Nansen Legacy contributes to the international Synoptic Arctic Survey

Satellites aid researchers with important information on environmental state and processes. Yet, essential empirical data of the Arctic marine environment cannot be collected from space. Ship-based measurements are in many cases still the only option for scientists to gain insights of the Arctic marine ecosystem. Despite international efforts, empirical environmental data from the Arctic Ocean are still limited, hampering our understanding of the vast environmental changes taking place in the Arctic.

In an attempt to increase empirical data coverage across the Arctic Ocean and make data more comparable, researchers have come together to concert ongoing sampling efforts in the Arctic Ocean during 2020 and 2021 within the Synoptic Arctic Survey initiative.

The extended sampling transect of the Nansen Legacy project from the northern Barents Sea shelf slope and deep into the deep central Arctic Ocean provided a great opportunity as a Norwegian contribution to the 2021 Synoptic Arctic Survey. Using the Norwegian research icebreaker ‘Kronprins Haakon’, the five-week long expedition was able to investigate the Nansen and Amundsen Basin, as well as the Gakkel Ridge separating the two basins.

The Nansen Legacy Arctic Basin Cruise took place at the same time (Aug-Sep 2021) as the Swedish icebreaker ‘Oden’ was on its Synoptic Arctic Survey expedition in the nearby region between Northeast Greenland and the North Pole.

The scientific team on board was highly interdisciplinary, consisting of 34 participants including physical and chemical oceanographers, ice physicists, ecotoxicologists, marine chemists and biologists as well as safety and helicopter teams. Sampling efforts focused on sea ice and upper ocean work as well as connectivity to the mid- and deep water column and underlying sediments. In addition, the role of transport of elements and organisms from the Siberian shelves through the Transpolar Drift was investigated. Indications of water masses with chemical signatures of the Transpolar Drift were encountered at the northernmost station at 87.5˚N and 17˚W.

The Nansen Legacy is proud to be able to contribute in generating a comprehensive international dataset that allows for a more complete characterization of Arctic hydrography and circulation, carbon uptake and ocean acidification, tracer distribution and pollution, and organismal and ecosystem functioning and productivity.

The data collected within the Synoptic Arctic Survey will provide a unique baseline, which will allow us to track climate change and its impacts as they unfold in the Arctic over the coming years, decades and centuries. There can be no doubt that not only future generations of polar scientists will benefit from such a baseline, but also decision makers.