Arctic marine ecosystems are undergoing dramatic alterations driven by changes in the physical environment and human activities. The sea ice edge is a critical habitat for the marine ecosystem in this region. Changes in water properties, ice cover, and light intensity can cause changes in nutrient flux and primary production, precipitating changes that cascade through the trophic web to also affect top predators. Harp seals, key top predators in the Arctic ice edge ecosystem, target regions of elevated biological productivity and thus are good indicators of the state of the Arctic ecosystem. Recent research suggests that declines in one of two major harp seal breeding stocks in the Northeast Atlantic may be due to ice edge retreat and associated changes in ecosystem dynamics and prey availability. The current project will use animal-borne instruments to examine movements and habitat use of harp seals in relation to in-situ ocean properties. Detailed analyses of in-situ measurements and high-resolution satellite imagery of ice conditions will be combined with data on seal distribution and habitat use to better describe the dynamics of current seal migrations. Our results will be compared to historical data on harp seal movements and distribution in relation to ice-conditions. Furthermore, we analyze pollutant levels in the seals. The project will join an international effort to study ecosystem consequences of changing ice conditions in the Arctic. Our proposal will complement already planned and funded activities and optimize the use of common resources and logistics.
Project manager: Dr Kjell Tormod Nilssen
Project code: 452018