In august sixteen University of Gothenburg researchers will travel to Qeqertarsuaq on Disco Island on the west coast of Greenland. Greenland and Disco Island have received a lot of attention in international climate research since the effects of climate change are more noticeable in the Arctic Ocean than anywhere else.
Fish and many other marine animals such as starfish, crayfish and sea urchin are very sensitive to temperature changes. The only way to regulate their body temperature is to migrate, which is what is currently seen in the waters around Greenland. Several species have already escaped the areas they have inhabited for thousands of years and have found new homes in colder waters further north.
The conditions will change dramatically for the species that remain in the area:
‘An increased body temperature increases the metabolic demands.. The question is to what extent these marine species are able to adapt before vital abilities such as enemy avoidance and the ability to chase down prey start to fail’, says Michael Axelsson, professor at the Department of Zoology and leader of the expedition.
‘International studies show that the temperatures in the arctic waters will continue to rise. The purpose of our expedition is to investigate how this will affect the arctic marine animals’.
The expedition involves a large number of researchers in various fields, ranging from mathematical statistics to circulatory physiology and behavioural ecology, and will focus on three main topics:
What effects do increased temperatures have on food processing?
Food intake and digestion rely on a well functioning digestive system. The expedition will study how changes in temperature affect the mechanisms involved.
How are the species’ circulatory systems and behaviours affected?
An increase of 10 degrees Celsius doubles the animals’ oxygen consumption, which in turn increases the demands on the ventilatatory and cardiovascular system. If the increase is too large, the ability of the animals to survive and reproduce becomes reduced. The expedition will study how species that prefer relatively low temperatures are affected by increased temperatures.
How does the temperature increase interact with other ecological threats?
The increased temperature is not the only change of concern. The expedition will therefore study the effects of increased temperatures in combination with two other ecological threats: hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and ocean acidification. These results will be part of a larger comparative study between Greenland, Sweden and Mozambique.