AN EXPERT scientist from the University of Stirling has set off with a research team on a scientific cruise to the Arctic Ocean, in a bid to learn more about tiny organisms that are key to the food chain.

Professor David Pond and other scientists will conduct sampling and experiments for four projects – DIAPOD, CHASE, Micro-ARC and PETRA – that are part of the £20 million Changing Arctic Ocean scientific research programme.

The programme seeks to understand the impacts of climate change on marine life in the Arctic.

Professor Pond said: “We are all very excited ahead of this very important research cruise to the Arctic.

“As part of the DIAPOD project, we will study zooplankton – copepods, small crustaceans the size of a rice grain – which are the main source of food for fish and other species.

“Due to the reliance on a single type of zooplankton as a vital source of food, the Arctic food chain is precarious in the face of climate change and susceptible to dynamic change.”

Professor Geraint Tarling, of the British Antarctic Survey, works with Professor Pond on the DIAPOD project.

Explaining how their research would be conducted, he said: “We will be sending our instruments to depths of over 2km to search out and capture tiny copepods called Calanus.

“These organisms live in the surface layers of the Arctic Ocean during the summer months where they are the major food of fish and seabirds.

“During the autumn and winter, they migrate to enormous depths where they enter a state of hibernation called diapause.

“We will determine the biochemical composition of these animals to work out how they fuel their enormous migration and also manage to survive without eating for up to six months before they return to the surface once again to breed.”

Meanwhile, scientists from the CHASE project will study a zooplankton species which is also found in Scottish waters.

They are seeking to understand how new species migrating to the Arctic, due to rising temperatures, cope with the challenge of adjusting their biological clocks to extreme changes in Arctic day-lengths.