Nares Strait is the northern most outflow gateway of the Arctic Ocean, with a direct connection to the remaining multi-year ice covered central Arctic Ocean. Nares Strait itself flows into the historically highly productive North Water Polynya (Pikialasorsuaq). Satellite data show that Nares Strait ice is retreating earlier in the season. The early season surface chlorophyll signal, which was a characteristic of the North Water, has also moved north into Nares Strait. However, given the vast differences in the hydrography and physical oceanographic structure of the North Water and Nares Strait there is no a priori reason to assume that the species assemblages and overall productivity of this region between Greenland and Canada will be maintained in the face of ongoing sea ice decline. The North Water’s high marine mammal and bird populations are dependent on seasonally persistent diatom dominated phytoplankton productivity, and although there have been several studies on North Water phytoplankton, virtually nothing is known about the communities in Nares Strait. Here we investigated the microbial eukaryotes, including phytoplankton in Nares Strait using high-throughput amplicon sequencing. Samples were collected from Kennedy Channel below the northern ice edge of Nares Strait through the Kane Basin and into the northern limit of the North Water. The physical oceanographic structure and initial community rapidly changed between the faster flowing Kennedy Channel and the comparatively wider shallower Kane Basin. The community changes were evident in both the upper euphotic zone and the deeper aphotic zone. Heterotrophic taxa were found in the deeper waters along with ice algae that would have originated further to the north following release from the ice. Although there was a high proportion of pan-Arctic species throughout, the Nares Strait system showed little in common with the Northern North Water station, suggesting a lack of connectivity. We surmise that a direct displacement of the rich North Water ecosystem is not likely to occur. Overall our study supported the notion that the microbial eukaryotic community, which supports ecosystem function and secondary productivity is shaped by a balance of historic and current processes, which differed by seascape.
The Arctic is a complex geographical area to govern sustainably due to strong geopolitical and socio-economic interests, high ecological vulnerability and importance, and significant legal and institutional fragmentation. Intensifying human pressures in this area necessitate an ecosystem-based and adaptive governance approach, an approach that enables managing socio-ecological resilience in the Arctic. As the Arctic is a large geographic area crossing multiple national jurisdictions and maritime zones, including high seas areas, regionally coordinated and coherent governance approaches would be desirable. This paper assesses the status quo for ecosystem-based governance (EBG) in the Arctic, suggests a focus on three core components of EBG, and proposes three forms of legal coherence to foster these core components. The paper concludes with examining what role the Arctic Council plays and could play to strengthen EBG in the Arctic.
Since the last Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) effort to review biological effects of the exposure to organohalogen compounds (OHCs) in Arctic biota, there has been a considerable number of new Arctic effect studies. Here, we provide an update on the state of the knowledge of OHC, and also include mercury, exposure and/or associated effects in key Arctic marine and terrestrial mammal and bird species as well as in fish by reviewing the literature published since the last AMAP assessment in 2010. We aimed at updating the knowledge of how single but also combined health effects are or can be associated to the exposure to single compounds or mixtures of OHCs. We also focussed on assessing both potential individual as well as population health impacts using population-specific exposure data post 2000. We have identified quantifiable effects on vitamin metabolism, immune functioning, thyroid and steroid hormone balances, oxidative stress, tissue pathology, and reproduction. As with the previous assessment, a wealth of documentation is available for biological effects in marine mammals and seabirds, and sentinel species such as the sledge dog and Arctic fox, but information for terrestrial vertebrates and fish remain scarce. While hormones and vitamins are thoroughly studied, oxidative stress, immunotoxic and reproductive effects need further investigation. Depending on the species and population, some OHCs and mercury tissue contaminant burdens post 2000 were observed to be high enough to exceed putative risk threshold levels that have been previously estimated for non-target species or populations outside the Arctic. In this assessment, we made use of risk quotient calculations to summarize the cumulative effects of different OHC classes and mercury for which critical body burdens can be estimated for wildlife across the Arctic. As our ultimate goal is to better predict or estimate the effects of OHCs and mercury in Arctic wildlife at the individual, population and ecosystem level, there remain numerous knowledge gaps on the biological effects of exposure in Arctic biota. These knowledge gaps include the establishment of concentration thresholds for individual compounds as well as for realistic cocktail mixtures that in fact indicate biologically relevant, and not statistically determined, health effects for specific species and subpopulations. Finally, we provide future perspectives on understanding Arctic wildlife health using new in vivo, in vitro, and in silico techniques, and provide case studies on multiple stressors to show that future assessments would benefit from significant efforts to integrate human health, wildlife ecology and retrospective and forecasting aspects into assessing the biological effects of OHC and mercury exposure in Arctic wildlife and fish.
