For you and me

(Photo: Pierre Blevin)

Ice, snow, polar bears and historic explorers – we all have images and associations of the Arctic Ocean’s harsh physical environment and its inhabitants. For most of us, the Arctic Ocean is an icy world. It is a place far from our hectic lives, untouched, tranquil and pristine. Yet, the opposite is true. No other place in the world is warming faster and being altered so fundamentally. Within our lifetime only, the extent of the Arctic sea ice cap has shrunken to half its former size. The Arctic summer sea ice will most likely disappear within the coming decades. This does not only endanger the polar bear’s subsistence, but alters the entire Arctic ecosystem substantially.

As an increasingly ice-free Arctic is emerging, industries and politicians look northwards for new commercial possibilities. Both fishing and petroleum industries are already heading north. Scientific knowledge on the rapidly changing Arctic marine ecosystem is still limited and unsuited for any knowledge-based management. Therefore, researchers from eight governmental Norwegian institutions, and two private research institutes, have joined forces to document, understand and forecast the outstanding changes in the Norwegian part of the Arctic Ocean. The key region is the seasonally ice covered northern Barents Sea.

Fridtjof Nansen explored the Arctic Ocean more than 100 years ago. With the severe changes seen now, a new exploration is needed. The aim of the Nansen Legacy project, is to create the knowledge base for a scientifically well-funded management of the emerging ice-free northern Barents Sea and adjacent Arctic Ocean.</>

In order to achieve that, over 160 Norwegian scientists from fields like physical oceanography, sea ice physics, marine biology, geology, atmosphere research, meteorology, technology and ecotoxicology will work jointly over the coming years (2018 – 2023). The scientists will spend over 360 days out at sea during the coming five years (2018 – 2022) to measure and sample organisms and different environmental parameters. A main effort is put into describing how the present ecosystem of the northern Barents Sea is built up, and how it functions. Not only during the bright summer time, but also during the dark winter period. Through technology development, our observational capability can be improved. With help from geological cores from the Barents Sea floor, the scientists will explore how the ecosystem of the Barents Sea has changed in the past. Understanding the Barents Sea ecosystem in the past and present, will enable us to run computer-based simulations of the ecosystem dynamics. These tools will in turn allow scientists to project potential future conditions of the Barents Sea. They span from long-term projections to forecast of near future events. The scientific work conducted within the Nansen Legacy will also improve polar weather forecasts, and thereby improve the safety of people and commercial operations.

What will the world map look like when human activities change the Arctic through climate change and globalization?