Russian-Swedish expedition will study greenhouse gas emissions

Twelve researchers at Stockholm University and the University of Gothenburg will participate in an expedition to the East Siberian Arctic Shelf where they will study greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost, which can accelerate global warming. The expedition is part of the International Siberian Shelf Study (ISSS), a Swedish-Russian collaboration that goes back fifteen years.

– I am looking forward to the experience of my first long ocean expedition! The ISSS-2020 expedition will take place on the research vessel Akademik Keldysh, one of the largest and most active research vessels of the Russian fleet, says Birgit Wild, assistant professor at the Department of Environmental Science, Stockholm University, and one of the coordinators of the expedition.

Examining mechanisms behind emissions

Emissions of greenhouse gases from thawing permafrost in an increasingly warmer Arctic is one of the key uncertainties of global climate projections. During the expedition, the researchers will investigate the mechanisms that control greenhouse gas emissions from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), a very sensitive and inaccessible part of the Arctic Ocean. With the help of these data, researchers will be able to improve global climate models which are essential for coordinating the human response to climate change.

– ESAS is the world’s largest and shallowest shelf sea of over two million square kilometres and with an average depth of only 58 meters. Researchers believe that it hosts more than 60 per cent of the global subsea permafrost. We will analyse concentrations of the greenhouse gases methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide in the water and the air, as well as collect samples for isotopic analyses that will allow us to distinguish between different greenhouse gas sources. The region is also exposed to ocean acidification which threatens the natural fauna, says Birgit Wild.

History of successful expeditions

The ISSS-2020 expedition is part of the International Siberian Shelf Study research program, which has a history of several successful expeditions to the East Siberian Arctic Ocean. This includes SWERUS-C3 (Climate-Cryosphere-Carbon interactions) with the Swedish icebreaker Oden 2014.

– Returning to the same sampling area allows us to generate long time series of data and compare between years, but also to tackle new research questions that emerge from previous expeditions.

The expedition includes several research projects, both with researchers on board and even more researchers on shore. The expedition is connected to several ERC-, VR- and Formas-funded projects, and samples and data will be used in many PhD and post-doc projects. The Swedish Polar Research Secretariat provides support in the form of clothing and loans of satellite telephones.

Birgit Wild, Assistant professor at Stockholm University.

Publishing date: 01 Sep 2020