Norwegian Polar Institute

Tromso, Norway

Norwegian Polar Institute

Tromso, Norway

The Norwegian Polar Institute is Norway's national institution for polar research. It is run under the auspices of the Norwegian Ministry of Environment. The institute organizes expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic regions and runs a research station at Ny-Ålesund. Its offices are in Tromsø and Svalbard, together with a research station in Queen Maud Land, and employs approximately 150 persons. It has the responsibility to enforce international treaties regarding Antarctic activities by Norwegian citizens or corporations. The institute was founded as Norges Svalbard- og Ishavsundersøkelser by Adolf Hoel in 1928. Wikipedia.

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News Article | May 12, 2017

Polar bears are ditching seafood in favour of scrambled eggs, as the heat rises in the Arctic melting the sea ice. A changing coastline has made it harder for the predators to catch the seals they favour and is pushing them towards poaching goose eggs. This is according to a team led by Charmain Hamilton of the Norwegian Polar Institute that monitored the movements of local polar bears and seals before and after a in 2006, which altered coastal areas in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. The researchers attached tracking devices to 60 ringed seals and 67 polar bears overall, which allowed them to compare their movements before and after the ice collapse. Before the melt, when they were hunting on stable sea ice, the polar bears had a big advantage over their favoured prey. “Both sexes of all age classes successfully hunt seals by stalking or ‘still hunting’,” says Hamilton. However, on a melting coastline punctuated by broken-up icebergs, the odds become stacked in the seal’s favour. The polar bears must now swim undetected towards the seals before launching themselves out of the water to grab their prey on the floating chunks of ice. Not all bears have mastered this explosive technique and there is a high failure rate even among those that have. “It seems that currently, it is mainly large, male bears using this aquatic hunting method on Svalbard,” says Hamilton. “It is likely [to be] more energetically demanding than the traditional hunting methods.” In response, the bears are retreating from the coast. The tracking devices show them wandering greater distances in search of alternative land-based food. The bears also spend a lot more time near bird nesting grounds, which suggests eggs have become a significant food source. But they would need an immense omelette to replace a seal breakfast and this type of mass egg hunting can devastate nesting bird populations. Ecologist Jouke Prop at the University of Groningen, Netherlands, is also studying geese in the Arctic. He has filmed bears devouring goose eggs at nesting sites. “It takes on average 30 seconds to locate a nest and 60 seconds to eat the eggs,” he says. Previous research found that affected bird populations can slump by up to 90 per cent. “It is extremely intriguing how the habit of bird egg eating is developing within the polar bear population,” says Prop. “Which bears are eating eggs? Did they learn from their mothers?” “I have seen the diarrhoea faeces of bears eating eggs,” says Maarten Loonen at the University of Groningen. “I think eggs are not their best favourite food. Too much protein. Nevertheless, they have to eat something and they probably can survive on it.” The bears seem to be getting enough nutrition to survive, but Hamilton wonders what the long-term effects of this change in diet will be. “Seal fat is an extraordinarily rich source of lipids that will be very hard to replace,” she says. As the bears move on to eating bird eggs for sustenance, what will happen to the geese population in the future? “If numbers decline – which is to be expected – this will have an impact on the whole terrestrial ecosystem,” says Prop. “For example, Arctic foxes depend on young geese as food; reindeer food intake is facilitated by geese grazing the tundra.” Despite the uncertainty, one thing is clear: the cubs and eggs of the new generation will have to adapt quickly to survive the next phase of Arctic environmental change. Read more: Polar bear penis bone may be weakened by pollution

Agency: GTR | Branch: NERC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 303.05K | Year: 2012

