Coordinating International Research on Southern Ocean Ecosystems: Implementation of the ICED Programme

Lead Research Organisation: British Antarctic Survey


The Southern Ocean has a unique and iconic ecosystem. It includes vast reserves of krill which could potentially replace dwindling fish catches elsewhere. It helps stabilise the global climate by absorbing greenhouse gases and it supplies some of the key nutrients which sustain life in other oceans. These functions emphasize the crucial role of the Southern Ocean ecosystem in the workings of the Earth as a whole. There is strong evidence that risk posed by climate change is more severe and imminent for the Southern Ocean ecosystem than almost any other marine ecosystem. This threatens the ecosystem's ability to deliver the benefits described above.
Assessment of the Southern Ocean ecosystem's likely responses to change is required to support the management and protection of the benefits it provides. This requires an international effort to bring together scientists with expertise on ecosystems, climate and biogeochemistry (i.e. how nutrients and other chemicals move through the oceans, atmosphere and living things). Knowledge about individual regions must be integrated to explain processes operating at the "circumpolar" scale of the entire ocean. BAS scientists have played a major role in developing the Integrating Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics in the Southern Ocean (ICED) programme which has begun to coordinate and focus this expertise.
We are requesting funding to capitalise on the current progress and lead the implementation phase of ICED, under two main objectives:
(1) To lead, coordinate and support key ICED community activities identified in the ICED Science
Plan and Implementation Strategy
(2) To develop the scientific basis for projecting the likely response of Southern Ocean
ecosystems to plausible scenarios of environmental change and so generate high impact
outputs to feed into global assessments.

Addressing the first objective will involve: coordination and communication between different science strands and national programmes; coordination of scientific activities; expanding the network of researchers; pursuing funding opportunities; programme support and liaison with the International Programme Office of IMBER (Integrating Marine Biogeochemical and Ecosystems Research), the global programme which ICED is a part of; and developing closer coordination with other key international bodies.

Activities addressing the second objective will be based around two scientific workshops. The first will mainly be coordinated and funded through international partners on behalf of ICED. It will assess the state of knowledge on environmental change and biological responses, and produce initial projections of the biological response to climate change. The second workshop, for which we are requesting part funding, will evaluate the results of ongoing efforts to predict how the structure of food webs responds to change and produce projections of how food webs might change in future.

These workshops should lead to high impact academic outputs. Together with associated activities within ICED they will help to ensure that the Southern Ocean ecosystem's response to change is given due consideration by the IPCC, in the policy outputs of the International Polar Year and in developing sustainable fisheries management.

We are at a critical point in the development of ICED, where we need to maintain momentum. The requested funding will allow NERC to take a lead role in implementing the ICED programme and coordinating international contributions. The activities outlined here will strengthen and facilitate the international collaboration necessary to fully address the significant challenge of integrating Southern Ocean ecosystem, climate and biogeochemical research. This will ensure progress towards an integrated, understanding of the structure and function of the Southern Ocean, its response to change and its importance to the Earth as a whole and to mankind.

Planned Impact

The activities in this project are designed around questions of relevance to a wide range of stakeholders including national governments and intergovernmental organisations involved in global governance of regional governance of the Southern Ocean; current and future commercial operators who generate profits and employment from Southern Ocean biodiversity (including the fishing, tourism, nutraceutical and bioprospecting industries); and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) representing the interests of those concerned with protecting Southern Ocean biodiversity.

The Southern Ocean is a vital hub in the global system of oceans and therefore an important component in the workings of the Earth as a whole. Changes to this ecosystem could affect the stability of the climate, the health of the oceans and the success of fisheries on a global scale. This project aims to drive the implementation of ICED science and therefore help to understand how the Southern Ocean responds to change and the wider consequences of this response.

