Steingrímur Jónsson

Steingrímur Jónsson

Professor, University of Akureyri, Iceland

Visiting at: Shanghai Ocean University
Period: 1 month
Research Theme: Monitoring of the waters around Iceland  on a regular basis at standard stations to understand  the effect of global warming on ecosystems and  fisheries management

Dr. Steingrímur Jónsson, a Professor from the University of Akureyri, with research expertise on physical oceanography in the Arctic, took the opportunity of CNARC fellowship program to conduct a one-month fellow visit from April 29 to May 27 in 2019 at Shanghai Ocean University. 


A report from my visit to the Shanghai Ocean University

Steingrimur Jonsson from University of Akureyri visits Shanghai Ocean University

The text below describes his academic activities during his visit in China.

1. Research project

It is a well-known fact that the Arctic has been warming faster than other parts of the world due to climate change. However, areas at the southern boundary of the Arctic are not necessarily following this trend since they are also under the influence of other climate systems. In order to investigate this and the role of the ocean in the recent warm trend occurring in the area around Iceland, hydrographic data have been analyzed in an attempt to quantify how much of the warming observed in the waters south and west of Iceland are due to global warming and how much is due to natural variability. This is possible because there exist long time series of temperature and salinity in the area for both warm and cold periods. The different warm periods can be compared to see if there is anomalous temperature rise during the recent warm period compared to previous warm periods. This anomalous temperature rise can be assumed to be due to global warming whereas the rest of the temperature rise can be attributed to natural variability. The natural variability is caused by changes in the subpolar gyre, that cause warmer and more saline water to be advected to the area. The higher temperatures and salinities were not just observed in the Icelandic waters but also in the Nordic Seas and in the Atlantic water circulating in the Arctic Ocean leading to increased heat content there, adding to the sea ice melt. The proposed research therefore has a much wider scope than just Icelandic waters and there is a potential for studying other areas of the sub polar gyre with the same methods.

Monitoring of the waters around Iceland has been ongoing on a regular basis at standard stations for about 50 years. This has included the seasonal variations as well as inter annual and decadal variations. Prior to that there was also a less regular monitoring in some areas. This monitoring has revealed that during the last two decades the ocean around Iceland has been considerably warmer than during the cold period from 1965 to 1996. From 1920 to 1965 warm and saline conditions dominated the waters south and west of Iceland similar to the conditions after 1995. Those variations have been related to the AMO (Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation). The recent rise in temperature as well as its effects on the biology and fish stocks in Icelandic waters is often attributed to global warming. However, the rise in temperature was quite sudden and it was also accompanied by higher salinity. Both of those facts indicate that there was a shift in the distribution of water masses in the area leading to an advection of warmer and more saline waters from further south in the Atlantic. It is very likely that some of the increase in the temperature is due to global warming but some of it is certainly due to natural variability. The aim of the proposed research is to attempt to quantify the contribution from each of those processes.

Before arriving at Shanghai Ocean University, I had already made some preliminary attempts at this problem that seemed promising. The first ten days of my visit I worked on this problem and prepared the lectures I was going to give at the CNARC symposium and at the Arctic Circle China Forum conference, both of which were held in Shanghai during my stay at the Shanghai Ocean University.

The results of these investigations have relevance for decision making in many aspects such as for fisheries since it is important to know if the higher temperatures observed in the recent two decades might reverse due to changes in the dynamics of the ocean. I am supervising a master’s student at the University of Akureyri who is working on a related subject including the distribution of fish species. He is using data from fish stock assessment available for the years 1987-2016 for studying the relation with environmental variables such as temperature and salinity etc., using various multivariate statistical methods. It is of interest in this respect to be able to quantify the changes occurring in environmental parameters such as temperature and salinity due to global warming and natural changes in circulation and water mass distribution.

