Research in the North Atlantic Ocean sheds light on global climate change
The North Atlantic Ocean and its shallow sea basins, also known as shelf-seas, have been vital to the economic survival and prosperity of all the surrounding nations in Europe and North America. The North Atlantic Ocean also holds critical significance for the world’s ecological sustainability as the basin’s ecosystems are the key species responsible for carbon flow, and the seizing of the planet’s greenhouse emissions. However, these ecosystems’ valuable ability requires further scientific investigation especially due to current fishing trends and climate variability.
The European Union (EU)-funded project Euro-Basin aims at preserving and maintaining the region’s natural wealth and biodiversity, while developing new tools for understanding climate change. It is a four-year on-going research initiative, involving 23 European partners, and it is part of a multidisciplinary international programme in the field of ocean ecosystems, with activities occurring in the United States and Canada. The project, which has just crossed its halfway mark, is designed to advance our understanding of the North Atlantic ecosystems and their impact on global climate.
Initially set up to assess the potential combined impact of climate change and overfishing in the North Atlantic, Euro-Basin aims to gain a deeper understanding of the major processes that influence the North Atlantic basin’s ecosystems, achieve better methods for forecasting changes in species distribution due to human pressure, and successfully integrate positive strategies that will improve and advance management of the basin’s evolving fishing stocks. The research also examines the effects of increased human intervention on the structure, function and dynamics of the North Atlantic and its contiguous shelf-seas, and investigates the key species that influence carbon sequestering and ecosystem functioning.
In other words, among Euro-Basin project’s main objectives is to understand how the population of key plankton and fish species, some of which are harvested, will change in the future as their habitats evolve due to large-scale fishing and climate change. Consequently, it will become possible to identify key habitats, map their occurrence and better manage species of economic interest in the years to come. This information will empower policymakers and managers to modify harvesting practices in order to preserve both key species and the basin’s ecosystem services.
“Food security is of course one issue on the global agenda, but it is no longer only defined by the simple presence or absence of the resource. In addition to human exploitation, climate change, whether due to natural cycles or human influence, is an additional pressure on the North Atlantic Ocean. Rising CO2 emissions cause ocean acidification, while various ocean management approaches (quotas, fishing fleet management) can affect the patterns in fisheries grounds. This combination can also change the species composition in those fisheries to undesirable sizes”, says project manager, Ivo Grigorov, of the Technical University of Denmark.
“The EU funding was instrumental in this project,” says Grigorov. “The problems we try to address transcend national frontiers and national interests. In order to deal with them, scientists from the main nations bordering, exploiting and studying the Atlantic basin need to work in an integrated manner. The current EU funding system allows more freedom for such a collaborative effort than individual Member States’ funding agencies would on their own,” he adds.