Credit: Sid Frisby
Uncharted regions of the Atlantic will be mapped for the first time as marine scientists assess its health.
A team of researchers from countries bordering the ocean are embarking on a €10 million, four-year project to analyse its ecosystems, from Iceland to South America.
Their findings will provide unprecedented insights into how climate change is affecting plant and animal life in the Atlantic. The work will also aid understanding of the impact of commercial activities including deep-sea mining, fishing and oil and gas extraction.
The iAtlantic project, led by the University of Edinburgh, will use the latest technologies to assess the ocean’s health, and aims to help governments create policies to better protect it.
Scientists will gather huge quantities of data during 32 research expeditions on a multinational fleet of vessels, which will travel the length and breadth of the Atlantic.
The international team will use marine robotics and imaging technology to develop mapping tools to advance understanding of deep-sea habitats.
Combining their findings with data on ocean species’ DNA and their habitats will provide key insights into the impact that climate change is having on the Atlantic. This will enable scientists to identify key drivers of ecosystem change and determine which areas of the ocean are most at risk.
The work will also help researchers determine the resilience of animals in the Atlantic, and their habitats, against pollution and human activities.
The project involves researchers from 33 institutions across Europe, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Canada and the US. The study, funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, is launched today (18 June).
Professor Murray Roberts, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who is leading the project, said: “We often forget that we live on an ocean planet and that the vast depths of the sea provide 99 per cent of the space for life on Earth. But the oceans are under massive pressures from climate change, destructive fishing, plastic pollution and other human activities. The iAtlantic project has pulled together an amazing team from right around the ocean, and we can’t wait to begin the most ambitious ocean health check ever carried out.”