With the widespread influence of human activities on marine ecosystems, evaluation of ecological status provides valuable information for conservation initiatives and sustainable development. To this end, many environmental indicators have been developed worldwide and there is a growing need to evaluate their performance by calculating ecological status in a wide range of ecosystems at multiple spatial and temporal scales. This study calculated and contrasted sixteen indicators of ecological status from three methodological categories: abundance measures, diversity parameters and characteristic species. This selection was applied to coastal benthic ecosystems at Sept-Îles (Québec, Canada), an important industrial harbor area in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and related to habitat parameters (organic matter, grain size fractions, and heavy metal concentrations). Nearly all indicators highlighted a generally good ecological status in the study area, where communities presented an unperturbed profile with high taxa and functional diversities and without the dominance of opportunistic taxa. Some correlations with habitat parameters were detected, especially with heavy metals, and bootstrap analyses indicated quite robust results. This study provides valuable information on the application of environmental indicators in Canadian coastal ecosystems, along with insights on their use for environmental assessments.
This paper investigates the linkage between the acute impacts on apex marine mammals with polar cod responses to an oil spill. It proposes a Bayesian network-based model to link these direct and indirect effects on the apex marine mammals. The model predicts a recruitment collapse (for the scenarios considered), causing a higher risk of mortality of polar bears, beluga whales, and Narwhals in the Arctic region. Whales (adult and calves) were predicted to be at higher risk when the spill was under thick ice, while adult polar bears were at higher risk when the spill occurred on thin ice. A spill over the thick ice caused the least risk to whale and adult polar bears. The spill's timing and location have a significant impact on the animals in the Arctic region due to its unique sea ice dynamics, simple food web, and short periods of food abundance.
We used deep learning networks to establish a relationship model among MODIS daily surface reflectance product (MOD09GA) and Arctic melt ponds fraction (MPF), ice fraction (IF), and open water fraction (OWF). We applied this model to MODIS 8-day surface reflectance (MOD09A1) to derive Arctic 8-day MPF and SIF (SIF as the sum of IF and MPF). The results demonstrate that our model improved MPF estimation accuracy to an RMSE of 3.7%, compared with previous models. The characteristics of MPF spatiotemporal changes seen in early summer (May-July) indicate that MPF increased first from May-June, reaching its peak around early July, and then decreased. In addition, early summer MPF was significantly negatively correlated with sea ice extent (SIE) in September. We also found that early summer MPF caused sea ice in the Beaufort Sea, the Chukchi Sea, and the East Siberian Sea to move to warm water. Moreover, the movement of sea ice from the marginal sea to the center of the Arctic was shown to be conducive to the reduction of SIE in September. Early summer MPF was also related to Arctic oscillation (AO) during June to July, and significantly positively related to air temperature in the East Siberian and Chukchi Seas in September. As a consequence, these areas produced more open water and absorbed more heat, reducing the extent of sea ice in September, while increasing their air temperatures. The results also show that early summer MPF has a high negative correlation with air temperature in northern China, and MPF can be used to predict air temperature in northern China. These new findings should be investigated in future studies with additional data collection and field observations.
Deep-sea regions provide vast ecosystem services such as biological habitat and nutrient cycling. Even though being threatened by climate change and facing possible biodiversity loss, these deep-sea ecosystems are poorly understood. So are macrobenthic communities and their functions within these ecosystems. Biodiversity and ecosystem function relationships as well as their link to environmental drivers can be assessed with the biological trait analysis. We used this approach for the first time for macrofauna assemblages across the deep Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard (1000–5500 m water depth) to evaluate their community-specific function from the upper continental slope down to the deepest known Arctic depression, the Molloy Deep. We aimed to investigate whether there are changes in benthic functioning along the bathymetric gradient and if so, which environmental stressors may drive these changes.
In total, 16 stations were sampled with a giant box corer (0.25 m2) in 2016 and 2018. Sediments were sieved through a 0.5 mm mesh size sieve and fauna was identified to lowest possible taxonomic entity. Functions of species were characterized by using six traits split in 24 modalities gathered in a fuzzy coded species × traits array. Environmental parameters shaping the benthic habitat and reflecting food availability were gathered from remote sensing, mooring deployments, and sediment sampling.
A distance-based redundancy analysis indicated near-bottom water temperature, seabed inclination, water depth as well as phytodetritial matter at the sea surface and seafloor (indicating food availability) to be the best variables explaining the trait and station distribution. Stations clustered into three groups based on their trait composition. Shallower stations characterized by high chlorophyll a concentration with large organisms, living within the sediment as well as predating specimens clustered in one group. A second group was characterized by stations with low chlorophyll a concentration and medium-sized, suspension feeding, epifaunal living macrofauna. A third group comprised stations with water depths ≥ 3000 m and was dominated by medium sized, surface deposit feeding and infaunal living specimens.
