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An integrated assessment of the Atlantic ocean and its ecosystems for a more sustainable future

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

The Mission Atlantic project

Patrizio Mariani (coordinator of Mission Atlantic) with Mike St. John and Terry Schaefer

The ocean is a central component of the earth system which provides many goods and services to humankind and to enable life on earth. The ocean also plays a crucial role in these earth systems, for example in absorbing most of the excess heat and storing CO2 which both come from human activities. It also provides many benefits, like the pleasure of looking at the ocean from a sunny beach, the food it provides us or as a source for new molecules that could be useful in the pharmaceutical industry. It can also be a source of renewable energy, from the wind and the waves, as well as providing raw materials. All these resources are crucial, not only now, but especially for all future generations to come.

The challenge we face is to understand how to benefit from these resources without altering the functioning of the marine ecosystems, so that we can guarantee their sustainability. This is a complex topic to address because the ocean is very complex, with many components interacting with each other at all levels and all times, from millimetres to oceanic scales, from a few seconds to millennium scales. In addition, we are facing two major crises, the climate crisis, as we push the system into different regimes, and a biodiversity crisis, as we lose species at unprecedented rates.

St Pauls Rock. © Luiz Rocha, California Academy of Sciences

These questions are at the core of the Mission Atlantic project, one of AtlantECO’s sister projects also funded under the Horizon2020 Research and Innovation programme. To understand more about the project, how it addresses these challenges and the types of activities planned, we spoke with Patrizio Mariani, coordinator of Mission Atlantic and senior researcher at the Danish Technical University in Denmark.

Patrizio explained that the main idea of Mission Atlantic is to explore the connections between all the components of marine ecosystems, to understand the interactions between human activities and these ecosystem components, and map the effects of other types of activities and the global changes we are observing at the moment, and this across all scales for the entire Atlantic basin.

Ascension Island, mid-Atlantic Ridge. © Sergio R. Floeter

Starting from existing data and conceptual models of socio-ecological networks developed for selected regions of the Atlantic, the project is looking at how human activities can introduce pressures in the ecosystems, and how these pressures can have an impact on specific ecosystem components. From these conceptual models, they move on to numerical models, using available time series and observing if the effects are already visible in the way these time series are changing. Then, these models are scaled up to fill in data gaps, generating new tools, statistical and analytical tools, that can be used for sustainable management of the Atlantic resources.

Find out more about the activities, the first results and future plans by listening to the full episode!

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