The day after tomorrow… Ten million pound project launched to explore the influence of the Arctic Sea on the future global ecosystem

northern-sea-route-shipping-arctic-e1466684691210The Arctic is the fastest changing and most unexploited environment of the world. Changes in its ecosystem could have drastic and long-lasting effects for the planet. To gain a better understanding of how rising temperatures and air pollution affect this sensitive biological environment, the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) has launched a ten million Pound project, which tries to look at the implications of the marine biology in the Arctic Ocean.

The project will examine how far air pollution and global warming have caused damages in the arctic region and will seek to discover ways to eventually stop the considerable thinning of sea ice. 

Dr. Christian März, Associate Professor of Biogeochemistry at the University of Leeds, has been chosen as principle investigator of one of four projects, and he will specifically deal with the changes of the Arctic Ocean seafloor.

“The story that the sea level is rising due to the melting of the sea ice is untrue,” Dr. März explains. “Sea ice replaces as much water in its frozen as in its melted state, very much like putting ice cubes into a Gin Toni. Whether you put the actual ice cube into the drink or fill it with the same amount of liquid water has pretty much the same outcome.”

“What is more concerning for the scientist is that while ice, due to its white colour, reflects the sunlight, the open ocean drastically heats up without it:” Ocean water, if u look at it from the satellite, is black and absorbs a lot of heat.  The ocean gets warmer and melts a lot of sea ice, which again leads to more open water that absorbs more and more heat. The ocean moves the heat around our planet, which finally causes changes in rainfall patterns and precipitations in the northern hemisphere.”

If the oceans do warm up as predicted, more moisture could get into the atmosphere, which could have an impact on the weather as well as the ecosystem of fishery. The most dramatic scenario, however, concerns the collapse of the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. März argues:  “The warm and heavy salty water deriving from the Gulf of Mexico, cools down and start to sink in the northern Atlantic. Now, if u have a lot of melt water in the north Atlantic that is very fresh, the salted water doesn´t sink down in the ocean anymore and the whole system would collapse, which finally could cause an extreme weather change for Europe.”

The scientists will also research claims that open water and warmer temperatures could cause more algae to grow, eventually causing the cooling of the planet. Through several expeditions to the Barren sea- the first being this summer- a team of scientists led by Dr. März, will try to understand the exchange process between the overlying water of the arctic ocean and the seafloor, as well as understanding where the organic material on the seafloor derives from.

It seems that whatever happens in the Arctic region in the next few years has effects on the biodiversity and ecology around the globe. Although the exact implication of the changing Arctic sea might not be exactly known by this date, on thing seems to be sure: the climate can change. The final question is: Can we?

Max Mayr


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