Ecosystem Change in the North Sea: Processes, Drivers, Future Scenarios

Project Summary

ECODRIVE utilizes the international expertise of climatologists, modellers, planktologists, fisheries experts and ecophysiologists contained in a consortium of partners from Germany, Norway, the UK and the Netherlands to assess, model and further the predictive understanding of changes in the trophodynamic structure and function within the North Sea relative to the different drivers of ecosystem change. Drivers include those acting via climate change and variability as well as those acting more regionally via anthropogenic forcing (e.g., fisheries exploitation, eutrophication) to impact species diversity and trophodynamic structure and function (i.e., functional biodiversity).


The approach includes available long-term time series data on all trophic levels (from phytoplankton to fish), climate indices, as well as modelled (climate-forced) estimates of abiotic and biotic factors.  The results from the combination of (i) retrospective investigations using long-term time series of biotic and abiotic variables stretching back for 40-100 years, (ii) field studies to obtain indispensable information on trophic links of new key species and (iii) a suite of climate, hydrodynamic and ecosystem models will allow to develop future scenarios.


The focus will be on the pelagic realm as groups of pelagic organisms such as phyto-, zooplankton and small pelagic fishes react rapidly and often dramatically to external ecosystem drivers and play an important role as indicator species. ECODRIVE research will concentrate on 1) fluxes of organisms and nutrients into the North Sea and will contrast advection through the Channel versus transport into the region from the northern boundary (spatial analyses), will 2) disentangle the contribution of inter-annual to multi-decadal forcing patterns to observed differences in the periodicity (temporal analyses) of changes in species abundance and composition in the study region and, in this manner, 3) understand the drivers of ecosystem change at a variety of spatial and temporal scales and 4) enable forecast (scenario test) future North Sea trophodynamic structure and function based upon different IPCC (climate) and anthropogenic (eutrophication, resource exploitation) scenarios. Whereas earlier studies usually focused on the period from 1970-2000, ECODRIVE will give particular emphasis to a wider time window including the two warm water periods from 1930-1960 and the recent one  which exhibit many similarities such as the occurrence of warm water species.


ECODRIVE is designed to (i) provide a better understanding of potential climate change impacts (scenarios), (ii) construct usable climate change indicators, and (iii) improve the interface between science and policy formulation in terms of risk management as suggested by the European Science Foundation. Researchers from four riparian North Sea countries selected for their different expertises will closely cooperate with each other to achieve the goals.

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