To the best of our knowledge, climate change will have effects on all aspects of life and natural resources in Arctic marine systems, from molecular to ecosystem level. The consequences will ultimately also have effects on the global carbon flux. However, despite circumarctic attempts to investigate the last "white spot" in the ocean, predominantly focusing upon the rim of the Arctic ice cover, our knowledge of marine ecosystems in this region is scarce. To meet the overall goals given in the Rio-Convention and Kyoto Protocol, underlying the aim of the Norwegian Minister of Environment, it is important to strengthen and improve marine research in the European sector of the Arctic.
Marine ecologists in northern Norway have established the network ARCTOS to give more thrust to marine ecological research, support international cooperation and integration, and to proliferate the visibility of Norway's research contribution to research in the Arctic. ARCTOS attempts to figure out how climate change influences the system from a molecular to the community level and how this acts on ecosystems, biodiversity and the biological global flux in the Arctic.
Arctic regions are predicted to incur some of the most pronounced effects of global climate change. Preliminary forecasts estimate a reduction of the Arctic ice pack of 20% during winter and 80% during summer by the end of this century. The dramatic northwards retreat of the sea ice zone will result in a profound widening of the marginal ice zone. In the European sector of the Arctic, the retreat results in an extensive stratified area that stretches from the Spitsbergen and Barents Sea shelf deeply into the Arctic Ocean. This situation would change radically from the present state, where a multitude of regions in the European marginal ice zone each support local ecosystem characteristics and processes. Weakly stratified water masses, characteristic of the central Barents Sea today, will spread northwards. Water temperature will increase, the distribution of Atlantic species will spread northwards and new production will probably triple. Changes in weather will further modify the annual patterns and magnitude of primary production. The low productive, presently ice-covered waters in the north will turn into a stratified marginal ice zone with nutrient depletion after a short, intense ice edge bloom. In particular, the shelf-break of the Arctic Ocean in the European sector that presently has quasi-permanent ice-cover, will encounter changes. Seasonally open water in this deep-water region will result in a large spring bloom off the shelf, with concomitant decoupling of the pelagic and benthic systems, and export to the deep ocean.
The above-described ongoing climatic change will increase the speed of industrial development and cause a stronger integration of these geographical areas into global commercial activities. It is of great importance that this development is carried out in a sustainable manner, and based upon scientific knowledge. ARCTOS has therefore a linkage to applied research and its knowledge and expertise will be valuable and useful for a wide range of stakeholders in the Arctic region, from fisheries/aquaculture, oil/gas exploitation, the quality of life for adjacent circumarctic inhabitants, in particular indigenous people, to tourism. Issues such as environmental protection, biodiversity and ecosystem-based pollution assessment are additional aspects where ARCTOS will contribute to the prosperity of the Arctic community as a whole.