Arctic marine ecosystems
The Arctic typically has low temperatures, low precipitation and strong seasonal variation in solar insolation. Physical factors influence ice cover, snow cover (on the ice) and nutrients in the water masses. These parameters determine the extent of production in the water masses.
The west coast of Svalbard in particular, but also much of the Barents Sea, is characterised by a feed of warm Atlantic water from the south. In some areas, there may also be a lot of runoff from the land, causing a large input of sediment particles. Due to the combination of distinctive environmental factors and different habitats and biotopes, the sea areas around Svalbard have a characteristically large biological diversity compared with other Arctic areas at similar latitudes. They are home to most of the organisms reported as key Arctic species, of which some are nationally and internationally protected.
Specific sea areas around Svalbard and elsewhere in the Barents Sea stand out as especially productive (for example the polar front, the ice margin, glacier termini and shallow banks).
Compared with the mainland, a relatively large proportion of Svalbard is affected by sea ice. This in turn affects oceanographic processes, as well as the prevalence of species.
There is an intimate link between the ecosystems in the sea and on land. In particular, there is extensive transport of energy from sea to land through nesting sea birds bringing food from the water back ashore. In addition, some marine mammals dwell on land for shorter or longer periods for birthing and moulting. Pregnant female polar bears hibernate in the snow in late autumn.
Research into biodiversity covers a range of fields (such as cellular and molecular biology, physiology, ecology, behavioural biology, conservation biology, taxonomy and evolution) and different trophic levels (from viruses and bacteria to large mammals).
Regarding ecosystems, more knowledge is required about their structures and functions, and the effect of the different types of impacts, both natural and anthropogenic, they are subjected to. This presupposes an awareness of how and why the numbers and distribution of species and populations vary.
Norway has a policy goal of environmental management being ecosystem-based, i.e. that the management of human activities is based on the framework that the ecosystem defines for the maintenance of its structure, functioning and production.
Any pressure on an ecosystem should consequently be assessed on the basis of the cumulative environmental effects on the ecosystem now and in the future, in the light of coherences in the ecosystems and their functioning.
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Master thesis project on arctic ecotoxicology – Pollutant effects in walruses
The Norwegian Polar Institute and UiT The Arctic University of Norway are looking for a student to a master thesis project that will examine contaminant related health effects in walruses from Svalbard. Walrus samples will be analyzed for pollutants, hormone levels and immunological responses. In addition they will be analyzed for mRNA expression of genes related to hormone disruption and immune suppression.