SAMS news room

World Oceans Day: the challenges to our oceans

A rapidly changing Arctic

The Arctic is the most rapidly changing region on Earth.  Impacts of this change will be felt locally, regionally and globally.  It will cause massive shifts in the functioning of marine and terrestrial environments and in turn alter the economic landscape.  Much of this change is manifest and amplified by reductions in Arctic sea ice.  The scientific challenge is to quantify the connections between the physical, biological and chemical systems and to predict how these will change as the Arctic evolves. Our scientists are active in the physical, biological and policy research arenas in the Arctic. 

Biodiversity and climate change

UK coasts face dramatic climatic changes over the next century, and as temperatures increase many of the species found here are likely to colonise the Arctic. By understanding how our coastal ecosystem works and how it has changed in relation to climate since records began, we can make better forecasts of what will happen to populations and communities of marine species in the next 100 years.   Shallow water and intertidal habitats have the most easily accessible and best known marine life and are ideal test-beds for developing the science that these forecasts need. Our researchers develop models to predict future change, and also study colonisation rates of invasive species.

Palaeoclimate: Physical processes inherent to climate change leave evidence in coastal and shelf geomorphology. Palaeo-shorelines, glacial moraines and out-wash channels are being identified and dated by our researchers, providing an indication of the environmental response of the coast to climate change. The western Atlantic coast of Scotland is an ideal location to investigate shifts in climate that have occurred since the retreat of glacial ice approximately 11ky ago. This event marked the switch from ‘icehouse’ to the present ‘greenhouse’ condition and was not unique. Other rapid climatic events have been well-documented, such as the early Holocene cooling (8.2ky) and the Little Ice Age (1600-1850), when a global expansion of glaciers occurred.

Food from the oceans

Aquaculture will replace fisheries as the major source of seafood within the next 20 years. This represents a paradigm shift in the way humanity utilises the oceans. Our researchers have an international reputation in aquaculture research within 4 major categories: 1) impacts of aquaculture on the environment e.g. benthic impacts; 2) environmental constraints of aquaculture, e.g. algal blooms; 3) culturing new species: fish, invertebrates and seaweeds; and 4) socio-economic issues e.g. eco-labelling, coastal management. 

Ocean acidification

Most of the carbon dioxide humans have released into the atmosphere has been absorbed by the oceans, where it dissolves making them gradually more acidic. Ocean acidification threatens any marine plants or animals that make limestone shells or skeletons because as the oceans become more acidic limestone dissolves. Our scientists are investigating how ocean acidificaiton may affect cold-water corals by studying live corals from the Mingulay Reef Complex West of Scotland, as part of a larger European Project on Ocean Acidification (EPOCA). 

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