Overall, the functional structure of macrofauna communities in the Fram Strait followed a food availability-driven gradient. Based on the relationship between sea ice, surface water primary production and food availability at the seafloor, these results point to macrobenthos being sensible to predicted anthropogenically generated environmental variations in polar regions. Alterations in benthic ecosystem functions might be expected when environmental conditions change.
To achieve effective management and understanding of risks associated with increasing anthropogenic pressures in the ocean, it is essential to successfully and efficiently collect data with high spatio–temporal resolution and coverage. Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) are an example of technological advances with potential to provide improved information on ocean processes. We demonstrate the capabilities of a low-power AUV buoyancy glider for performing long endurance biological and environmental data acquisition in Northern Norway. We deployed a passive acoustic sensor system onboard a SeagliderTM to investigate presence and distribution of cetaceans while concurrently using additional onboard sensors for recording environmental features (temperature, salinity, pressure, dissolved oxygen, and chlorophyll a). The hydrophone recorded over 108.6 h of acoustic data during the spring months of March and April across the continental shelf break and detected both baleen and odontocete species. We observed a change in cetacean detections throughout the survey period, with humpback whale calls dominating the soundscape in the first weeks of deployment, coinciding with the migration toward their breeding grounds. From mid-April, sperm whales and delphinids were the predominant species, which coincided with increasing chlorophyll a fluorescence values associated with the spring phytoplankton blooms. Finally, we report daily variations in background noise associated with fishing activities and traffic in the nearby East Atlantic shipping route. Our results show that gliders provide excellent platforms for collecting information about ecosystems with minimal disturbance to animals, allowing systematic observations of our ocean biodiversity and ecosystem dynamics in response to natural variations and industrial activities.
To successfully operate in a harsh environment like the Arctic Ocean, one must be able to understand and predict how that environment will evolve over different spatial and temporal scales. This is particularly challenging given the on-going and significant environmental changes that are occurring in the region. Access to the most recent environmental information provides timely knowledge that enables ship-based operations to proceed efficiently, effectively and safely in this difficult arena. Knowledge of the evolving environmental conditions during a field campaign is critical for effective planning, optimal execution of sampling strategies, and to provide a broader context to data collected at specific times and places. We describe the collaborations and processes that enabled an operational system to be developed to provide a remote field-team, located on USCGC Healy in the Beaufort Sea, with near real-time situational awareness information regarding the weather, sea ice conditions, and oceanographic processes. The developed system included the punctual throughput of near real-time products such as satellite imagery, meteorological forecasts, ice charts, model outputs, and up to date locations of key sea ice and ocean-based assets. Science and operational users, as well as onshore personnel, used this system for real-time practical considerations such as ship navigation, and to time scientific operations to ensure the appropriate sea ice and weather conditions prevailed. By presenting the outputs of the system within the context of case studies our results clearly demonstrate the benefits that improved situational awareness brings to ship-based operations in the Arctic Ocean, both today and in the future.
The growth of phytoplankton at high latitudes was generally thought to begin in open waters of the marginal ice zone once the highly reflective sea ice retreats in spring, solar elevation increases, and surface waters become stratified by the addition of sea-ice melt water. In fact, virtually all recent large-scale estimates of primary production in the Arctic Ocean (AO) assume that phytoplankton production in the water column under sea ice is negligible. However, over the past two decades, an emerging literature showing significant under-ice phytoplankton production on a pan-Arctic scale has challenged our paradigms of Arctic phytoplankton ecology and phenology. This evidence, which builds on previous, but scarce reports, requires the Arctic scientific community to change its perception of traditional AO phenology and urgently revise it. In particular, it is essential to better comprehend, on small and large scales, the changing and variable icescapes, the under-ice light field and biogeochemical cycles during the transition from sea-ice covered to ice-free Arctic waters. Here, we provide a baseline of our current knowledge of under-ice blooms (UIBs), by defining their ecology and their environmental setting, but also their regional peculiarities (in terms of occurrence, magnitude, and assemblages), which is shaped by a complex AO. To this end, a multidisciplinary approach, i.e., combining expeditions and modern autonomous technologies, satellite, and modeling analyses, has been used to provide an overview of this pan-Arctic phenological feature, which will become increasingly important in future marine Arctic biogeochemical cycles.
