Intensified research of Arctic greenhouse gases

01.03.13

Aiming to understand the processes controlling the greenhouse gases, major research efforts have been launched with Nuuk as focus area.

The sea, sea-ice and land as well as its vegetation absorb and release greenhouse gases. Interaction between these mechanisms and the atmosphere has an impact on the climate; an interaction that ought to be in balance, but global warming has clearly indicated that it is not. Based on this theory and in order to research the processes controlling the balance, the Arctic Science Partnership – a Greenlandic, Danish and Canadian research collaboration – in 2013 launched a huge research effort with focus on the Nuuk area.

This year the Nuuk area therefore will serve as a kind of laboratory for numerous research projects, aiming to improve the understanding of the mechanisms behind the climate changes in the Arctic. The projects will primarily be carried out during the spring- and autumn months.

One of the projects – which began last week – aims to discover the exchange among the greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane and VOC (volatile organic compounds) – the sea and the sea-ice surface. It is known that carbons are absorbed into the sea-ice and that the ice both absorbs and releases gases, but it is not yet know as to how this interaction works. This is one of the questions the scientists wish to be able to answer.

The pumping sea-ice
By acting as a pumping system, the sea-ice plays an important role in transporting both saline and gases further down into the sea. As yet, scientists have no knowledge of what might happen, should this pump-mechanism no longer function optimally.

Senior scientist Lise Lotte Sørensen from Arctic Research Centre at the University of Aarhus and also the leader of one of the research projects says: “Trying to understand the mechanisms behind the climate changes is like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle, and we have only just begun. Our project concerning greenhouse gases, ice and the pumping system are just jigsaw pieces and we still have a long way to go before we understand the impact these mechanisms have on climate changes.”

Two important issues to which the scientists at present have no knowledge: whether the shrinking sea-ice has a positive or negative impact on the greenhouse gases’ balance; and what would be the result to the entire interaction, should the sea-ice disappear completely?

A glimpse of reality
Results from the Nuuk-area projects are expected to be ready by the end of 2014, but these results will only show a minor glimpse of what goes on in the Arctic climate. Therefore, the same studies will be carried out in North-East Greenland in 2014; in the waters around the North Pole in 2015; in Hudson Bay and Foxe Basin in 2016 and in Baffin Bay in Greenland in 2017.

“The aim is to gather as much knowledge as possible from various locations in the Arctic, and thereby revealing a much clearer picture of what is going on in the climate. The big question is, how fast these changes take place and their global impact,” senior scientist Lise Lotte Sørensen concludes.

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Preparation of a measurement station in Kobbefjorden. Photo: GCRC

Preparation of equipment for measurement of green house gasses. Photo: GCRC