Non-technical summary Calanoid copepods are key players in Worlds oceans. They are the largest constituent of oceanic zooplankton biomass and are a major link within global carbon cycles. In the North Atlantic and Arctic, calanoid copepods are a vital food for commercially important fish species such as cod, mackerel and herring. A key feature of many calanoid copepod life-cycles is a phase of overwintering at great depth, in a state analogous to hibernation. This increases their chances of surviving to the next season through avoiding predation at times when there is little else to be gained by remaining within the surface layers. A notable feature of calanoid copepods is that they contain exceptionally high amounts of fat (or lipid). The large lipid store is both a valuable energy reserve and a major determinant of buoyancy. The attainment of neutral buoyancy is important to copepods over winter since they must minimise swimming effort in order to save energy. A balance must be sought between provisioning for the winter without disturbing the ability of the copepod to achieve neutral buoyancy. The best scientific efforts at trying to simulate this balance have so far proved to be unsatisfactory. Recently, two potential additional mechanisms of buoyancy control have been identified. In one study, Sartoris and colleagues found that diapausing copepods contained a different balance of ions in their bodily fluids (haemolymph) compared to active, surface dwelling copepods. In a second study, scientists involved in the present proposal showed that lipids rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) changed from liquid to solid state when under pressures typical of the deep sea. The effect only happened when PUFAs comprised more than 50% of the lipid store which, coincidentally, was commonly found in deep diapausing copepods, but not in those still active at the surface. At present, both of the mechanisms have only been identified in Southern Ocean copepods, although previously misinterpreted evidence in the scientific literature also suggests that northern hemisphere species employ similar techniques. We will carry out surveys across a number of locations in the North Atlantic, Arctic and adjacent sea-lochs to determine lipid composition and haemolymph-ion concentrations in three calanoid copepod species. The surveys take into account environmental influences, particularly the type and availability of the microplanktonic food of copepods. This will determine whether there is any active regulation of the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the lipid stores. Such active regulation may be of particular importance towards the end of winter as a means of controlling the timing and rate of ascent back into the surface layers. Our sampling strategy, application of novel analytical techniques and datasets generated during the research will allow these questions to be addressed. Secondly, using statistical techniques we will reconsider efforts made so far to simulate overwintering depth and seek improvements through including additional data and mechanisms. For instance, in changing from a liquid to solid state, the volume occupied by a lipid will be decreased and its response to increasing pressure will change. The effects of ionic balance will also be considered, mainly in how it may assist copepods maintain their theoretical neutral buoyancy depth in the face of any physical disturbance. This research proposal is based on our recent discovery, that the biophysical properties of lipids are a major factor controlling the distribution of life in the oceans. This finding gives an exciting new perspective on the role of lipids in marine organisms, opening up a fundamentally new direction for research, with profound implications for our understanding of the entire ocean food web.

Thor P.,Norwegian Polar Institute | Dupont S.,Gothenburg University
Global Change Biology | Year: 2015

Ocean acidification (OA) caused by anthropogenic CO2 emission is projected for thousands of years to come, and significant effects are predicted for many marine organisms. While significant evolutionary responses are expected during such persistent environmental change, most studies consider only short-term effects. Little is known about the transgenerational effects of parental environments or natural selection on the capacity of populations to counter detrimental OA effects. In this study, six laboratory populations of the calanoid copepod Pseudocalanus acuspes were established at three different CO2 partial pressures (pCO2 of 400, 900 and 1550 μatm) and grown for two generations at these conditions. Our results show evidence of alleviation of OA effects as a result of transgenerational effects in P. acuspes. Second generation adults showed a 29% decrease in fecundity at 900 μatm CO2 compared to 400 μatm CO2. This was accompanied by a 10% increase in metabolic rate indicative of metabolic stress. Reciprocal transplant tests demonstrated that this effect was reversible and the expression of phenotypic plasticity. Furthermore, these tests showed that at a pCO2 exceeding the natural range experienced by P. acuspes (1550 μatm), fecundity would have decreased by as much as 67% compared to at 400 μatm CO2 as a result of this plasticity. However, transgenerational effects partly reduced OA effects so that the loss of fecundity remained at a level comparable to that at 900 μatm CO2. This also relieved the copepods from metabolic stress, and respiration rates were lower than at 900 μatm CO2. These results highlight the importance of tests for transgenerational effects to avoid overestimation of the effects of OA. © 2014 The Authors.

