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Optimisation of the Kongsfjorden Rijpfjorden Observatory Program

Alternative title: Optimalisering av Kongsfjorden Rijpfjorden observasjon programmet

Awarded: NOK 10.0 mill.

Svalbard is uniquely situated at the entrance to the Arctic Ocean. Warmer waters from the North Atlantic influence the west while cold waters from the Arctic characterize the waters north and to the east. Over the past decades, there has been a gradual decrease of sea ice and an increase in water temperature. The northward advancement of Atlantic water into the Arctic (Atlantification) has altered the Arctic marine systems surrounding Svalbard. On the western coast of Svalbard, fjords have largely remained ice-free since 2005, while an annual ice cover and cold waters persist in fjords located in the north. To better understand ongoing changes and predict the future of Svalbard's fjords and the broader Arctic, it is crucial to conduct long-term monitoring of the marine environment, in both time and space. The Kongsfjorden Rijpfjorden Observatory Program (KROP) has been monitoring the marine environment in the Atlantic-influenced Kongsfjorden and the Arctic Rijpfjorden for almost 20 years by maintaining an underwater observatory in both fjords. These observatories consist of physical and biological sensors that conduct year–round measurements throughout the water column. These data provide insights into the biophysical state of the two contrasting fjords that will help us understand the factors driving the observed changes and provide glimpses into Svalbard's future physical and biological landscapes. OpKROP will take advantage of the existing datasets and conduct new comprehensive surveys of Kongsfjorden with an unmanned surface vehicle. Combining historical data with new observations will result in a detailed understanding of these fjords as it relates to Atlantification. OpKROP will determine if the processes observed in Svalbard fjords are representative of all fjords, the Svalbard region, and the larger Arctic Ocean. Additionally, OpKROP will develop a long-term plan to ensure the continuation of this valuable time series.

Svalbard is located at a transition between Atlantic and Arctic biogeographic zones, and has gradually experienced a decrease in sea ice and increased water temperature over the last decades. On the west coast of Svalbard the fjords have mostly remained open since 2005 while an annual ice cover and cold water masses persist in north-facing fjords. Long-term temporal and spatial monitoring is essential to understand the drivers of ongoing changes and to anticipate future physical and biological seascapes in Svalbard fjords and in the rest of the Arctic. OpKROP will take advantage of the longest ongoing marine autonomous monitoring series on Svalbard, the Kongsfjorden Rijpfjorden Observatory Program (KROP), providing 20 years of biophysical observations from the Atlantic influenced Kongsfjorden and the Arctic Rijpfjorden. OpKROP will also conduct new extensive surveys of Kongsforden over a complete annual cycle. Using the historic time series together with new observations covering a larger spatial scale, we will detail the process of Atlantification in Kongsfjorden, and assess the state of Rijpffjorden to determine how close or far this fjord is from being Atlantified. These analyses will contribute to understanding of similar processes across the Arctic by making a tangible connection from these Svalbard fjords to the wider Arctic system to asses if process here are only representative to Svalbard fjords, all fjords, or to a larger portion of the Arctic Ocean. OpKrop will establish a routine for analysis and archiving the existing adata, and develop a future plan to maintain the existing time series. Through four dedicated seasonal USV surveys we will extent the spatial coverage of the mooring observations and assess the potential to use autonomous systems to dramatically extend our ability to monitor rapid seasonal changes in a complex ecosystem.

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