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Should a dam be built across the Strait of Gibraltar to limit outflow from the Mediterranean Sea and, thereby, avoid the onset of a new ice age? Some scientists believe so. The call for a dam, which appears in a recent publication of the American Geophysical Union, may be extreme, but it highlights once again the need for better understanding of how the Mediterranean’s ecosystem works. As part of its continuing programme of research in marine science (the MAST programme), the European Commission, jointly with the Osservatorio Geofisico Sperimentale, Trieste, has organised an international conference on “Progress in Oceanography of the Mediterranean Sea”. The conference will be held from 17-19 November, 1997 at the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche in Rome, and will take the form of a series of presentations, by both well-known and younger scientists, pulling together existing knowledge of the functioning of the Mediterranean Sea, discussing research needs in view of the current deliberations on the Fifth Framework Programme, and looking at ways to improve the research/policy interface.
During the last five years, important scientific results have been obtained on the oceanography of the Mediterranean Sea. A significant part of these results, which will be presented at the conference, originates from projects supported by the European Commission. The largest of these projects is the Mediterranean Targeted Project (MTP - see below), a multi-disciplinary, large-scale project supported by the MAST programme, part of the Fourth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, which falls under the responsibility of Mme Edith CRESSON, Commissioner for research, innovation, education, training and youth. The project has two phases: the first started in 1993 and finished in 1996 and the second phase, MTP II - MATER, will finish in 1999. It involves 200 scientists from 11 European countries, Morocco, and Tunisia, and receives European Union funding of nearly ECU 11 million.
The conference will cover the following topics:
- breakthroughs in the oceanography of the Mediterranean Sea
- the synthesis of existing information and knowledge
- the exchange of information on national and international research initiatives in this region
- research needs in science and technology
- strengthening links between research and policy
- research activities of young scientists
The conference is open to all interested individuals including scientists, policy-makers, and end-users. A volume of abstracts will be available at the conference, and a conference report will be published shortly afterwards. The conference presentations will also be the subject of a special issue of an international journal (details available at the conference).For further information, please contact :
Dr Elisabeth Lipiatou
Mr Stephen Gosden
Press and Information Officer
|Monday, 17 November||The Mediterranean Sea: a changing environment.|
|Tuesday, 18 November||Marine productivity and dynamics of the pelagic ecosystem of the Mediterranean Sea.|
|Biogeochemical fluxes and benthic ecosystem response.|
|Young Scientists Plenary Session.|
|Wednesday, 19 November||The Mediterranean Sea: past and present.|
|From oceanographic science to policy.|
The Mediterranean Targeted Project (MTP) was established in 1993 by the European Commission under the MAST Programme and had an overall budget of ECU 11 million. The Commission proposed combining 10 different projects (see attachment), involving 70 institutions from 14 countries, into one overall project (MTP-I) so that research efforts in the Mediterranean Sea could be better coordinated, leading to the creation of a European community of scientists involved in Mediterranean research. The project was coordinated by a Steering Committee led by MAST. At that time, most of the scientists involved did not know each other well and normally performed research in small groups and in specific disciplines focused on the marine regions close to their home country.
During its pilot phase i.e. the period 1993-1996, MTP produced important scientific results, including:
The temperature of deep waters in the Western Mediterranean has increased by 0.13°C over the last 40 years (3.2 10-3 °C/yr). Warming was observed together with increasing salinity. These trends allowed calculations of the probable changes that occurred in water and heat budgets across the sea-surface. The reading of paleao-archives represented by western Mediterranean sediments revealed drastic changes in past oceanographic conditions. For example, sea surface temperatures fluctuated, over the last 15,000 years, by as much as 9 °C (0.6 10-3 °C/yr). The main differences between these two sets of observations is the time scale. The increase in temperature which has just been observed took place over a very brief period of time, whereas past climatic changes typically occurred over periods of several thousand years.
Evidence for climatic changes were also detected in the deep water masses of the Eastern Mediterranean basin. These changes are an increase in temperature of the deep layers during the last 3-4 decades and an increase in salinity of the intermediate waters (LIW) with a corresponding increase in their density. They could have a profound influence on the functioning of the ecosystem over the next few decades.
Man's impact on the Mediterranean system
Increases in nutrient discharges (phosphate and nitrate) were documented from deep water measurements. They result from increasing population and industrial and agricultural activities around the sea, mostly during the early sixties. As a result these increases led to accelerated eutrophication (presence of algae, cloudy waters) in some hot spots (impact on tourist activities).
