About the project
Project finansed from the National Science Center funds under the nr DEC-2012/04/A/NZ8/00661
Scientific goal of the projects, hypothesis
The aim of the project is to answer the question: what is the reaction of physically controlled Arctic marine ecosystem to temperature rise. We will verify the hypothesis, that Arctic marine ecosystem is growing up (aging) in the course of the global warming. Evolutionary mature systems are characterized by the balanced, dispersed energy flow with little unused organic matter. Young systems are usually simpler, with less trophic links and excess organic matter deposited. Coastal waters of the European Arctic are world youngest large marine ecosystem, as they were released from the ice sheet 12 thousands years ago. Two most studied European Arctic locations are going to be compared for their usefulness as marine climate change monitoring stations.
In order to verify our hypothesis, we have selected two well defined areas that are differently exposed for the present climate warming. If our hypothesis is plausible the warmer area will show the features of more mature ecosystem when compared to the colder one. Such approach will help to understand the direction of changes observed allover the Arctic, and prepare better scenarios of the climate change consequences. Two fjords – Hornsund and adjacent shelf as “cold” and Kongsfjorden with NW Spitsbergen shelf as the “warm” area were chosen. Integration of efforts and results between disciplines will be achieved by understanding the common goal and performing all the measurements in agreed places, so that physical and chemical data will supply biological observations. Our approach – modelling based on the archival data supplied with new measurements performed both in the water column and in the sediment, and covering wide array of disciplines from physics, chemistry, microbiology to large organisms ecology was not performed so far in Svalbard fjords. We know what we are looking for and where to find it – now we plan to do it in the integrated, multidisciplinary way, using our experience from past years and infrastructure of research vessel OCEANIA and coastal polar stations.
The meaning of the project for the development of science, society
European Arctic is commonly regarded as the fastest warming area on Earth (ACIA 2005). Warming means not only local air and sea temperature rise, but also increased volume of Atlantic waters, especially in years with positive NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) index. As the marine ecosystem is based on short living microplankton (contrary to terrestrial that is based on large plants), the physical and chemical conditions are principal drivers of the biocenose. That is why the assessment of the biological functions in Arctic marine ecosystem needs to be based on thorough understanding of its physical drivers. Our project will provide new data for the international dispute on the character of changes taking place in Arctic. Is it a problem of approaching the Tipping Point - point of no return, where structures and functions of ecosystem are changed for good? Or are we dealing with linear, reversible change described as “regime shift” with species and processes simply moving North with advancement of Atlantic waters? The ability of organisms and communities to buffer these changes has not been assessed, and our concept of “ecosystem maturation” is a new attempt to address the problem.
To what extent planned research goes beyond the present state of knowledge
Our project is novel in terms of wide interdisciplinary approach to all domains of the marine ecosystem (water column, ice and sea bed) with high taxonomic resolution. Interdisciplinary research of the pelagic system of fjords have been performed in 1970-ties by Hopkins et al. (1981) in Balsfjorden, Northern Norway. New wave of interest arrived with the establishment of European Networks of Excellence (MARBEF, ARCTOS) and two widely cited papers about Kongsfjorden (Hop et al. 2002, Svendsen et al. 2002), with number of coauthors from IOPAS. The final publication of the MARBEF EU Network of Excellence provided recommendation for Hornsund and Kongsfjorden as two European Biodiversity Flagship sites. Hornsund was proposed for the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, while Kongsfjorden was named Long Term Biodiversity Observatory. The recommendations for marine environmental monitoring were formed by Norsk Polarinstitutt organized international seminar (NPI 2009), still the critical analyses of the fjord’s as proxies for the whole region was not performed. There are two new EU initiatives, program SAON and COST action EMBOS that will address this issue in coming future. The comparative marine research of the two fjords was performed for some sectors like mesozooplankton (Węsławski et al. 1992), hydrology (Beszczyńska-Möller et al. 2000), predators (Węsławski et al. 2009) or meiofauna (Kotwicki et al. 2010). IOPAS is conducting regular summer oceanographic surveys to Kongsfjorden and Hornsund since 1996, and large amount of data has been gathered. The climate change consequences for the Svalbard marine environment were described already in 50-ties, when Blacker (1957) prepared an extensive overview of the benthic animals distribution shift, that followed hydrographic changes between end of the XIX century and 1950-ties. Modern study under the IPCC (ACIA 2005) shows a selection of scenarios and model simulations. Even small near bottom water temperature change can lead to important geochemical and microbiological consequences as presented in the Danish studies of Greenland fjords (Rysgaard & Glud 2007). These phenomena were recently confirmed in the Svalbard waters by Vandiekan (2012).
The concept of “aging” of Arctic marine ecosystem was presented during World Congress on Marine Biodiversity in Aberdeen in 2011, and was received with interest as a novel approach. Due to the lack of well documented evidence, this idea remains only a hypothesis to confirm or to reject, the hypothesis we plan to test and document in the GAME project.