Huge Sharks, Tiny Plankton: Exploring The Changing Arctic From An Icebreaker

Huge Sharks, Tiny Plankton: Exploring The Changing Arctic From An Icebreaker A camera catches a huge Greenland shark in eastern Baffin Bay, near Disko Bay, Greenland. Jonathan Fisher, Author provided

“You’re going to need a bigger boat.”

That famous line from the 1975 film Jaws makes me smile for a couple of reasons as I wrap up 26 days aboard Canada’s largest research icebreaker, the Canadian Coast Guard Ship (CCGS) Amundsen.

First, I have been collecting new video data to understand the distribution, abundance and behaviours of the largest, slowest and oldest fish in Arctic waters — the elusive Greenland shark.

Second, although shark science was one of many mission objectives achieved during these past four weeks, thankfully, we did not need a bigger boat. The 98-metre-long CCGS Amundsen comfortably accommodated 41 crew, 34 scientists and allowed us to safely complete more than 250 scientific operations at sea, across 4,589 nautical miles (about 8,500 kilometres) between Resolute, Nunavut and Québec City.

Huge Sharks, Tiny Plankton: Exploring The Changing Arctic From An Icebreaker The route between Resolute and Québec City. Author provided

The dedicated science mission of the Amundsen provides an unequalled opportunity to collect baseline data and characterize the dynamics within the rapidly changing eastern Canadian Arctic and sub-Arctic marine regions.

One ship, many goals

The scientific objectives for this Arctic mission were far-ranging. Collectively, our research covered more than three months — from May 30 to Sept. 10, 2019 — and involved more than 150 scientists at sea.

Throughout the water column, scientists dropped oceanographic sensors and programmed bottles to collect water samples to quantify the physical conditions and nutrients needed to fuel the tiny marine plants called phytoplankton at the base of marine food webs.

 Huge Sharks, Tiny Plankton: Exploring The Changing Arctic From An Icebreaker The ‘Monster Net’ was lowered below the ship and collected zooplankton and small fishes. Jonathan Fisher, Author provided

Nets, lowered as deep as 2,000 metres, or towed near the surface, captured the zooplankton and small fishes that consume that phytoplankton. Sometimes sleep waited until the next transit, as these operations were repeated nearly non-stop under the midnight sun to maximize our time at each sampling station.

At the seabed, boxcores scooped up mud as well as sea stars and other organisms living in and on the bottom of the seafloor. Larger nets collected fish, allowing scientists to estimate fish abundances and biodiversity that will contribute to the assessments of Arctic fisheries and their ecosystems, and give scientists and policy-makers a better idea of what’s in the ocean and how it’s changing.

All this biological work was complimented by high-resolution seafloor mapping that will help vessels navigate and identify submarine geohazards near northern communities. Many expect more ship traffic in the Arctic as the sea ice thins and melts, even though the charts are currently inadequate and extensive shallow areas are poorly mapped.

Geologists pulled sediment cores from the sea floor that will reveal the geologic history of the Arctic. Scientists on board also looked for traces of human influence in the Arctic, with a focus on contaminants, such as organic pollutants and plastics in the water and marine species, and tried to decipher the potential impacts of oil spills on the Arctic ecosystem.

Big fish, old fish, small fish, young fish

As a fisheries scientist, this mission has been somewhat of a study in contrasts for me. Much of my (and my camera’s) focus has been on long, old Greenland sharks that can reach lengths greater than six metres and live for more than 270 years.

 A Greenland shark swims up to our team’s baited remote underwater video lander in July 2019.

The video system allows us to identify individuals and the number of sharks locally without the use of hooks or nets, and to reveal their habitats and determine what other species they interact with.

But I have spent as much time on the Amundsen working with a team from Laval University quantifying the composition, abundances and distributions of zooplankton and fishes. We hauled five types of sampling nets deployed 70 times on a 24-hour schedule. It was, at times, exhausting work made easier by dedicated colleagues and great meals.

That has meant sorting, measuring and photographing thousands of tiny larval fish whose numbers and characteristics will set the stage for future adult populations.

One focus has been on the Arctic cod, a species whose superabundance and dominance across Arctic waters makes it a key link in the food chain between its zooplankton prey and marine mammals, birds and larger fishes that all serve as its predators.

