On Sunday 7 August, a team of 20 scientists set sail on the 2022 ECOTIP oceanographic research cruise on board the RV Maria S Merian, one of Germany’s flagship research vessels.

The Merian team covers a wide range of scientific disciplines.

One of the researchers onboard is a Greek microbial oceanographer, Maria Papadatou, aiming to exploring the microbiome of Greenland.

Papadatou is part of a scientific team from the University of Vienna, who are studying the responses of the microbes that live in the Arctic Ocean in relation to carbon cycling, to see how the microbes are responding to the changing conditions of their home environment.

The cruise departed from Reykjavik, Iceland and is currently on the east coast of Greenland, surveying both the deep ocean and water column among some selected fjords, before returning to Reykjavik on 29 August.

As climate change is increasing ocean temperatures, fresh water is melting off the Greenland icesheet into the sea, making the ocean less salty.

The goal of the cruise is to investigate ecosystem tipping points, which are critical moments where a point of no return has been crossed. ECOTIP is trying to identify such points and determine which processes contribute to causing these.

“Our group wants to better understand how these microbes behave in relation to climate change and how this could impact the oceans ability to sequester carbon,” Papadatou said.

“Some other examples of tipping points that researchers onboard this ship are studying include how Greenland’s melting glaciers add additional fresh water into the ocean. This creates a layer of fresh water that sits on top, which can prevent ocean mixing, in turn hindering upward nutrient circulation and causing oxygen depletion in the lower layers, which may be catastrophic for ocean life.”

“Microbes are everywhere, including the deep ocean, and like humans they breathe out carbon dioxide. As the ocean temperatures are rising these microbes might breathe more which results in producing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

The team is currently taking samples of the Greenlandic Sea and fjords, which will later be analyzed in the lab back in Vienna.

Another tipping point ECOTIP scientists are exploring is the increase in mercury in the ocean. Mercury has entered the ice sheet through rain and snow contaminated by the burning of coal over decades. This is also known as legacy pollution. As the Greenland ice sheet melts, this mercury is entering the oceans, which can spike the levels of mercury in sea creatures and even humans.

Much of the data collected during this cruise will eventually feed an online platform where decision makers can use real-world data to explore tipping point related “what if” scenarios.

GRID-Arendal’s multimedia journalist, Olivia Rempel, will also be joining to film and photograph life on board the vessel and the various experiments being undertaken.

Academic institutions represented onboard include HEREON, University of Vienna, University of Tromsø, DTU Aqua, Abo Akademi, IOPAN, and Aarhus University.