GrønBille project description (full)


Project overview – from the proposal submitted to NRC


The Oceanography of Grønfjorden and Billefjorden (GrønBille)

1. Relevance relative to the call for proposals

The GrønnBille project fits perfectly into the call for proposals in the PolRes  program, answering all five of the main priority areas: (I) By combining existing data and knowledge from both Grønnfjorden (Russian data) and Billefjorden (Norwegian data) into one comprehensive and comparative analyses, we will establish a new and important database that will significantly increase our understanding of the marine systems in the Arctic. (II) Building a close network between key research groups in Norway (UiT and UNIS) and Russia (AARI and Univ. St. Petersburg) through a joint initiative that rests equally on fully compatible national data sources as well as on our extensive history of bilateral cooperation. (III) Intercalibration of instruments and data series from both the Russian station in Barentsburg (Grønnfjorden) and UNIS (Billefjorden). (IV) Active participation of both Russian and Norwegian scientists through joint workshops and close collaboration on data analyses and publication of results. (V) Building a new database that will be fully integrated into the SIOS initiative, and which will provide a foundation for an integrated monitoring and data providing service in the planned SIOS network on Svalbard. Also, all scientific partners have through their work on Svalbard over the last 20 years demonstrated their potential to conduct high-quality scientific work at the international level, thus securing a scientific and realistic framework for the outlined objectives.


2. Aspects relating to the research project

2.1. Background and status of knowledge

Fjords are excellent site as model arenas for small and large scale oceanic and biological processes (e.g. Berge et al 2005). In the Arctic, we have experienced a rapid change in climate over the latest decade, with a reduction in sea ice cover as one of the most important and conspicuous that may also have far-reaching implications for the environmental conditions found in seasonally ice-covered ecosystems (Stroeve et al., 2012; Leu et al 2011).This trend was recently documented by analysing the ice condition in Grønnfjorden on the west coast of Svalbard since 1974 (Zhuravskiy et al., 2012), indicating a close relationship between the fjord and adjacent oceanic areas. Under-ice and underwater irradiances, with the shift from predominantly thick multi-year ice to thinner first-year sea ice, as well as nutrient supply from water mixing are about to change. The consequences of these profound alterations of the physical environment for the sea-ice associated ecosystem are to date not adequately understood. The two fjords, Grønnfjorden and Billefjorden, close to Longyearbyen are excellent sites for fjord studies. AARI has carried out a long term studies of the physical and optical properties of Grønnfjorden on decadal scale (Pavlov et al in press, 2012;Zhuravskiy et al., 2012; Ivanov et al., 2012; Ivanov et al., 2011, Pavlov et al., 2010, 2011; Ivanov et al. 2010) and UNIS has carried out a physical – biological study in Billefjoden for nearly 20 – years (e.g. Arnkværn et al 2005, Nilsen et al., 2008). Until 2011 there was little co-operation between the UNIS and AARI on this two fjord studies both situated in the Isfjorden area. In this project we suggest to compare and contrast the fjord, including making a common database that will be available for SIOS, investigate the quality of the data from both fjords, and publish unpublished data on the optical properties, oceanography and timing of bloom events. This data will so be made available for the scientific community in general. One of the important aspects is to increase the co-operation between marine scientist working out of Barentsburg and Longyearbyen.

Figure 1. Map of the area with Barentsburg and Longyearbyen highlighted. 1. Grønnfjorden, 2. Billefjorden.


2.2. Approaches, hypotheses and choice of method


The circulation of warm and saline Atlantic Water (AW) around the Svalbard archipelago is regarded as a critical factor for the Svalbard climate and cryosphere (Årthun et al., 2012). The West Spitsbergen Current (WSC), which is the northernmost extension of the global thermohaline circulation, transports the warm and saline AW northward (Walczowski et al. 2005, Schauer et al., 2008; Pavlov et al. 2012 in press). On its way around Svalbard, AW undergoes substantial cooling and subsequently releases most of its heat to the atmosphere. The heat fluxes between ocean and atmosphere, as well as the direct exchange of AW on the adjacent shelf are processes shaping the climate in this region. The amount of AW transported onto the shelf will have a large impact on sea ice conditions locally (Cottier et al. 2007; Nilsen et al., 2008; Tverberg and Nøst 2009; Pavlov et al., 2010; Pavlov et al., 2012 in press) and has implications for the exchange of key zooplankton components (Willis et al. 2006). Large-scale wind patterns can control the onshore/offshore transports through a variation of the AW core position over the continental slope (Cottier et al. 2006; Dmitrenko et al. 2006, , Pavlov et al. 2012 in press)


