AWI biologist Dr Clara Hoppe has always had a plan B in place for her Arctic expeditions. “Three years ago, when I started to work in the Arctic, everyone told me to think carefully about what I should do in case the Kongsfjorden area in Svalbard freezes over and I can't leave with a small ship,” says Clara Hoppe. Many times she ran through the scenario of thick ice blocking the way into the fjord. But plan B never materialised.
“So far, I have never experienced ice on the fjord. The water temperature was always above zero degrees Celsius,” the 32-year-old tells us. The factors that make Clara Hoppe's job easier in practice, are also the subject of her research: She tries to understand how environmental conditions that are changing as a result of climate change, affect the microalgae of the Arctic Ocean. This includes the rise of the water temperature as well as the acidification of the oceans and changed light conditions in the water due to the decrease in sea ice.
Unlike macroalgae, microalgae are not visible to the naked eye, they are microscopically small, single-celled algae species. They are so tiny that one millilitre of water can contain thousands of them. Because microalgae are an important source of food, such as for crustaceans like krill, a change in their growth, for example, could have far-reaching implications for the Arctic food web.
A special feature about Clara Hoppe's research: While traditional research on ocean acidification is often carried out in the laboratory, she and her team regularly take several hundred litres of water samples in the Arctic, which allows them to study a diverse community of several dozen algae species that are there at that time. “This greater diversity of species means that we can perform experiments to analyse, which of the many species benefit from climate change and which suffer from it. Also, the relationships between the species can be studied,” Clara Hoppe explains.