2. Cooperation with SHOU in the fields of education and research

The rector of the University of Akureyri visited Shanghai Ocean University on May 7th and spent the day together with me, meeting with representatives from Shanghai Ocean University discussing various types of cooperation ranging from exchange of students and teachers to common research projects. We visited various facilities of the Shanghai Ocean University such as their research vessel and their deep-water submarine vehicle. We had good discussions with the people at all the sites we visited and gained a lot of information about the ongoing activities at Shanghai Ocean University. At the CNARC Symposium that took place in the Shanghai Ocean University form May 7 to May 9 a memorandum of understanding was signed by the rectors of the two universities.

On Tuesday May 21st I had a meeting with the director of admissions office in the College of International Cultural Exchange about possibilities for student and teacher exchange between the University of Akureyri and Shanghai Ocean University. There are certainly many opportunities, especially regarding the Department of natural resources at the University of Akureyri and the Shanghai Ocean University. This will be looked at in the coming months at both universities and way of cooperating will be found and implemented.

3. Participation in conferences and lectures given.

I participated in the CNARC Symposium that took place in the Shanghai Ocean University form May 7 to May 9. It was held by the Shanghai Ocean University in cooperation with the Polar Research Institute of China. The conference had good attendance from all the Nordic Countries as well as from China and several other countries. The themes of the symposium were, Arctic Fisheries, Polar Silk Road and Sustainable Development Practices. I gave a talk there in the session on “Arctic Fisheries” on preliminary results from the research project I worked on in Shanghai prior to the conference. It emphasized the need to have the right information for being able to make sustainable decisions for management of natural resources and hazards. One of the most important factors of today is climate change and it is very important to be able to separate the effect of climate change and changes due to natural variability. This is especially important in areas where there is great natural variability such as in Iceland. The results indicated that of the warming observed during the last two decades in the ocean south and west of Iceland more than 50% of it was due to natural variability whereas the rest was probably due to climate change.

I also participated in the Arctic Circle China Forum on China and the Arctic. The subjects of the conference were: Polar-Silk Road – Oceans – Transport -Energy – Science – Indigenous Dialogue – Governance. The conference took place in the Shanghai Science and Technology museum from May 10 to May 11.

I was a co-convener of the breakout session “Marine Ecosystems and Living Resources Conservation in the Arctic”. My co-convener was professor Guoping Zhu from the Shanghai Ocean University.

The presentations at the session included subjects ranging from physical oceanography, ecology of arctic fish species to fisheries management in the central Arctic Ocean. There was also a presentation dealing with Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in the Arctic Ocean. I gave a presentation of the results of the research project I had been working on at the Shanghai Ocean University during the time up to the conference. I included special emphasis on the fisheries in Iceland and how sustainable decision making depends on the knowledge of climate change and natural variability in the ocean.

In addition to this I gave 3 lectures at the Shanghai Ocean University. The first was mainly aimed at the faculty and Ph.D. students and was titled “Oceanography and Fisheries in Iceland”.

The second one was for a class of undergraduate students on oceanographic processes in Icelandic waters.

The third was a general introduction to Iceland and the Icelandic society for students at Shanghai Ocean University.

I participated partly in the “Marine Fisheries International Program” held by the Shanghai Ocean University for international students on various aspects of marine science, Fisheries and aquaculture in the period May 6 – May 31, 2019.

4. Plans for future cooperation between the University of Akureyri and Shanghai Ocean University.

A major focus of the visit was to investigate opportunities for future research collaboration between the University of Akureyri and the Shanghai Ocean University. This was considering exchange of students and teachers but mostly emphasizing research. A research project was proposed with Professor Song Hu where it is the intention to model the tides in an area southeast of Iceland where there are some canyons. The focus will be on the nutrient fluxes across the continental slope and the effects of the canyons on the structure of the tides. Professor Song Hu has great experience in such modelling using the Finite-Volume Coastal Ocean Model (FVCOM). Already during my stay a grid for the bathymetry was developed.

The Shanghai Ocean University has been studying and modelling the distribution of freshwater in the Arctic Ocean. The main pathway of this freshwater after it exits the Arctic Ocean through Fram Strait is along the Greenland slope towards Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland and this can have great influence on Icelandic waters. This is of major importance to Iceland since this greatly affects fish stocks as was the case during the Great Salinity Anomaly in the late 1960s. This is therefore an area where the two Universities could come together and focus on a very relevant topic.