Prime objective:

  • To analyse long-term data on variability, patterns and trends in the physical environment affecting the timing of blooms in Billefjorden and Grønnfjorden


Secondary objectives:

  • Assemble data records of fjord and coastal measurements of physical and biological parameters extending over time periods to permit inter – annual to decadal assessment of change, including data from Billefjorden, Grønnfjorden and Isfjorden
  • Elucidate the underlying mechanisms for the temporal variability of continental slope-shelf-fjord exchange processes


Historical observations of atmospheric forcing, sea ice and oceanographic conditions from the Spitsbergen shelf and fjords exist at the different institutes (NPI, UNIS, UoT, SAMS, IOPAS, AARI, AWI), in addition to data available in international databases such as ICES,, NCEP/NCAR. We will utilize all these sources in historical analyses of regional trends. The historical data will be analysed for timing of biological and physical events within the slope, shelf and fjord systems. This will reveal how physical processes and events interact with biological events. Through these we will construct indices of the wind field and seek correlative relationships with the oceanographic and sea ice conditions represented in the long time series.Atmospheric forcing, wind and intrusion of Transform Atlantic Water (TAW) in internal area of fjords are an important factor of winter sea ice conditions (Nilsen et al. 2008, Pavlov et al., 2010; 2012 in press). We will examine these causal relationships with simple dynamical models of wind driven slope processes. The project rests upon two existing data sets from two adjacent fjord systems:


System 1: Billefjorden(UNIS) in which an extensive sampling program has been aimed at:

  • consequences of changing snow depth, ice thickness and properties, and timing of melt onset for transmittance and optical properties of sea ice (changes in the quality of transmitted light)
  • changes in nutrient supply associated with changes of  water mass characteristics and distribution, mixing regimes and stratification;
  • relative contribution of ice algae and under-ice phytoplankton to springtime primary production and the temporal distribution of these two components;
  • timing of ice algae release into the water column in relation to melt processes;
  • coupling and timing of the sea ice dynamics, ice algae, phytoplankton and zooplankton production

The aim for this project is, through the co-operation with Russian scientist to assemble in data bases, quality control and publish the data on physical oceanongraphy and optical properties that is important to understand the biological cycles in Billefjorden.


Figure 2. An example of high-resolution long-term data available from the ocean observatories currently in place in fjords on the west and north coast of Svalbard. Comparable data sets will be made available for the project from Billefjorden and Isfjorden. Modified after Leu et al 2011.


System 2: Grønnfjordenwith the dedicated AARI project (see references below):

The analysis of historical data of oceanographic and sea ice observations in West Svalbard fjords (on example of Isfjorden and Gronfjorden areas), being one of the few decadal data sets from the Arctic, is of special  importance in the study of long-time trends in enthalpy of Atlantic Water (Zhuravskiy et al., 2010, 2012; Ivanov et al., 2012; Pavlov et al., 2010; 2012 in press). The data from Grønnfjorden and Isfjorden is from different data from different sources, but AARI have digital archive of that data since 1900 up to 2012 for the above fjords (Pavlov et al., 2010). It is a routine observation (temperature and salinity) by Nansen bottles and mercury thermometer and CTD data as well.  For some oceanographic stations data of Sechi disk depth and biogenic elements (Si, P, N) are available. In additionto oceanographic there are data of instrumental and visual observations of ice conditions in the Gronfjorden bay from 1974 (Zhuravskiy et al. 2010, 2012; Ivanov et al., 2012) and Pyramiden area (Billefjorden) for 1948-1957 (unpublished data – hand books). This data will be united with data from Billefjorden, inner part of Isfjorden and possible Kongsfjorden to create maximum full oceanographic date set for a long-term analysis.


