, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 26–36 | Cite as

Acute oil exposure reduces physiological process rates in Arctic phyto- and zooplankton

  • Signe LemckeEmail author
  • Johnna Holding
  • Eva Friis Møller
  • Jakob Thyrring
  • Kim Gustavson
  • Thomas Juul-Pedersen
  • Mikael K. Sejr


Arctic shipping and oil exploration are expected to increase, as sea ice extent is reduced. This enhances the risk for accidental oil spills throughout the Arctic, which emphasises the need to quantify potential consequences to the marine ecosystem and to evaluate risk and choose appropriate remediation methods. This study investigated the sensitivity of Arctic marine plankton to the water accommodated fraction (WAF) of heavy fuel oil. Arctic marine phytoplankton and copepods (Calanus finmarchicus) were exposed to three WAF concentrations corresponding to total hydrocarbon contents of 0.07 mg l−1, 0.28 mg l−1 and 0.55 mg l−1. Additionally, the potential phototoxic effects of exposing the WAF to sunlight, including the UV spectrum, were tested. The study determined sub-lethal effects of WAF exposure on rates of key ecosystem processes: primary production of phytoplankton and grazing (faecal pellet production) of copepods. Both phytoplankton and copepods responded negatively to WAF exposure. Biomass specific primary production was reduced by 6, 52 and 73% and faecal pellet production by 18, 51 and 86% with increasing WAF concentrations compared to controls. The phototoxic effect reduced primary production in the two highest WAF concentration treatments by 71 and 91%, respectively. This experiment contributes to the limited knowledge of acute sub-lethal effects of potential oil spills to the Arctic pelagic food web.


Arctic WAF Oil spill Calanus finmarchicus Phytoplankton Phototoxicity 



The authors want to thank the crew of R/V Dana for help during field sampling. Sampling was carried out as part of the “North East Greenland Environmental Study Program” initiated by the Greenland Government. JT gratefully acknowledges financial support from the Independent Research Fund Denmark (Danmarks Frie Forskningsfond) during the writing of this paper (Individual Post-doctoral Grant no. 7027-00060B). J.M.H was supported by European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 752325.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Signe Lemcke
    • 1
    Email author
  • Johnna Holding
    • 1
  • Eva Friis Møller
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jakob Thyrring
    • 3
    • 4
  • Kim Gustavson
    • 5
  • Thomas Juul-Pedersen
    • 6
  • Mikael K. Sejr
    • 1
    • 7
  1. 1.Department of Bioscience, Arctic Research CentreAarhus UniversityAarhus CDenmark
  2. 2.Department of Bioscience, Marine Diversity and Experimental EcologyAarhus UniversityRoskildeDenmark
  3. 3.Department of ZoologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouver British ColumbiaCanada
  4. 4.British Antarctic SurveyCambridgeUnited Kingdom
  5. 5.Department of Bioscience, Arctic EnvironmentAarhus UniversityRoskildeDenmark
  6. 6.Greenland Institute of Natural ResourcesGreenland Climate Research CentreNuukGreenland
  7. 7.Department of Bioscience, Marine EcologyAarhus UniversitySilkeborgDenmark

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