Leading Expert Speaks at Galway Workshop

(left to right). Dr Sarah Knight (Outreach Officer-ECI, NUIG), Dr Jürgen Alheit (Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research, Germany), Ms Martina Prendergast (Development Manager-ECI, NUIG), Dr Glenn Nolan (MI- Climate Change Team), Mr Geoffrey O’Sullivan (Marine Institute - International Co-operation).In early April, Dr Jürgen Alheit of the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research, Germany, visited Ireland to exchange information with Irish climate change researchers on observed changes in species abundance and biogeography in the North Sea and the adjacent Atlantic Ocean, including Irish waters.

Changes in species biogeography can have serious social and economic repercussions for coastal communities, though their early identification can result in positive adaptive responses.  The visit - which was sponsored by the EU FP6 MarinERA Project, a network of leading European Marine Research Funding Organisations - included meetings with Marine Institute Climate Change researchers in Galway and Newport and a public lecture on Climate Change at the Martin Ryan Institute (NUIG).

As a result of this visit, Dr Glenn Nolan (MI-Climate Research Team) will attend the next ECODRIVE Project Meeting to provide further data on Irish observations and explore opportunities for further co-operation.   

The German-Norwegian funded MarinERA ECODRIVE (Ecosystem Change in the North Sea: Processes, Drivers, Future Scenarios) Project was launched in January 2009 and involves leading researchers from Germany, Norway, UK and the Netherlands.

The project is designed to investigate, assess, model and further the predictive understanding of changes in the structure and function of North Sea biological populations relative to different drivers of ecosystem change. A critical part of this work is the availability of long-time series such as the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) and the Helgoland Roads database which provide data dating back to the 1930s.

Changes in species distribution and phenology can have profound impacts, both positive and negative, on commercial fish and shellfish species and their exploitation, and by extension on the coastal communities dependent on them. Early identification of species biogeographic trends, can however support the implementation of adaptive strategies, replacing old traditions with new opportunities.  

Dr Alheit is a renowned international marine climate impact researcher based at the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research (Germany) from where he is leading the ECODRIVE project. He is a member of the Scientific Steering Committee of the IGBP Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC) initiative and of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) Steering Group on Climate Change. He has published extensively on the subject of regime shifts and climate change.  

During the visit to Ireland, the Marine Institute and the Environmental Change Institute (ECI-NUIG) jointly hosted a guest lecture on Marine Climate Change by Dr Jürgen Alheit, in the Martin Ryan Annex, National University of Ireland, on Thursday 3rd April. Dr Alheit’s lecture, “Impact of climate variability on northern hemisphere marine ecosystems: regime shifts and teleconnection patterns", was attended by over 50 researchers and students from the Marine Institute and NUI-Galway.  

In the lecture, Dr Alheit outlined his work, in both the Atlantic and Pacific, on ecosystem regime shifts and the difficulties of separating climate induced from anthropogenic drivers.  His work currently focuses on the use of small pelagic fish such as sardine, anchovy, sardinella, herring and sprat as indicators of climate impacts as they respond dramatically and quickly to changes in ocean climate.

He also outlined new theories on the role of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) where the two phases of the NAO are replaced by four climate regimes of sea level pressure which include the positive and negative phases of the NAO and the implications of this on interpreting field observations. The implications of this will be the subject of further research using both North Sea and data sets from the adjacent Atlantic Ocean.  

In introducing the guest speaker, Geoffrey O’Sullivan (MI-International Co-Operation and Irish partner in the MarinERA Project) recounted how he had attended a presentation by Dr Alheit in Paris and was struck by the similarity of approach being adopted by the ECODRIVE Group in the North Sea and the Marine Institute’s Climate Change Team working off the coast of Ireland.

Thanks to funding support from the MarinERA Project and the assistance of the Environmental Change Institute, NUI-Galway (Sarah Knight, Martin White, Martina Prendergast), this visit and lecture were made possible.