The extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice vary considerably from year to year and over decadal time scales. Assessing the effects of present variability in sea ice cover on Arctic marine ecosystems and regional climate requires a substantial improvement in our understanding of the links between freshwater and sea ice, sea ice and climate, and sea ice and biogeochemical fluxes. The need for data is particularly strong for the shallow coastal shelf regions (30% of the Arctic basin) where variability in the extent, thickness and duration of sea ice is most pronounced and where Arctic marine food webs are most vulnerable to change. 

The environmental, socio-economic and geopolitical consequences of an eventual sustained reduction of Arctic sea ice are bound to be tremendous: marine Arctic ecosystems will be displaced, a new ocean will open to exploitation, climate warming may accelerate, global ocean circulation may be modified, and traditional use will change. Given our Arctic responsibilities and as one of the first countries to be affected, Canada should lead the increasing international effort to study the Arctic Ocean. 

Toward that goal, the CASES Research Network was funded in March 2001 by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to conduct the Canadian Arctic Shelf Exchange Study (CASES),  an international effort under Canadian leadership to understand the biogeochemical and ecological consequences of sea ice variability and change on the Mackenzie Shelf.


Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada