Barents Sea ecosystem undergoing dramatic change, study shows

The Barents Sea is shifting away from an Arctic climate due to warming. (Atle Staalesen/The Independent Barents Observer)
One of the world’s most comprehensive marine research expeditions reveals powerful change in the marine life of the Barents Sea.

“These findings are both surprising and dramatic”, says Georg Skaret. He is a researcher at the Norwegian Marine Research Institute and has taken part in this year’s major ecosystem mapping in the Barents Sea.

Shifting away from Arctic climate

For more than a month, four vessels – three Norwegian and one Russian, have criss-crossed the far northern waters and made a wide range of measurements. It is part of a big annual effort made in cooperation with Russian researchers since year 2004.

“We have been doing this for only 14 years, but we [already] see major changes”, Skaret says as research vessel Johan Hjort arrives in Kirkenes, Arctic Norway, after weeks at sea.

“The Barents Sea is about to become far less Arctic”, the researcher says, and explains that ice volumes in the region in 2018 reached another record-low.

Georg Skaret is researcher at the Norwegian Marine Research Institute. (Atle Staalesen/The Independent Barents Observer)
Species fleeing north

The waters in the Barents Sea are quickly getting warmer, and the species that traditionally have inhabited the region are moving north, while more southern species move in.

We can for example see it with the polar cod, Skaret says. This fish was previously was found over major parts of the Barents Sea, but is now getting increasingly rare. It is today pushed northwards, along the polar ice edge.

The comprehensive Barents ecosystem mapping include research measurements on several hundred predefined points all over the Barents Sea, from the coastal waters along Finnmark (Arctic Norway) and the Kola Peninsula (northwest Russia) to the ice edge up to 80 degrees north. While the Johan Hjort and the two other Norwegian vessels engage on the Norwegian side of the region, the Russian vessel Vilnyus takes care of the Russian waters.

Representatives of the Marine Research Institute on board vessel Johan Hjort . (Atle Staalesen/The Independent Barents Observer)

The measurements include a big number of marine species, from the bottom to the top of the sea. In addition, water samples and sediment tests are taken. Pollution tests are also performed, and for the first time the expedition includes the mapping of micro-plastics.

Norwegian-Russian collaboration

Onboard the Norwegian vessels are Russian researcher representatives and cooperation is smooth, the expedition members say. Representatives from both countries will now bring their new data to a joint meeting where findings will be discussed and recommendations for quotas elaborated. Those recommendations will subsequently be discussed at the Joint Norwegian-Russian Fishery Commission, the key annual fisheries meeting between the two countries.

Last year, the findings of the researchers were instrumental for the reopening of capelin fishing, the species that for years had been on a historical low. The capelin boost resulted in catch quotas of 200,000 tons in 2017. Also this year, the capelin stocks look good, at least in certain regions, Georg Skaret makes clear.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Warm water under Arctic ice a ‘ticking time bomb,’ researcher says, CBC News

Finland: Cities in Finland and Sweden among Europe’s fastest-warming, data shows, YLE News

Greenland: Glacier half the size of Manhattan breaks off Greenland, CBC News

Norway: WWF urges Norway to protect its Arctic forests to help fight climate change, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russian and American scientists team up to study Arctic Russia’s weakening sea ice, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Swedish icebreaker reaches North Pole for climate study, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: New study predicts ‘radical re-shaping’ of Arctic landscape by 2100, CBC News

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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