Mesopelagic sound scattering layers (SSL) are ubiquitous in all oceans. Pelagic organisms within the SSL play important roles as prey for higher trophic levels and in climate regulation through the biological carbon pump. Yet, the biomass and species composition of SSL in the Arctic Ocean remain poorly documented, particularly in winter. A multifrequency echosounder detected a SSL north of Svalbard, from 79.8 to 81.4°N, in January 2016, August 2016, and January 2017. Midwater trawl sampling confirmed that the SSL comprised zooplankton and pelagic fish of boreal and Arctic origins. Arctic cod dominated the fish assemblage in August and juvenile beaked redfish in January. The macrozooplankton community mainly comprised the medusa Cyanea capillata, the amphipod Themisto libellula, and the euphausiids Meganyctiphanes norvegica in August and Thysanoessa inermis in January. The SSL was located in the Atlantic Water mass, between 200–700 m in August and between 50–500 m in January. In January, the SSL was shallower and weaker above the deeper basin, where less Atlantic Water penetrated. The energy content available in the form of lipids within the SSL was significantly higher in summer than winter. The biomass within the SSL was >12-fold higher in summer, and the diversity of fish was slightly higher than in winter (12 vs. 9 species). We suggest that these differences are mainly related to life history and ontogenetic changes resulting in a descent toward the seafloor, outside the mesopelagic layer, in winter. In addition, some fish species of boreal origin, such as the spotted barracudina, did not seem to survive the polar night when advected from the Atlantic into the Arctic. Others, mainly juvenile beaked redfish, were abundant in both summer and winter, implying that the species can survive the polar night and possibly extend its range into the high Arctic. Fatty-acid trophic markers revealed that Arctic cod mainly fed on calanoid copepods while juvenile beaked redfish targeted krill (Thysanoessa spp.). The relatively high biomass of Arctic cod in August and of redfish in January thus suggests a shift within the SSL, from a Calanus-based food web in summer to a krill-based food web during winter.
The historic influence of interannual weather and climate variability on total mercury concentrations (THg) in the eggs of two species of Arctic seabird in the Canadian High Arctic was investigated. Time series of THg in the eggs of northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) and thick-billed murres (Uria lomvia) from Prince Leopold Island span 40 years (1975–2014), making these among the longest time series available for contaminants in Arctic wildlife and uniquely suitable for evaluation of long-term climate and weather influence. We compiled a suite of weather and climate time series reflecting atmospheric (air temperature, wind speed, sea level pressure) and oceanic (sea surface temperature, sea ice cover) conditions, atmosphere-ocean transfer (snow and rain), as well as broad-scale teleconnection indices such as the Arctic Oscillation (AO) and North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). We staggered these to the optimal time lag, then in a tiered approach of successive General Linear Models (GLMs), strategically added them to GLMs to identify possible key predictors and assess any main effects on THg concentrations. We investigated time lags of 0 to 10 years between weather/climate shifts and egg collections. For both fulmars and murres, after time lags of two to seven years, the most parsimonious models included NAO and temperature, and for murres, snowfall, while the fulmar model also included sea ice. Truncated versions of the datasets (2005–2014), reflective of typical time series length for THg in Arctic wildlife, were separately assessed and generally identified similar weather predictors and effects as the full time series, but not for NAO, indicating that longer time series are more effective at elucidating relationships with broad scale climate indices. Overall, the results suggest a significant and larger than expected effect of weather and climate on THg concentrations in Arctic seabirds.
While hydrocarbon exploration and extraction in the Arctic ebb and flow, reduced sea ice has opened new travel routes across the Arctic. The opening of the Northwest Passage has allowed larger ships (including oil tankers) and higher traffic into remote regions. More ice loss is expected in the future. With this comes the potential for hydrocarbon spills. To quantify the ecosystem impacts of a spill in the Alaska North Slope region, an Ecospace model using the Ecopath with Ecosim software was developed. We highlight the impacts of four potential hydrocarbon contamination scenarios: a subsurface crude oil pipeline release, a surface platform oil spill, a surface cruise ship diesel spill, and a surface tanker oil spill. Hydrocarbon contamination was modeled using SIMAP (Spill Impact Model Analysis Package), which was developed from the oil fate sub-model in the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Model for the US Department of the Interior and under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). Spatial-temporal SIMAP results were coupled to the Ecospace model. We show that in all four hydrocarbon contamination scenarios, there are spatial changes in harvested species resulting in long-term declines in harvest levels for the communities within the model area (Nuiqsut, Kaktovik, and Barrow Alaska), depending on the severity of the scenario. Responses to hydrocarbon events are likely to be slow in the Arctic, limited by the ice-free season. We highlight this area for scenario testing as ecological impacts are also an issue of food security to the local communities and human health issue.