Lead concentrations in surface waters halved in the early 1990s following the application of European regulations on lead additives in gasoline. This result shows that the marine system responds quickly to the changes of lead emissions on land.
The above changes strengthen the interest of the Mediterranean Sea as a natural full-scale system for the monitoring of environmental and climatic evolution in general and in the Mediterranean region in particular. Structure and functioning of the Mediterranean ecosystem The structure and functioning of the overall Mediterranean Sea ecosystem were shown to be variable at seasonal and interannual time scales. Seasonal changes of atmospheric inputs to the marine environment could be detected at water depths of 1,000 meters.
MTP produced very advanced models of Mediterranean circulation from the global scale down to the coastal area.
MTP contributed to understanding and evaluating the capability of the Mediterranean to absorb input material such as contaminants and their impact on its trophic state by estimating mass balances and exchange rates across its borders, and understanding the functioning of its euphotic zone. Small-scale trials were conducted for example in a semi-enclosed basin such as the Adriatic Sea.
Nutrient discharges from the Po River to the Adriatic sea were evaluated. The river's annual fluctuation in nutrient discharges to the shelf has been shown to be an important control of primary productivity and biomass in the Adriatic sea.
MTP results strongly support the hypothesis of phosphorus limitation for phytoplankton growth in the northwestern Mediterranean sea.
On a very broad scale, it was found that organic matter mineralization increases from oligotrophic to mesotrophic areas, leading to an increase in the release of CO2.
A stronger research effort in the Eastern Mediterranean
During the MTP pilot phase an important research effort was carried out in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea in order to fill some basic gaps in our knowledge of this region. Acquisition of reliable primary and microbial production estimates was achieved on a seasonal basis, for the first time, in the open waters of the Aegean Sea.
The southern Aegean Sea is one of the most oligotrophic regions of the world, as was reflected by biogeochemical studies, most of which were performed for the first time in the region. However, important changes were observed in the waters of the region such as nutrient enrichment in conjunction with the onslope movement of the deeper and nutrient-richer water masses of the Cretan sea and will influence the extremely oligotrophic character of the South Aegean Sea, also having a direct effect on the biology of the region. This was actually observed during 1994 when a number of chemical-environmental parameters displayed dramatically higher concentrations in both the water column and the sediments. As a consequence an increase in benthic productivity and fish recruitment over the continental margin is expected in the years to come.
Some general aspects
Among many other results produced by the pilot phase of the Mediterranean Targeted Project, these few examples illustrate the change in current understanding of the life of the Mediterranean Sea. The results are interesting not only from the purely scientific point of view, they can also be used to monitor changes in the whole Mediterranean environment (sea, watershed population and activities) and socio-economic studies (tourism, fisheries). Furthermore they open up new opportunities for climate modelling and coastal management. In this sense, the project has been especially successful in pioneering efforts to include ecological processes in numerical models. Implications of these efforts range from the possibility of deploying detailed models for coastal ecosystem management, to the inclusion of biological processes for estimation of anthropogenic climate change on sea health.
So far, more than 200 scientific publications have originated from MTP. A framework for Data Quality Assurance was developed for the project in order to improve the quality of the data. Two large workshops were held (Barcelona, 1994 and Crete, 1996) to communicate scientific findings. The current conference will bring together all the scientific results so far.
The Mediterranean Targeted Project is now entering its second phase (1996 - 1999) - the age of maturity - and will undoubtedly contribute to its ultimate goals. The new MAST project has the name Mediterranean Targeted Project phase II-Mass Transfer and Ecosystem Response(MTPII-MATER,contractMAS3-CT96-0051) and it involves 53 partners (including the Joint Research Centre of the European Union) from 11 European countries, Morocco, and Tunisia. Its budget amounts to ECU 10.589 million from the MAST Programme and ECU 221,000 from the International Cooperation Programme. Also worth mentioning is the operational structure of the project with a steering committee and a matrix-like organisation (research themes vs geographic regions).
It is now accepted that MTP has contributed enormously to the creation of a well-identifiable community of scientists involved in Mediterranean research and can be used as a model for coordination of oceanographic research.
The MTP was and continues to be an important instrument for the scientific cooperation which the EU promotes in the Mediterranean Sea.