The race is on to investigate the rich ecosystem of the Arctic ocean.
As the Arctic melts, swathes of ocean previously impenetrable to scientific investigation are being revealed.
Dr. Kirstin Thompson is among those using new technologies to identify species roaming the frigid northern waters.
“The Arctic is quite rich in biodiversity and it provides a habitat for a whole number of different species, many of which are quite specific to those areas, there’s a lot about the Arctic that we don’t know and huge knowledge gaps so we need to really focus our attention towards understanding this ecosystem much better.”
Thompson is using EDNA sampling to detect whether an animal has visited certain waters.
“What we’re doing here is we’re collecting environmental DNA from the sea water, and a short word for that is EDNA, so E stands for environmental DNA. What it is is it’s just all the DNA that’s in the cell that are sloughed off animals as they pass through the water so that could be mucus, skin, poo, whatever has passed though the water and left a trail of cells we may be able to detect by just filtering the water and trapping those cells on a specialized filter and preserving that DNA and taking it back to the lab.”
The hope is that doing so will help build a case for marine protected zones before increased human activity further destabilizes this part of the world.
Currently there are no environmental protection areas covering the waters of the North Pole.
Scientists believe the Arctic could be free of sea ice in the summer within decades.
This would make it an attractive route for intercontinental shipping, which brings with it the risk of accidents and oil spills.
“Much of the Arctic ecosystem is unprotected, and this is really quite a concern because as the ice recedes and the whole area warms and is changing quite rapidly it means the whole area is quite vulnerable to the impact of human activities and that’s why we really really need a very strong global ocean treaty to protect these areas.”