Although climate change is happening all over the world, its effects are not spread evenly, and one area which is particularly strongly affected is the Arctic. Here, intrinsic aspects of its local climate, together with a series of positive feedback loops (where some warming causes more warming which cause even more warming ...), act to give the Arctic some of the most extreme change observed to date. A key factor in this is the amount of sea-ice that covers the Arctic Ocean. By reflecting light back into space, sea-ice plays a critical role in Arctic climate, but it has been declining year on year as the Earth warms, and experienced a record low in the summer of 2007. As well as influencing climate, the sea-ice also controls the distributions of photosynthesis and plankton, and through these is believed to play an important role in the carbon cycle of the Arctic Ocean.Incidentally, I am officially not interested in hearing about typos or bad grammar in the above. It's gone to NERC now - I can't do anything about it.
Although we expect the Arctic sea-ice to continue to decline in the coming decades, the rate at which this will happen is uncertain. Some of this uncertainty is the result of limitations in our understanding of physical phenomena, while some stems from our uncertainty about future greenhouse gas emissions by human civilisation. To help resolve the consequences of this uncertainty, climate modellers routinely run multiple simulations to explore possible futures. However, understanding the fate of Arctic biological systems is less straightforward, since our models of these are complex and make simulations of the future considerably more time-consuming and expensive to perform. As a result, much of the work that peers into the future looks only at the Earth's climate and ignores changes to natural ecosystems.
To try to get around this limitation, the work proposed here in QUIP sets out to use a simplified model of the Arctic's plankton ecosystem (parameterised using some of our recent work at NOC) in conjunction with output from existing future climate simulations. In this way it will assess the future of Arctic biology without the need for expensive additional simulations, and will exploit a large range of already existing climate simulations to quantify both what may happen to ecosystems in the future, and their sensitivity to emissions scenarios and other uncertainties in our climate models.
Friday, 10 December 2010
One of the many sections of the electronic Je-S grant form that I had to complete earlier this week was one that summarises the work (4000 characters or less) for a non-specialist audience. This is ostensibly for non-scientists, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it's also the first point-of-entry for NERC administrators. Anyway, below is what I wrote for QUIP ...