Melting ice cap gives urgency to new census of marine life project in Arctic Ocean

A multinational partnership of polar scientists will take an historic census of marine life in the Arctic Ocean, including the planet's oldest seawater a vast, still pool unstirred for millennia, walled by steep ridges and lidded with ice.

Experts in biology, geology and physics from the circumpolar and other nations will use submersibles, modern sonar detection and traditional techniques to record and inventory biodiversity in the Arctic Ocean in anticipation of additional climatic warming that, if realized, could remove the ice cap and dramatically alter aquatic life in the region.

The project is part of the 10-year, $1 billion Census of Marine Life (CoML), an unprecedented cooperative initiative involving leading marine scientists from every world region. The Arctic CoML has been seeded with a $600,000 grant from the New York-based Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, announced today.

"The tremendous on-going changes make the effort to identify the diversity of life in the three major realms (sea ice, water column and sea floor) an urgent issue," according to researchers Rolf Gradinger, Russ Hopcroft and Bodil Bluhm of the University of Alaska, the project's headquarters.

The magnitude of predicted environmental change on marine life requires long-term monitoring, crucial to which is the availability of baseline data. "Species level information is essential to discussions of climate change, its expressions and effects," the researchers say.

A particular focus will be the Canada Basin, a huge, largely unknown underwater ice-lidded hole 3,800 meters deep immediately north of the Yukon Territory and Alaska. It connects to the Pacific Ocean through the 70-meter deep Bering Strait, and is sheltered from the North Atlantic's influence by the narrow Fram Strait and Lomonossov ridge, which juts up to within 1400 metres of the surface.

Many species existing in the extreme frigid depths of the Canada Basin do not travel to shall

Contact: Terry Collins
Census of Marine Life

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