Dr Katherine Simpson, ATLAS Project Manager, Heriot-Watt University

 By Dr Katherine Simpson, ATLAS Project Manager, Heriot-Watt University 

British scientists and their industry partners are leading a mission to reveal the secrets of the deep Atlantic Ocean. The ATLAS project - involving 24 research institutions around Europe and North America - will spend four years studying the deep sea, exploring unknown ecosystems and measuring the changing ocean currents that affect our climate. The project, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, will explore some of the remarkably diverse ecosystems - gathering samples and filming creatures at ocean depths of many kilometres.

The Science

Global change and human activities have major impacts on the distribution and sustainability of living marine resources. This is a challenge to the business and policy communities seeking sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors - known as “Blue Growth”. ATLAS will tackle this by developing an ambitious trans-Atlantic programme to provide the missing scientific understanding needed to fill these gaps. Research activities will focus on waters 200-2000 m deep, where the greatest gaps in our understanding lie and certain populations and ecosystems are known to be under pressure. Marine scientists will investigate interconnections between ocean circulation, surface production, and the biological richness of Atlantic ecosystems. 25 deep-sea cruises are already planned with more in development. These cruises will study a network of 12 case studies spanning the Atlantic from the LoVe observatory located off the Lofoten and Vesterålen islands, Norway to the Davis Straight, Eastern Artic. Ecosystems to be studied include sponge, cold-water coral, seamount and mid-ocean ridge systems. This data driven science will provide the foundation for socio-economic analysis and Marine Spatial Planning for Blue Growth scenarios in the deep Atlantic. This focus will provide international policy makers with the best data, tools, and understanding needed for sound adaptive management of the deep ocean as patterns of marine resource exploitation change.

Industry Engagement

Critical to the success of the ATLAS project are our partnerships with industry. The project will collect vast amounts of environmental data on deep-sea ecosystems, and it is essential that this is not only shared with our industrial partners, but also applied by them to contribute to a sustainable blue economy. Industry focussed workshops with key sectors including fisheries, oil & gas, cables and tourism will be used to explore data sharing opportunities as a basis to reduce the costs to business of conducting expensive environmental assessments. Additionally, the establishment of a framework for joint public/industry data collection to ensure industry Environmental Impact Assessment compliance is achieved in a cost effective manner will be explored. Our associate industry partners include BP, Statoil, Woodside Energy and PharmaMar.

Anticipated Outputs with regards to Blue Growth

In 2012 the EC’s Blue Growth strategy suggested the potential of Europe’s seas, oceans and coasts could be harnessed to create new job opportunities and promote innovation and sustainable growth in the Blue Economy. ATLAS research will focus on several key sectors including fisheries and aquaculture; oil and gas; marine mineral mining; marine biotechnology and marine tourism. It is anticipated that the emerging research provided by ATLAS will be used to showcase Blue Growth opportunities including the potential for research directions and technological innovations, all of which will strengthen business perception of the EU and the Atlantic as places to invest.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 678760 (ATLAS). This output reflects only the author’s view and the European Union cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

UE

18 August 2016