Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: Collaborative Research: The Role of Planktonic Lower Trophic Levels in Carbon and Nitrogen Transformations in the Central Arctic, a MOSAiC Proposal (Award# 1824447)

PI: Ashjian, Carin (
Phone: (508) 289.3457 
Institute/Department: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Department of Biology 
IPY Project?
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\ARCSS
Program Manager: Dr. Gregory Anderson ( )
Discipline(s): | Oceanography\Biological Oceanography |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
The ecology of Central Arctic remains poorly described, especially the "who eats who" world of the microscopic animals that spend their lives drifting in the water, the zooplankton. Zooplankton are eaten by fish, seabirds, and baleen whales, such as the bowhead whale, and are important members of the ocean food chain. The MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate) project is a unique chance to investigate these understudied animals (zooplankton) over all four seasons of the year. This project will participate in the MOSAiC expedition with an international science team to study how the biology and environment of the Arctic affect the zooplankton, to understand their role in the ecosystem (for example, who do they eat and how much), and to describe how changes in the Arctic environment, such as loss of sea ice, may affect their survival. Broader Impacts: This understanding is needed to predict how environmental change might be changing the whole Arctic ecosystem from plankton to fish to seals to humans and if the unique ice-dependent ecosystem will still remain. There have been few year-long studies of the biology of the Arctic Ocean because it is very difficult to get there during the dark, long, cold winter. The PIs will reach out to some of our youngest audiences, K-3 students at North Falmouth MA Elementary, to share our fascination with the Arctic and to introduce the students to the planktonic world and to life and work on board a ship frozen into the ice. Substantial public outreach for the project will be led by the international MOSAiC team. A postdoctoral researcher and undergraduate students will also participate in the research. This project focuses on the planktonic lower trophic levels and will quantify the role that the mesozooplankton play in biological transformation and cycling of important elements (C, N) in the central Arctic Ocean ecosystem. Working together with an international team of scientists, the PIs will determine seasonal patterns in abundance, biomass, vertical distribution, and life stage structure for the entire zooplankton community using plankton nets and acoustic and optical methods. Key biological rate processes of important species will be measured experimentally to determine seasonal changes in food web dynamics and to better understand life cycle and survival strategies and how they are linked to production cycle timing. Trophic linkages will be determined using both isotopic ratios and molecular techniques. These rate processes and linkages then will be interpreted in the context of the abundance and distribution patterns, of the physical ocean environment, of sea ice quality and extent, and of season. Greater temporal and spatial context will be quantified through collaborations with MOSAiC modeling efforts. This study is novel in that it would result in the first quantification of the planktonic food web dynamics in the central Arctic through direct measurement of the important biological rate processes and will utilize both traditional and modern techniques to describe and quantify trophic linkages and carbon cycling.

Logistics Summary:
This MOSAiC collaborative project between Ashjian (1824447, LEAD, WHOI) and Campbell (1824414, URI) will focus on the planktonic lower trophic levels and will largely consist of weekly water column sampling and collection of mesozooplankton via ring mesh nets of various sizes. There will also be associated lab tests and analysis of the captured mesozooplankton life. The RV Polarstern will depart from Tromso Norway and, once it reaches its destination, will spend the next year drifting through the Arctic Ocean, trapped in the ice. During the set-up phase, the RV Polarstern will enter the Siberian sector of the Arctic in thin sea ice conditions in late summer. A distributed regional network of observational sites will be set up on the sea ice in an area of up to ~50km from RV Polarstern. The ship and the surrounding network will drift with the natural ice across the polar cap towards the Atlantic, while the sea ice thickens during winter. The research teams will join the expedition for several months at time (aka legs), as the expedition will change crews and be supplied by other icebreakers and aircraft throughout the year. There will be six legs of the expedition with a total of 23 NSF awards in support of the MOSAiC effort. For more information on the MOSAiC expedition, go to As preparation for this project’s participation in the larger MOSAiC project, a team of two researchers will participate in a MOSAiC-specific field training in Utqiagvik in April of 2019 along with other required MOSAiC training required for the expedition. Starting in December of 2019, researchers will join the expedition participating in Legs 2-6.

CPS will provide safety training and travel support for meetings and trainings. All other logistics support will be provided by Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) via the user day fee and/or covered by the PI direct to grant. The AWI user day fee will be covered via an agreement between the NSF and AWI.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2019Alaska - Utqiaġvik (Barrow)04 / 07 / 2019 04 / 13 / 20194
2019Arctic Ocean and Seas - MOSAiC Leg 212 / 16 / 2019 12 / 31 / 20191
2020Arctic Ocean and Seas - MOSAiC Leg 201 / 01 / 2020 02 / 15 / 20201
2020Arctic Ocean and Seas - MOSAiC Leg 302 / 16 / 2020 04 / 15 / 20201
2020Arctic Ocean and Seas - MOSAiC Leg 404 / 16 / 2020 06 / 15 / 20202
2020Arctic Ocean and Seas - MOSAiC Leg 506 / 16 / 2020 08 / 15 / 20201
2020Arctic Ocean and Seas - MOSAiC Leg 608 / 16 / 2020 09 / 30 / 20201

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