There are many potential benefits from this science, particularly those concerned with predicting the impacts of climate change and fishing. Such predictions will allow policies to be developed to reduce the risks of these impacts, or to prepare adequately for them. We will concentrate our efforts on the key organisations influencing relevant policy including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Resources (CCAMLR). We will also convene a special session an international Science into Policy conference to establish closer coordination between the stakeholders who define objectives for the state of the Southern Ocean ecosystem and the scientists who can help assess whether and how these objectives could be achieved. Both groups will be invited to this session to address the questions: "What information do stakeholders need?"; "What information can scientists provide and on what timescales?"; and "How can scientists and stakeholders work together to define and achieve compatible objectives?"

This project will include two scientific workshops. Workshop 1 will feed into the conference session and Workshop 2 will be informed by the session's outputs. One of these outputs will be a paper co-authored by stakeholders and scientists setting out the important questions and issues relating to Southern Ocean ecosystems from a stakeholder perspective and assessing the capability of science to answer these questions. We will harness the communications capabilities of stakeholder groups, the IPY infrastructure, ICED and its constituent organisations, including BAS, to ensure that the key messages are disseminated to stakeholders.

The outputs of the IPCC include a series of Assessment Reports detailing evidence for the current and future impacts of climate change. The outputs from Workshops 1 and 2 will be targeted at the 5th and 6th Assessment Reports respectively. This will help to increase understanding amongst policy makers and the public that the Southern Ocean is an important ecosystem that indicates and will be affected by climate change. The outputs will also feed into CCAMLR which has identified the need to develop management strategies that take account of climate change.

This project has the potential to deliver UK leadership in a wide range of science activities that are focused on the practical consequences of climate and harvesting driven change. Our specific efforts to involve stakeholders should help to maintain and focus the relevance of these research activities while our input into CCAMLR and the IPCC will help to achieve real impact on policy.


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Description Coordinating International Research on Southern Ocean Ecosystems: Implementation of the ICED Programme.