This study presents wave measurements in the Marginal Ice Zone (MIZ) obtained from ship mounted sensors. The system combines altimeter readings from the ship bow with ship motion correction data to provide estimated single point ocean surface elevation. Significant wave height and mean wave period, as well as one-dimensional wave spectra are derived from the combined measurements. The results are compared with integrated parameters from two spectral wave models over a period of eight days in the open ocean, and with spectra and integrated parameters derived from motion detecting instruments placed on ice floes inside the MIZ. Mean absolute errors of the integrated parameters are in the range 13.4-29.9% when comparing with the spectral wave models and 1.0-9.6% when comparing with valid motion detecting instruments. The spatial wave damping coefficient is estimated by looking at the change in spectral wave amplitude found at discrete frequency values as the ship was moving along the longitudinal direction of the MIZ within time intervals where the wave field is found to be approximately constant in time. As expected from theory, high frequency waves are effectively dampened by the presence of sea ice. The observed wave attenuation rates compare favourably with a two-layer dissipation model. Our methodology can be regarded as a simple and reliable way to collect more waves-in-ice data as it can be easily added to any ship participating to ice expeditions, at little extra cost.
Harp seals are the most abundant marine mammal in the north Atlantic. As an ice obligatory predator, they reflect changes in their environment, particularly during a period of climatic change. As the focus of a commercial hunt, a large historic data set exists that can be used to quantify changes. There are three populations of harp seals: White Sea/Barents Sea, Greenland Sea and Northwest Atlantic. The objective of this paper is to review their current status and to identify the factors that are influencing population dynamics in different areas. Although important historically, recent catches have been low and do not appear to be influencing trends in either of the two northeast Atlantic populations. Massive mortalities of White Sea/Barents Sea seals occurred during the mid 1980s due to collapses in their main prey species. Between 2004 and 2006, pup production in this population declined by 2/3 and has remained low. Body condition declined during the same period, suggesting that ecosystem changes may have resulted in reduced reproductive rates, possibly due to reduced prey availability and/or competition with Atlantic cod. The most recent estimate of pup production in the Greenland Sea also suggests a possible decline during a period of reduced hunting although the trend in this population is unclear. Pupping concentrations are closer to the Greenland coast due to the reduction in ice in the traditional area and increased drift may result in young being displaced from their traditional feeding grounds leading to increased mortality. Reduced ice extent and thickness has resulted in major mortality of young in the Northwest Atlantic population in some years. After a period of increase, the population remained relatively stable between 1996 and 2013 due to increased hunting, multiple years with increased ice-related mortality of young seals, and lower reproductive rates. With a reduction in harvest and improved survival of young, the population appears to be increasing although extremely large interannual variations in body condition and fecundity have been observed which were found to be influenced by variations in capelin biomass and ice conditions. Each of these populations has been impacted differently by changes in their ecosystems and hunting practices. By identifying the factors influencing these three populations, we can gain a better understanding of how species may respond to changes that are occurring in their ecosystems.
In this study, we present unique data collected with a Surface and Under-Ice Trawl (SUIT) during five campaigns between 2012 and 2017, covering the spring to summer and autumn transition in the Arctic Ocean, and the seasons of winter and summer in the Southern Ocean. The SUIT was equipped with a sensor array from which we retrieved: sea-ice thickness, the light field at the underside of sea ice, chlorophyll a concentration in the ice (in-ice chl a), and the salinity, temperature, and chl a concentration of the under-ice water. With an average trawl distance of about 2 km, and a global transect length of more than 117 km in both polar regions, the present work represents the first multi-seasonal habitat characterization based on kilometer-scale profiles. The present data highlight regional and seasonal patterns in sea-ice properties in the Polar Ocean. Light transmittance through Arctic sea ice reached almost 100% in summer, when the ice was thinner and melt ponds spread over the ice surface. However, the daily integrated amount of light under sea ice was maximum in spring. Compared to the Arctic, Antarctic sea-ice was thinner, snow depth was thicker, and sea-ice properties were more uniform between seasons. Light transmittance was low in winter with maximum transmittance of 73%. Despite thicker snow depth, the overall under-ice light was considerably higher during Antarctic summer than during Arctic summer. Spatial autocorrelation analysis shows that Arctic sea ice was characterized by larger floes compared to the Antarctic. In both Polar regions, the patch size of the transmittance followed the spatial variability of sea-ice thickness. In-ice chl a in the Arctic Ocean remained below 0.39 mg chl a m−2, whereas it exceeded 7 mg chl a m−2 during Antarctic winter, when water chl a concentrations remained below 1.5 mg chl a m−2, thus highlighting its potential as an important carbon source for overwintering organisms. The data analyzed in this study can improve large-scale physical and ecosystem models, habitat mapping studies and time series analyzed in the context of climate change effects and marine management.