The Barents Sea is an Atlantic Water gateway to the Arctic Basin, at the same time as it is at the receiving end of sea ice export from the Arctic Ocean. Large-scale patterns of Arctic climate change are largely present, or even enhanced, in the Barents Sea. Increased heat transport with Atlantic Water has caused up to 50% reduction in sea ice cover in the 1998–2008 period and an increased “atlantification” of the northern parts of the Barents Sea, with weaker stratification of the water column and shallower distribution of the warmer Atlantic water. These changes in the physical environment transfer to the living environment, reflected in changed distribution and composition of species and communities. Much of our older knowledge and understanding of the structure and function of the northern Barents Sea ecosystem and adjacent Arctic Basin is therefore no longer automatically applicable. Further, increased human presence and commercial activities in the formerly ice-covered areas of the Barents Sea require updated and new knowledge on this changing Arctic ecosystem.
The Nansen Legacy constitutes an integrated Arctic perspective on climate and ecosystem change, from physical processes to living resources, and from understanding the past to predicting the future.
The Nansen Legacy is the collective answer of the Norwegian research community to the outstanding changes witnessed in the Barents Sea and the Arctic as a whole. The Nansen Legacy constitutes a joint Norwegian research platform to address the following over-arching objectives:
- Improve the scientific basis for sustainable management of natural resources beyond the present ice edge
- Characterize the main human impacts, physical drivers, and intrinsic operation of the changing Barents Sea ecosystems – past, present, and future
- Explore and exploit the prognostic mechanisms governing weather, climate and ecosystem, including predictive capabilities and constraining uncertainties
- Optimize the use of emerging technologies, logistic capabilities, research recruitment and stakeholder interaction to explore and manage the emerging Arctic Ocean.
The Nansen Legacy will provide a 2020–2100 outlook for the expected state of climate, sea ice, and ecosystem, including near-term predictions. It will evaluate the sensitivity and functionality of early-warning indicators used to detect change in marine resources and their vulnerability to exploitation. Further, the project will largely improve polar weather forecasts for the safety of people and commercial operations. Another core legacy will be the recruitment and training of the next generation of trained cross-disciplinary researchers, with a unique national and international network. Overall, the legacy and societal impact will be the scientific knowledge base needed for sustainable resource management in the transitional Barents Sea and adjacent Arctic Basin.
The scientific investigation of a rapidly changing northern environment leads to research questions of such intellectual, empirical and logistical complexity that they can only be addressed properly through national and prioritized cooperation, with the highest scientific standards.
The Nansen Legacy team is purposefully interdisciplinary including physical, chemical, and biological researchers from eight governmental Norwegian institutions, and two private research institutes. The institutions include universities, management oriented institutions, the national weather service, and research institutes with close collaboration with industrial partners. The joint effort offers a human capacity of 3590 person months, corresponding to 50 full time positions of dedicated scientists and support staff over a 6-year period. Moreover, the Nansen Legacy dispenses over 370 days of ship time, primarily on the newly launched Norwegian ice-going research vessel, Kronprins Haakon, which allows for collecting unique, synoptic and interdisciplinary seasonal and inter-annual time series data. The Nansen Legacy field component uses a combination of ship-based, moored, and autonomous technological platforms. To increase high-resolution observational capabilities leading to an increase in future forecast reliability, the Nansen Legacy will develop, test and apply novel advanced technologies in ice-covered regions.
International cooperation is an absolute requirement for holistic research and management in the High North. The Nansen Legacy will contribute to international research and a comprehensive pan-Arctic understanding.
Fridtjof Nansen overcame scientific and physical boundaries by challenging conventions, being unconstrained in his approach to science and to exploring nature in the field, and making full use of available human and logistical resources. In the spirit of Nansen, the Nansen Legacy will collaborate with relevant national and international research projects and initiatives to utilize complementary knowledge, share infrastructure, increase the scientific outcome and strengthen science networks.