Practical co-operation:

One workshops will be arranged a year, alternating between Svalbard and St Petersburg. The Russian PhD- and master students will participate in the yearly Young Scientist Forum and Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø ( and invited to be associate members of the ARCTOS network and PhD-school ( Additional work shop will be arranged in Tromsø before AFT if necessary.  The Russian partners will for periods of weeks and months work on UNIS (in addition to Barentsburg) to collect and assemble data. The students will be allocated both Russian and Norwegian supervisors.


2.3 The project plan, project management, organization and cooperation

The project manager is Professor Jørgen Berge University of Tromsø (UoT) with co-manager Dr Ragnheid Skogseth from UNIS.


Professor J Berge (UoT and UNIS) has a long and proven track record from Arctic marine science, and has during the last ten years been leading several large international research projects on Svalbard. This includes the Norwegian Research council projects Cleopatra (2007-11) and Circa (2012-2015), through which much of the available data from Billefjorden is provided. Further, he has been responsible for the ocean observatory currently in place in Billefjorden, with its year-round measurements of both physical and biological data. Prof Berge has published more than 70 peer-reviewed papers in international journals. Dr R Skogseth (UNIS) has more than 10 years experience in Arctic marine research and polar oceanography, with a special emphasis on the physical processes around Svalbard. She is an established scientist within Arctic fjord studies and has developed important model contributions that have increased the dynamic understanding of Arctic coastal polynyas. Dr Skogseth is collecting oceanographic data in the Isfjorden system on a regular basis through the student cruises at UNIS, including supervision of under graduate and graduate students, and therefore holds a great knowledge of the data and the dominating physical processes in Billefjorden, Grønnfjorden and the whole Isfjorden system. 


Norwegian partners include Professor Stig Falk-Petersen (UoT), Professor Frank Nilsen (UNIS), and Dr. Janne Søreide all (UNIS).


Russian partners:

Dr. Boris Ivanov, SPbSU with students.


2.4. Data management

The data management will be organised in close cooperation with Ragnhild Rønneberg, who is responsible for SIOS WP8 aimed at integration, strategy and data management (Kunnskapssenteret). Through a close cooperation with SIOS, we will develop and execute a plan to ensure that the data gathered through this and other related projects are stored, managed and made available to the scientific community and stakeholders. Also, we will take full advantage of the databases currently being operated by project partners; hydrography and zooplankton in Kongsfjorden (Falk-Petersen), an acoustic pan-Arctic database (Cottier, UK) and the benthic database for Svalbard (Renaud, APN).  Data from this project will also be contributed to the developing Norwegian Marine Data Centre (NMDC), a strategic NFR-funded infrastructure project based at the Institute of Marine Research. UiT, UNIS, NPI, and APN are partners in the NMDC, and thus impelled to contribute to the Centre. Access to these data via public databases is especially important since knowledge gained from this time of year in the high Arctic is particularly rare.



3. Key perspectives and compliance with strategic documents

The outlined objectives will be achieved by involving a powerful collaboration of Universities, governmental and private research entities, all of which have identified Arctic marine research as a high priority. Further, Norwegian partner institutes are part of the newly established Fram Centre on Climate and the Environment and its flagships focusing on both the marine biological and physical environment as well as anthropogenic impacts on Arctic systems. Through this well aligned scientific focus between the project and the Fram Centre, GrønnBille will provide added value based on both its structure and the science. Also, by combining research and PhD training, we will bilaterally gather and enhance our combined expertise in these areas of basic and applied research.


3.1. Compliance with strategic documents

The SpitsOcean project allow co-operation of two group of scientist, both working on how climate change affect sea ice and ecologogy in fjords, working out of Barentsburg and Longyearbyen. The project will inter calibrate instruments, collect and quality control data on physical oceanography, sea ice and snow physics, underwater optics properties and nutrient. The data will be assembled in one database available for SIOS. One to two workshops will be arranged yearly in Longyearbyen/Barentsburg, St Petersburg and Tromsø. Russian scientist and students will work of UNIS to collect and quality control data. This project will further strengthen the networking through the ARCTOS network, between Russian and Norwegian scientist and students, but will also involve networking with ArcticNet and UK (SAMS and BAS).

