By Rafael Lazo Perez |
The ship trembles while we slowly advance through the ice. A crack appears in the ice piece blocking our way. The ship cracks it into two pieces resembling the school charts that show the separation of the continents. We are approaching to Greenland and ice is becoming a constant element of our landscape showing us the most beautiful face of this remote place on Earth. A beauty that is in danger as a consequence of human activities.
Every year we hear about record values of minimum sea ice coverage. The Arctic is melting with such a high speed that “the blue summer” (an Arctic summer without sea ice coverage) is becoming a not so far und unlikely scenario. The reason of that is the increase of temperatures associated with climate change. In the Arctic a phenomenon called “Arctic amplification” provokes a more severe impact of the temperature rising. As we all know, the colour white reflects sunlight. Therefore, most of the light that reaches the Arctic is reflected by the ice mantle. However, with the increase of temperatures the ice melts and the ocean water, which replaces the ice, absorbs the sunlight increasing the water temperatures and provoking that more ice melts. This causes a positive feedback: with higher temperatures, less ice what means less light reflection causing higher temperatures. This is the reason that the Arctic is the environment with the highest temperature increase compared to average values in the last years and one of the most vulnerable ecosystems. Therefore, it is fundamental to understand the current situation and how climate change is affecting the Arctic organisms.
Since 1999, scientists of the Alfred Wegener Institute have annually sampled the area that we are investigating to monitor the status of the biological populations. An article summarizing the studies in this area was published by Soltwedel and colleagues in 2015. The article shows that in the last years there have been changes in the species composition of deep-sea animals and algae associated with warm summer temperatures in the ocean. This affects the whole ecosystem since for instance algae are the basis of the food web in the Arctic.
Moreover, the Arctic is a fundamental piece of the global marine current circulation system. The Arctic is with the Antarctic the only place where deep sea currents are generated. This happens when the cold and dense salty waters sink into the deep sea. These waters trap CO2 , a greenhouse-effect gas, into the deep sea, reducing the impact of climate change. But with the increasing temperatures and their collateral effects (decrease on ice coverage, decrease on ice thickness…) this unique feature could be affected, what makes even more urgent the need to study the current circulation processes.
Having these thoughts in mind, all the scientist of this expedition and previous ones are committed with their research. By knowing the importance of our work, we are able to overcome long sampling days, night experiments and intensive work moments. However, every effort counts to save this beauty. The beauty of the Arctic.