An innovative online Atlas has been developed to illustrate the state of the European marine environment and how it may change in the future.
The Atlas, developed by the EU project Marine Ecosystem Evolution in a Changing Environment (MEECE), covers the main European regional seas and displays a general overview of present and potential sea surface temperatures, acidification, primary production, plankton biomass and fish population for these marine regions.
This is the first time that a number of ecosystem models have been combined in this way to produce a more holistic view of Europe’s seas and what could change in the future when subjected to combined pressures, such as climate change, acidification, fishing and pollution.
Scientific models are numerical substitutes of real world systems, such as an ecosystem, climate or even a brain. This simulation allows scientists to experiment with the different inputs feeding into the system and, by changing a variable like temperature, they can see how the end “product” will be affected. In this case, if a change in sea surface temperature in a particular region will have a positive or negative impact upon plankton abundance or fish stocks.
Due to the complexity of the marine environment, modelling studies until now have tended to focus on a singular or limited range of variables and they certainly have not taken a combined look at a range of pressures facing the marine environment. The MEECE project has developed models that focus on the entire ecosystem by including all relevant and known processes in the system; from biology and physics to plankton, fish and human activities.
Professor Icarus Allen, lead scientist of the MEECE project, comments: “We are extremely excited about the development of this Atlas and it will help us provide useful and relevant information to the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive and those involved in managing our precious seas. As with all models there is uncertainty, whether due to the availability of sound data, biases within the original models feeding in or the great complexity of marine ecosystems that science is yet to fully understand. Through the Atlas website, we have provided points to consider for each simulation and they should not be used for definitive projections but as a good, comprehensive guide of how ecosystems may change in the decades to come.”
Aimed at environmental managers and marine policymakers to help make scientifically informed decisions about resource management and usage strategies, the Atlas incorporates a range of potential future scenarios based on climate trends and socio-economic development over the coming decades. These scenarios include the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate projections for near future (up to 2040) and the far future (up to 2100) alongside the human development scenarios of ‘Local Responsibility’, a community-based approach with slow economic growth but increases in small scale production; ‘World Markets’, rapid growth and favouring consumerism over environmental objectives; and ‘Global Community’, growth that balances economic, environmental and social needs.