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Marine Ecosystems

Changes in climate threaten Arctic marine ecosystems.

Arctic and sub-Arctic marine ecosystems are an integral part of the Earth system. They perform a range of local and globally important ecosystem services, such as contributing to biodiversity, nutrient and biogeochemical cycling, climate regulation, fisheries, and wildlife tourism, that support local and global human communities and economies. Together with direct human impacts (such as fishing, pollution, tourism, and shipping), climate change is already causing changes in Arctic environments (e.g., changes in the wind patterns, the cryosphere, ocean acidification, ocean circulation, air and sea temperatures).

Continued changes threaten the habitats of key species, which has already resulted in shifts in species distribution and abundance, and community composition. These in turn will affect the structure and functioning of Arctic ecosystems, including, for example, the survival of iconic and key-stone species (such as polar bears, narwhals and whales), the future availability of living resources to local communities and commercial fisheries and the ability of these ecosystems to regulate climate.

These threats will affect the complex life-histories and distributions of pelagic (e.g., phytoplankton, zooplankton, fish, and squid) and benthic communities (e.g., crustaceans, worms, molluscs, starfish, sea urchins, corals, sponges and bryozoans). Changes in these communities will have implications for air-breathing higher predators (including seabirds, seals, polar bears, walrus and whales, including narwhals) and commercially important fish stocks (including cod, capelin and herring), across a range of spatial and temporal scales. Changes to the Arctic system may affect variables such as carbon and nutrient cycling, ability of indigenous communities to live and access resources on their land and waters, biodiversity, and availability and access of marine living resources to international fisheries.

The magnitude and direction of these physical changes are likely to differ between regions across the Arctic, and hence the responses of species, populations and food webs may also be regionally variable.


The final storylines will be selected based on their impact on certain environmental risks, such as marine ecosystems. In this section you will find how one of our Arctic storylines impacts marine ecosystems.