Biological hot-spot
Text and photo: Carsten Egevang, greenland today november 2013
The North Water is rich in life. Narwhals, polar bears and seals in great numbers form the foundation for the existence of the region’s hunters. The larger whales are seen rarely, except the bowhead whale.
About 80% of the world’s population of Little Auks is linked with the North Water, and half of Greenland’s population of Thick-billed Murres breeds here. Some of the biggest colonies of Common Eider are also found in the North Water.
Short food chain
The High-Arctic food chain is short and consists of relatively few components compared to southern regions.
The energy from the spring sunlight is channelled through layers of diatoms and water fleas to the higher levels such as fish and bow head whales. As opposed to further south in Greenland, where the capelin (ammassat) is the most important link between plankton and marine mammals and sea birds, in North Water it is the Arctic cod that is the key species.
Most abundant sea bird
No other species characterizes North Water better than the Little Auk. This small auk is found here in huge numbers and its lifestyle reflects a highly specialized adaptation to the short, hectic High Arctic summer.
The Little Auk feeds almost exclusively on two species of water flea, which are abundant in the water column. Colonies of Little Auks are found on land and number in some places millions of breeding pairs. Counting the numbers of Little Auks is an impossible task, but an estimate of between 30 and 70 million pairs is realistic, which makes the Little Auk the most abundant sea bird in the world.
Fertilizer for other species
The Little Auk leave its mark on the landscape. The many birds means transport of nutrients from the sea to the land through bird droppings, and the vegetation close to the colonies is particularly lush.
Thus musk-oxen, reindeer and Arctic hares are more numerous near Little Auk colonies.
FACTS about the North Water
The world’s biggest Arctic polynya is North Water (North Water Polynya) situated between North-western Greenland (Qaanaaq region) and North-eastern Canada. The word polynya(borrowed from the Russian) is used for an area of open water surrounded by sea ice.
Local wind and current conditions prevent the formation of ice in North Water and conditions here are particularly favourable for the smallest marine organisms. North Water is a true biological hot-spot.
It is impossible to say how far the polynya extends, since the system is extremely dynamic and the presence of sea ice versus open water changes constantly, but the area is estimated to be about 85.000km2. The name »North Water« originally comes from the whalers of the 1800s who exploited the abundance of wildlife in the area.
Carsten Egevang is a biologist, writer and rewarded nature photographer.
Visit his website here
Read the full article from the magazine here HotSpot_dk_uk