The seasons in the Barents Sea is characterized by large differences in light, weather and ice conditions. While there is almost no or little sea ice in summer and autumn, larger parts of the northern Barents Sea in winter and spring are usually covered with sea ice. If we take a look at the time scales over several decades, we can see that the Barents Sea is changing, and the sea ice in the Barents Sea has decreased for both the summer and winter seasons.
The Nansen Legacy project explores the conditions and processes in the Barents Sea in the different seasons. Cruises have already been carried out in August (3rd quarter) and December (4th quarter), and now in March 2021 a cruise will be carried out where a closer look at the system and processes in the Barents Sea in the first quarter. This is why this cruise have the name Q1 cruise. The cruise starts on March 2 in Tromsø, leads to the northern Barents Sea and the adjacent part of the Arctic Ocean, before ending again in Tromsø on March 25. In March, it tends to be quite cold in the Barents Sea, and there is often a good deal of sea ice present. The sun has just returned after dark, it is at this time of year quite low above the horizon.
Arcive: Research on sea ice in the Barents Sea 1999. Photo: Sebastian Gerland, NPI.
During the cruise, researchers will take a closer look at the properties of sea ice, the processes while sea ice grows in winter, and what role these winter conditions play for biology and chemistry in the Barents Sea. The ecosystem needs to be studied carefully, with measurements in the atmosphere with weather balloons, at the surface and underside of the ice, in the water column and at the seabed. Samples of water, ice and seabed sediments will be taken. Measurements in the water column to take a closer look at heat transport and mixing of water masses. Heat transport is also important for how much sea ice can grow, or how fast it melts. We need to take many measurements of ice and snow thickness, such as ice temperature, salinity and how the ice and snow attenuate the light in and under the ice.
The biologists on board will study which different organisms occur in the ice, the water and at the seabed, how they are distributed geographically and in which water masses, and how they adapt to the different climatic conditions along the chosen transect. Biogeochemists look at ocean acidification and its effects on organisms in the sea and ice, as well as trace elements (small particles of nutrients) and heavy metals. Not least, the occurrence of various environmental toxins and their effect on wildlife, especially in this part of the year.
In addition to measurements in the water and on the ice, experiments will be carried out on board R/V Kronprins Haakon. On this cruise, there will also be using a helicopter, to fly longer measuring lines over the sea ice. With an electromagnetic instrument hanging under the helicopter, ice thickness is measured, and with a stereo camera setup, the high-resolution ice surface is going to be photographed. With this data, measurements made at ice stations can be extended to a larger region.
35 researchers boarding R/V Kronprins Haakon in Tromsø. Photo: Charlotte Stark, UiT
Research areas in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean
Where should research work take place specifically? The researchers work along a line (transect) in the western Barents Sea, from the middle of the Barents Sea at 76 degrees north of the shelf edge into the Arctic Ocean to approx. 82 degrees north. Sampling this time also at specific stations, which we have done over several previous season. In this way, the observations can be compared and the results put into perspective later. Where there is sea ice, the researchers will go out on the ice, take ice and water samples and observe the ice up close, also with the help of a drone. The helicopter work is carried out when there are suitable flight conditions for it. While most of the stations are located in the relatively shallow Barents Sea with water depths of a few hundred meters, the northern end of the transect (82 degrees north) is already in the Arctic Ocean itself with a depth of about 3000 m.
The research group with an international background
The research group on the Q1 cruise consists of various subject groups: Physical processes, zooplankton, chemistry, microbes, and benthos (life at the seabed). In total, the research group consists of 35 women and men: scientists and technicians, as well as a helicopter pilot. Then it is the ship’s crew who make sure that the ship arrives at the station points, that the samples can be taken, and that everyone is safe and well on board R/V Kronprins Haakon.
How can such a voyage be carried out during the pandemic? The plan for the cruise was carefully thought out and planned according to the pandemic, and risk analyzes were conducted. The research group has been in isolation for 10 days before the cruise, in a hotel in a single room, where everyone was served their food at the door. The group was corona tested, and meetings between cruise participants were held every day during the isolation period online via teams. The group is then driven to the ship on the day the cruise starts and will go directly on board the R/V Kronprins Haakon.
Participants in the research group are all linked to different institutes, universities or organizations in Norway, but they originally come from a total of 14 different countries, from Europe, Asia, North America and Australia.
On this cruise there will be participants who have a lot of experience from previous cruises. However, for some this will be their first cruise. Either way, everyone is looking forward to partake in this upcoming cruise
To cruise leaders ready to sail to the Barents Sea and do some research. Left: Anette Wold Right: Sebastian Gerland, both from Norwegian Polar Institute. Photo: Elin Vinje Jenssen.