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Brussels, 24 May 2013
Marine research in the European Union and the Atlantic
The European Union, the United States and Canada today signed the "Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation" with the aim of furthering research into the workings of the Atlantic Ocean and its interaction with the Arctic. The alliance will build on existing bilateral cooperation agreements and projects with the aim of developing and advancing a shared vision for the Atlantic. For the European Union, the Statement was signed by European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki. For the United States the Statement was signed by Dr Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. For Canada, Senator David Wells signed on behalf of Edward Fast, Canadian Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway.
Here is a summary of relevant facts and projects related to trans-Atlantic marine research cooperation.
Why is there a need for a new initiative?
Existing cooperation is coordinated mainly through bilateral science and technology agreements, or takes place within the framework of international fora with the risk that efforts may become fragmented. One of the aims of the initiative is to obtain an overview of activity, spot gaps and then explore what new opportunities for cooperation may exist. European countries have mapped their research activity and needs within the context of the SEAS-ERA project, which has produced a draft report on marine research priorities for the European Atlantic sea basin. However, as the report notes, Atlantic research cannot be seen from a European perspective alone and there is a need for co-operation with the United States, Canada and other countries.
What examples can you give of existing bilateral cooperation?
The European Commission's in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre, and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) agreed in May 2012 to strengthen cooperative science activities in the areas of climate, weather, oceans and coasts. The agreement focused on four projects for near term implementation: climate data records, space weather, tsunami modelling and fisheries research.
European and North American researchers cooperated in the framework of the Basin-scale Analysis, Synthesis and Integration (BASIN) initiative to develop a joint research agenda the area of ocean ecosystems in support of the Global Earth Observation System. In Europe, work is continuing in the context of the EURO-BASIN project, which aims to understand and predict the population structure and dynamics of key plankton and fish species of the North Atlantic and shelf seas, and assess the impacts of climate variability on North Atlantic marine ecosystems and their goods and services.
Canadian researchers took part in the first leg of the MyOcean ocean monitoring and forecasting project funded under the European Union's seventh framework research programme (FP7). Under the auspices of ERA-Can, the organisation encouraging Canadian participation in FP7, an event will also be held later this year on Arctic and Marine Research Infrastructure.
How much does the EU spend on marine and maritime research?
Since 2002, through its framework research programmes, the European Union has invested over two billion euro in more than one thousand marine research projects. In addition, the 27 EU Member States invest individually in marine and maritime research. In total, the EU collectively spends about €2 billion a year in this area.
What is the EU doing on ocean observation and seabed mapping?
Through its Marine Knowledge 2020 initiative, the EU is setting up a process for integrating national marine data and marine forecasting capacities into a sustainable seamless open access system to benefit researchers, public authorities and private industry. Prototypes are already operational and these will be extended through continuations of the European Marine Observation and Data Observation (EMODnet) and Copernicus (formerly GMES) programmes.
EMODnet has completed its first pilot phase and is now moving into a second operational phase whereby more than 100 European bodies are working together to deliver access to bathymetric, geological, physical, chemical, biological and human activity data and data products through a set of internet portals. The marine service of COPERNICUS provides access to observations from space and also an ocean forecasting system through a separate portal.
A related international initiative is the Group on Earth Observation (GEO) and its Blue Planet Task, which aims to improve ocean observation at global level and assess the effectiveness of the climate adaptation measures (such as those related to vulnerability and impacts of sea-level rise). Blue Planet Task is very relevant to the implementation of ocean observation systems in the Atlantic as many GEO partners and organisations in countries on both sides of the ocean are actively participating in this initiative.
Does the EU have any projects related to the Atlantic and climate change?
The North Atlantic Ocean is one of the most important drivers for global ocean circulation. Global climate variability is also triggered by changes in the North Atlantic sea surface state. The quality of climate predictions therefore depends on good knowledge of northern sea surface temperatures and sea ice distributions.
The changing Arctic environment strongly influences the Atlantic Ocean. The EU project Arctic Tipping Points demonstrated how diminishing sea ice extent and warming Arctic sea surface temperature cause a northward move of important Atlantic fish species. The Ice2sea project determined the contribution of glaciers and ice-sheets (Greenland, Antarctica) to global sea level rise, partly caused by a warming of Atlantic ocean streams. The project cooperated with related projects in US and Canada (SEARISE, IMBIE).
The four-year NACLIM project, supported with an EU grant of €8.6 million, aims to investigate and quantify the predictability of climate in the North Atlantic/European sector. It involves 17 partners, including from Norway and Iceland. NACLIM cooperates also with U.S. projects in particular regarding ocean circulation observations (OSNAP).
NACLIM follows on from the EU-funded four-year THOR project that concluded in November 2012. THOR investigated the dynamics of the Atlantic Ocean’s circulation and its impact on Europe's climate.
What about projects aimed at exploring the sea's potential?
The three year MARINE FUNGI project, due to end in April 2014, hopes to identify natural marine products for the treatment of cancer. It also investigates the cultivation of marine fungi for the efficient production of natural products in the laboratory and also in large scale cultures, avoiding harm to the natural environment. The therapeutic focus of MARINE FUNGI, led by the Helmholtz Zentrum für Ozeanforschung in Kiel, Germany, is the development of novel anti-cancer compounds.
A team of international scientists led by Limerick Institute of Technology in Ireland is investigating innovative solutions to overcome existing bottle-necks associated with culturing marine organisms in order to sustainably produce high yields of value-added products for the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and industrial sectors. The three-year BAMMBO project is due to end in February 2014.
Researchers in the PHARMASEA project, due to end in 2016, is seeking to identify new marine microbial strains from extreme environments to evaluate their potential as new drug leads, antibiotics or ingredients for nutrition or cosmetic applications. Scientists from the UK, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Denmark will work together to collect and screen samples of mud and sediment from huge, previously untapped, oceanic trenches. The large-scale, four-year project is backed by more than €9.5 million of EU funding and brings together 24 partners from 14 countries from industry, academia and non-profit organisations.
The five-year CORALFISH project, coordinated by the University of Ireland in Galway, concluded in February having studied the interaction between cold water corals, fish and fisheries, in order to develop monitoring and predictive modelling tools for ecosystem based management in the deep waters of Europe and beyond.
To advance knowledge of the functioning of deep-sea ecosystems and their contribution to the production of goods and services, the European Union also funded the three year HERMIONE project led by the Natural Environment Research Council in the United Kingdom. Gaining this understanding is crucial, because these ecosystems are now being affected by climate change and impacted by man through fishing, resource extraction, seabed installations and pollution.