Arctic cod are key to the survival of many Arctic species, yet it is also sensitive to changing environmental conditions. Understanding the dynamics of Arctic cod within the upper, sun-lit surface waters is important for forecasting changes to the structure and functioning of marine ecosystems across these waters in the future.

The detection of southern species in Arctic waters is one obvious indicator of change, but characterizing their interactions with resident species is one wild card dealt by changing ocean conditions.

Huge Sharks, Tiny Plankton: Exploring The Changing Arctic From An Icebreaker Larval Arctic cod, 18 mm long. Cyril Aubry, Author provided

The eastern Canadian Arctic is changing at a rapid pace in a national or global context, leading to new conditions faced by northern communities and ecosystems.

There is a growing scientific base of information in this region that can be used to inform decisions and policy. But new questions are emerging about transportation, fisheries, diversity and oceanographic changes, and their impacts on Arctic communities and industries. For me, this mission has demonstrated the need, and opportunity, to tackle so many research questions at once.

About The Author

Jonathan A. D. Fisher, Research scientist, Memorial University of Newfoundland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know

by Joseph Romm
0190866101The essential primer on what will be the defining issue of our time, Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® is a clear-eyed overview of the science, conflicts, and implications of our warming planet. From Joseph Romm, Chief Science Advisor for National Geographic's Years of Living Dangerously series and one of Rolling Stone's "100 people who are changing America," Climate Change offers user-friendly, scientifically rigorous answers to the most difficult (and commonly politicized) questions surrounding what climatologist Lonnie Thompson has deemed "a clear and present danger to civilization.". Available On Amazon

Climate Change: The Science of Global Warming and Our Energy Future second edition Edition

by Jason Smerdon
0231172834This second edition of Climate Change is an accessible and comprehensive guide to the science behind global warming. Exquisitely illustrated, the text is geared toward students at a variety of levels. Edmond A. Mathez and Jason E. Smerdon provide a broad, informative introduction to the science that underlies our understanding of the climate system and the effects of human activity on the warming of our planet.Mathez and Smerdon describe the roles that the atmosphere and ocean play in our climate, introduce the concept of radiation balance, and explain climate changes that occurred in the past. They also detail the human activities that influence the climate, such as greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions and deforestation, as well as the effects of natural phenomena.  Available On Amazon

The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course

by Blair Lee, Alina Bachmann
194747300XThe Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course uses text and eighteen hands-on activities to explain and teach the science of global warming and climate change, how humans are responsible, and what can be done to slow or stop the rate of global warming and climate change. This book is a complete, comprehensive guide to an essential environmental topic. Subjects covered in this book include: how molecules transfer energy from the sun to warm the atmosphere, greenhouse gases, the greenhouse effect, global warming, the Industrial Revolution, the combustion reaction, feedback loops, the relationship between weather and climate, climate change, carbon sinks, extinction, carbon footprint, recycling, and alternative energy. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

EVIDENCE

How Much Of Climate Change Is Natural? How Much Is Man-made?
How Much Of Climate Change Is Natural? How Much Is Man-made?
by Mark New
As someone who has been working on climate change detection and its causes for over 20 years I was both surprised and…
Why Some People Still Think Climate Change Isn't Real
Why Some People Still Think Climate Change Isn't Real
by David Hall
At its heart, climate change denial is a conflict between facts and values. People deny the climate crisis because, to…
Europe's Most Iconic Mountain Is A Climate Change Warning
by ABC News
ABC News' James Longman reports from Mont Blanc, where a glacier on the Italian side of the mountain is breaking apart…
Science Counts Humankind’s Carbon Output
Science Counts Humankind’s Carbon Output
by Tim Radford
We leave the planet’s volcanos far behind on greenhouse gas emissions: humankind’s carbon output can exceed theirs by…
Scientists Moor Ship In Arctic Ice For A Year To Better Understand Climate Change
Scientists Moor Ship In Arctic Ice For A Year To Better Understand Climate Change
by Marta Moreno Ibáñez and Rene Laprise
Long polar nights, polar bears, freezing temperatures plunging to -45C. This is what the 600 experts taking part in the…
Human Ancestors Lived In A Low-carbon World
Human Ancestors Lived In A Low-Carbon World
by Tim Radford
Carbon dioxide levels are higher now than in all human history, and prehistory too: a low-carbon world nurtured our…
Antarctica Now Has More Than 65,000 'meltwater Lakes' As Summer Ice Melts
Antarctica Now Has More Than 65,000 Meltwater Lakes As Summer Ice Melts
by Jennifer Arthur
During the Antarctic summer, thousands of mesmerising blue lakes form around the edges of the continent’s ice sheet, as…
5 Climate Change Science Misconceptions Debunked
5 Climate Change Science Misconceptions Debunked
by Mark Maslin
The science of climate change is more than 150 years old and it is probably the most tested area of modern science.

LATEST VIDEOS

Emergency Medicine For Our Climate Fever
by Kelly Wanser
As we recklessly warm the planet by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, some industrial emissions also…
What Extinction Rebellion climate activists are demanding from governments
by Democracy Now!
More than 700 climate activists were arrested in 60 cities worldwide in a global effort aimed at urging governments to…
Can Nature Repair The Planet From Climate Change?
by The Economist
A closer look at one of the most familiar responses offered to the climate crisis.
How Climate Change Is Threatening Homes In Mumbai
by South China Morning Post
Lowland cities and islands such as the Indian city of Mumbai may face increasingly frequent floods and storms
This is Not A Drill: 700+ Arrested as Extinction Rebellion Fights Climate Crisis With Direct Action
by Democracy Now!
More than 700 people have been arrested in civil disobedience actions as the group Extinction Rebellion kicked off two…
Europe's Most Iconic Mountain Is A Climate Change Warning
by ABC News
ABC News' James Longman reports from Mont Blanc, where a glacier on the Italian side of the mountain is breaking apart…
Something Drastic Has To Happen - Roger Hallam
by Extinction Rebellion
Roger Hallam talks with Stephen Sackur from BBC HardTalk about the need to ACT NOW.
Three Steps to Cut Your Carbon Footprint 60% Today
by TEDx Talks
Not all carbon is created equal. Writer Jackson Carpenter argues that the power to stop climate change rests on…

LATEST ARTICLES

Vineyards Battle To Keep The Champagne Cool
Vineyards Battle To Keep The Champagne Cool
by Paul Brown
As rising temperatures threaten the vines that produce Champagne, concerned growers are fighting to adapt to the very…
Rotating Corn And Soybeans May Take A Toll On Soil
Rotating Corn And Soybeans May Take A Toll On Soil
by Fred Love
Rotating corn and soybeans could potentially contribute to long-term declines in soil organic matter, researchers…
Hurricane Michael Recovery Efforts Point To The Power Of Local Generosity After Overlooked Disasters
Hurricane Michael Recovery Efforts Point To The Power Of Local Generosity After Overlooked Disasters
by InnerSelf Staff
When Hurricane Michael made landfall on Florida’s Panhandle on Oct. 10, 2018, as a Category 5 storm it was only the…
Extreme Heatwaves Pose Spreading Threat
Extreme Heatwaves Pose Spreading Threat
by Tim Radford
Rising temperatures mean that heatwaves will become hotter, more frequent, last longer and will cover much wider areas.
Design For Flooding: How Cities Can Make Room For Water
Design For Flooding: How Cities Can Make Room For Water
by Elisa Palazzo
Science is clearly showing that the world is shifting towards a more unstable climate. Weather events like the flash…
How Unions Can Play A Leading Role In Tackling The Climate Crisis
How Unions Can Play A Leading Role In Tackling The Climate Crisis
by Matt Perry
How did a billionaire win over coal miners in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to become president? Three words: “Trump…
Rice Growing Produces Tonnes Of Excess Straw – Can We Turn It Into Bioenergy?
Rice Growing Produces Tonnes Of Excess Straw – Can We Turn It Into Bioenergy?
by Mirjam Roeder
For every tonne of rice produced, about a tonne of straw is grown. Given 770m tonnes of rice are produced each year,…
How Much Of Climate Change Is Natural? How Much Is Man-made?
How Much Of Climate Change Is Natural? How Much Is Man-made?
by Mark New
As someone who has been working on climate change detection and its causes for over 20 years I was both surprised and…