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Integrated Assessment of Atlantic Marine Ecosystems in Space and Time

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - iAtlantic (Integrated Assessment of Atlantic Marine Ecosystems in Space and Time)

Reporting period: 2019-06-01 to 2020-11-30

The European Horizon 2020 iAtlantic Project aims to deliver an integrated assessment of ecosystem status and dynamics in the deep and open Atlantic Ocean. iAtlantic targets fundamental gaps in our understanding of the resilience, drivers of ecosystem change and tipping points of Atlantic’s deep and open-ocean ecosystems. With 35 beneficiaries spanning four continents, iAtlantic takes a basin-scale, interdisciplinary scientific approach to unifying stakeholder efforts to better inform sustainable management and enhance human and observational capacity in an all-Atlantic context.
The overall objectives are:
1.Standardise South and North Atlantic Ocean observations to enable short, medium and long-term assessments of Atlantic Ocean circulation and physico-biogeochemical environment;
2.Map deep and open-ocean ecosystems at basin, regional and local scales;
3.Assess the stability, vulnerability, and tipping points of deep and open-ocean Atlantic ecosystems to changes in ocean circulation, and effects of single and multiple stressors;
4.Align and enhance human, technological and data inter-operability capacities for cost-effective cooperation and planning across the Atlantic; and,
5.Define requirements for sustainable management with industry and governmental stakeholders to reflect societal needs and inform policy developments that ensure and encourage a sustainable Blue Economy.
During the first 18 months the iAtlantic partners:
•Finalised the design and deployed the Rockall Trough Array with excellent data returned from previously deployed instruments. Analysed hydrographic and Argo float data for the S Atlantic Gateway Array deployment and established the optimal deployment areas for the Pressure Equipped Inverted Echo Sounders.
•Worked towards developing high-resolution ocean circulation models (e.g. in Walvis Ridge) to investigate long-term changes of local ecosystem-scale dynamics and VMEs connectivity.
•Initiated the first stages of local and regional predictive modelling of VMEs. Multibeam datasets are being collected for the purpose of geomorphological characterisation of cold-water coral mounds across the Atlantic Ocean. Maps of predicted VME distributions were produced to help with the planning of ROV transects as part of the IceAGE3 expedition.
•Made progress on designing and building the eDNA sampler to be used in summer 2021.
•Mapped over 250,000 km2 of previously unsurveyed Atlantic seafloor between Cabo Verde and the Caribbean using the German research vessel Merian MSM88 and made openly available via the IHO bathymetry data centre. Expedition MSM96 mapped ecosystems in the North-East Atlantic at local, regional and basin scale.
•Explored and accessed multibeam bathymetric data (including some produced by oil and gas companies as part of environmental licensing processes e.g. in the iAtlantic Study Region 10).
•Existing data on deep-sea demersal fisheries and cold-water coral reports (e.g. in study regions 10 & 11) were compiled and mapped using the GEBCO 2020 digital bathymetric model to define operational sampling strategies for the expeditions in study regions 10 & 11.
•Created the iAtlantic Expeditions Working Group for the re-planning of the iAtlantic cruises being affected by COVID-19.
•Compiled datasets of different ecosystem components over time to unravel ecosystem change, drivers and tipping points. A harmonised workflow is under construction to standardise analytical approaches among regions.
•Developed a workflow translating WP3 outputs into a georeferenced map for WP5. The decision-tree will identify which of the 12 iAtlantic Study Regions show evidence for being at a tipping point or likely to radically change by 2100.
•Tested the usage of ancient DNA from marine sediment cores in reconstructing past ecosystem changes. Partners conduct palaeoceanographic work at several Study Regions to assess the drivers behind past changes in ecosystems, as recorded by fossil assemblages.
•Prepared experiments to study ecosystem functioning under multiple stressors. Experimental set up and technical details have been agreed. Due to the postponed research cruises, tasks have initially been approached from a modelling perspective, while iAtlantic prepares for expeditions in 2021.
•Developed Optimal Data Transfer Strategies between PANGAEA and EMODnet to enhance data capacity and interoperability. Set up the GeoNode web-GIS platform to support data sharing, visualisation and community development of sustainable ecosystem management. iAtlantic also works towards the development of a GEOSS All Atlantic Data Portal to align data access between the North and South Atlantic.
•Set up a series of capacity building webinars (e.g. on species distribution modelling). Planning is also underway for workshops on hydroacoustics ocean time-series and statistical analysis of ecosystem time-series.
•Worked on the re-organisation of the planned seabed surveying and habitat mapping course so it can still take despite cancellation of the iCorsage expedition to Study Regions 10 and 11.
•Set up the Working Group on Diverse Knowledge Systems aiming to establish a focal point across all WPs for information that comes from sources beyond the conventional marine scientific channels (e.g. industry, NGO and science-policy domains).
•Provided data and expertise supporting the implementation of the EU’s Deep-sea Access Regulation and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
•Participated in scientific activities and consultations in support of the International Seabed Authority project for the Atlantic Ocean Regional Environmental Management Plan. Contributed to the compilation of scientific information to describe sites in need of protection as per the Article 145 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (e.g. the Romanche Fracture Zone system).
1.Facilitate the implementation of the Belém Statement on Atlantic Ocean Research and Innovation cooperation (e.g. development of arrays improving understanding of S Atlantic circulation).
2.Enhance the monitoring, modelling, planning, management and prediction capacities across all Atlantic (e.g. mapping of Atlantic VMEs at various spatial scales).
3.Assess ecosystem status under current and future climate scenarios (e.g. unravelling impacts of multiple stressors on ecosystem functioning).
4.Increase the competitiveness of EU’s Blue Economy by developing new technologies to service societal needs and new value chains (e.g. demonstration of novel machine learning solutions for advanced monitoring of Atlantic resources).
5.Support sustainable management of Atlantic ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts and facilitate the achievement of healthy and productive waters (e.g. development of Area-Based Management Tools to facilitate marine spatial planning).
6.Contribute to the development of ecosystem services to ensure long-term sustainability of marine resources (SDG 14) (e.g. development of the iAtlantic GeoNode).
7.Increase EU leadership in ocean technology development (e.g. development of the eDNA sampler).
8.Improve the professional skills and competences of those working and being trained to work within Blue Economy (e.g. development of the iAtlantic Fellows Scheme).
9.Contribute to policy making in research, innovation and technology (e.g. contribution in negotiations protecting biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction).
Humpback whale breaching off the eastern coast of USA. Image courtesy T.Kelley.