Flanders uses North Sea experience with innovative measuring equipment in top research on climate effects in Greenland | Flanders Marine Institute

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Flanders uses North Sea experience with innovative measuring equipment in top research on climate effects in Greenland

Oostende (2022.08.01) – During a recent expedition to Greenland led by the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ), the young crew used a 'Video Plankton Recorder' to investigate how the melting of the glaciers threatens to drastically change the ecosystem and fisheries in the Arctic.

Press release by: Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ)

The Arctic climate is changing three times faster than the global average. The ice caps are melting and glaciers are shrinking at a rapid rate, together accounting for a global sea level rise of 0.6 mm per year. In addition, the changed freshwater inflow threatens to have a major impact, both on global ocean currents and on the local productivity of the ecosystem. Glaciers that today still have direct contact with the sea via fjords (marine-terminating glaciers) are particularly important. With this type of glacier – unlike land-terminating glaciers – a plume of fresh meltwater run-off causes an upwelling of deep water, rich in nutrients. In the summer this leads to a production of plankton, fish and other marine life that is sometimes ten times higher. Meanwhile, the glaciers in Greenland are retreating at 110 m per year (period 2000-2010). With further climate the fear exists that change glaciers will retreat further and that 'marine-terminating glaciers' will gradually make way for 'land-terminating' glaciers, with major negative consequences for nature and fisheries.

From 28 June to 10 July, VLIZ coordinated – with the support of the Eurofleets+ program, and in collaboration with the NIOZ (NL) and Hereon (DE) – an expedition in West Greenland, aboard the Greenland research vessel RV Sanna. In a vast fjord area of ​​more than 100 kilometers long, with both 'marine-terminating' and 'land-terminating' glaciers, the young researchers investigated the consequences of climate change on the distribution of plankton, on the upwelling of nutrients and on the complex interaction with the marine ecosystem. To be able to do this efficiently, quickly and on a large scale, VLIZ used innovative techniques such as the 'Video Plankton Recorder' (VPR). This innovative device has previously proved its worth in the North Sea, within the LifeWatch program run by VLIZ. The VPR makes it possible to take high-resolution images (25 frames/second) of plankton pulled by a research vessel and send them to the ship in real time.

By simultaneously measuring depth, temperature, turbidity and salinity, the researchers can quickly obtain an accurate picture of the plankton, its distribution in the water column and its environment. “Sea researchers are increasingly using high-tech systems, such as HR cameras and robots, to support their research. The use of such techniques fits perfectly within the strategy of creating opportunities to measure vast and often difficult-to-reach areas such as the Arctic in a high level of detail on the basis of integrated observation systems and new technologies. In the coming years, VLIZ wants to make maximum use of that experience in studying climate change,” said Wieter Boone, expedition leader and head of the Marine Robotics Center at VLIZ.


  • Timelapse video van de expeditie in West-Groenland
  • Other materials available on request

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