Like the American pika and some other land-based creatures, fish are on the move as they try to adapt to a changing climate. One place this is happening is the seas surrounding the Arctic Ocean. But precisely how fast, in what direction, and to what effect the fish will migrate from their home turf is a big unknown.
Marine biologists and climate-modeling scientists are following their trail seeking answers. That trail emits a scent of money to fisheries operators. Although no commercial fisheries exist yet in the Arctic Ocean and adjacent continental shelf seas, operators know that could change. (Commercial fishing is currently concentrated on the sub-Arctic seas surrounding the Arctic Ocean.) Naturally, they want the potential bounty. So do nations inhabiting or otherwise potentially fishing in the Arctic. In fact, it's one reason (along with its interest in fossil fuel and mineral extraction) why China is trying to secure observer status on the Arctic Council, a committee of eight Arctic states that together shape policy for the region.
The seas around the Arctic Ocean are estimated to host at least 20 percent of all the fish in the world's seas. Aside from their economic promise the northern seas could also play a big role in contributing to global food security. "The world's growing population means we need more access to food resources," Lisbeth Berg Hansen, Norway's Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs, told the Arctic Frontiers conference I'm attending this week in the northern Norwegian city of Tromso. Norway exports more seafood than any other nation. Its cod and other commercial fisheries are concentrated in the Lofoten Islands in the Norwegian Sea, which boast the largest cod stock in the world.
Predicting future patterns of fish distribution and migration is difficult in part because the surface water termperatures in the Arctic waters are as warm as they have ever been, leaving no historical comparison points. Further, scientific models used to estimate marine primary productivity--namely the availability of phytoplankton that are the key ingredient in the diet of zooplankton and fish--are still quite crude and lack data. "There are huge discrepancies between them... something like two orders of magnitude," said Benjamin Planque, a senior scientist at the Institute of Marine Research here in Tromso. (That's approximately 100-fold.) The Institute conducts research related to fisheries and makes recommendations to the fisheries industry.
2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, Clifford Grabhorn
What is as clear as the pristine seas north of Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Denmark (including Greenland), Russia, the United States, Canada is that fish will only travel where they can find enough food. That's why many marine scientists are trying to better understand current and future primary productivity there. "We are talking about some of the most productive ecosystems found in the waters adjacent to the Arctic Ocean," said Paul Wassmann, an Arctic biologist at the University of Tromso. These waters are brimming with Greenland halibut, cod, capelin, Kamchatka king crab, along which those higher up in the food web--whales, seals and other marine mammals. He cautioned, however, that it is "an open question" how shifts in primary productivity in various locations will translate into fish stocks.
Here's a snapshot of how some commercial fish species appear to be shifting:
-Cod are moving relatively slowly northward. Thanks to sound fisheries management practices among Norwegian and Russian operators and other factors, cod stock in the Barents Sea, located north of Norway and Russia, is at an all-time high, according to the Institute of Marine Research. Cod are nothing if not resourceful; they'll eat each other (younger kin) when the pickings are slim.
-Mackerel have already expanded their distribution area to the north and west over the last few years, stretching well into Faroese and Icelandic waters. In fact, it's a bone of contention between Iceland and Norway (I'll leave geopolitics for another day). And they may be heading to Russia, which Dr. Wassmann calls the "climate change winner."
-Capelin abhor super deep waters, so they are not expected to migrate into the Arctic Ocean itself.
Back to the fish diet. Primary production relies on a slew of elements, including sunlight, water and air temperature, currents, wind patterns, salinity, and sea ice cover and extent. All of these are moving targets in the Arctic under climate change. Average surface air temperatures in the Arctic are expected to increase by 3 to 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, according to estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Arctic Council. And over the last 30 years the ice volume in Arctic has shrunk by at least 70 percent.
Climate affects all levels of food, especially those at the bottom of the food chain, phytoplankton. Other creatures that rely on phytoplankton, from zooplankton to fish to sea birds and whales, respond to climate indirectly, as Harald Loeng, research director of the Institute of Marine Research (IMR), noted at the conference.
While the Arctic seas are extremely productive, they are also very stratified, meaning there's not much vertical mixing of nutrients in the ocean. As warming and thawing continue scientists expect the water column to be more stratified, which will prevent nutrients from percolating up to the surface.
That process means there won't be enough food in the Arctic Ocean, at least not enough to lure a commercially harvestable amount of them. "It's unlikely, even if surface water is exposed to winds (which transport nutrients from the bottom toward the top of the water column) [that it] will be enough to erode that stratification," said Jean-Eric Tremblay, a biologist at Laval University in Quebec.
Susan Moran is a freelance journalist based in Boulder, Colo., covering energy development, climate science, agriculture, environmental health and other issues. She writes for the New York Times, The Economist, Nature and other publications. And she co-hosts a weekly science show on KGNU community radio, called "How On Earth."
Human induced global warming could melt all the ice on the land to dump fresh water into the oceans quickly, then cause the natural flow of the ocean currents to stop or change and might cause a sudden global FREEZE in some areas and yes the CO2 and release Methane will persist, causing more global warming.... leading too human future doom!
During all the future doom, how knows if the fishing will be good?
I imagine after the human population die off, the fish population will soar!
Doomsayers always get it wrong.
The Earth has undergone over 200 warming periods in the last billion years and will undergo hundreds more in the next few billions years before the sun vaporizes the planet and cremates every living thing on the planet and the planet itself.
During the last warmup 100,000 to 300,000 years ago the Earth warmed 14 degrees Farenheit and no computer projections warn of that high a temperature rise. During the last warm up--called the 'Eemian', the seas rose 40 feet.
Mankind didn't go extinct--in fact it seemed to thrive and 30,000 years later left Africa for good.
It would take at least a thousand years for the seas to rise that much (forecasted 2 feet by the year 2100) and so mankind has plenty of time to adjust and move away from the rising seas. So will nature to adjust. Life always finds a way.
Indeed that is what evolution is all about.
Maybe if were lucky mankind will evolve and all these nutcases will be extinct!!!
Excuse me that's supposed to read 110,000 to 130,000 years ago for the Eeiman period.
For more information on the Eemian period read this:
Robots do not evolve; we update, modify, and augment lol.
I believe the human species is intelligent enough and adaptable enough to always continue. But this type of persistence still may not stop a sudden drop of the world population do to an sudden change in the environment. Yea humans will adapt and evolve, but a population drop of 100% to .01% population is a painful transition of change.
My guess, the current type indian peoples living in remote parts of the world will be fine.
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Where will the money go? Into the pockets of those promoting the junk-science of climate change.
Climate change is the driving force of evolution, and we wouldn't even exist as a sentient species without it. As a sentient species , we should make it work to our advantage, by keeping deserts to a minimum, and keeping the oceans as healthy and productive as possible. if stratification reduces biomass, we should find a way to disturb the water column, we disturb everything else, should be easy.