Chapter Selection 2.3.1 - Priority Recommendations to Enhance NEBA Applications in the Arctic Next Chapter Previous Chapter

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2.3 Future Research Considerations

There has been a dramatic increase in data available on various aspects of marine Arctic communities over the last decade, particularly on the pan-Arctic distribution of species and trophic interactions.  New studies include investigations of the trophic links within different systems (e.g. the central role of Arctic and Polar cod and Calanoid copepods in the pelagic food webs).  The review of Arctic ecosystems and VECs described by the authors in this section led to suggestions of further research which can reduce remaining uncertainties.  The more generic recommendations for further research compiled from this review are summarized below while recommendations that are important for improving Arctic NEBA are listed separately.

  1. Continue studies on Arctic faunal groups.  Some Arctic populations are now well understood in terms of natural history and toxicological profiles; however, groups of species require further examination regarding trophic roles, distributions, abundances, and ecotoxicological profiles based on annual and Interannual patterns.
    1. Knowledge of the interrelationships of Arctic species in areas of high productivity could benefit from further attention, especially with respect to migration and emigration through river systems, lagoons, and polynyas.
    2. The distributions and abundances of benthic and bathypelagic communities of the Arctic are not well known.  Boulder patch and other isolated areas of hard substrate as well as lagoon systems have proven to be important areas of increased production in the Arctic, but have received little attention.  While there have been some studies evaluating the deep sea communities particularly in the Norwegian Deep, eastern Beaufort, and parts of Baffin Bay, there are substantial portions of the Arctic deep water that have not been assessed.  This is a difficult area to characterize; however, recent studies in the High Canadian Arctic (Geoffroy et al. 2011, 2013; Reist and Majewski 2013) indicate that during certain portions of the year, Arctic cod can be found in large numbers in deeper waters of the Arctic.  There are indications that VECs known to occupy the deep sea habitats in other oceanic basins are present in the Arctic (e.g. myctophids, deep-sea corals), however, these communities are not likely to be disrupted by near-term oil and gas activities.  Deep water assessments would become important if there were a deep water release from a drilling platform.
  2. Continue pan-Arctic data collation.  Data from holistic efforts, such as BREA and RUSALCA could be collated and put into a GIS platform.  VEC species or regions for which there is not sufficient data may require additional data collection efforts.  These types of efforts generally occur as new areas are open for exploration or development.
  3. Evaluate ecosystem services.  Ecosystem services are the conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems and the species that comprise them sustain and fulfill human needs (Daily 1997).   Marine ecosystem services include functions that support human life, such as the production of ecosystem goods (e.g. seafood) and cleansing and sequestering wastes (e.g. uptake of excess nutrients by phytoplankton).  The marine ecosystem confers intangible aesthetic and cultural benefits (Kaufman and Dayton 1997; Peterson and Lubchenco 1997) to residents of the Arctic.

2.3.1 Priority Recommendations to Enhance NEBA Applications in the Arctic

There are only a handful of studies useful to understanding the trophic interactions of emerging habitats of concern (e.g. interface habitats and deep-sea basins of the Arctic).  The recommendations presented below indicate where increased knowledge of Arctic ECs and VECs would result in reducing existing uncertainties in NEBA assessments. No prioritization has been made to the list; for some of the recommendations, surrogate data may be already available.

  1. Expand knowledge of Arctic ECs.  Assessment of Arctic ECs should be expanded to include the communities populating interface habitats. These habitats include: sea surface microlayer, ice edges and margins, under-ice flora and fauna, water mass convergence zones, demersal communities, and shorelines.  These specialized habitats and resident or transient species may contribute significantly to the overall functioning, diversity, and resilience of the Arctic.  While the effects caused by individual OSR actions to key VECs living in the open water pelagic environment has been examined, repercussions of oil exposure to aggregating communities within convergent interface habitats is less well understood. 
    1. The surface microlayer (SML).  The surface microlayer refers to the uppermost surface layer(s) of the ocean.  The depth of the layer(s) is defined differently by physical oceanographers, chemists and biologists based on their conceptual model developed to address their different fields of interest.  Physical oceanographers and atmospheric scientists view the layer as the interface between the air and water while chemical oceanographers describe the layer based on the behavior of hydrophilic and hydrophobic moieties of chemical compounds.  Biological oceanographers define these layers based on where organisms and life stages reside or interact with the sea surface.  Certain communities of plants, invertebrates and vertebrates spend all of their life history at the sea surface and these are typically referred to as neuston.  The SML also acts as a nursery ground for many larval fish and invertebrate species, including larval species settling onto intertidal surfaces.  This group of surface oriented species represents a community of organisms that is most closely associated with surfaced oil as the oil sheen spreads over the water’s surface.  Whether the oil sheen is only a few microns or centimeters thick the organisms that contact this layer are exposed to the highest oil concentrations with the potential of activating multiple modes of toxic action.  In some cases larger marine organisms can skim feed on the concentrated masses of food and contaminants (certain fish, birds, and mammals) while others swim through the layer(s) to breath.  An understanding of the role of the neuston in the pelagic and intertidal food webs is needed to better characterize the impacts of surfaced, untreated oil and potential recovery rate of this vital micro-compartment.  Exposure to oil at the upper sea surface layer may result in additional toxic stress via different modes of toxic action, including fouling and respiratory stress from evaporating volatile compounds.
    2. Ice edges and margins, polynyas and other interface communities.  Polynyas have been identified as areas of enriched abundance and production during the Arctic winter.  Pelagic-benthic coupling is also showing that the increased pelagic activity is mirrored in the benthic community.  These different communities are typically an aggregation of species already known to be important in other portions of the Arctic.  Identifying and further studying the importance of these areas is of importance for the selection of OSR alternatives.
  2. Emphasize functional role of faunal groups.  The list of VEC species to be included in NEBA analyses is not static for all areas of the Arctic.  Emphasis will be placed on functional roles while addressing regional differences. New information regarding trophic food webs, population abundances and distribution patterns as well as toxicological profiles of VECs should be continuously expanded and updated (e.g. for ophiuroids, hard corals, jellyfish and neuston).  Population size estimates of VECs that occupy interface habitats compared to bulk pelagic waters is needed to determine the relative impact of the various OSR options.
  3. Increase understanding of resiliency and potential for recovery of Arctic species and populations.  An evaluation of the resiliency of potentially impacted populations of VEC species within Arctic ECs is critical in determining the ultimate biological consequences of each oil spill response considered during emergency oil spill response planning. Generic metrics for resilience should be developed and scored for keystone VECs. Refer to Sections 7, 8 and 9 for further concept development (Population Effects Modeling, Ecosystem Recovery, and NEBA for Oil Spill Response Options in the Arctic, respectively).