Our work has centred on the effects of climate and human impacts on ecosystems in the Southern Ocean, an area known to be integral to the Earth System, influencing global climate and biogeochemical cycles and maintaining unique biodiversity. These ecosystems have undergone major changes in recent decades, including increases in ocean temperatures and variations in the amount and seasonality of sea ice. The physical dynamics of the water masses are rapidly changing, due to atmospheric variations, and are affecting the physical and biological carbon pumps. These and other changes will have implications for species, food webs and entire ecosystems in the Southern Ocean. The science community is being increasingly called upon to predict the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems and biota, often for conservation and management purposes.
The scale and complexity of these issues in the Southern Ocean is beyond the capacity of individual researchers, individual scientific disciplines or national programmes. There is a pressing need for effective integration across all of these aspects to ensure a shared understanding of the challenges faced and to develop new ways to tackle them. This grant has enabled us to make significant progress in this area through the international and multidisciplinary Integrating Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics in the Southern Ocean (ICED) programme (A regional programme of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme's Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosystems Research programme), which was developed and is currently led by the Investigators. We have achieved improved integration and scientific progress through the 2 main Objectives of this grant; (1) To lead, coordinate and support key ICED community activities identified in the ICED Science Plan and Implementation Strategy and (2) To develop the scientific basis for projecting the likely response of Southern Ocean ecosystems to plausible scenarios of future change and so generate high impact outputs to feed into global assessments, policy making and sustainable fisheries management.
The primary mechanism through which we addressed Objective 2 was a series of highly successful workshops: two linked international, one EU and one stakeholder workshop (the latter two are discussed in our broader narrative findings and also addressed Objective 1). These provided novel ways to gather unique groups of experts to address Southern Ocean change, strengthen the ICED community, develop multidisciplinary collaborations and produce key scientific findings.
The two international workshops supported by this grant were specifically designed to build upon two previous ICED workshops: a) the 'Southern Ocean Food Web Modelling Workshop' (2008), addressing the status of Southern Ocean food web modelling, circumpolar food web model development and facilitating collaboration within the ocean modelling community (Murphy et al., 2010), and b) the workshop 'Monitoring Climate Change impacts: establishing a Southern Ocean Sentinel Program' (2009), which considered how an ICED sponsored circumpolar monitoring programme could measure, assess and provide early warning detection of climate change impacts on the Southern ocean and signal future impacts on other global ecosystems (Constable et al., 2009).
The first international workshop 'The State of Knowledge- initial assessments of change in Southern Ocean ecosystems' (2012) was focussed on a) assessing the current status of Southern Ocean ecosystems and how they have responded to recent environmental and human impacts, and b) developing the framework for the Sentinel monitoring programme. Outputs include a chapter on the Polar Regions for the IPCC's 5th Assessment Report (AR5) highlighting the impacts, adaptation and vulnerability of Southern Ocean ecosystems (IPCC, 2014) and a complimentary paper reviewing current and expected changes in the physical habitats and biota in response to climate change (Constable et al., 2014a, an additional paper, currently in prep, will examine regional observed and expected responses in further detail), a contribution to the Census of Marine Life's biogeographic atlas of the Southern Ocean (Constable et al., 2014b) and a position paper to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources' (CCAMLR) Working Group on Ecosystem Monitoring and Management (WG-EMM) (Constable et al., 2013), which both outline further developments of the Sentinel Program, a review paper considering ways to advance integrated physical and biological Southern Ocean ecosystem models (Murphy et al., 2012) and a paper on the comparative analysis of 2 large-scale regional Southern Ocean food webs (Murphy et al., 2013).
The first international workshop set the context for our second international workshop 'Southern Ocean Food Webs and Future Scenarios: Furthering our understanding of the response of Southern Ocean Ecosystems to change' (2013). The first workshop having provided an assessment of the current status of Southern Ocean ecosystems, guided the second workshop in considering the key drivers of change and production of a suite of plausible scenarios (quantitative where possible) capturing future changes in key physical and ecological parameters of the Southern Ocean. Consensus on these aspects (by climate scientists, ecologists, biogeochemists, modellers and fisheries scientists) is crucial for developing appropriate ecological models to generate consistent and comparable projections of future change impacts, which may be used to underpin policy and management decisions. To address this we gathered representatives from the above communities at the workshop. We focussed on considering how best to use physical IPCC climate models to understand current and future ecological change in the Southern Ocean. It became apparent that the main challenge with using such models is that they may not be at the appropriate scale to explain biological patterns or change. For example, IPCC climate models are often designed to capture characteristics of the global climate system and as such are not relevant in explaining the dynamics of individual or multiple species in the Southern Ocean at regional, or even local spatial scales or at time scales of a few decades or less. Dialogue between the physical and ecological communities revealed ways in which climate modellers could produce outputs, via the IPCC process, that are relevant to ecologists, when used with a set of implementation guidelines. Owing to its importance as a driver of many other physical and biological aspects, sea ice became a key focus of the workshop and proved an invaluable introduction to many of these challenges. Using IPCC climate models we have begun a process of assessing them from an ecological perspective and recommending practices for ecologists to follow. This work is being prepared as a manuscript (authored by the ICED community, in prep) together with an accompanying more technical paper on sea ice scenarios developed by the Investigators (in prep). We are also working towards a future suite of key scenarios of physical and biological change agreed by the community. These will include quantitative scenarios of key environmental parameters, such as oceanographic currents and acidity, and biological parameters, such as the recovery of historically-exploited populations (e.g. whales). This workshop was advertised to the wider CCAMLR community via a position paper to WG-EMM (Cavanagh et al., 2013).
Exploitation Route This work will improve multidisciplinary approaches to understanding ecosystem operation across a range of trophic (feeding), spatial, and temporal scales (e.g. from individuals to whole ecosystems, from local to circumpolar, and years to decades), not only in the Southern Ocean, but as a model for other marine ecosystems elsewhere. The development of the Sentinel programme will eventually provide a circumpolar ecological monitoring system to detect and measure changes in the Southern Ocean. The development of quantified scenarios capturing changes in the key physical and ecological parameters of the Southern Ocean will naturally lead on to ecological models to generate projections of future ecosystem change. The latter will hopefully inspire changes in the way that IPCC climate models are developed such that they become easier to apply in the ecological and ecosystem-based management contexts. This will add value to the IPCC process, raise the profile of Southern Ocean ecosystems within the IPCC and in policy making processes, and improve the basis for future monitoring and management of Southern Ocean ecosystems. As part of ICED and a contribution to the NERC Strategy, the outcomes of this work are already of great interest to CCAMLR in measuring the status and trends of Southern Ocean ecosystems, particularly in support of developing management procedures for fisheries and in conserving marine biodiversity. This work has also contributed to the directly relevant text on Polar Regions in Working Group II's (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability) contribution to the 5th Assessment Report of the IPCC and Summary for Policy Makers.
Sectors Education,Environment