3.2. Relevance and benefit to society

Sustainable management of marine resources in the High North depends on detailed and dedicated knowledge, including a deep understanding of oceanographic processes thatc are known to be of paramount importance for biological processes (e.g. Søreide et al 2010). Such knowledge is essential for key organizations such as NPI, IMR, AMAP and other national and international institutes responsible for carrying out monitoring programmes. By focusing on key processes in in the two fjord systems (ice cover, inflow of Atlantic water etc) we will be better equipped to compare how key organisms in the ecosystem respond to changes in environmental conditions. Extensive knowledge on the seasonal cycles and variations will greatly aid in predicting the effects of a changing climate on benthic species. The project will ultimately expand our knowledge platform that will be applicable also to other species and fields of research (e.g. aquaculture). The project thus offers a unique combination between basic research on specifically identified knowledge gaps and clear deliverables that are immediately applicable for environmental management.

3.3. Environmental impact and ethical perspectives 

The project is first and foremost an initiative based on existing data, hence the environmental impact will be at an absolute minimum. When new data will be secured (through ongoing activities), the impact on the local environment will be minimal since field work will be ship based or take place during winter when surroundings are covered by snow and ice. All chemicals used during the field campaign and laboratory studies in Svalbard, as well as dangerous waste will be transported back to the mainland after the strict guidelines to UNIS (see more information).

No ethical issues are recognized.

3.5. Gender issues (Recruitment of women, gender balance and gender perspectives)

There are a male leader and a female co-leader. Most of the Russian PhD and master students involved in the project are females, and will as such be an important contribution towards increasing the female recruitment of early career scientists within marine research.

4. Dissemination and communication of results

The project will be actively integrated into ongoing courses at UNIS (AB320/320 and AGF214) at both graduate and undergraduate levels. Some of the field and analytical work will be integrated into these course activities. We anticipate a total of at least 2 peer-reviewed scientific publications published in high-impact peer-reviewed journals. Furthermore, the results will be presented at national and international conferences (such as the internationally recognised Arctic Frontiers). Additionally, results from the project are relevant as contributions to national and circum-Arctic initiatives such as MOSJ (NPI) the Arctic Monitoring assessment programme (AMAP). At the popular science level, results will be communicated through the Fram Centre and its annual publications (e.g. Fram-Forum) and, as well as being an integrated part of the UNIS’ strategic outreach efforts.Ultimately, and by combining our own dissemination plan with established ARCTOS contact channels with management and industry, communication with end-users is therefore now not only a contractual obligation with prescribed milestones and deliverables, but also a achievable and integral part of our project plan.

4.1 Dissemination plan

First of all, we foresee two scientific papers co-authored by all project participants and published in internal peer-reviewed journals. This will be our main outcome and deliverable of the project. However, being closely linked and integrated within the ARCTOS network, GrønnBille will also benefit from a highly developed and functional outreach program that this network is operating. On the scientific level, this includes both the Arctic Frontiers conference ( in Tromsø and a large network of active scientists working in close collaboration across several national and international institutions (see At the educational level, both the ARCTOS PhD school and the Young Scientist Forum (see Arctic Frontiers website) are key elements that provide a unique platform for training of young scientists. Finally, ARCTOS has a long and proven track record for both outreach and communication with stakeholders, enabling an efficient communication and dissemination of results to a wide audience including both policy makers and industry partners.

4.2. Training of PhD-students, post docs and young scientists

Several Russian PhD and master students from St.-Petersburg University are associated with the projects. The students will also be associated with the ARCTOS PhD-school, and will as such ensure a valuable asset in our ambitions to increase cooperation at all levels between our institutions.

4.3. Communication with users

The data will be made available for the wider community including SIOS, the NPI MOSJ database and AARI archives/database.


