Biologists lead international team to track Arctic response to climate change

Feb 21, 2013
Last summer was the highest ice retreat in the Arctic record, and eight of the last ten years have seen the lowest ice on record. An international team of scientists will track the biological response to sea ice retreat and the resulting environmental changes. Credit: Photo by Lee Cooper/University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Biologists Jackie Grebmeier and Lee Cooper from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's Chesapeake Biological Laboratory have been visiting the chilly area north of Alaska near the Bering Strait for more than 20 years, but it's only in the last few years that they have seen things really start to change. And fast. Last summer was the highest ice retreat in the Arctic record, and eight of the last ten years have seen the lowest ice on record.

"We're seeing the highest retreat in the whole Arctic," said Jackie Grebmeier, research professor at the University of Maryland Center for 's Chesapeake Biological Laboratory and chair of the International Pacific Arctic Group. "It's the most productive part of the Arctic, and it's in the U.S.' backyard."

At the end of February, they travel to Seattle gather an international team of scientists to establish a Distributed Biological Observatory in the North American Arctic. Funded by a five-year award from the National Science Foundation, researchers from Japan, Korea, China, Canada, Russia, and the United States will systematically track the to sea ice retreat and the resulting environmental changes in the Bering and Chukchi Seas to the west and north of Alaska.

"It has been projected that there won't be ice in the summer in the by 2050," said research professor Lee Cooper. "But the ice is disappearing faster than all of the models."

Through observing stations in five "hot" spots, scientists will monitor everything from the temperature and salinity of the water and the amount of zooplankton (fish food) swimming around in the waters to clams clinging to the shores and how many birds, walruses, and continue to call the area home. The goal is to observe and document how the Arctic creatures are responding to climate change and track those under further loss of sea ice.

In Arctic , even small changes can have large cascading effects on higher organisms. Intense studies of these areas will help scientists to better understand how affects Arctic biology, and how these changes in turn affect the Earth system. No ice in the summer means thinner ice that melts faster in the winter. It's multi-year ice that keeps the Arctic cold, and helps control weather around the world.

"When you change sea ice, you change climate and weather patterns that affect us throughout the U.S.," said Grebmeier, who represents the United States on the International Arctic Science Committee.

A decline in sea ice has other implications, as well. Fishing might move north. Ships from China might take a shortcut through the to reach destinations in Europe instead of the long trip across the Indian Ocean and through the Suez Canal. Oil companies could more easily access oil reserves for more of the year. People who live in the Arctic are also interested in these changes, as increased use of the waterways can lead to contamination of fisheries, pollution, and shifts in their economy.

"When you go up there you really see changes," said Grebmeier. "We're like the frogs in the pot here. But up there, just in the past 20 or 30 years, the changes have been quite obvious."

Explore further: 2014 Antarctic ozone hole holds steady

More information: arctic.cbl.umces.edu/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Declining sea ice to lead to cloudier Arctic: study

Mar 31, 2012

Arctic sea ice has been declining over the past several decades as global climate has warmed. In fact, sea ice has declined more quickly than many models predicted, indicating that climate models may not be correctly representing ...

Arctic ice gets a check up

Mar 31, 2011

Scientists tracking the annual maximum extent of Arctic sea ice said that 2011 was among the lowest ice extents measured since satellites began collecting the data in 1979. Using satellites to track Arctic ice and comparing ...

Arctic ice cap near 2007 record minimum: Russia

Aug 04, 2011

The polar ice cap in the Arctic has melted to near its 2007 record minimum level and in some areas is 50 percent smaller than average, Russia's environmental monitoring agency said Thursday.

Recommended for you

2014 Antarctic ozone hole holds steady

12 hours ago

The Antarctic ozone hole reached its annual peak size on Sept. 11, according to scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The size of this year's hole was 24.1 million ...

New study finds oceans arrived early to Earth

15 hours ago

Earth is known as the Blue Planet because of its oceans, which cover more than 70 percent of the planet's surface and are home to the world's greatest diversity of life. While water is essential for life ...

Magma pancakes beneath Lake Toba

15 hours ago

Where do the tremendous amounts of material that are ejected to from huge volcanic calderas during super-eruptions actually originate?

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.