Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Arctic Ocean


Loss of Arctic sea ice owing to climate change is the primary threat to polar bears throughout their range. We evaluated the potential response of polar bears to sea-ice declines by (i) calculating generation length (GL) for the species, which determines the timeframe for conservation assessments; (ii) developing a standardized sea-ice metric representing important habitat; and (iii) using statistical models and computer simulation to project changes in the global population under three approaches relating polar bear abundance to sea ice. Mean GL was 11.5 years. Ice-covered days declined in all subpopulation areas during 1979-2014 (median -1.26 days year(-1)). The estimated probabilities that reductions in the mean global population size of polar bears will be greater than 30%, 50% and 80% over three generations (35-41 years) were 0.71 (range 0.20-0.95), 0.07 (range 0-0.35) and less than 0.01 (range 0-0.02), respectively. According to IUCN Red List reduction thresholds, which provide a common measure of extinction risk across taxa, these results are consistent with listing the species as vulnerable. Our findings support the potential for large declines in polar bear numbers owing to sea-ice loss, and highlight near-term uncertainty in statistical projections as well as the sensitivity of projections to different plausible assumptions.

Concepts: Arctic Ocean, Arctic, Pinniped, Bear, Polar bear, Arctic shrinkage, IUCN Red List, Sea ice


Temporal trends of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) measured in Arctic air are essential in understanding long-range transport to remote regions and to evaluate the effectiveness of national and international chemical control initiatives, such as the Stockholm Convention (SC) on POPs. Long-term air monitoring of POPs is conducted under the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) at four Arctic stations: Alert, Canada; Stórhöfði, Iceland; Zeppelin, Svalbard; and Pallas, Finland, since the 1990s using high volume air samplers. Temporal trends observed for POPs in Arctic air are summarized in this study. Most POPs listed for control under the SC, e.g. polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethanes (DDTs) and chlordanes, are declining slowly in Arctic air, reflecting the reduction of primary emissions during the last two decades and increasing importance of secondary emissions. Slow declining trends also signifies their persistence and slow degradation under the Arctic environment, such that they are still detectable after being banned for decades in many countries. Some POPs, e.g. hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and lighter PCBs, showed increasing trends at specific locations, which may be attributable to warming in the region and continued primary emissions at source. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) do not decline in air at Canada’s Alert station but are declining in European Arctic air, which may be due to influence of local sources at Alert and the much higher historical usage of PBDEs in North America. Arctic air samples are screened for chemicals of emerging concern to provide information regarding their environmental persistence (P) and long-range transport potential (LRTP), which are important criteria for classification as a POP under SC. The AMAP network provides consistent and comparable air monitoring data of POPs for trend development and acts as a bridge between national monitoring programs and SC’s Global Monitoring Plan (GMP).

Concepts: Canada, Norway, Persistent organic pollutant, Arctic Ocean, Polychlorinated biphenyl, Persistent organic pollutants, Biphenyl, Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins


In late December 2015, widespread media interest revolved around forecasts that the surface air temperature at the North Pole would rise above freezing. Although there has been significant interest in the enhanced warming that is occurring at high northern latitudes, a process known as arctic amplification, remarkably little is known about these midwinter warming events at the pole including their frequency, duration and magnitude as well as the environmental conditions responsible for their occurrence. Here we use buoy and radiosonde data along with operational weather forecasts and atmospheric reanalyses to show that such events are associated with surface cyclones near the pole as well as a highly perturbed polar vortex. They occur once or twice each decade with the earliest identified event taking place in 1959. In addition, the warmest midwinter temperatures at the North Pole have been increasing at a rate that is twice as large as that for mean midwinter temperatures at the pole. It is argued that this enhanced trend is consistent with the loss of winter sea ice from the Nordic Seas that moves the reservoir of warm air over this region northwards making it easier for weather systems to transport this heat polewards.

Concepts: Earth, Heat, Navigation, Arctic Ocean, North Pole, Weather forecasting, Latitude, Polar bear


The Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus), an iconic species of the Arctic Seas, grows slowly and reaches >500 centimeters (cm) in total length, suggesting a life span well beyond those of other vertebrates. Radiocarbon dating of eye lens nuclei from 28 female Greenland sharks (81 to 502 cm in total length) revealed a life span of at least 272 years. Only the smallest sharks (220 cm or less) showed signs of the radiocarbon bomb pulse, a time marker of the early 1960s. The age ranges of prebomb sharks (reported as midpoint and extent of the 95.4% probability range) revealed the age at sexual maturity to be at least 156 ± 22 years, and the largest animal (502 cm) to be 392 ± 120 years old. Our results show that the Greenland shark is the longest-lived vertebrate known, and they raise concerns about species conservation.

Concepts: Species, Arctic Ocean, Arctic, Shark, Greenland shark, Somniosus, Pacific sleeper shark, Hákarl


Fossils attributable to the extinct waterfowl clade Presbyornithidae and the large flightless Gastornithidae from the early Eocene (~52-53 Ma) of Ellesmere Island, in northernmost Canada are the oldest Cenozoic avian fossils from the Arctic. Except for its slightly larger size, the Arctic presbyornithid humerus is not distinguishable from fossils of Presbyornis pervetus from the western United States, and the Gastornis phalanx is within the known size range of mid-latitude individuals. The occurrence of Presbyornis above the Arctic Circle in the Eocene could be the result of annual migration like that of its living duck and geese relatives, or it may have been a year-round resident similar to some Eocene mammals on Ellesmere and some extant species of sea ducks. Gastornis, along with some of the mammalian and reptilian members of the Eocene Arctic fauna, likely over-wintered in the Arctic. Despite the milder (above freezing) Eocene climate on Ellesmere Island, prolonged periods of darkness occurred during the winter. Presence of these extinct birds at both mid and high latitudes on the northern continents provides evidence that future increases in climatic warming (closer to Eocene levels) could lead to the establishment of new migratory or resident populations within the Arctic Circle.

