Stirling expert leads research expedition to the Arctic

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An image of an Arctic Ice breaker

A research team led by a University of Stirling expert have set off on a scientific cruise to the Arctic Ocean to study the effects of warming on marine life.

Professor David Pond, of the University’s Institute of Aquaculture, is Principal Scientific Officer on the voyage to the Fram Strait region between, Greenland and Svalbard, which forms part of a larger £16million programme.

The team will investigate the impact of warmer winters across the polar region, which has resulted in year-on-year lows of sea ice – which is having an unprecedented effect on how the Arctic ecosystem operates.

Professor David Pond

Professor David Pond, of the Institute of Aquaculture, is Principal Scientific Officer on the Arctic cruise.

Changes to the lower part of the food chain are causing serious concern because it is dominated by one type of zooplankton – copepods, small crustaceans the size of a rice grain. As fish and other species rely on zooplankton for their main source of food, the Arctic food chain is precarious in the face of climate change and susceptible to dynamic change.

Scientists from two of the programme’s projects will spend a month at sea assessing how zooplankton are coming with a warming Arctic Ocean (DIAPOD project), and the impact of warming on the Arctic food chain (ARISE project). The scientists will collect samples and examine them to check how healthy the animals are, while their environments will also be examined.

Professor Pond, lead investigator of the DIAPOD project, said:

'We have a busy and exciting schedule of science ahead of us.'

'We will use specialised nets to catch the zooplankton from the surface down to depths of 2km in the Fram Strait region. We will be conducting on-board experiments to study how environmental change is impacting on these animals. We’re particularly interested in understanding if this key Arctic food source is showing signs of change in its behaviour or abundance.'

Dr Claire Mahaffey, of the University of Liverpool, is leading the ARISE project. 

She said: 'It is important to understand how the Arctic Ocean is responding to a changing environment, and it is vital we are able to detect change to the Arctic ecosystem above natural ecosystem variability.'

'Overall, ARISE will use a combination of biological markers at the base of the food chain and in Arctic seals alongside seal population ecology and mathematical models to develop a new framework to detect long term change in the Arctic Ecosystem. During the cruise to the Fram Strait, we will capture the biomarker signals at the base of the food chain during a key transition period from winter to spring in the Arctic. The ARISE team will be busy collecting large quantities of seawater, phytoplankton and zooplankton for biomarker analysis back in our laboratories.'

Science Minister Sam Gyimah said: 'Climate change has a devastating effect on our planet, from melting polar ice caps to rising sea levels and I am proud the UK is leading the way in tackling this harm.'

'World-class researchers from 18 different UK institutes will be undertaking this vitally important work and through our modern Industrial Strategy we have committed to investing 2.4 per cent of GDP on research and development to help tackle major global challenges.'

Funded by the National Environment Research Council (NERC), the Changing Arctic Ocean programme aims to generate a better understanding of the Arctic to more accurately predict future change to the environment and the ecosystem. Within the programme, there are four main projects, with more than 80 scientists combined, from 18 UK research institutes.

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