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URI oceanographers awarded $1.1 million NSF, NPRB grants

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

URI oceanographers to study impact of global warming on Bering Sea-Arctic Ocean ecosystems
Awarded $1.1 million in National Science Foundation,
North Pacific Research Board grants

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. – October 23, 2007 -- Researchers at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography have been awarded major grants by the Office of Polar Programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and from the North Pacific Research Board (NPRB) to study changes in the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean ecosystems in the face of melting ice due to global warming.

The grants, totaling $1.1 million, were awarded to S. Bradley Moran, a URI professor of oceanography and Robert Campbell, associate marine research scientist. Their studies are part of $4.2 million in funding that includes collaborations with scientists from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, University of Miami, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Oregon State University, and the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

As part of the NSF Bering Sea Ecosystem Study and the NPRB Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Program partnership, Moran and Campbell will examine shifts in the productivity, abundance and species composition of ice algae, phytoplankton and zooplankton in open water areas of the Bering Sea and in areas where the ice cover is receding due to warming temperatures. The URI research team will spend up to 70 days at sea each spring and summer for the next three years gathering data for analysis.

“The overarching goal of this study is to improve our understanding of climate-driven ecological changes occurring in one of the world’s most productive and economically-driven regions,” explained Moran.

Campbell added, “Warmer water temperatures in the Bering Sea in spring due to climate warming could result in an earlier and more rapid seasonal ice retreat, with potentially harmful effects on one of the world’s richest and most productive fisheries.”

Their research is a key component of a comprehensive six-year, $50 million effort spearheaded by the NSF and NPRB to determine how the eastern Bering Sea shelf – the area between the Aleutian Islands and St. Lawrence Island, Alaska – will respond to climate change. This region is one of the most highly productive marine ecosystems on Earth, and it supports the largest commercial fisheries in the world.

A second component of their research is part of the NSF Shelf Basin Interaction study, which has accumulated nearly 10 years of field data from the Arctic Ocean. Moran’s work focuses on a synthesis and modeling study of the carbon cycle in the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas, the natural system whereby carbon in the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean and either stored in the deep sea or returned to the atmosphere. Campbell and colleagues will use biological-physical models to investigate the impact of various climate warming scenarios on the zooplankton genus Calanus, which are an important link in the Arctic food chain.

“It is a challenge to construct carbon and biological-physical models in this region because of the accelerating melting of ice, which is affecting the Arctic system in many ways,” Moran said. “The whole trophic structure is changing, from the top of the food chain to the bottom.”

One element of this project will be the convening of an international workshop on the Arctic carbon cycle to be hosted by URI in 2008-09.