A large retreat of sea-ice in the ‘stormy’ Atlantic Sector of the Arctic Ocean has become evident through a series of record minima for the winter maximum sea-ice extent since 2015. Results from the Norwegian young sea ICE (N-ICE2015) expedition, a five-month-long (Jan-Jun) drifting ice station in first and second year pack-ice north of Svalbard, showcase how sea-ice in this region is frequently affected by passing winter storms. Here we synthesise the interdisciplinary N-ICE2015 dataset, including independent observations of the atmosphere, snow, sea-ice, ocean, and ecosystem. We build upon recent results and illustrate the different mechanisms through which winter storms impact the coupled Arctic sea-ice system. These short-lived and episodic synoptic-scale events transport pulses of heat and moisture into the Arctic, which temporarily reduce radiative cooling and henceforth ice growth. Cumulative snowfall from each sequential storm deepens the snow pack and insulates the sea-ice, further inhibiting ice growth throughout the remaining winter season. Strong winds fracture the ice cover, enhance ocean-ice-atmosphere heat fluxes, and make the ice more susceptible to lateral melt. In conclusion, the legacy of Arctic winter storms for sea-ice and the ice-associated ecosystem in the Atlantic Sector lasts far beyond their short lifespan.
Climate change vulnerability research methods are often divergent, drawing from siloed biophysical risk approaches or social-contextual frameworks, lacking methods for integrative approaches. This substantial gap has been noted by scientists, policymakers and communities, inhibiting decision-makers’ capacity to implement adaptation policies responsive to both physical risks and social sensitivities. Aiming to contribute to the growing literature on integrated vulnerability approaches, we conceptualize and translate new integrative theoretical insights of vulnerability research to a scalable quantitative method. Piloted through a climate change vulnerability index for aviation and marine sectors in the Canadian Arctic, this study demonstrates an avenue of applying vulnerability concepts to assess both biophysical and social components analyzing future changes with linked RCP climate projections. The iterative process we outline is transferable and adaptable across the circumpolar north, as well as other global regions and shows that transportation vulnerability varies across Inuit regions depending on modeled hazards and transportation infrastructures.
The ocean capacity to store carbon is crucial, and currently absorbs about 25% CO2 supply to the atmosphere. The ability to store carbon has an economic value, but such estimates are not common for ocean environments, and not yet estimated for the Arctic Ocean. With the severe climatic changes in the Arctic Ocean, impacting sea ice and potentially the vertical carbon transport mechanisms, a projection of future changes in Arctic Ocean carbon storage is also of interest. In order to value present and evolving carbon storage in the changing Arctic marine environment we combine an ocean model with an economic analysis. Placing a value on these changes helps articulate the importance of the carbon storage service to society. The standing stock and fluxes of organic and inorganic carbon from the atmosphere, rivers, shelves and through the gateways linking to lower latitudes, and to the deep of the Arctic Ocean are investigated using the physically chemically biologically coupled SINMOD model. To obtain indications of the effect of climate change, trajectories of two IPCC climate scenarios RCP 4.5, and RCP 8.5 from the Max Planck Institute were used for the period 2006–2099. The results show an increase in the net carbon storage in the Arctic Ocean in this time period to be 1.0 and 2.3% in the RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5 scenarios, respectively. Most of this increase is caused by an increased atmospheric CO2 uptake until 2070. The continued increase in inorganic carbon storage between 2070 and 2099 results from increased horizontal influx from lower latitude marine regions. First estimates of carbon storage values in the Arctic Ocean are calculated using the social cost of carbon (SCC) and carbon market values as two outer bounds from 2019 to 2099, based on the simulated scenarios. We find the Arctic Ocean will over the time period studied increase its storage of carbon to a value of between €27.6 billion and €1 trillion. This paper clearly neglects a multitude of different negative consequences of climate change in the Arctic, but points to the fact that there are also some positive counterbalancing effects.
The history of commercial exploitation of fish stocks is replete with instances of over-exploitation and stock collapse. Particularly in situations where little is known about a species or a particular fish stock, unregulated expansion into new fisheries may effectively wipe out a species or stock before its existence is even formally recognised or understood. Globally, there has been a strong interest in ensuring that such a fate does not befall any fish stocks that either exist in or may migrate in future into the high seas portion of the Central Arctic Ocean. The Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean establishes a framework for the acquisition of science upon which precautionary, ecosystem-based management measures can be based, if and when they become necessary in the future. This article examines the role of international law in facilitating both the adoption of the Agreement and the adaptive management of fisheries in the high seas portion of the Central Arctic Ocean. It will be shown that the Agreement provides the initial framework for precautionary, ecosystem-based, adaptive and environmentally sound decision making regarding potential future fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean.