Climate & Ecosystems

Our research focuses on improving understanding of Arctic marine organisms, the structure and functioning of populations and communities, and food web dynamics. We explore how environmental variability interacts with biological components in order to better evaluate and predict how natural phenomena and human activities impact ecosystems. Our research efforts generally focus on Arctic marine benthic communities as the central component, but extend to overlying pelagic and ice-associated systems and processes, as well as the biogeochemistry of sediments.

Research results also contribute to improvement of ecosystem models and are used to create better societal decision-making tools such as threshold criteria, models and new assessment methods.

Climate Variability and Climate Change

The current attention to climate change sometimes overlooks the fact that the marine environment is inherently variable, and that ecosystem components are adapted to certain ranges of variability. Akvaplan-niva’s Climate & Ecosystems group focuses on understanding how different species and populations respond to and interact with local and large-scale climate variability. We do this by combining in situ observational studies focusing on ecosystem structure with experimental manipulations on key system processes. This combined approach provides insight into how components of the Arctic marine biological system are linked to their environment over a range of spatial and temporal scales.

We seek understanding of how community structure at different seafloor locations is related to oceanographic and sedimentary characteristics, primary production dynamics, and the role of ice algae in nutrition of Arctic fauna. We also study how climate variability impacts the physiological condition of fish and modelthe influence of benthic faunal activities on organic carbon turnover and storage. The impact of climate change may be felt by ecosystems in many ways. Acidification (decreasing pH in the oceans) is a direct effect of climate change that may alter organism function and community interactions. Akvaplan-niva scientists are employing state-of-the-art methodologies to investigate potential impacts of ocean acidification on early life stages of both seafloor and pelagic organisms.

The Past as a Window to the Future

Determining what the future may hold for Arctic ecosystems requires placing our present day observations in context with the past. Akvaplan-niva maintains time-series data sets of benthic community structure using standardized protocols at several key locations in Norway, the Barents Sea, and Svalbard over a wide range of environmental settings. As benthic fauna have proven valuable indicators of natural and anthropogenic system changes, these long-term datasets serve as valuable baselines by which to assess responses of organisms and communities to environmental changes in the past and to the present day. To expand our time scales even further, Akvaplan-niva has been at the leading edge of developing clams as sentinels of change in the Arctic. The shells of both living and fossil clams contain information on growth rate patterns and geochemical signatures over time. Extracting this information, Akvaplan-niva scientists are able to reconstruct past environmental changes and ecological responses extending over decades to hundreds of years.


Akvaplan-niva in Action

Food web structure – from primary producers to polar Bears – was examined during the CABANERA project. Two polar bears, one well-fed and one starving were sharing a meal on the ice in the Barents Sea. <span>Image by Michael Carroll</span>
Divers collecting bivalve samples from northern Svalbard waters for analysis of shell ring patterns, and reconstruction of climate histories during the NESSAR project (NFR – International Polar Year) <span>Image by Peter Leopold</span>
Two PhD students (Sanna Markkula and Mikko Vihtakari) sieve grab samples for clams to be used in experiments examining the combined effects of increased temperature and CO2 content on reproduction and early larval development. Sampling took place in Isfjorden, Svalbard aboard the R/V Helmer Hanssen <span>Image by Iris Hendriks, IMEDEA, Spain</span>
Experimental set-up for the test of effects of temperature and CO2 on reproduction  and development in Arctic clams. Hundreds of meters  of tubing link CO2 tanks, mass-flow controllers that monitor and regulate CO2 concentrations in experimental chambers, water baths, air pumps, and treatment-water reservoirs. Experiments were carried out in temperature-controlled rooms at the University Centre on Svalbard in Longyearbyen during the ATP project. <span>Image by Iris Hendriks, IMEDEA, Spain</span>
Taking in sea bottom core samples from a multiple corer during the On Thin Ice project <span>Image by Michael Carroll</span>
Sediment core with intact benthic faunal community for laboratory studies  of community responses to variable food supplies during the Digestibility project <span>Image by Michael Carroll</span>
Image of

For More Information

Michael Carroll
Tromsø, Norway

Related Reading

Pan-Svalbard growth rate variability and environmental regulation in the Arctic bivalve Serripes groenlandicus.

Carroll, M.L., W.G. Ambrose, B.S. Levin, W.E. Locke, G.A. Henkes, H. Hop, P.E. Renaud. (2011)

Journal of Marine Systems 88: 239–251.

The biodiversity of the benthic macro- and megafauna of Arctic shelf seas - a pan- Arctic synopsis of magnitude and patterns.

Piepenburg, D., Archambault, P., Ambrose, W.G., Blanchard, A., Bluhm, B., Carroll, M.L., Conlan, K., Cusson, M., Feder, H., Grebmeier, J.M., Jewett, S., Lévesque, M., Petryashev, V.V., Sejr, M.K., Sirenko, B.I. & Wlodarska (2011)

Marine Biodiversity 41:51-70. doi:10.1007/s12526-010-0059-7