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The ambitious iAtlantic project will – for the first time – undertake an ocean-wide approach to understanding the factors that control the distribution, stability and vulnerability of deep-sea and open-ocean ecosystems.
In the oceans, changes are apparent in seawater circulation patterns, temperature, acidity and oxygen levels – all of which have consequences for marine ecosystems. Over the next century, the magnitude and rates of environmental change in the deep and open Atlantic Ocean are expected to be faster and more severe in some areas than others, and may be further exacerbated by human activities. iAtlantic will determine the tipping points – the points of irreversible change – for deep and open ocean ecosystems, which drivers are most crucial in propelling ecosystems towards those tipping points, and what factors influence and support ecosystem resilience to environmental change.
Our work spans the full scale of the Atlantic basin, from the tip of Argentina in the south to Iceland in the north, and from the east coasts of Canada and Brazil to the western margins of Europe and Africa. With such a large challenge in front of us, international collaboration between scientists throughout the Atlantic region is critical to the project’s success: sharing of expertise, equipment, infrastructure, data and personnel is at the forefront of iAtlantic’s approach.
To assess the status of ecosystems, we need to know more about how they are connected and distributed, what functions they perform and how stable they have been over time. All this requires the collection of new data, but also innovative approaches so that observations taken at local and regional levels can be scaled up to address questions at the ocean basin scale.
To do this, iAtlantic will align deep-ocean observing capacities in the north and south Atlantic, which will provide accurate and detailed insights into ocean circulation in the past, present and future at a range of spatial and temporal scales. The latest marine robotics and imaging technology will be used to develop predictive mapping tools to advance understanding of deep-sea habitat distribution across the ocean. Combined with genomic data and ecological timeseries data, all this new information will provide an unprecedented view of the impacts of climate change on Atlantic ecosystems, allowing us to identify key drivers of ecosystem change and determine which areas of the Atlantic Ocean are most vulnerable to the effects of sustained, increasing and multiple pressures.
iAtlantic has 5 key objectives:
To achieve these goals, iAtlantic focuses its ecosystem assessment efforts on 12 key areas of the ocean. Innovative approaches will be used to scale up the observations taken at local and regional levels in order to address questions at the ocean basin scale. More than 30 research expeditions, including two flagship demonstrator missions, will provide vital data to help identify the ecosystems most at risk from environmental change in the deep and open ocean. To support responsible decision-making and policy development, iAtlantic will make its spatiotemporal data available to end-users via an open source, GIS-based GEONODE platform. iAtlantic works with a range of data sources, including those from non-scientific sources, which are monitored through our Diverse Knowledge Systems Working Group.
iAtlantic places capacity building at the core of its mission. Alongside the recruitment of a significant cohort of early career researchers who collectively form the community of iAtlantic Fellows, an extensive capacity building programme will optimise the learning opportunities provided by the project’s many scientific activities. This programme includes hands-on capacity building at sea, instrumentation and technology transfer, analytical techniques and data interpretation, a mentoring programme, and the transfer of knowledge to the wider Atlantic stakeholder community and policy makers.