Even the coldest of Svalbard fjords show effects of climate change

Rijpfjorden, on Nordaustlandet, Svalbard, has long been an example of a pristine Arctic fjord that, unlike fjords on Svalbard's west coast, has not been affected by climate warming.

By: Trude Borch,  Akvaplan-Niva 

Rijpfjorden _ Photo_Anders Skoglund - Norsk Polarinstitutt

Rijpfjorden. Photo: Anders Skoglund – Norsk Polarinstitutt

Rijpfjorden is a fjord at the northern side of Nordaustlandet, the second-largest island in Svalbard. It has long been an example of a pristine Arctic fjord that, unlike fjords on Svalbard’s west coast, has not been affected by climate warming.

A recent study led by PhD student Èric Jordà-Molina from Nord University suggests that warming impacts are being felt even in the far north of Svalbard.

Results indicate that marine heatwaves are at least partially responsible for periodic mortality events in seafloor communities. Marine heatwaves are extreme temperature anomalies existing for at least 5 days in a row, and have recently been detected in the Barents Sea region.

Some regions of the fjord recovered within several years, but other areas changed due to colonisation by previously rare taxa. This refers to organisms or species that are not commonly found or have low abundance within a specific area or habitat.

“The inner Rijpfjord region acted as a refuge for species native to the Arctic, but to what extent that can continue is unknown,” Henning Reiss says. He is a professor at Nord University, co-author of this study and was Jordà-Molina’s supervisor

<– PhD student Èric Jordà-Molina from Nord University

Map over area

Sea ice on Svalbard. (Photo: Olaf Schneider, NPI / Nansen Legacy)

Sea ice Svalbard. Photo: Olaf Schneider, NPI / Nansen Legacy

The faunal data used in the paper is a unique, long-term data set started by Akvaplan-niva researchers Michael Carroll and Will Ambrose when they visited the fjord in 2003. 

Periodic sampling has taken place since then, and fauna from most of the time series were analysed by a team of highly skilled taxonomists. 

Detection of marine heatwaves was possible due to a marine observatory that has been maintained in the fjord by UiT the Arctic University of Norway, the University Centre in Svalbard, and the Scottish Association for Marine Science, collecting nearly continuous water-column data since 2006.

“This is another example of how important time-series data are in climate-change studies. Their value is only appreciated many years later, and therefore, relies on a commitment of resources without knowing what answers the data will reveal,” Paul Renaud says. He is a research manager at Akvaplan-Niva and co-author of the paper.

References:

Husson et al. Successive extreme climatic events lead to immediate, large-scale, and diverse responses from fish in the ArcticGlobal Change Biology, vol. 28, 2022. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.16153

Jordà-Molina et al. Seafloor warm water temperature anomalies impact benthic macrofauna communities of a high-Arctic cold-water fjordMarine Environmental Research, vol. 189, 2023. DOI: 10.1016/j.marenvres.2023.106046

Mohamed, et al. Marine Heatwaves Characteristics in the Barents Sea Based on High Resolution Satellite Data (1982–2020)Frontiers in Marine Science, vol. 9, 2022. DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2022.821646