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Oceans and fisheries
News announcement21 February 2022Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Arctic biodiversity: EU-funded research reveals new life in the Arctic Ocean

Icebergs drift in calm seas off the Greenland coast © Imagebear / iStock
Icebergs drift in calm seas off the Greenland coast © Imagebear / iStock

Climate change is impacting ecosystems in the Arctic. For over a full year, scientists from 20 nations traveled the Artic Ocean onboard the German research vessel Polarstern to better understand climate processes. Important discoveries made by EU-funded scientists during the ‘MOSAiC’ expedition have recently been published in the renowned scientific journal Science Advances.

From autumn 2019 to autumn 2020, the international expedition “Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate” – or short ‘MOSAiC’ –  drifted through the ice of the Amundsen and Nansen Basins and the Fram Strait. As part of a multidisplinary team of experts, scientists of the EU-funded EFICA (European Fisheries Inventory in the Central Arctic Ocean) Consortium conducted research into the ecosystems present in these parts of the Arctic Ocean.

The results of their research provide new and significant insights, including into the functioning of the Arctic pelagic food web. The scientists found a deepwater layer of zooplankton and fish in the Arctic Ocean. To their surprise, they also found evidence of a continuous immigration of larger Atlantic fish in the Arctic ecosystem, much further north than expected. This flux contributes to potential food for mammals living in the Arctic Ocean.

The availability of small and even some larger fish in the Atlantic water layer could explain why seals, walrus and polar bear can be found even at the North Pole. Both fish and mammals are very few, but they are there

says biologist Dr. Hauke Flores, Alfred Wegener Institute, one of the scientists of the EFICA Consortium onboard the MOSAiC expedition.

Among other significant conclusions in the Science Advances article, the EFICA scientists infer that – at least in the Eurasian Basin – there are no harvestable fish stocks today or in the foreseable future:

The capacity of the Central Arctic Ocean ecosystem to support larger fish stocks is without doubt rather limited

says Pauline Snoeijs Leijonmalm, coordinator of the EFICA Consortium and professor in marine ecology at Stockholm University.

Therefore, it is of great importance that this unique and fragile ecosystem is subject to robust international protection. Taking a precautionary and science-based approach, Canada, the People’s Republic of China, the Kingdom of Denmark in respect of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Kingdom of Norway, the Russian Federation, the United States of America and the European Union negotiated the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean that entered into force in June 2021. The agreement bans commercial fishing for at least 16 years, and sets up a joint scientific research and monitoring program to improve our understanding of the ecosystems in the Central Arctic Ocean. The final results of the EFICA consortium’s research will be an important EU contribution to this program.

By financing the research of the EFICA Consortium during the MOSAiC expedition, the Commission has contributed to collecting new Central Arctic Ocean ecosystem data in the context of the agreement, in order to be able to take science-based decisions in the future. The paper in Science Advances contains the first scientific results based on this new field data. In 2021, scientists from the EFICA Consortium took part in another expedition in the Central Arctic Ocean on board the Swedish icebreaker Oden to continue their ecosystem research. The final results of both expeditions are expected to be obtained later in 2023.

More information

MOSAiC expedition

Final report of the EFICA consortium’s research on board the MOSAiC expedition (2019-2010):

Ecosystem mapping in the central Arctic Ocean (CAO) during the MOSAiC expedition

Final report of the EFICA consortium’s research on board the Oden expedition (2021)

EU Joint Communication for “A stronger EU engagement for a peaceful, sustainable and prosperous Arctic



Publication date
21 February 2022 (Last updated on: 2 March 2022)
Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries