The living Barents Sea

The knowledge of the structure and function of the ecosystem of the northern Barents Sea and adjacent slope to the central basin is strikingly unequal compared to the regular surveyed southern Barents Sea. Yet, the most radical changes in the physical environment are observed in the northern parts of the Barents Sea, where sea ice retreat and increasing water temperatures are reshaping the ecosystem.

Hypothesis: The ecosystems of the northern (Arctic-influenced) Barents Sea and adjacent slope and basin areas function fundamentally differently from the much better understood southern (Atlantic-influenced) region.

The work package The living Barents Sea investigates how organisms in the northern Barents Sea and adjacent slope respond to current and changing environmental conditions on the species and community levels by identifying characteristic communities, by delineating the relevant environmental forcing factors that structure these communities across seasons and habitats. Estimating the production and rate-limiting factors of these organisms, as well as entangling their detailed trophic linkages, is yet another focus of this work package. More concretely, the work package addresses the following tasks:

  • Characterize biological communities in sympagic, pelagic and benthic realms in the seasonal ice zone of the northern Barents Sea and adjacent slope of the Arctic Basin in terms of biodiversity, abundance, biomass and distribution patterns in relation to environmental forcing, in particular sea ice
  • Investigate the timing of critical biological processes including primary and secondary production, phenology of life cycles, and related processes and test how changing conditions may affect these seasonal patterns across several trophic levels
  • Characterize the total annual production from microbes to fish along latitudinal and environmental gradients, identify production hot spots and how condition-specific variability in life history traits affect these
  • Characterize lower trophic level food web structure and links to consumers including top predators, carbon cycling, and biological interactions, and investigate selected regulating factors

These tasks will be achieved by both synthesizes of existing data and extensively collection of new data sets out in the field.

This work package is an important element of the Nansen Legacy as it provides the scientific knowledge base required for the sustainable management of the marine resources of the northern Barents Sea and adjacent Arctic Basin.