ID:17 The coastal Arctic and the shrinking cryosphere - consequences from biodiversity to livelihoods

23 February 2023 | 08:30 - 10:00 (GMT+1) 
23 February 2023 | 10:30 - 12:30 (GMT+1) 

Open Session - HYBRID


Room: Hörsaal 5


Session Conveners: Kai Bischof (University of Bremen, Germany); Lill Rastad Bjørst (Aalborg University, Denmark)


Session Description: 

Arctic fjord systems and coastal areas host a diversity of human populations and are crucial habitats to Arctic marine biodiversity and harvestable marine resources. Their cryosphere has changed dramatically as a result of warming. Sea ice and glacier retreat will spur transformations in ecosystem functioning, which will cascade up the food chain from plankton communities to fish, seabirds and marine mammals. The biological diversity of Arctic coastal systems is critical for the generation of ecosystem services, which both, the tourism and fishing industries, and Indigenous and local communities depend upon to sustain their cultures and livelihoods.

Cryosphere changes present a challenge for national and intergovernmental policy and legislation. It is critical to include the perspectives of local communities on factors contributing to a changing Arctic, and their experiences on adapting to and coping with change, to ensure meaningful contributions to research and policy.

We invite presentations from the natural and the social sciences exploring the impacts of cryosphere reduction on the socio-ecological systems of Arctic coasts. The research presented should include an interdisciplinary view, i.e., on what changes in coastal ecology imply to the societal dimension and vice versa. This session is hosted by the EU H2020 project FACE-IT.



Session 1 (08:30 - 10:00 GMT+1):

  • unfold_more08:30: Introduction by the Conveners
  • unfold_more08:40: Continuing ecological and human impacts from climate change and diminished sea ice in the northern Bering Sea

    James Overland1; Elizibeth Siddon1; Thomas Ballinger2; Gay Sheffield1
    1NOAA; 2IARC


    There was record minimum sea-ice cover during winter 2018 and 2019 in the Bering Sea, with continuing multi-year impacts on the marine ecosystem and human activities. The back-to-back sea-ice minimums during 2018 and 2019 were certainly unexpected, given the normal large year-to-year variability of storms for the northern Bering Sea. Ecological shifts indicated reorganization of the marine food web that included loss of sea-ice algae and large lipid-rich zooplankton at the base of the food chain as well as young crabs, to predatory cod and pollock moving north, and loss of salmon abundance. Direct human impacts included increased seabird and ice-associated seal emaciation and mortality, and increased harmful algal blooms. These changes affected regional food security, human/wildlife health, cultural activities, and marine wildlife conservation. Resulting impacts to livelihoods in the northern Bering Sea included commercial and non-commercial subsistence acquisition of essential marine resources for sale and direct consumption. Global warming initiated these events through a weakened Arctic Front that promotes a self-reinforcing cycle of sea-ice loss, warmer temperatures, southerly winds, and an ecosystem reorganization. Projections for the next decade are for continuing ecosystem regime transition impacting essential marine wildlife resources and residents of the coastal northern Bering Sea.

  • unfold_more09:00: The changing fjords of the European Arctic: what do the data say?

    Robert Schlegel1; Nora Diehl2; Inka Bartsch3; Thomas Juul-Pedersen4; Halvor Dannevig5; Carina Ren6; Tobias Vonnahme4; Grete Kaare Hovelsrud7; Lill Rastad Bjørst6; Pedro Duarte8; Laurène Merillet9; Cale Miller1; Mikael Sejr10; Janne Søreide11; Jean-Pierre Gattuso12
    1Sorbonne Université; 2University of Bremen; 3Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research; 4Greenland Institute of Natural Resources; 5Western Norway Research Institute; 6Aalborg University; 7Nordland Research Institute; 8Norwegian Polar Institute; 9Institute of Marine Research; 10Aarhus University; 11The University Centre in Svalbard; 12Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations


    Fjord systems are transition zones between the terrestrial and marine, resulting in complex and dynamic environments. They are of particular interest in the Arctic as they harbour ecosystems inhabited by a rich range of species and provide many additional societal benefits. The key drivers of change in these systems on biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and their links to human communities are classified here into five categories: cryosphere (sea ice, glacier mass balance, glacial and riverine discharge), physics (seawater temperature, salinity, light), chemistry (carbonate system, nutrients), biology (primary production, biomass, species richness), and social (governance, tourism, fisheries). The in situdata available for the past and present state of these drivers, as well as modeled future data, have been collected and analysed to determine their numeric relationships. Changes in seawater temperature and glacier mass balance loss are the largest and will have the most profound consequences on the future of Arctic fjords. Overall, knowledge of what the primary drivers of change in Arctic fjord socio-ecological systems are, and how they relate to one another, should provide more expedient focus for future research on the needs of adapting to a changing world. In order to better facilitate this, the in situ datasets amalgamated for this research are made publicly available as a single interoperable data collection.

  • unfold_more09:20: Who is there? - The microscopic sympagic community in Svalbard

    Vanessa Pitusi1; Janne Søreide1; Oleksandr Holovachov2
    1The University Centre in Svalbard; 2Swedish Museum of Natural History


    Each winter, sea ice forms in the Arctic offering a unique habitat to microscopic flora and fauna, which are referred to as sympagic (ice-associated). During the formation of sea ice, salt is rejected and collects as a liquid (known as brine) inside the ice causing small (< 1 mm) channels to form. These brine channels are colonized not only by bacteria, viruses, and microalgae, but also numerous benthic organisms and their larvae. These include nematodes, rotifers, flatworms, and polychaete juveniles. For these metazoans, sea ice offers a concentrated food supply, refuge from larger predators, and a breeding ground.

    However, in Svalbard, sea ice formation is becoming less reliable, and the season is becoming shorter and shorter. Little is known about the importance of sea ice to meiofauna, in Svalbard, and how climate change affects it. Fortunately, we are slowly starting to gather knowledge on these microscopic ice organisms, which is needed to assess the potential ecological implication of changing sea ice conditions on the secondary production of meiofauna. Questions that can only be answered by identifying who rather than what lives in the ice. Especially, for the highly abundant sympagic meiofauna, such as nematodes, identification to the lowest taxonomic level is important to determine if sea ice plays a vital part in their life cycle. Parts of the life cycle that have been observed will be discussed in relation to available knowledge on the known species of ice nematodes, which includes where they might spend the ice-free season.

  • unfold_more09:40: Kelp forest biomass and biodiversity development in Kongsfjorden

    Luisa Düsedau1; Inka Bartsch1; Amanda Savoie2; Markus Brand1; Stein Fredriksen3
    1Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research; 2Canadian Museum of Nature; 3University of Oslo


    Macroalgae are major primary producers and ecosystem engineers along the rocky shores of the Arctic. With Svalbard being a hotspot of global warming, macroalgal communities are experiencing rapid environmental changes including altered light availability and disturbance regimes. In 1996/98, 2012-14 and 2021 macroalgal biomass and species diversity were monitored in an Arctic kelp forest at our study site Hansneset in Kongsfjorden. For the quantitative biomass study, algal material was collected by scuba diving along a sublittoral transect between 0m and 15m depth and by stratified random sampling. Additionally, the lower depth distribution of dominating brown algae species was recorded semi-quantitatively in four transects from 2m to 20m depth. Over the past 25 years, the overall biomass maximum has increased but shifted upwards from 5m to 2.5m depth, where it peaked in 2012/13 with a mean 14.53 kg fresh biomass m-2. Since 1996, the total macroalgal biomass at 5m and 10m depth has declined and remained stable at 15m. The lower distribution limit of two kelp species decreased sharply over time as well as the abundances of all investigated biomass-dominant brown algae. Macroalgal biodiversity stayed with 82 morph-species in the hitherto recorded range. While Arctic endemic Laminaria solidungula was not encountered in 2021, a first fertile drift individual of cold-temperate Fucus vesiculosus was collected. Our time series provides insights into how seaweed species composition is affected in an Arctic fjord system influenced by glacial melt. The trend that had been observed between 1996/98 and 2012-14 partially continued in 2021, but the overall community structure became different suggesting that the system is in constant change.


Session 2 (10:30 - 12:30 GMT+1):

  • unfold_more10:30: More jellyfish in Tomorrow’s Arctic Ocean? Integrative pelagic studies for predicting poleward range shifts and their potential impact on Arctic food webs and fish stocks

    Charlotte Havermans1; Annkathrin Dischereit1; Ayla Murray1; Dmitrii Pantiukhin1; Niko Steiner1; Julia Throm1; Joan Josep Soto-Angel2; Aino Hosia2
    1Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research; 2University of Bergen


    Jellyfish (ctenophores, cnidarians) are major drivers of ecosystem changes. Increases in biomass or “jellification” have been observed in several marine ecosystems, causing, amongst other factors, major fishery collapses. In fjord systems, jellyfish species have the ability to outcompete and replace fish and cause major damage to salmon farming. For the Arctic region, accurate diversity and abundance data on jellies are virtually non-existent, impeding our ability to detect impacts of a similar magnitude. We aim to study current and future species distributions of dominant Arctic jellyfish under a growing influence of Atlantic waters. We combine net catches with optical video systems and environmental DNA monitoring. We apply speciesdistribution models to understand species and community patterns and predict changes under climate-change scenarios. The role of jellyfish as predators in the Arctic summer and winter food webs and their importance as prey is assessed with molecular diet studies. We focus on scyphozoans causing nuisance to fish stocks and salmon farming: Cyanea capillata and Periphylla periphylla, for which we optimize eDNA approaches for monitoring applications, particularly in the light of the recent appearance of Periphylla in Arctic fjords. Finally, we present the results from the RV Heincke expedition RISING, aiming to compare jellyfish along a poleward gradient, from Porsangerfjorden to the Barents Sea and Svalbard fjords. By investigating species richness, abundances and trophic role of jellyfish in fjords in which the influence of Atlantic water differs, we set a baseline to detect potential range shifts and predict the impact of jellyfish on local food webs and fish stocks in an Atlantified Arctic.

  • unfold_more10:50: Grounding climate change into local narratives in the Arctic: changing seasonality, sea-ice changes and polar bears as emerging risks in Ittoqqortoormiit (Inuit Nunaat/Greenland)

    Jeanne Gherardi Scao1; Tanguy Sandré2; Jean-Paul Vanderlinden2; Jean-Michel Huctin3
    1University of Versailles Saint Quentin; 2University of Paris-Saclay / University of Bergen; 3OVSQ/UVSQ


    While diverse Arctic realities tend to be integrated into the science-based narrative of climate and environmental change, local-based narratives elicit grounded experiences of changing climate. For instance, climate change-driven variations in the sea-ice thickness and extend are ubiquitous in the narratives we have been collected in Ittoqqortoormiit (Est Inuit Nunaat). Those changes deeply reshape the daily life and the ability to rely on traditional activities – hunting, short-distance mobility, etc. – for people living in small settlements in Kalaallit Nunaat. This also redesign relationships between inhabitants and polar bears whose behavior is affected by those sea-ice conditions. While narratives seem to express an adaptation driven by the acceptance of uncertainty (and the inability to reduce it), the plurality of framing of seasonality among different actors also shed lights on multidimensional changes the traditional-hunting community is experiencing. Addressing this profound disconnectedness between the science framing of climate change and community-embedded knowledge, needs and concerns, we mobilise long-dwelling fieldwork to underline salient scales of changing sea-ice conditions for community members in Ittoqqortoormiit. Hence, we will be in a position to discuss the potential for bridging climate science and local narratives of change in order to provide an understanding of emergent risks, that is respectful of local values and people.

  • unfold_more11:10: Coping with rapid and cascading changes in Svalbard: the case of nature based tourism in Svalbard

    Halvor Dannevig1; Janne Søreide2; Tone Rusdal1
    1Western Norway Research Institute; 2The University Centre in Svalbard


    Tourism has been booming in Svalbard, and has picked up where it left before the pandemic. At the same time, the island is a hotspot of rapid and cascading climate and environmental changes, already putting natural and social systems under stress. There is more snow, less sea-ice and glaciers are retreating at an increasingly faster rate. At the same time, sweeping legislative changes for Svalbard is underway, which held the potential for changing the conditions for tourism in multiple ways. Drawing on an assessment of recent projections for climate and environmental change, as well as interviews with tourism actors, this article outlines how climate and environmental changes is currently impacting nature-based tourism actors in the archipelago and discusses opportunities and barriers for tourist actors adaptation to current and projected changes. It finds that tourism actors have high adaptive capacity to projected changes, taking advantage of increased access due to shrinking ice in the fjords, and extending the summer season into the autumn month due to higher temperatures. At the same time are avalanches and other natural hazard risk increasing, causing a higher frequency of disruptions of planned tours and excursions.

  • unfold_more11:30: Wilderness or playground? The importance of narratives in shaping adaptive co-management options to Svalbard tourism under a changing climate

    Ragnhild Freng Dale1; Halvor Dannevig1; Grete Hovelsrud2
    1Western Norway Research Institute; 2Nordland Research Institute


    Svalbard is transitioning from an economy based on coal mining to a more diversified economy with tourism, research and higher education as key contributing factors. These changes are driven by the Norwegian national Svalbard policy, with environmental protection and a stable Norwegian population in Longyearbyen as overall goals. Locally, they are communicated and adopted as strategies for becoming a sustainable tourist destination and a low carbon community. Narratives of Svalbard’s future range from playground to wilderness, from sustainable tourism and zero emission society to policy ambitions for strict nature conservation of the Arctic wilderness. Based on interviews with local tourism actors and authorities, and analysis of key policy documents this paper investigates the emerging narratives of what Svalbard is and should be. Herein lies potential conflicts and different levels of feasibility of national policy for tourism development in the context of changing environmental, political and economic conditions. We explore how an adaptive co-management approach to tourism has the potential to reconcile stated national policy with local tourism opportunities and community development.

  • unfold_more11:50: Open Discussion