The Arctic and global warming

Researcher describes possible disruption to marine mammals' food web



Studying Arctic phytoplankton has played prominently in Smith's research. Here, Smith (left) is shown on the Coast Guard ice breaker HEALY in 2004, recovering plankton nets.

A warmer Arctic Ocean may mean less food for the birds, fish, and baleen whales and be a significant detriment to that fragile and interconnected polar ecosystem, and that doesn't bode well for other ocean ecosystems in the future. That's the word from University of Miami Rosenstiel School's Dr. Sharon Smith who will speak on "Potentially Dramatic Changes in the Pelagic Ecosystems of the Marginal Seas of the Arctic Ocean due to Anthropogenic Warming," today at 3 p.m. HST (8 p.m. EST) in Honolulu at the American Geophysical Union's 2006 Ocean Sciences Meeting.

"We've seen models of global climate change for more than 20 years, and they have shown us that warming associated with increased, man-made carbon dioxide emissions will appear first and be the most intense in the Arctic," Smith said. "But what extensive satellite imagery confirms is that this Arctic warming is happening already. Permanent ice is thinning, and the duration of ice-free conditions is extending. This is changing currents and affecting feeding patterns and food source availability for the animal life there."

According to Smith, the match of the physical forcing and the life cycles of Arctic marine organisms is crucial; both need to be relatively predictable in time and space for evolution of this food web to have taken place. Global warming is acting to disrupt predictability, a situation that could cause the rapid demise of marine mammals and birds upon which subsistence human populations depend.

A biological oceanographer, Smith has spent her career examining some of the smallest components of food webs. She is the co-director of the National Science Foundation/National Institute of Environmental Health Science Oceans and Human Health Center that is based at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science as well as a professor in marine biology and fisheries there. Her presentation was part of a session titled, Observations of Anthropogenic Climate Change in the Oceans and their Implications for Society II: Arctic and Ecosystem Responses. Dr. Rana A. Fine, also a UM Rosenstiel School faculty member, presided over the session with Dr. Richard Feely from NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

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Rosenstiel School is part of the University of Miami and, since its founding in the 1940s, has grown into one of the world's premier marine and atmospheric research institutions.


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