Deep-sea project charts future course of Atlantic Ocean
A landmark project to study the Atlantic Ocean’s vast depths has laid the foundations for efforts to safeguard the ocean for future generations.
The most in-depth assessment of deep-sea ecosystems to date has led to the discovery of new species, offered greater insights into biodiversity and improved understanding of the damaging impacts of climate change.
The ATLAS project – which involved more than 80 researchers from countries bordering the North Atlantic – has also provided governments and industry with tools to help ensure the ocean’s resources are used more sustainably.
Ecosystems at risk
Over the past four years, ATLAS scientists have participated on 45 research expeditions making a step change in knowledge on North Atlantic deep-sea ecosystems.
Deep-sea ecosystems, however, are under high risk. ATLAS showed that large-scale Atlantic Ocean circulation – called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation - has slowed down exceptionally over the last 150 years due to climate change.
Findings also suggest that ocean warming, acidification, and decreased food supply could drastically alter the availability and location of suitable habitats for habitat-forming cold-water corals and commercially important deep-sea fish by 2100.
Everyone knows how important it is to look after tropical rainforests and other precious habitats on land, but few realise there are just as many, if not more, special places in the ocean. In ATLAS we've studied most vulnerable ecosystems in the deep Atlantic and we now understand how important, interconnected and fragile they really are.
ATLAS research has led to the discovery of more than thirty seabed communities and the description of at least 12 new species including Myonera atlasiana named after ATLAS.
The project also assessed the economic and social value of the deep sea and found that there was strong support among the public for more sustainable ocean management strategies.
We found that people across the Atlantic want to see healthy deep-sea ecosystems for their children and grandchildren. The challenge for the next decade will be taking this new scientific and social understanding and using it to create better plans and policies for truly sustainable human activities in the ocean.
When invited to Chair the ATLAS Advisory Board, I was attracted by the scope of the challenge being taken on, the breadth of disciplines comprising ATLAS, the depth of the expertise of the researchers, and the opportunities this mix presented. It is a highlight of my career to have been able to play even a small role in the achievements of ATLAS and share in its legacy.
ATLAS was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, and involved collaboration between the European Union, Canada and the US.
The €10 million iAtlantic project, which began in 2019, is building on the pioneering work of ATLAS by using the latest technologies to assess the ocean’s health, and helping governments create policies to better protect it.