Concepts: Earth, Bird, Canada, Arctic Ocean, Dinosaur, Arctic Circle, Eocene, Latitude


Recent historic observed lows in Arctic sea ice extent, together with climate model projections of additional ice reductions in the future, have fueled speculations of potential new trans-Arctic shipping routes linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. However, numerical studies of how projected geophysical changes in sea ice will realistically impact ship navigation are lacking. To address this deficiency, we analyze seven climate model projections of sea ice properties, assuming two different climate change scenarios [representative concentration pathways (RCPs) 4.5 and 8.5] and two vessel classes, to assess future changes in peak season (September) Arctic shipping potential. By midcentury, changing sea ice conditions enable expanded September navigability for common open-water ships crossing the Arctic along the Northern Sea Route over the Russian Federation, robust new routes for moderately ice-strengthened (Polar Class 6) ships over the North Pole, and new routes through the Northwest Passage for both vessel classes. Although numerous other nonclimatic factors also limit Arctic shipping potential, these findings have important economic, strategic, environmental, and governance implications for the region.

Concepts: Climate, Canada, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Russia, North Pole, Northwest Passage, Northern Sea Route


The East China Plains (ECP) region experienced the worst haze pollution on record for January in 2013. We show that the unprecedented haze event is due to the extremely poor ventilation conditions, which had not been seen in the preceding three decades. Statistical analysis suggests that the extremely poor ventilation conditions are linked to Arctic sea ice loss in the preceding autumn and extensive boreal snowfall in the earlier winter. We identify the regional circulation mode that leads to extremely poor ventilation over the ECP region. Climate model simulations indicate that boreal cryospheric forcing enhances the regional circulation mode of poor ventilation in the ECP region and provides conducive conditions for extreme haze such as that of 2013. Consequently, extreme haze events in winter will likely occur at a higher frequency in China as a result of the changing boreal cryosphere, posing difficult challenges for winter haze mitigation but providing a strong incentive for greenhouse gas emission reduction.

Concepts: Snow, Ice, Climate, Climate change, Arctic Ocean, Greenhouse gas, Sea ice, Cryosphere


Rising temperatures in the Arctic Ocean region are responsible for changes such as reduced ice cover, permafrost thawing, and increased river discharge, which, together, alter nutrient and carbon cycles over the vast Arctic continental shelf. We show that the concentration of radium-228, sourced to seawater through sediment-water exchange processes, has increased substantially in surface waters of the central Arctic Ocean over the past decade. A mass balance model for 228Ra suggests that this increase is due to an intensification of shelf-derived material inputs to the central basin, a source that would also carry elevated concentrations of dissolved organic carbon and nutrients. Therefore, we suggest that significant changes in the nutrient, carbon, and trace metal balances of the Arctic Ocean are underway, with the potential to affect biological productivity and species assemblages in Arctic surface waters.

Concepts: Water, Water pollution, Atlantic Ocean, Nitrogen, Canada, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Arctic


In extreme high-latitude marine environments that are without solar illumination in winter, light-mediated patterns of biological migration have historically been considered non-existent [1]. However, diel vertical migration (DVM) of zooplankton has been shown to occur even during the darkest part of the polar night, when illumination levels are exceptionally low [2, 3]. This paradox is, as yet, unexplained. Here, we present evidence of an unexpected uniform behavior across the entire Arctic, in fjord, shelf, slope and open sea, where vertical migrations of zooplankton are driven by lunar illumination. A shift from solar-day (24-hr period) to lunar-day (24.8-hr period) vertical migration takes place in winter when the moon rises above the horizon. Further, mass sinking of zooplankton from the surface waters and accumulation at a depth of ∼50 m occurs every 29.5 days in winter, coincident with the periods of full moon. Moonlight may enable predation of zooplankton by carnivorous zooplankters, fish, and birds now known to feed during the polar night [4]. Although primary production is almost nil at this time, lunar vertical migration (LVM) may facilitate monthly pulses of carbon remineralization, as they occur continuously in illuminated mesopelagic systems [5], due to community respiration of carnivorous and detritivorous zooplankton. The extent of LVM during the winter suggests that the behavior is highly conserved and adaptive and therefore needs to be considered as “baseline” zooplankton activity in a changing Arctic ocean [6-9]. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

Concepts: Moon, Arctic Ocean, Marine biology, Zooplankton, Plankton, Arctic Circle, Svalbard, Diel vertical migration


BACKGROUND: Prior studies have suggested that the darkness of winter impacts the level of mental distress and sleeping problems. Our study investigated whether people living in the sub-arctic had more sleeping problems or mental distress during winter. METHODS: The cross sectional population Troms[latin small letter o with stroke] Study was conducted in Troms[latin small letter o with stroke], North Norway, at 69.4 degrees North and above the Arctic Circle. The study included entire birth cohorts and random samples of the population aged 30 to 87 years. Data was collected continuously from 1 October 2007 to the end of December 2008 except July. 8951 persons completed questionnaires including the HSCL-10 and the MCTQ. RESULTS: There were no significant differences in the reporting of current mental distress depending on season. Significantly more reported current sleeping problems in winter than in the other seasons, and less sleeping problems was found in spring. CONCLUSIONS: In this sub-arctic population, insomnia was most prevalent in winter, but there were no significant seasonal differences in mental distress. Although some people in the sub-arctic clearly are mentally negatively affected by the darkness of winter, the negative impact of winter on mental distress for the adult population is not conclusive.

Concepts: Season, Norway, Arctic Ocean, Arctic, Spring, Winter, Arctic Circle, Tromsø