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Keywords:

  • Arctic Ocean;
  • baseline data;
  • climate change;
  • ecological footprints;
  • marine ecosystems

Abstract

In this article, we review evidence of how climate change has already resulted in clearly discernable changes in marine Arctic ecosystems. After defining the term ‘footprint’ and evaluating the availability of reliable baseline information we review the published literature to synthesize the footprints of climate change impacts in marine Arctic ecosystems reported as of mid-2009. We found a total of 51 reports of documented changes in Arctic marine biota in response to climate change. Among the responses evaluated were range shifts and changes in abundance, growth/condition, behaviour/phenology and community/regime shifts. Most reports concerned marine mammals, particularly polar bears, and fish. The number of well-documented changes in planktonic and benthic systems was surprisingly low. Evident losses of endemic species in the Arctic Ocean, and in ice algae production and associated community remained difficult to evaluate due to the lack of quantitative reports of its abundance and distribution. Very few footprints of climate change were reported in the literature from regions such as the wide Siberian shelf and the central Arctic Ocean due to the limited research effort made in these ecosystems. Despite the alarming nature of warming and its strong potential effects in the Arctic Ocean the research effort evaluating the impacts of climate change in this region is rather limited.