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Tracking Carbon in the Deep, Cold Blue

As the climate becomes warmer and permafrost melts, more organic carbon is transferred from the land to the sea. This movement and its effect is what scientists are studying in the southern Beaufort Sea. (Photo: J.C. Miquel/IAEA)

Scientists from the IAEA Marine Environment Laboratories (MEL) in Monaco are reaching the end of their involvement in a month-long sampling effort aboard a Canadian research icebreaking vessel, studying the effects of climate change on the Arctic environment.

The Malina project as it´s called, involves 66 individuals from 18 laboratories in four countries. This includes five scientists from the MEL, two of whom are on board the ship.

The study, which is jointly organised by Canada, France and the USA, investigates what happens to carbon as it travels from the surface to the bottom of the ocean. It also involves analysis of carbon deposits that have been on the ocean floor for hundreds of years. Also, scientists are gathering information on microorganism biodiversity in order to anticipate their response to climate change.

"The IAEA contributes to this experiment by measuring natural radionuclides and identifying the source of various carbon particles by using stable isotopes signature and molecular biomarkers," says Juan-Carlos Miquel, Research Scientist in the Radioecology Lab in Monaco.

After the field component of the project ends, scientists will use the data they have gathered to evaluate recent changes in carbon outflow from rivers, and to design algorithms that will be needed to track climate change using satellites.

These algorithms will take into account stocks of organic carbon, environmental factors that influence the climate, as well as parameters for interpreting the satellite images.

In coming years, researchers will use data gathered in the field along with information from satellites to monitor and predict future changes.

"The Malina project sets the stage for future regional studies of Arctic ecology and for future monitoring of the Arctic environment over the next decade. Furthermore, the project will contribute to the ongoing effort toward transferring knowledge to local communities in the Arctic," says Miquel.


The Malina project was launched in fall 2008 and will be active for the next four years studying the southern Beaufort Sea and the shelf adjacent to the Mackenzie River outlet. The field component of Malina began in July 2009 and ends in August.

Understanding how biodiversity and biogeochemical changes are controlled by light penetration of the ocean and how they are affected by ongoing changes of the climate in the Arctic is the overall goal of the Malina project.

Last update: 27 Jul 2017

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