News Article | December 12, 2016

Reindeer are shrinking on an Arctic island near the north pole as a result of climate change that has curbed the amount of winter food available to the animals, scientists said on Monday. The average weight of adult reindeer on Svalbard, a chain of islands north of Norway, fell from 55kg (121lb) to 48kg (106lb) in the 1990s as part of sweeping changes to Arctic life while temperatures rose, they said. “Warmer summers are great for reindeer but winters are getting increasingly tough,” Professor Steve Albon, an ecologist at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland who led the study with Norwegian researchers, said. Less-chilly winters mean that once-reliable snows fall more often as rain that can freeze into a sheet of ice, making it harder for the herbivores to reach plant food. Some reindeer starve and females often give birth to stunted young. In summer, however, plants flourish in a food bonanza that ensures healthy females more likely to conceive in autumn. The wild herd studied had expanded to about 1,400 animals from 800 since the 1990s. “So far we have more but smaller reindeer,” Albon said of the animals on Svalbard, about 1,300km (800 miles) from the north pole. The rising population also means more competition for scarce food in winter. Arctic temperatures are rising faster than the world average amid a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Most studies of global warming around Svalbard have focused on polar bears that hunt seals at sea, rather than year-round land residents such as reindeer, Arctic foxes and Svalbard rock ptarmigan birds. Arctic fox numbers have risen slightly because they thrive in severe ice winters by scavenging dead reindeer, said Eva Fuglei, a researcher at the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Fram Centre who was not involved in the reindeer study. “All the weak reindeer die – the sick, the elderly and calves,” she said. But that meant foxes struggled to feed the next winter because only the fittest adult reindeer have survived.

Hudson S.R.,Norwegian Polar Institute
Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres | Year: 2011

A simple method for estimating the global radiative forcing caused by the sea ice-albedo feedback in the Arctic is presented. It is based on observations of cloud cover, sea ice concentration, and top-of-atmosphere broadband albedo. The method does not rely on any sort of climate model, making the assumptions and approximations clearly visible and understandable and allowing them to be easily changed. Results show that the globally and annually averaged radiative forcing caused by the observed loss of sea ice in the Arctic between 1979 and 2007 is approximately 0.1 W m-2; a complete removal of Arctic sea ice results in a forcing of about 0.7 W m-2, while a more realistic ice-free summer scenario (no ice for 1 month and decreased ice at all other times of the year) results in a forcing of about 0.3 W m-2, similar to present-day anthropogenic forcing caused by halocarbons. The potential for changes in cloud cover as a result of the changes in sea ice makes the evaluation of the actual forcing that may be realized quite uncertain since such changes could overwhelm the forcing caused by the sea ice loss itself, if the cloudiness increases in the summertime. Copyright 2011 by the American Geophysical Union.

Matsuoka K.,Norwegian Polar Institute
Geophysical Research Letters | Year: 2011

Radar power returned from ice-sheet beds has been widely accepted as an indicator of bed conditions. However, the bed returned power also depends on englacial attenuation, which is primarily a function of ice temperature. Here, using a one-dimensional attenuation model, it is demonstrated that, in most cases, variations in bed returned power are dominated by variations in englacial attenuation, rather than bed reflectivity. Both accumulation rate and geothermal flux anomalies can interfere with the interpretation. With the consequence, analytical radar algorithms that have been widely accepted likely yield false delineations of wet/dry beds. More careful consideration is needed when diagnosing bed conditions. Spatial patterns of shallow englacial radar reflectors can be used as a proxy for accumulation rates, which affect ice temperature and thus returned power. I argue that it is necessary to simultaneously interpret the returned power and englacial-reflector patterns to improve the bed diagnosis. Copyright 2011 by the American Geophysical Union.

Varpe O.,Norwegian Polar Institute
Journal of Plankton Research | Year: 2012

Behaviour and life-history strategies of zooplankton have evolved in response to seasonal cycles in food availability, predation risk and abiotic conditions. A key challenge is to understand how different activities over the year are linked. For instance, how does a change in spring activities, such as the timing or amount of egg production, influence autumn activities, for instance energy storage or migration? Trade-offs viewed in relation to individual lifetime fitness consequences couple these events. The framework of optimal annual routines provides theory and methodology for consistent analyses of these temporal trade-offs. Here I describe the key parts of optimal annual routine models and how the models can be used to: (i) study phenology, life-history strategies, and population dynamics; (ii) predict responses to environmental change; and (iii) guide future zooplankton studies. I mainly discuss the adaptations of zooplankton species inhabiting high latitude oceans where the seasonal cycle and its effects are particularly strong. Empirical challenges include issues of seasonal resolution, state-dependent processes and individual variability. Two ecological problems with avenues for future work are discussed in particular detail: the role of sea ice and ice algae in the life cycle of copepods and krill, and the adaptive value and ecological consequences of semelparous versus iteroparous reproductive strategies. © 2012 The Author. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

Descamps S.,Norwegian Polar Institute
PLoS ONE | Year: 2013

The Arctic is rapidly warming and host-parasite relationships may be modified by such environmental changes. Here, I showed that the average winter temperature in Svalbard, Arctic Norway, explained almost 90% of the average prevalence of ticks in an Arctic seabird, the Brünnich's guillemot Uria lomvia. An increase of 1°C in the average winter temperature at the nesting colony site was associated with a 5% increase in the number of birds infected by these ectoparasites in the subsequent breeding season. Guillemots were generally infested by only a few ticks (≤5) and I found no direct effect of tick presence on their body condition and breeding success. However, the strong effect of average winter temperature described here clearly indicates that tick-seabird relationships in the Arctic may be strongly affected by ongoing climate warming. © 2013 Sébastien Descamps.

