The Mediterranean Targeted Project (MTP) set out to investigate
processes typical of the world's larger oceans in the semi-enclosed
Mediterranean Sea. The first phase, MTP-I, produced a wealth of scientifically
valuable information, and established a large and closely knit scientific
community. This unprecedented level of scientific co-operation provided
a launch pad for the second phase, MTP-II - Mass Transfer and Ecosystem
Response (MATER), the largest project of its kind. Due to run until
the end of 1999, MATER is already delivering useful data and is rapidly
becoming a model for future pan-European research.
The temperature of deep water in the
Western Mediterranean basin has risen by 0.13°C during the
last forty years.
MTP-I, which began in 1993 and was completed
in 1996, consisted of a cluster of 10 projects. Each was independent
with a different scientific coordinator but the studies shared common
objectives and deliverables. Their combined mission was to extend
our understanding of the complex processes that give the Mediterranean
Sea its unique character. Unusually, the European Commission itself
took the responsibility for overall coordination of the project cluster.
"The first three years of MTP constituted a pilot project to build
up a multi-disciplinary scientific community capable of concentrating
exclusively and effectively on the Mediterranean Sea. This was a significant
achievement in human terms: MTP-I involved 250 scientists from 14
different countries, accustomed to working on specific areas of the
basin. These studies and scientists are now linked and have developed
into a high-profile project for Europe," commented Elisabeth Lipiatou,
Scientific Officer for the project at the European Commission.
The first phase also produced a mass of important results.
- The temperature of deep waters in the Western Mediterranean
has increased at a rate of 3.2x10-3 °C per year over the last
40 years. This is a rapid rate of increase, faster than any apparent
in the paleo-archives of Western Mediterranean sediments.
- There has been a significant change in salinity over the same
period. This could have far-reaching implications for circulation
patterns both within the Mediterranean and between the sea and
the Atlantic through the Gibraltar Straits.
- Nutrient discharges (phosphate and nitrate) have increased as
a result of increasing population and industrial and agricultural
activities around the sea. This has accelerated coastal eutrophication
and has led to algal blooms and other phenomena that have adversely
affected local tourism.
- Concentrations of lead in the surface waters halved during the
early 1980s as a result of new European legislation to curb the
use of lead additives in petrol.
"MTP-I produced data on how the whole Mediterranean ecosystem functions
and changes with the seasons, and how the sea responds to fluctuations
in the levels of different pollutants, and it developed advanced
models of water circulation patterns," explains Elisabeth Lipiatou.
"Conferences and meetings were a key part of the project."
Caulerpa taxifolia, the "killing seaweed",
has disrupted the natural balance of the marine ecosystem
of the Mediterranean and has led to serious problems for tourism
along some coasts. Its massive development is the result of
an increase in eutrophication caused by industrial growth
and intensive farming methods.
The international standing of the project is illustrated by the
fact that project results presented at the 1997 International Conference
on "Progress in Oceanography of the Mediterranean Sea" held in Rome
became the subject of articles in Science, La Recherche, Focus,
Science et Avenir, Earth, and others, and are shortly to be
published as a special issue of the international journal, Progress
The second phase, MATER, is coordinated by André Monaco at the
University of Perpignan in France. "MATER is large," says André
Monaco. "It involves over 300 scientists from 13 different countries
based in 54 separate laboratories and has a budget of E11 million.
By the end of 1999, besides many laboratory experiments and model
development, we will have spent over 1000 days at sea collecting
and analysing data on the physical, chemical and biological processes
that help shape the ecosystems of the sea."
At its half-way stage, MATER was already on course to live up to
the example set by its pilot project. In April and May 1998, 42
participants from 13 laboratories in 5 countries (Spain, France,
Italy, UK and Morocco) successfully completed a crucial High Frequency
Flux Experiment (HFFE) in the Alboran Sea. The area of study was
a small 'box' of the sea near the town of Málaga at the point where
inflowing Atlantic waters meet the quieter waters of the Mediterranean.
This makes it a special area particularly well suited to studying
the relationship between water properties, biological processes
and biogeochemical fluxes. Three fixed stations were set up to take
a range of measurements (bacterial content, level of organic matter,
oxygen content, suspended matter, primary production, phytoplankton
levels and radio-tracer levels) every three or four days. The study
area was also monitored daily by satellite remote sensing to detect
local water circulation patterns and temperature and salinity variations.
"The experiment was completed on June 1st 1998, after successful
recovery of all the mooring arrays," explains Miguel Canals of the
University of Barcelona, who was responsible for the HFFE in the
Alboran Sea. "The team of scientists involved achieved a 100% sampling
efficiency and preliminary results show that the experiment happened
to coincide with a major spring bloom." Final analysis of the data
is expected by the end of 1999.