5. References

Arnkværn, G., Daase, M., & Eiane, K. (2005). Dynamics of coexisting Calanus finmarchicus, Calanus glacialis and Calanus hyperboreus populations in a high-Arctic fjord. Polar Biology, 28(7), 528–538. doi:10.1007/s00300-005-0715-8

Berge, J., G. Johnsen, F. Nilsen, B. Gulliksen & D. Slagstad. 2005. Ocean temperature oscillations enforce the reappearance of blue mussels in Svalbard after 1,000 years of absence. Marine Ecology Progress Series303:167-175

Cottier, F. R., Nilsen, F., Inall, M. E., Gerland, S., Tverberg, V., & Svendsen, H. (2007). Wintertime warming of an Arctic shelf in response to large-scale atmospheric circulation. Geophysical Research Letters, 34(10). doi:10.1029/2007GL029948

Ivanov B., Pavlov A., Andreev O., Zhuravskiy D. & P. Sviashchennikov, 2012. Investigations of snow-ice cover Grønnfjorden Bay (Svalbard): historical data, field researches, modeling. Problems of Arctic and Antarctic. Issue №2(92). PP. 43-54.

Ivanov B., Pavlov A. & Sitdikov P., 2011. Relative transparency of water in the Svalbard fiords as an indirect characteristic of water condition (on example of Grønnfjorden Bay). Problems of Arctic and Antarctic. Issue№3(89). PP. 62-68.   

Ivanov B. & D. Zhuravskiy, 2010. Ice conditions in the Gronfjorden bay (Svalbard). Problems of Arctic and Antarctic. Issue№2(85). PP. 27-31.

Leu, E., Soreide, J. E., Hessen, D. O., Falk-Petersen, S., & Berge, J. (2011). Consequences of changing sea-ice cover for primary and secondary producers in the European Arctic shelf seas: Timing, quantity, and quality. Progress in Oceanography, 90, 18–32. doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2011.02.004

Nilsen, F., Cottier, F., Skogseth, R. and Mattsson, S. (2008), Fjord-shelf exchanges controlled by ice and brine production: The interannual variation of Atlantic Water in Isfjorden, Svalbard, Continental Shelf Research, 28, 1838-1853.

Pavlov A., Tverberg V., Ivanov B., Nilsen F., Falk-Petersen S. & M. Granskog, 2012. Warming of Atlantic water in two West Spitsbergen fjords over the last century (1912-2009). Polar research (in press).

Pavlov A., Ivanov B., Zhuravskiy D., Granskog M. & K. Stedmon, 2011. About peculiarity of spectral absorption of underwater irradiance in the Fram Strait.  Problems of Arctic and Antarctic. Issue№1(87). PP. 81-87.   

Pavlov A., Ivanov B., Zhuravskiy D. & V. Tverberg, 2010. Warming in the fiords of West Svalbard. Anomaly or nature variability? Problems of Arctic and Antarctic. Issue №3(86). PP. 78-84.   

Stroeve, J. C., M. C. Serreze, M. M. Holland, J. E. Kay, J. Maslanik, and A. P. Barrett (2012), The Arctic’s rapidly shrinking sea ice cover: A research synthesis, Clim. Change, 110, 1005–1027, doi:10.1007/ s10584-011-0101-1.  

Schauer, U., Beszczynska-Möller, A., Walczowski, W., Fahrbach, E., Piechura, J. and Hansen, E. (2008), ed. Dickson, R. R., Meincke, J. and Rhines, P., in Arctic-Subarctic Ocean Fluxes: Defining the Role of the Northern Seas in Climate, Ch. 3: Variations of Measured Heat Flow Through the Fram Strait Between 1997 and 2006, pp. 65-85, Springer Science.

Søreide, J.E., Leu, E., Berge, J., Graeve, M. & Falk-Petersen, S. 2010. Timing of blooms, algal food quality and Calanus glacialis reproduction and growth in a changing Arctic. Global Change Biology. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2010.02175.x


Zhuravskiy D., Ivanov B. & A. Pavlov, 2012. Ice conditions at the Grønnfjorden Bay, Svalbard, from1974 to 2008. Polar Geography. Vol. 35. Issue 2. PP.169-176.

Willis, K. J., Cottier, F. R., & Kwaśniewski, S. (2007). Impact of warm water advection on the winter zooplankton community in an Arctic fjord. Polar Biology, 31(4), 475–481. doi:10.1007/s00300-007-0373-0

Årthun, M., T. Eldevik, L.H. Smedsrud, Ø. Skagseth, and R. Ingvaldsen, (2012): Quantifying the influence of Atlantic heat on Barents Sea ice variability and retreat. J. Climate, 25, 4736–4743.

















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