The gateway to the High Arctic is opening, as ice-free areas and seasons expand. The Arctic and its natural resources are becoming more readily accessible. Users and stakeholders from geopolitics to conservation, and whose interests include protection, research, fisheries, shipping, oil and gas exploration and tourism are following the changes with great interest.
A changing Arctic ecosystem, climate and environment, is placing the region into the arena for economic growth.
The knowledge basis for sustainable management of this changing environment and the associated resources is an urgent scientific challenge. As sea ice retreats and technology and infrastructure improve, it is imperative to move poleward through the Barents Sea. Thus, the external constraints on the living Barents Sea are determined by the interplay of natural and human impacts. Our understanding of these effects forms the basis for management of the area.
Global warming is arguably most pronounced in the Arctic (AMAP 2017). The northern Barents Sea is at the heart of this change.
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 will result in an unprecedented scientific basis for long-term, holistic, and sustainable management of marine ecosystems and human presence in the emerging oceans of the high Arctic.
Optimal management of marine resources requires concrete and meaningful projections of climate and ecosystems in the Barents Sea. At present, the effect of a warmer Barents Sea on production, structure and function of the food web, from plankton to whale, and thus the effect on its dynamics, is fraught with uncertainty.
How do physical and atmospheric process, human impacts, contaminants and ecosystems interplay in a time of change?
Our knowledge of how they in combination with environmental changes will impact the productivity, pelagic, and benthic ecosystem functions, the species interactions and biogeochemical cycling, is nevertheless poor. The need to understand these multifaceted and entangled responses calls for pioneering work combining a multitude of disciplines, scales and approaches.
To ensure that increased future activity in the Arctic is safe for both humans and the ecosystem. The observation base should to a greater extent be linked to atmospheric and oceanographic models with higher temporal and spatial resolution. This will yield far better forecasts of weather, ice conditions, waves and currents in the Barents Sea. In the High North in general and the Barents Sea in particular, the interconnections between realms (of ice, atmosphere, and ocean) are perhaps more tightly coupled than they are further south. The possibility of using coupled ocean-ice-atmosphere forecast models should be examined. The importance of such forecasting models is acknowledged worldwide, and meteorological institutes in many countries already use them, although this is not yet the case in Norway. Better forecasting will require access to increasingly large and powerful computers with capacity exceeding that of the supercomputers currently available in Norway.
Knowledge gaps and challenges
Knowledge gaps and research challenges can broadly be divided in four 1) natural impacts on the Arctic marine ecosystem, from the physical environment, through varying weather, ocean currents, ice cover and climate, including variations linked to global warming; 2) the more direct, local human impacts on the environment in the Barents Sea; 3) the responses these natural and human influences cause in the living Barents Sea and its ecosystem, which also has its own intrinsic dynamics and 4) the predictive capabilities and constrains for future climate and ecosystem scenarios.
Developing tools for stakeholders
Sustainable management of marine resources and regions in the Arctic requires viewing the ecosystem as a whole. To do this we must understand the links and feedback interactions between economic activities (such as fisheries) and climate, physics, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.
Management plans need to be implemented and followed up systematically and flexibly on the basis of, e.g., new knowledge, changes in activity levels, and environmental change. The Nansen Legacy will address central knowledge gaps identified and given priority by the updated Management plan 2010 (Scientific Forum report Chapter 9.9 Priority of knowledge gaps).
Together there will be established a holistic “ground truth” for the environment and ecosystem in the northern Barents Sea and adjacent Arctic Ocean; providing a 2020–2100 outlook for the expected state of climate, sea ice, and ecosystem, including near-term predictions; to evaluate sensitivity and functionality of early-warning indicators used to detect change in marine resources and their vulnerability to exploitation; allow reliable polar weather forecasts for the safety of people and commercial operations, -the scientific knowledge base needed for sustainable resource management in the transitional Barents Sea and adjacent Arctic Basin.
Through the Nansen Legacy User and Stakeholder group, with mandate to advise to the project board and leader group, a dialogue is facilitated that can give the very basis for decision-making from new knowledge on present state and future trends in the northern Barents Sea and the Arctic Basin beyond.
How will the world map look when human activities change in the Arctic due to climate change and globalization?
To be able to meet all perceptions, interests and discourses we need input from different stakeholders, as well as their consultation on how they need and wish the knowledge/data/models to be presented to be able to implement it.
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