Project Management

Crustacean Frustration Part II - The Case Of The Missing Krill

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In Part I of this series, we discussed the Signal Crayfish and its human-led introduction into Crater Lake – originally as fish food for Crater Lake’s (also human-introduced fish for humans to fish for sport), and the problems that the Signal Crayfish is now causing for a rare newt only found in Crater Lake.

So in that story, the Crayfish is the villain, or appears to be.  Certainly, it is a story fraught with lessons for project managers – unintended consequences (threats), stakeholder management, and also fraught with science lessons (climate change induced temperature rise at the root of the issue).  But now we move on to Part II, in which the crustacean is not the villain, but the hero.  Sort of.
This story, brought to our attention by a very recent episode of NOVA, “Mystery Beneath The Ice”, 
Here’s the ‘teaser’ for the show:

"Tiny, transparent, and threatened, krill are crucial to the Antarctic ecosystem. But the population of krill is crashing for reasons that continue to baffle the experts. A leading theory says that krill’s life cycle is driven by an internal body clock that responds to the waxing and waning of the Antarctic ice pack, and as climate change alters the timing of the ice pack, their life cycle is disrupted. To test it, NOVA travels on the Polarstern, a state-of-the-art research vessel, to the frigid ice pack in the dead of winter. From camps established on the ice, scientists dive beneath the surface in search of the ice caves that shelter juvenile krill during the winter. There, they hope to discover what’s causing the krill to vanish and, ultimately, how the shifting seasons caused by climate change could disrupt ecosystems around the world."

The show raises some questions and we add some additional ones: The questions:
•    What’s causing the krill to vanish?
•    Is this indicative of a larger problem?
•    Is this indicative of a need for more projects to better understand how climate is changing?
•    Will these projects need project managers?
•    Will these project managers need a better understanding of sustainability, climate, triple-bottom-line results? (we hope you will agree that the answer to that is increasingly a resounding YES)

Now don't get us wrong, we still think that you should watch the video.  But [SPOILER ALERT] we’ll give you the spoiler right here.  There are a few elements of climate change that are causing the decline in krill population.  The krill need to eat after they hatch – a critical time in their development.  They eat phytoplankton.   The lack of a fully frozen ocean area stops the collection of phytoplankton (which the krill eat) and its preservation until summer. In the show they call this the shrinking of “the giant phytoplankton Popsicle”. Also, it appears that the change in sea ice patterns, caused by climate change, is affecting the krill’s circadian rhythms.  The krill need to eat after they hatch – a critical time in their development.  They eat phytoplankton.   In fact many organisms in this Antarctic region are very “hard wired” to particular patterns of melting and re-freezing and even slight changes to those patterns can cause huge problems for them all.

For those who are interested in further understanding how krill can be considered a bellwether for the effects of climate change, check out this link from National Geographic magazine.

If you think that our detective work in this Case of the Missing Krill is wrong, and perhaps that climate change is innocent (or even non-existent), the numbers are worthwhile looking at,.  Consider the facts:

•    The temperature in this region of the world (Antarctica, see photo below) has risen 7 degrees C (11-12 degrees F) in the last 50 years – that’s 5 times the global average temperature change.  So the changes are magnified here, and to me that means the ‘early warning signs’ can be better measured here.
•    Trillions of tons of ice has been lost in the past 20-30 years alone just in this area (Sheldon Glacier) of the Antarctic
•    Winter season has shrunk by 90 days.

All of these things are contributing to the krill population decline. And that’s important because of the food web’s dependency on the krill (see figure).  


The program ends with one particularly heavy question.  They say that the krill will find it exceedingly difficult to change their behavior – can we change ours?

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: February 21, 2016 08:13 PM | Permalink

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"The scientific theory I like best is that the rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage."

- Mark Russell