Description The Southern Ocean is not simply a remote location with isolated issues. It is highly connected at the circumpolar and global scale, and a major driver of climate and biogeochemical cycles. It therefore follows that the community studying it needs to be connected too. We have made significant progress in bringing together the international Southern Ocean community to form an extensive, expanding network of multidisciplinary scientists with the ambition to lead globally important analyses of changing marine ecosystems. ICED has grown from 80 registered members representing 14 countries at the start of this grant, to 321 members from 29 countries to date. We have collaborated with scientists working outside Antarctica to explore changing ecosystems at both poles and as part of the wider Earth System. Through our developing website and our connections with other Southern Ocean and global programmes we have raised awareness about the importance of Southern Ocean science. Our Scientific Steering Committee has met regularly to ensure that our activities reflect our overall objectives as well as international priorities. We have convened sessions and panel discussions at a number of relevant international scientific onferences. Although there are no indigenous human populations that depend on Southern Ocean ecosystems, there are a wide range of global stakeholders both concerned and affected by changes in the Southern Ocean. We organised a workshop in Brussels with the aim of ensuring that polar marine ecosystems appear prominently on the research agenda for Europe. We presented our 'Strategic directions for the EU Research Area' (PECS, 2013) to European Commission members. This has already succeeded in promoting collaborative research within Europe and we are seeing polar marine ecosystem themes in European funding calls. We have submitted a series of papers to CCAMLR's Working Group on Ecological Monitoring and Management (e.g. Constable et al. 2013, Cavanagh et al., 2013, Johnston et al., 2013, Murphy et al., 2013, Hill et al., submitted, Cavanagh et al., submitted) highlighting relevant ICED science. We have also included CCAMLR scientists in our workshops and events. In June 2014, we convened a workshop (together with WWF) entitled "Understanding the objectives for krill fishing and conservation in the Scotia Sea and Antarctic Peninsula region" which involved participants from the science, conservation, and fishing industry sectors. The workshop used structured dialogue, led by an independent facilitator, to explore each sector's objectives for the Southern Ocean's krillbased ecosystem and to identify constructive ways for the three sectors to work together. Despite the challenge of effective stakeholder engagement in the context of potentially conflicting objectives, we demonstrated broad cross-sector accord. This included shared commitment to maintaining a healthy ecosystem and support for management of the krill fishery that minimises the risk of negative impacts on ecosystem health. There are three key outputs: (i) recommendations submitted to CCAMLR's WG-EMM (Hill et al., submitted); (ii) a published workshop report submitted as a background paper to the CCAMLR Scientific Committee (Hill et al., 2014); (iii) an academic paper (currently in preparation). It is hoped that this workshop will provide both a framework as well as motivation for further cross-sector engagement, and that our efforts to involve stakeholders will help to maintain and focus the relevance of our research activities as well as improving how our science feeds into policy.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Environment,Other
Impact Types Policy & public services