European Marine Species Displaced by Warming Climate

BRUGES, Belgium, March 5, 2007 (ENS) - European marine species are feeling the effects of global warming, new research reveals. Atlantic species are beginning to inhabit the more northern seas where Arctic species have traditionally lived, and subtropical species are moving into southern waters, previously the habitat of temperate species.

The latest European Science Foundation-Marine Board study report released Friday, "Impact of climate change on European marine and coastal environment - Ecosystem approach," shows that even the current moderate climate scenarios have had consequences for the European marine environment.

The two year study was conducted by a team led by marine ecologist Dr. Katja Philippart from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, who chairs the European working group Climate Change Impacts on the European Marine and Coastal Environment.


Dr. Katja Philippart leads the team that reported on climate change and European marine species. (Photo courtesy NIOZ)
The report was introduced at the annual Young Marine Scientist’s Day event at the Boeverbos venue in Bruges, organized by the Flanders Marine Institute, VLIZ.

At the event, the report was formally delivered to Koen Verlaeckt, head of cabinet science and innovation for Fientje Moerman, vice-minister president of the Flemish government and Flemish minister of economy, enterprise, science, innovation and foreign trade.

The study has detailed the impact of climate change at a European Seas level – in the Arctic, the Barents Sea, the Nordic Seas, the Baltic, the North Sea, the Northeast Atlantic, in the Celtic-Biscay Shelf, the Iberia upwelling margin, the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea.

The decline in sea ice cover in the northern Arctic and Barents Seas has triggered the most obvious temperature changes for marine life, the study finds. The open systems structure of these seas demonstrates how climate changes are causing further northward movement of marine organisms.

Distributional shifts in organisms, from phytoplankton to marine mammals and seabirds, may result in the establishment of non-indigenous species in the Arctic, forcing a further geographical retraction of native Arctic species and the possibility of some species disappearing altogether, the Philippart team reports.

In addition, increased river runoff which has freshened the Baltic Sea has led to shifts from marine to more brackish species and even freshwater species moving into the Baltic.


The crab Hemigrapsus penicillatus, a Pacific Northwest species, is invading the coast of Belgium. (Photo by Filip Nuyttens courtesy VLIZ)
At the same time, the temperature-induced loss of native species from enclosed systems, such as the Mediterranean and Black Sea, will make it easier for non-native organisms to invade these seas, the study shows.

The scientific evidence is now overwhelming that "climate change is a serious global threat which requires urgent global response, and that climate change is driven by human activity," the report reiterates.

The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, released in February states that sea levels will rise by 3.1 centimeters (1.2 inches) each decade.

Written by more than 600 scientists from around the world, and endorsed by 113 governments, the IPCC report warns that the oceans have warmed to a depth of three kilometers (two miles).

Arctic summer sea-ice is likely to disappear in the second half of this century, the IPCC reports, up to 40 percent of species could face extinction; and weather patterns will become more extreme, with hurricanes and storms becoming more intense.

The Philippart report warns that increased storminess will worsen the effect of sea level rise in coastal systems due to the higher frequency of storm surges and extreme wave action.

Wetland losses due to sea level rise are expected to be in the order of 17 percent along the Atlantic coasts, 31 to 100 percent along the Mediterranean coast and 84 to 98 percent along the Baltic coast, Philippart says, citing the IPCC report of 2001.

Greater defense of these coastlines to prevent coastal flooding will lead to additional loss of coastal habitats. Offshore structures and installations for hydrocarbon extraction and renewable energy will also be at greater risk.

The Stern Review, a 2006 report by British economist Sir Nicholas Stern, estimates the annual social and economic cost of climate change to the global economy at €5.5 billion (US$7.1 billion) by 2050.

The Stern Review concludes that provided humans take strong action now, there is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the Philippart report notes.


Scientists use a hot water drill to map ice thickness in the Baltic Sea. (Photo courtesy ESA)
For the future, the European Science Foundation-Marine working group recommends that scientists make a concerted effort to gather, store and analyze marine environmental data in a common open access database that would include annual Pan-European reporting based on national contributions.

The working group recommends identifying the nature and rate of consequences of climate change in European marine and coastal waters. This will require sustained monitoring efforts and use of new technologies to increase their spatial and temporal resolution.

The scientists would like to develop the ability to predict the consequences of climate change for the marine environment, predict the response and feedback of marine environments and ecosystems to climate change, and finally to predict the impact of climate change on the distribution of marine organisms and on marine food webs.

The European Science Foundation, with offices in Strasbourg and Brussels, is the European association of 75 major national research funding and performing organizations and academies in 30 countries.

With its 23 marine research member institutes and agencies from 16 countries, the ESF Marine Board advises governments on strategic and scientific policy issues at the European level.

The full report, “Impact of climate change on European marine and coastal environment - Ecosystem approach,” is online at: