Translation of the chronicle “Hvorfor en polarfosker ikke klarer å gi entydige svar”, by Ingrid Wiedmann. Published in the local newspaper Nordlys, 2017-03-28.

 

■■ Have you ever talked to a polar researcher? You may have discovered out that they are ordinary people. They get up in the morning, deliver their children to kindergarten, go to the office, and hurry back home to make dinner. Apparently, nothing distinguishes them from other people. Until you ask a question such as “Will it really more fisheries in the Arctic when the climate gets warmer and there is less ice?” Often your research friend goes through a strange transformation and can no longer simply respond unambiguously “yes” or “no “.

■■ I am myself a polar researcher and often question myself why it is so hard for me and my colleagues to give a straightforward answer to a specific question. I think there are two reasons for this. One is a fundamental principle in research and the other merely the dimensions of the Arctic ecosystem.

A fundamental principle

The research training program teaches young researchers a very basic principle: Be assertive only on what you can prove. Can I prove that there will be more fisheries in the Arctic when the climate gets warmer and there is less ice? No, no scientist can. The Arctic Ocean is huge, larger than all of Europe and it is simply impossible to study the whole area at once. This makes it difficult to predict whether there will be more fisheries in a future Arctic Ocean, and I, like many other scientists, am reluctant to give a clear answer.

Research is a detective’s work

■■ However, I understand that you may find this difficult to understand. The society pays polar researchers for their research and gets no clear answer. Sometimes one can even  reads even the seemingly contradictory answers. Some say that there are more fish in the Arctic. Others claim that it becomes smaller. How is that possible?

■■ The best explanation for this is perhaps that polar researchers working in the same way as detectives. But instead of finding out if a suspect person is guilty, then collects polar researchers evidence to solve the riddle of fisheries in a future polar sea. Scientists do this through observations on research cruises and using laboratory experiments or model calculations on the computer.

Conflicting evidence?

■■ Based on these evidences draws researchers conclusions and they can sometimes be seemingly contradictory. Through global warming, the water in the Barents Sea, for example, warmer and the ice retreats. Thus, the living conditions for fish in the Barents Sea more like the Atlantic and commercially used fish species such as cod thrive better. It means that the stock increases and it may become more fisheries.

■■ Other evidence predicts, however, that the fish in the Arctic Ocean might not have enough food in the future. Why? The reason for this is that when the sea becomes warmer and the ice disappears, so can mix processes in the water change. This can cause the algae that are common today will be replaced with algae which is about ten times smaller in size. Algae are important feed for all animals in the ocean, both those who live in the open water and on the seabed, but if algae becomes smaller, so they sink not as fast to the seabed. Thus, bottom-dwelling worms and other insects probably not get as much food in the future and they may be fewer. In this way it also becomes less small animals to chew on for fish that live close to the bottom, including cod.

Space and time explains much

■■ The statements that are described above point in completely different directions. A claim that there are more fish in the Arctic Ocean, the second indicates the opposite. Does it then that some scientists have drawn the wrong conclusions? No, not at all.

■■ Arctic Ocean is larger than all of Europe and there are areas that are more than 3000 m deep, while others, such as the Barents Sea, is much shallower (average 230 m). Living conditions for animals and algae is thus already completely different depending on the area and if the ice is withdrawn, so coming shallow and deep areas to change in different ways. The most concrete answer on fisheries in a future polar sea is therefore likely that it depends on the area. In some areas there may be more, in others less.

■■ In addition to the range is time also an important factor. Today it seems as if the living conditions in the Barents Sea will be better for commercially used fish such as cod, but this does not mean that it’s going to be so in perpetuity. If Barents Sea gets even hotter this will probably affect mixing processes in the water, promoting very small algae and perhaps even lead to worse conditions for fishing. The conclusions are therefore not contradictory, but they point only to the conditions in the near and slightly more distant future.

The challenges of providing simple answers

■■ If you ask me now if there will be more fisheries in the Arctic Ocean in the forward time begins many thoughts to swirl in my head. I think of areas, on the time scale, the water mixing processes and the visibility king of algae to sea. In addition, I try to give a good answer as I can prove with research results and answer I lands on will probably be: Well, it depends.

■■ Chronicle Author Ingrid Wiedmann is a postdoctoral researcher in the Arctic and Marine Biology and associated project ARCEx – Research Center for Arctic Petroleum Exploration.

Reference: 

Wiedmann, I. (2017): Hvorfor en polarfosker ikke klarer å gi entydige svar. Nordlys. 28.3.2017