Increasing biological production, shrinking biodiversity and significant challenges to the survival of some of the Arctic’s unique marine species are among the key findings of the Canadian-led, international climate change study that marked the first time a research icebreaker overwintered in the Arctic while remaining mobile.
The International Polar Year (IPY) Circumpolar Flaw Lead (CFL) system study, led by the University of Manitoba, focused on a flaw lead, which is a large area of open water that forms when thick multiyear ice moves away from coastal landfast ice. This open water provides an ideal laboratory to learn more about how the polar marine ecosystem is adapting to the most rapid warming trend in at least the past 1,450 years.
This collaborative study was a flagship research project in Canada’s fourth International Polar Year program which began in 1882. Structured around 10 science teams that studied everything from ocean currents to ice algae to beluga whales, the field program ran for 293 days in the Southern Beaufort Sea in 2007-2008 and involved over 350 investigators from 27 countries.
Highlights of their findings include:
· Development of an extensive database of Traditional Knowledge gathered from the Inuvialuit living in the Western Arctic.
· Integration of this traditional Inuvialuit knowledge with Western science through a “Two Ways of Knowing” framework.
· Significant rise in biological production in the Arctic Ocean due to increased penetration of solar energy and warmer ocean surface waters.
· Strong potential for a drop in biodiversity in the Arctic ecosystem as warmer temperatures allow invasive species to migrate north.
· Important and unforeseen effects of storms in the growth, survival and decay of multiyear sea ice.
· Presence of Arctic eddies, or spinning underwater currents that can transport biological material, were detected as the team took measurements in the open ocean during winter.
· Importance of sea ice in contaminant processes throughout the Arctic winter
· Strong role of ocean upwelling at ice edges and the role these play in habitats for zooplankton to whales and bears
· First observations of the role of the ocean and varying ice cover in exchange of greenhouse gases
· Recognition of the importance of very young ice types, including frost flowers, on exchange of gases and contaminants in the Arctic winter.
· Improvements to Environment Canada’s weather forecasting model for the Arctic.
To explain the significance of this study’s results, the scientists have created a book — On the Edge: From Knowledge to Action during the Fourth International Polar Year Circumpolar Flaw Lead System Study (2007–2008). It includes a synthesis of the scientific results of IPY-CFL, the outreach programs conducted during this landmark study and insights into how the Arctic marine system is adapting to one of the most rapid climate shifts of our time.
To arrange interviews with the CFL scientists, please contact:
Lucette Barber at 204-799-7328,
Or Tracy Tjaden at 204-297-8761