Vulnerability of the North Water ecosystem to climate change

Sofia Ribeiro, Audrey Limoges, Guillaume Massé, Kasper L. Johansen, William Colgan, Kaarina Weckström, Rebecca Jackson, Eleanor Georgiadis, Naja Mikkelsen, Antoon Kuijpers, Jesper Olsen, Steffen M. Olsen, Martin Nissen, Thorbjørn J. Andersen, Astrid Strunk, Sebastian Wetterich, Jari Syväranta, Andrew C.G. Henderson, Helen Mackay, Sami TaipaleErik Jeppesen, Nicolaj K. Larsen, Xavier Crosta, Jacques Giraudeau, Simone Wengrat, Mark Nuttall, Bjarne Grønnow, Anders Mosbech, Thomas A. Davidson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4475
Number of pages12
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate


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