Arctic PRIZE

Arctic productivity in the seasonal ice zone


The core objective of Arctic PRIZE is to investigate the seasonally-varying interplay between physical forcings and nutrient fluxes, and their impact on primary productivity and related zooplankton dynamics and benthic communities. This will support development of enhanced modelling capabilities to make projections of ecosystem response to reducing sea ice cover. We will investigate and model fundamental processes driving the Arctic Ocean ecosystem to predict its response to sea ice retreat.

We will make new observations of water column properties and community composition using standard ship-based techniques, autonomous vehicles, moored instruments, seals and remote sensing. Thus we will be making core measurements relevant to the wider Changing Arctic Ocean programme. From these data, new, well-validated models will be developed that will be merged back into UK and international efforts to project the future of pan-Arctic ecosystems through collaboration with leading modelling groups.

We focus on the seasonal ice zone of the Barents Sea – a highly productive region that is undergoing considerable change in its sea ice distribution – and target the critically important but under-sampled seasonal transition from winter into the post-bloom summer period. Of critical importance is the need to develop the predictive tools necessary to assess how the Arctic ecosystems will respond to a reducing sea ice cover. This will be achieved through a combined experimental/modelling programme. The project is embedded within international Arctic networks based in Norway and Canada and coordinated with ongoing US projects in the Pacific Arctic. Through these international research networks our proposal will have a legacy of cooperation far beyond the lifetime of the funding. The project comprises five integrated work packages.

Work package objectives

Work package 1 – Physical Environment

We will measure properties of the water column (temperature, salinity, turbulent fluxes, light, fluorometry) in both open water and under sea ice. To make these measurements we will use ice-strengthened research ships, autonomous underwater vehicles, ocean gliders and seals which preferentially inhabit the marginal ice zone (MIZ). We will use the gliders to patrol the water around the MIZ and track it as the ice retreats northwards in summer. Measurements of underwater light fields will support development of improved regional remote sensing algorithms to extend the spatial and temporal context of the proposal beyond the immediate deployment period.

Work package 2 – Nutrient Dynamics

We will undertake an extensive program of measuring inorganic and organic nutrients, their concentrations, isotopic signatures and vertical fluxes to understand the role of vertical mixing and advection (work package 1) in regulating nutrient supply to primary productivity in the surface ocean.

Work package 3 – Phytoplankton Production

We will investigate nutrient supply (work package 2) and light availability (work package 1) linked to sea ice affect the magnitude, timing, and composition of phytoplankton production, and the role of seasonal physiological plasticity.

Through new numerical parameterisations – cross-tuned and validated using a rich array of observations – we will develop predictive skill related to biological production and its fate; resolve longstanding questions about the competing effects of increased light and wind mixing associated with sea ice loss; and therefore contribute to the international effort to project the functioning of Pan-Arctic ecosystems.

Work package 4 – Zooplankton

Zooplankton undergo vertical migrations to graze on primary production at the surface. We will use acoustic instruments on moorings and on AUVs alongside traditional netting techniques to measure the composition and behaviours of pelagic organisms in relation in light and mixing (work package 1) and phytoplankton production (work package 3) over the seasonal cycle of sea ice cover. The behaviours identified will be used to improve models that capture the life-history and behavioural traits of Arctic zooplankton. These models can then be used to investigate how feeding strategies of key Arctic zooplankton species may be modified during an era of reducing sea ice cover.

Work package 5 – Benthic Community

We will use an AUV equipped with camera system to acquire imagery of the large seabed-dwelling organisms to investigate how changes in sea ice duration (WP1), timing of primary productivity (WP3) and bentho-pelagic coupling (WP4) can modify the spatial variation in benthic community composition. We will also conduct time series-studies in an Arctic fjord using a photolander system to record the seasonally varying community response to pulses of organic matter.

Engagement with the international Arctic research community

A key objective of Arctic PRIZE is the forging of lasting engagement with the international Arctic research community. Through our established links with international institutes we will ensure that our project has appropriate scientific breadth, opportunities for additional sampling, significant pan-Arctic integration and longevity beyond the funded lifetime of the project.  Of particular significance, we will work closely with the partner institutes within the Nansen Legacy – a leading Norwegian initiative focused on our study area, the Barents Sea.

Finally, Arctic PRIZE is committed to the development of the next generation of Arctic researchers: An important objective is to be able to provide high quality education and training through our association with the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) and with the institutions of our project partners.  We will promote participation in networks such as ARCTOS, APECS and ArcticNet and support the development of students and PDRAs with placement in international laboratories with many of the world’s leading Arctic scientists.

Lead Investigator

  • Professor Finlo Cottier

    Lead Investigator, Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS)

    Finlo Cottier is a Senior Lecturer in Polar Oceanography at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), based in Oban on the Scottish West Coast.  He heads the “Marine Science with Arctic Studies” degree programme run jointly by SAMS and the University of the Highlands and Islands.

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