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Vulnerability of the North Water ecosystem to climate change

Ribeiro, Sofia and Limoges, Audrey and Massé, Guillaume and Johansen, Kasper L. and Colgan, William and Weckström, Kaarina and Jackson, Rebecca and Georgiadis, Eleanor and Mikkelsen, Naja and Kuijpers, Antoon and Olsen, Jesper and Olsen, Steffen M. and Nissen, Martin and Andersen, Thorbjørn J. and Strunk, Astrid and Wetterich, Sebastian and Syväranta, Jari and Henderson, Andrew C. G. and Mackay, Helen and Taipale, Sami and Jeppesen, Erik and Larsen, Nicolaj K. and Crosta, Xavier and Giraudeau, Jacques and Wengrat, Simone and Nuttall, Mark and Grønnow, Bjarne and Mosbech, Anders and Davidson, Thomas A. (2021) 'Vulnerability of the North Water ecosystem to climate change.', Nature Communications, 12 . p. 4475.


High Arctic ecosystems and Indigenous livelihoods are tightly linked and exposed to climate change, yet assessing their sensitivity requires a long-term perspective. Here, we assess the vulnerability of the North Water polynya, a unique seaice ecosystem that sustains the world’s northernmost Inuit communities and several keystone Arctic species. We reconstruct mid-to-late Holocene changes in sea ice, marine primary production, and little auk colony dynamics through multi-proxy analysis of marine and lake sediment cores. Our results suggest a productive ecosystem by 4400–4200 cal yrs b2k coincident with the arrival of the first humans in Greenland. Climate forcing during the late Holocene, leading to periods of polynya instability and marine productivity decline, is strikingly coeval with the human abandonment of Greenland from c. 2200–1200 cal yrs b2k. Our long-term perspective highlights the future decline of the North Water ecosystem, due to climate warming and changing sea-ice conditions, as an important climate change risk.

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Publisher statement:This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
Date accepted:01 July 2021
Date deposited:26 November 2021
Date of first online publication:22 July 2021
Date first made open access:26 November 2021

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