What Is The Smallest And Shallowest Ocean In The World – Jørgen Berge, University of Tromsø, Carlos M. Duarte, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Dorte Krause-Jensen, Aarhus University, Karen Philby-Dexter, University of Western Australia, Kimberly Howland, Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR), Philippe Archambault, Laval University
Carlos Duarte receives funding from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and the Independent Research Foundation of Denmark.
What Is The Smallest And Shallowest Ocean In The World
Dorte Krause-Jensen receives funding from several public research foundations, such as the Danish Independent Research Foundation, and private research foundations, including the Velux Foundations.
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Karen Philby-Dexter receives funding from ArcticNet, the Norwegian Blue Forest Network, the Australian Research Council and the Norwegian Research Council (BlueConnect).
Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR) and Université Laval provide funding as founders of The Conversation CA-FR.
At more than 14 million kilometers, the Arctic Ocean is the smallest and shallowest of the world’s oceans. It’s also very cold. A large chunk of sea ice floats near the center, growing during the long, cold, dark winter and contracting in summer as the sun rises higher in the sky.
Every year, usually in September, sea ice cover is reduced to its lowest level. The 2020 figure was a paltry 3.74 million square kilometers, the second lowest in 42 years and about half what it was in 1980. Each year, as the climate warms, the Arctic holds less and less ice.
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The effects of global warming are being felt around the world, but nowhere on Earth is it as dramatic as in the Arctic. The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than anywhere else on Earth, bringing far-reaching changes to the Arctic Ocean, its ecosystems and the 4 million people who live in the Arctic.
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Some of them are unexpected. Warmer waters draw some animals north to higher elevations. Thin ice is increasingly transporting people across the Arctic on cruise, cargo and research ships. Ice and snow can block the water below, but climate change allows more light to pass through.
Light is very important in the Arctic. Algae, the backbone of the Arctic Ocean’s food web, convert sunlight into sugar and oil, feeding fish and eventually whales, polar bears and humans.
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At high altitudes in the Arctic during deep winter, the sun stays below the horizon for 24 hours. This is called the polar night and at the North Pole the year is only one day, which lasts six months, followed by one equally long night.
Researchers studying the effects of ice loss placed observatories – anchored instruments with buoys – in an Arctic fjord in the fall of 2006, before the fjord dried up. When sampling began in the spring of 2007, the installations remained in place for nearly six months, collecting data over long, dark nights.
In the high Arctic, the polar night can last weeks or even months. Michael O. Snyder, featured author
At that time, scientists believed that the polar night was not pleasant at all. A dead period where life is dormant and the ecosystem goes into a dark and cold standby. Not much was expected from these measurements, so the researchers were surprised when the data showed that life never stops.
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Arctic zooplankton — tiny animals that feed on algae — are involved in a phenomenon known as vertical migration under the ice and the demise of the polar night. Marine animals in all the world’s oceans do this by migrating deeper during the day to hide from potential predators after dark and emerging at night to feed.
Creatures use light to do this, so they shouldn’t be able to do this during the polar night. Now we understand the polar night as a chaos of natural events. The normal rhythms of daily life continue in the dark. Shellfish open and close periodically, seabirds hunt in total darkness, ghost shrimp and sea snails congregate in kelp forests to spawn, and deep-sea species such as hatted jellyfish emerge when it’s dark enough to evade predators.
For many of the species currently active, the moon, stars and auroras can serve as important cues about their behavior, especially in arctic regions not covered by sea ice. But as the arctic climate warms and human activity increases in the region, these light sources will be invisible in many places, filled with strong artificial light.
About a quarter of the world is exposed to diffuse artificial light at night, as it is reflected by the atmosphere. There are still a few really dark areas left and the lights of towns, beaches, roads and ships can be seen far and wide.
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Light pollution is noticeable even in sparsely populated areas of the Arctic. Shipping lines, oil and gas exploration and fishing are expanding in an area where sea ice is retreating and drawing artificial light into the inky Arctic night.
Creatures that have adapted to the polar night over millions of years are now suddenly exposed to artificial light. Michael O. Snyder, featured author
No species has had the ability to adapt to this change – a change that takes place over a long period of time. Meanwhile, the harmonious motions of the Earth, Moon, and Sun have provided reliable trails for arctic animals for millennia. Many biological phenomena, such as migration, foraging and reproduction, are closely related to their soft predictors.
In a recent study in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, between Norway and the North Pole, it was found that lights from a research vessel can affect fish and zooplankton at depths of up to 200 metres. Disturbed by the sudden intrusion of light, the creatures moving below the surface behaved strangely: some swam towards the pole, while others swam away abruptly.
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It is difficult to predict what effect artificial light from ships just sailing in the ice-free Arctic will have on a nocturnal ecosystem that has been in darkness longer than modern humans. How the rapidly increasing human presence in the Arctic will affect the ecosystem is a concern, but there are also troubling questions for researchers. If most of the information we’ve gathered about the Arctic comes from scientists standing in boats with bright lights, how “natural” is the ecosystem we’ve been talking about?
Research in the Arctic could change significantly in the coming years to reduce light pollution. Michael O. Snyder, featured author
Arctic marine science is about to enter a new era with independent and remote platforms capable of operating without light and taking measurements in total darkness.
Hear an interview with two scientists who study light and kelp forests in the Arctic Ocean on The Conversation Weekly podcast.
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As sea ice recedes off the coasts of Greenland, Norway, North America and Russia, periods of open water lengthen and more light reaches the ocean floor. Suddenly, marine life, which has been hidden under the ice for 200,000 years, sees the light of day. This could be good news for marine plants such as kelp, large brown seaweeds that thrive in cold water with plenty of light and nutrients.
Anchored to the ocean floor and floating with the tides, some species of kelp can grow up to 50 meters (175 feet) – almost as high as Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square. But kelp is often removed from high elevation areas because of the sea ice that casts a shadow, and it scours the ocean floor.
Badderlocks, or winged kelp, off the coast of Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic. Ignacio Garrido/ArcticKelp, featured author
These green underwater forests will grow and flourish as the sea ice recedes. However, kelp is not new to the Arctic. They were once part of the traditional Greenlandic diet, and polar explorers and explorers spotted them along the north coast more than 100 years ago.
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Some species of kelp may have settled along the Arctic coast after the last ice age or spread from small cavities where they settled. But most kelp forests in the Arctic are small and confined to deep water areas, compared to the vast kelp forests along the coast of California in the US.
Recent data from Norway and Greenland shows that kelp forests are expanding and expanding into the Arctic, and these marine plants are expected to grow and grow faster as the Arctic warms, creating more places for species to live in and around them . The full extent of Arctic kelp forests remains elusive and undocumented, but modeling can help determine how much has changed and grown in the Arctic since the 1950s.
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