Manchester PhD student sets off on Arctic voyage
A first year PhD student from The University of Manchester will join a full-month long expedition to the Arctic Ocean to measure the impact of climate change on the region’s marine life.
Just 12 months ago, Emma Burns, 22, from Formby, was finishing her undergraduate dissertation and exams, contemplating life after graduation from Manchester’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
Now, one year on, she is ready to take part in the adventure of a lifetime by spending the next month on board of the RSS James Clark Ross to participate in an important scientific cruise in the Fram Strait of the Arctic region between Greenland and Svalbard.
She said: “If you would have asked me a year ago that I would be sailing in the Arctic so soon I would probably not have believed you but I am really excited about this opportunity. The last couple months we have studied the sea ice maps, planned the cruise and I have passed my survival training. It is a great opportunity and I can’t wait to be on the ship.”
Emma, who went straight from her undergraduate studies to her PhD is part of the Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC) flagship Changing Arctic Ocean (CAO) Programme.
The £16 million programme sees researchers from institutes across the UK working in collaboration on different projects to analyse and measure the impact of climate change in the Arctic.
Emma together with other scientists from the ARISE project will be specifically focussing on how arctic warming and subsequent environmental change is effecting the Arctic food chain. She and the team will not be on dryland for the full month-long voyage.
If you would have asked me a year ago that I would be sailing in the Arctic so soon I would probably not have believed you but I am really excited about this opportunity. The last couple months we have studied the sea ice maps, planned the cruise and I have passed my survival training. It is a great opportunity and I can’t wait to be on the ship.
She adds: “It is important to understand how the Arctic Ocean is responding to a changing environment, and it is vital we are able to detect change to the Arctic ecosystem above natural ecosystem variability.”
The scientists will collect zooplankton samples and examine them to check how healthy the animals are. The environments the zooplankton lives will also be investigated by sampling the water column and sediments for its chemical composition.
The ARISE project will be led by Dr Claire Mahaffey at the University of Liverpool, she explains: “During the cruise to the Fram Strait, we will capture the biomarker signals at the base of the food chain during a key transition period from winter to spring in the Arctic. The ARISE team will be busy collecting large quantities of seawater, phytoplankton and zooplankton for biomarker analysis back in our laboratories.”
Dr Bart van Dongen, from Manchester’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, is also part of the ARISE project and Emma’s PhD supervisor. He says: “This is an excellent project to be part of carrying really important research for the region. It is a great opportunity for an early career scientist. Emma is more than up to the challenge and although it will be hard work I’m sure she will have a great time. Who knows she may even see a polar bear.”
The ultimate goal of Changing Arctic Oceans is to generate a better understanding of the Arctic so models can more accurately predict future change to the environment and the ecosystem. Within the programme there are four main projects with more than 80 scientists combined, from 18 UK research institutes.