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How Arctic residents adapt to global warming

Russian scientists have found marine plants, which got adopted to living without light and studied whether the global warming threatens the Arctic’s nature

MURMANSK, April 24. /TASS/. Scientists of the Murmansk Marine Biology Institute during a unique expedition collected most interesting data about the Arctic’s flora and fauna. The researchers found marine plants, which got adopted to living without light, they learned that whales head for the Arctic ices not only for food, and studied whether the global warming threatens the Arctic’s nature.

Fundamental Arctic

In a conversation with TASS, the Institute’s deputy director, Pavel Makarevich, said the institute did not have expeditions of the kind after 1987. "The state now has resumed financing of fundamental research, and thus we received money for our expedition - we have made very detailed tests - after 1987 we had a gap in this work," the scientist said.

The institute had an opportunity to update the applied tasks, which they solve regularly, including at the order from participants in development of the Arctic, such as Gazprom or Rosneft, with the fundamental research, which gives understanding of life and development mechanisms in the Arctic Ocean. The Institute is the only scientific-research organization in the Arctic, which looks into these problems. It studies the entire western Arctic from the Kara Sea to Spitsbergen. The Murmansk scientists plan to research further eastern areas there.

The past expedition lasted for 55 days in April-May 2016, and it took scientists another year to process the results. The main objective was to study the ecosystems in the sea area near ice edges. The key interest for scientists was plankton - the lowest link of the food chain, on which depend lives of all those who live in the Arctic. And here - a scientific discovery happened.

It’s all about genes

Warming is seen clearly in the Arctic. Scientists confirm the ice withdraws northward. Some calculations say the ice border has moved by about a hundred kilometers in recent years.

Well-known theories forecast this change should push development of flora, including plankton, since the plants receive more water space and sun light. However, the Murmansk biologists have fixed than this is not happening, and plankton in the water, released from ice, develops with certain delays.

Exact reasons of this seeming contradiction are still to be offered, but some suppositions are available already. "This is connected with the biology development cycles, with genetics of organisms, which influences their development much more than the ice shift or sun light," the scientist said. In order to confirm the data, the marine biologists this year will repeat the measurements and will make some additional research.

Scientists managed to find micro seaweeds at the depth of 300 meters. Earlier, the maximum suitable depth was considered to be at 40-50 meters, as the sun light does not get through deeper waters.

"Here, two reasons are possible. Either those plants, which, as we thought, live with photo synthesis, know how to "adjust" to getting organics from the water; or they may do with the minimum light, which to a certain extent still gets to those depths," the scientist said.

Not plankton only

Another wonderful discovery was around the biggest animals in the Arctic - bowhead whales. Or rather their east-Atlantic population, which is protected in Russia. As many as 100 whales are registered in the world. During the expedition, the scientists were lucky to view 12 of them.

The wonder is in the following: those animals eat plankton, filtering it from water. Thus, in summer they are seen in the open sea rich in this food. But during the expedition, plankton near the ice was in its winter state - that is, there was not much of it and it did was not developing at that time. Thus, the whales were by the ice not for the sake of food, but for some other reasons.

What were those reasons - nothing for sure, only guesses. Perhaps, something related to genetics. Or anything different - scientists have no explanations. Maybe, some time later.

Influence of the ecosystem

No doubt, the biggest concern, which scientists share, is the warming’s influence on the Arctic’s fragile ecosystem. Will the ice reduce, will the ocean with less salt and higher temperatures cause violation of the biology balance so that some plants and animals may disappear? To some aspects of these questions the scientists from Murmansk could find answers.

The expedition saw that the warming really influences the flora and fauna. The plankton, living by the ice edge, follows the ice edge further to the north. Its place is taken by more tender relatives. During the expedition, the scientists found 15 new species of plankton, which never had lived there before.

Migrating are also animals and the so-called bottom communities - shellfish, crabs, some fish. The scientists found a fish-needle - an Arctic relative of the well-known needlefish from the Red Sea - hundreds kilometers north from what used to be considered its areal. "This discovery, probably, was the most surprising to the expedition members."

Can this shift affect the fauna - the fish and the marine mammals, which eat lower animals and plants? Scientists assure there is nothing to worry here. "This is just a replacing in a certain territory of one species by others, and the upper links of the food chain are not remaining without food," the biologist said.

Those, who can be affected by the retreating ice, are harp seals, which can deliver on ice only. As yet, there is still ice in their traditional places. Besides, marine biologists are confident the warming is of a cycle nature and soon should begin the reverse process, the reverse migration of the flora and fauna.

"Anyway, changes continue gradually, they are not catastrophic, the flora and fauna manage to get adjusted to them," the scientist said. "Especially animals, as the acceptable range of temperature in which they live is about ten degrees."

"If any species are affected much, then it is a natural evolution process," he told TASS.