Synergic impacts of pollution and warming in the rapidly changing Arctic

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Jakob Thyrring


University of British Columbia


DKK 1,329,720




Reintegration Fellowships


The Arctic is warming three times faster than the world as a whole, melting the Greenland Ice Sheets at an extraordinary rate. A recent study suggests, that freshwater run-off from the Ice Sheet exports large amounts of mercury to the surrounding fjords and open ocean. However, the impact of climate change and mercury pollution remains poorly understood. In this project I will explore three questions related to this mercury pollution: (i) Do interactions between freshwater and mercury pollution decrease fitness and performance in marine organisms? (ii) Are the physiological responses expressed at all biological levels, from molecular to whole-animal? and (iii) Have local populations adapted to stress from freshwater and mercury, hereby increasing fitness and resilience?


Mercury is an extremely toxic substance that readily build up in organisms and food webs, hereby posing a risk to the health of organisms, humans, and ecosystems. This is a major concern in Greenland where living resources are essential for both local communities and national exports. Today less than 10% of climate change studies have been conducted in the Arctic. My approach of combining classic climate change research with ecotoxicological methods is almost unexplored, and this approach will provide a new understanding of the consequences of climate change from single individuals to entire ecosystems. This project furthermore provides novel knowledge of transgenerational plasticity on resilience, helping future studies in predicting population level responses to environmental change.


Water samples and blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) will be collected from a pristine and mercury polluted fjord in Greenland for mercury analyses. Mussels will furthermore be acclimated to a range of salinity, and mercury, and exposed to a range of temperatures reflecting temperatures measured in Greenland's intertidal zone. I will calculate body temperature using a heat budget model, and biotic measurements including habitat characteristics and morphological parameter. A genomic investigation will be used to test whether adaptation has increased resistance in offspring from exposed parents, and a reciprocal transplant experiment between a pristine and contaminated fjord will provide insights on increased capacity for mercury detoxification.

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