Dr Ceri Lewis on location in the Arctic.
A return to the Arctic for Exeter scientist
A scientist from the University of Exeter is preparing to brave sub-zero conditions as she returns to the Arctic to carry out research on how climate change is affecting the region.
Dr Ceri Lewis, from the university’s Biosciences department, will be taking part in the Catlin Arctic Survey to look at how increasing levels of CO2 in our atmosphere is affecting life in the Arctic Ocean.
It will be the second year running she has headed to the extreme environment to do challenging field work. Despite braving freezing temperatures as low as -70°C, she’s far from put-off by her previous experience.
She said: “The cold is just incredible and it really hurts for the first few days, but you get used to it quite quickly. Eventually you forget about the daily things, like waking up in the morning with a frozen face, and you just appreciate what a beautiful place it is.
“The landscape changes every day as the wind shifts the snow and ice, and the light has an amazing quality. It’s a very dynamic and pristine place, but also a very fragile one which is really under threat.”
Dr Lewis is joining two other South West women on the expedition, Ann Daniels, a record breaking polar explorer from Whimple, East Devon, and Dr Helen Findlay of Plymouth Marine Laboratory.
The expedition aims to collect valuable data about the Arctic environment which will help scientists understand what impacts increasing global temperatures are having.
Part of Dr Lewis’s research will involve looking at the role of under ice animals in the transport of carbon in the oceans. About one third of the atmospheric CO2 produced by human activity is absorbed by the ocean, but increases in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere could overwhelm the ocean’s ability to carry out this function.
If CO2 levels in the ocean increase, it could change the pH levels, causing the water to become more acidic which could affect wildlife.
To simulate this, Dr Lewis will run experiments which mimic the Arctic’s expected climate in 100 years time and seeing how biology is affected.
She said: “We expect the ocean will become more acidic and we need to know how that will impact the small life forms which are an essential part of the marine food chain. We’re still analysing results from the first year’s research and there are lots of unanswered questions, so it’s really important that going back to continue the research.”
Other researchers on the expedition will be looking at how the vast ocean currents, such as the Gulf Stream, are being affected by changes in sea temperature and melting ice, which could reduce the salt levels in the ocean.
The scientific expedition is different to many others in that it enables researchers to be in the Arctic during the relatively harsh transition from winter to spring. This means they can collect data during a period for which very little evidence currently exists.
Dr Lewis added: “During the expedition it goes from near permanent darkness to almost 24-hour daylight, so there’s a huge transition. We’ll be working 12 hour days at least as there’s so much work to do, but it’s something I’m really looking forward to doing as this research is important.”
Dr Lewis is heading to the Arctic on March 30th and will be there for one month. She will be providing updates on her progress through twitter when communications are working. You can read more about Dr Lewis's involvement in the Catlin Arctic Survey on the Biosciences website, or you can read up about the expedition as a whole on the Catlin Arctic Survey website.
Date: 24 March 2011