The Barents Sea throughout the year

While you are still enjoying the warm summer and a rich selection of fruits and berries, a large-scale preparation for winter is happening further North.

In the Northern Barents Sea plants and animals “know” that the sun has turned, and that darker times are approaching. The feast of blooming microscopic-small algae from spring is over and the fertilizers that kept the algae growth throughout the summer are exhausted. The animals, from the smallest jumping creep to the largest whale, now bunker the summer’s last resources before winter sets in. Nowhere else on the globe is the difference between summer and winter as great as close to Earth’s poles. For a short period in spring and summer, Arctic waters such as the Barents Sea can be transformed into a sumptuous Garden of Eden, only to become a desert soon after.

While we know a lot about how Arctic plants and animals live and grow during the bright and nutritious summer period, we have too little knowledge of the life conditions through the long, dark winter. However, what we do know suggests that the Arctic winter is anything but lifeless. Although food is very limited, many different animals reproduce during the darkest period. Hence winter is an important season to study for understanding the recruitment of important species in the Barents Sea.

Over the next year the Nansen Legacy project will study the living conditions of Arctic plants and animals in the Northern Barents Sea and the adjacent Arctic Ocean through four major expeditions. With the help of Norway’s new research icebreaker ‘Kronprins Haakon’, 140 researchers will analyze the physical and chemical environment in the sea, how organisms live, and how the food web changes throughout the year.

The seasonal study begins with a scientific cruise this August, investigating the late summer period in the Arctic. Over 23 days, 35 researchers, students and technicians from 10 institutions and 4 countries will make a deep dive into the Barents Sea. The researchers will describe the marine environment such as light, temperature, nutrition, marine acidification and environmental toxins, as well as studying how organisms that live there are affected by the marine environment and by each other.

The scientists will have a special focus on measuring what little studied Arctic organisms eat, what genetic characteristics they have, and how they would live if the temperature was a little warmer in the sea. This first cruise will form the basis for understanding the ecosystem of the Barents Sea during winter. Further cruise studies will follow in December, March and May.

You may follow the ongoing August cruise on as you continue to enjoy the summer!