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Vulnerability of the North Water ecosystem to climate change

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

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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

Sami Taipale

Erik Jeppesen

Nicolaj K. Larsen

Xavier Crosta

Jacques Giraudeau

Simone Wengrat

Mark Nuttall

Bjarne Grønnow

Anders Mosbech

Thomas A. Davidson


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.


Ribeiro, S., Limoges, A., Massé, G., Johansen, K. L., Colgan, W., Weckström, K., …Davidson, T. A. (2021). Vulnerability of the North Water ecosystem to climate change. Nature Communications, 12, Article 4475.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 1, 2021
Online Publication Date Jul 22, 2021
Publication Date 2021
Deposit Date Nov 26, 2021
Publicly Available Date Nov 26, 2021
Journal Nature Communications
Publisher Nature Research
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 12
Article Number 4475
Public URL


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