Exploring the oceans’ untapped resources
The seas, in particular the deepest parts of them, are the largest remaining unexplored area on the globe and a crucial potential source of as-yet unknown mineral and biological resources. This is one area where biotechnology has yet to be fully applied and offers a rich reserve of prospective components for medicine, food and industrial applications.
It is also a major source of fossil fuels and a potential source of other energy reserves. The mapping of gas hydrates is, for example, an area in which more research is needed to assess their importance in terms of both risk (sub-marine landslides and subsidence) and as a new source of energy.
Ocean margins and hidden depths
The depths of our seas and oceans are the least-known areas of our planet. Just developing tools able to explore them has taken decades of research. Deep-sea exploration and sea-floor observatories, however, may hold a key to many new scientific discoveries and aid us in assessing the effects and potential impact of climate change. Research in the polar region will be particularly crucial in predicting the risk of rises in sea levels which are presently estimated at between 15 cm and 95 cm by 2100 – an eventuality which would have devastating effects on many coastal areas.
As a result of human activities, present atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) are at a record high. Observational and modelling estimates suggest that the ocean is taking up about 30‑40% of CO2 emissions, but the future behaviour of the oceanic sink will depend on possible changes in ocean circulation and marine biogeochemistry. The CARBOCEANS IP is striving to improve our knowledge of the carbon cycle – the exchange of CO2 between the sea and the atmosphere. This is affected by various factors, our understanding of which could be crucial to our future well-being.
A unifying force
The BONUS ERA-NET has united the national research agencies of nine countries around a common goal – protecting the Baltic Sea and ensuring the sustainable management of this shared resource. The network, which also includes Russia, is a clear demonstration of the benefits of approaching marine research on a regional basis.
It is in the genes
The MARINE GENOMICS (MGE) NoE, which involves 44 partners in 16 countries and more than 300 researchers, is working to develop and promote genomic approaches to marine biology. This emerging field of research could greatly enhance our understanding of how ecosystems work. The application of genomics in samples from the Sargasso Sea has already given rise to the discovery of 148 previously unknown phylotypes and 1.2 million unknown genes.