We investigated the changes in absorption and spectral slopes of colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) using a data set of salinity, δ 18O and CDOM absorption in Hudson Bay. Following the fraction of river water (determined with salinity and δ 18O tracers) one can track the changes in terrestrial CDOM optical properties with mixing and removal, as salinity cannot alone be used in waters with significant influence from sea-ice melt. CDOM in Hudson Bay was controlled by terrestrial inputs, in contrast to adjacent Hudson Strait. CDOM absorption was removed significantly, likely due to photobleaching. There was no or negligible indication of absorption removal during initial estuarine mixing, in agreement with earlier studies. Of the many absorption spectral slope (S) parameters that have been used as proxies for CDOM dynamics, the ones at shorter wavelengths proved the best indicators for absorption removal by photobleaching. Increase in absorption spectral slopes at 275 to 295 (S 275-295) and 290 to 350nm (S 290-350) are strongly correlated with the apparent removal of CDOM absorption. S 275-295 and S 290-350 in combination with spectral slopes and ratios at other wavelength intervals, which are sensitive to other processes and sources, can potentially reveal more information about CDOM origin and dynamics than a single slope alone. © 2012 Elsevier B.V.

News Article | December 13, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO--Scientists in a rare and sometimes dangerous study of the Arctic have found that the region's thinning sea ice is more prone to melting and storms, threatening its role as a moderator of the planet's climate. The researchers reached this conclusion after spending almost half a year, much of it on a ship frozen into the ice, as part of the first wintertime expedition to examine the younger, thinner sea ice that typifies the "new Arctic." They discussed their findings in the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. "Many things we experienced took us by surprise," said Mats Granskog, a research scientist at the Norwegian Polar Institute and chief scientist of the Norwegian young sea ICE, or N-ICE2015 project. "We saw that the new Arctic, with much thinner sea ice only three to four feet thick, functions much differently from the Arctic we knew only 20 years ago, when the ice was much thicker." Global warming is proving to be particularly hard on the Arctic, with late summer sea ice coverage less than half of what it was in the 1970s. While they can't specifically link their short-term observations to climate change, the N-ICE researchers worry that the reduced sea-ice coverage and thickness will lead to even more melting, the so-called "Arctic amplification." Most of the solar energy that reaches Arctic snow and sea ice gets reflected back into space. But when the snow and ice is replaced by darker, open water, most of the energy gets absorbed and in turn helps melt more ice. Now, the researchers say, what ice is left is particularly vulnerable. The thinner and younger ice works differently, said Granskog. It moves faster, breaks up more easily and is more vulnerable to winds and storms. Von Walden, a Washington State University professor of civil and environmental engineering, spent a month on the project and helped to document the first observations of how winter storms affect the surface energy balance of the young, thinner sea ice. Von Walden saw how high winds move the ice, stressing and breaking it. The winds also transport large amounts of heat and moisture. One winter storm raised the surface temperature from -40 F to 32 F in less than 48 hours, while the moisture in the air increased by 10 times. These storms also bring clouds. All of these factors significantly warm the surface at a time when there is no sunlight, he said. Amelie Meyer, an oceanographer at the Norwegian Polar Institute, saw how storms can move the ice so fast that warm, 40 F water rises tens to hundreds of feet to melt the underside of the ice. In the summer, as much as 10 inches of ice could melt in one day. At one point, the scientists saw vast stretches of ice break up in a few hours, forcing them to scramble and even wade through frozen water to retrieve their equipment. The researchers also observed the first phytoplankton bloom under snow-covered ice as additional light passing through leads, or cracks, triggers its early growth. Traditional Arctic under-ice blooms tend to sink to the deep ocean, sequestering carbon in a sort of "carbon pump." But this bloom did not sink as much as expected due to a different algae that grew in it. Such changes could have significant implications for Arctic ecology and the movement of carbon, the researchers said.

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