiers: Session 5: The coupled Arctic system: Improved understanding from recent international campaigns
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.arcticfrontiers.com/2-feb-2021-science-parallel-2-1330-1430-gmt1/
 
Description Development and Implementation of a Sustainable Arctic Observing Network: Accomplishments and Challenges 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact ISAR 6 Session Development and Implementation of a Sustainable Arctic Observing Network: Accomplishments and Challenges Main convener: Jeremy Wilkinson, Stein Sandven ; Co-conveners: Michael Karcher, Craig Lee, Hanne Sagen
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.jcar.org/isar-6/program/
 
Description Eco-Light presentation and meeting at KOPRI symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In May 2019 the UK PI Wilkinson and the German PI Castellani participated at a KOPRI Symposium meeting in May. Wilkinson gave a presentation and both Wilkinson and Castellani ran a workshop to strengthen the collaboration with the South Korean's and Eco-Light.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Side-event World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The Arctic in a state of accelerated flux; we are witness to drastic environmental, economic, and consequences. The increased global awareness of the region brings opportunities and possibilities, but also brings with it the potential for conflicts and global consequences and risks.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) engages the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas. The WEF is independent, impartial and not tied to any special interests. The Forum strives in all its efforts to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the global public interest while upholding the highest standards of governance. In 2020, the WEF's Annual Meeting, held in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, occurred between 20-24 January.
The Arctic Basecamp event was a side-event at WEF's Annual Meeting. Thus, we had the opportunity to inform a high-level non-scientific audience and to trigger innovative dialogue on opportunities, challenges, and importantly, solutions. The aim being is to open-up dialogue with important sectors beyond traditional scientific disciplines.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description The changing under-ice light field of the Arctic Ocean 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact ISAR-6 conference: international virtual conference, Japan
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.jcar.org/isar-6/
 
Description Under-Ice Light Field in the Western Arctic Ocean during Late Summer 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Arctic Frontiers Session 5: The coupled Arctic system: Improved understanding from recent international campaigns
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.arcticfrontiers.com/2-feb-2021-science-parallel-2-1330-1430-gmt1/
 
Description World Economic Forum Annual meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Ran an Arctic side event (with Lancaster University), called Arctic Base camp, during the World Economic Forum in order to highlight the impact changes in the Arctic have on a, local, regional and global level.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
 
Description side event at the World Economic Forum Annual meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Outreach about impacts of Arctic sea ice loss at a side event at the World Economic Forum Annual meeting in Davos switzerland.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018,2019,2020