In 2015 the Norwegian Government released a funding competition with the goal to support promising university-based research initiatives that had the potential and stated goal to develop into world leading groups. Evaluated and selected by an international panel the competition at UiT The Arctic University of Norway was won by a group of 4 professors in marine ecology, under the leadership of Paul Wassmann. The main focus of the group is research on the seasonal ice zone in the Arctic Ocean, promoting the comprehension of the present functioning and future development. The group selected the title “Seasonal Ice Zone Ecology (ArcticSIZE)”. In 2016 Prof. Rolf Gradinger was employed. In 2017 followed 4 PhD students and 2 post docs. Associated to ArcticSIZE are also 5 adjunct professors in arctic marine ecology. The expertise of ArcticSIZE comprises ice biota, phyto- and zooplankton, vertical flux and pelagic-benthic coupling, benthos, biodiversity and C flux modelling.
The scientific focus of Arctic SIZE
Nowhere is global climate change greater than in the ice-covered waters of the High North with climate feedbacks impacting human living conditions of the entire northern hemisphere. The Arctic Seasonal Ice Zone (SIZ), arguably the region in which the direct effects are at its strongest, is the main focus of the group. In order to promote ecosystem understanding of the SIZ, the group has a distinct pan-Arctic research strategy. Also, the group scores very high in supplementary sectors of priority such as international cooperation, research-based education and communication to the public. They are working on a large variety of organisms, spanning from bacteria and plankton up to benthic animals, fish and sea birds in ice-covered waters. The main ambition of the group is to provide the best knowledge and the most comprehensive understanding of the SIZ in the northern Barents Sea, Svalbard and the adjacent deep Polar Ocean, thus supporting the aspiration of UiT to become a world leader for the Arctic region.
The group converges on the function of marine Arctic ecosystems, biodiversity and biogeochemical cycling. The world is turning its attention towards the High North where Norway, and in particular UiT, has key interests to pursue our central role within research, education and ecosafe resource development. The hitherto ice-covered Arctic Ocean rapidly develops into a periodically ice-free “new” ocean where the circumpolar SIZ belt, today associated to the shelves, spreads out over the expanse the Arctic Ocean core region. This unprecedented ecological scenario has to be sustainably managed in light of biological resources, oil/gas development, tourism and shipping. Norway’s knowledge-based resource management prevents economic activity until the ecological knowledge base is provided. Its position in the High North suggests that UiT has a particular responsibility to provide a base for sustainable development (e.g. fisheries, bioprospecting) and technological solutions in ice-covered regions (e.g. SIOS, ArcticABC) in the “new Arctic Ocean”. Thanks to the group’s international dedication it is involved in a suite of projects around the Arctic Ocean perimeter.