Ireland - Ideal Natural Laboratory to Study Marine Climate Change

Warmer seas, wetter winters, increased coastal flooding, more intense storms and geographic shifts in the range of key commercial fish species are just some of the challenges facing Ireland's €3 billion marine industries from climate change, according to a new report released by the Marine Institute. Climate change also presents a number of major opportunities including the development of new fisheries for warm water species such as tuna and increased growth rates of native Irish shellfish species.  However, the effects of climate change on the North Atlantic in the longer term are less predictable.  One possible scenario is a slowing down of the warm ocean currents that give Ireland its mild climate, resulting in much cooler conditions both on land and at sea.

"Ireland's location, at the eastern end of the Gulf Stream and the southernmost temperature limits of many commercially important fishery species such as salmon and cod, make us an ideal observatory for studying the implications of climate change on the marine environment," said Dr. Peter Heffernan, CEO of the Marine Institute. "The recent deployment of a network of five weather buoys relaying back weather, wave and sea temperature information on a continuous basis also gives us a unique window on what is happening out there at sea." 

The Report was written for the Marine Institute by marine environmental advisor Rick Boelens, Dr. Dan Minchin of Marine Organism Investigations, and Geoffrey O'Sullivan, a senior member of the Marine Institute staff to inform discussions on a national marine RDTI strategy for the years 2006 - 2010. It looks in detail at the evidence for marine climate change and the implications for management of marine areas and resources. It also makes a number of key recommendations aimed at minimising any effects on marine industries and turning potential change to Ireland's advantage.   These comprise of:

Establishing partnerships with other European and Atlantic boundary countries to provide early warning of climate change effects and specialist training to improve national capabilities in predicting, managing and exploiting change in marine ecosystems.

Developing and implementing a national strategy and risk assessment procedure for assessing the positive/negative impact of new marine species that are likely to become established as a result of changes in climate. This would include investigating the impact of the loss of traditional commercial species (fish/shellfish), the potential of non-native species for fish farming.

Recognising the value of time-series data showing seasonal and yearly trends as the basis for climate models and giving greater priority to the collection of such information.

Extending the network of automated monitoring stations for sea temperature, salinity, wind strength, wave height and sea level, as well as improving capacities to evaluate such data.

Establishing a marine climate archive, combining historical and new information of relevance to tracking and modelling changes in marine ecosystems.

Intensifying the measurement of deep ocean currents to the west and north of Ireland as a contribution to scientific understanding of current patterns and their effects on climate change.

The establishment of an Expert Group to advise the government of findings from marine climate research, as well as issues arising from these findings as they relate to environmental and socio-economic impacts and ways of managing them successfully.

Over the coming months, the Marine Institute will host a joint UK/Ireland Workshop on "Impacts of climate change on ecosystem dynamics in the Irish and Celtic Seas" as part of the Festival of Science 2005 (Dublin 5th -9th September) and will participate in a Europe wide Working Group on "Climate Change Impacts on the European Marine & Coastal Environment" being organised by the ESF-Marine Board.

The Marine Institute is also involved in hands-on research to monitor and predict the effects of climate change on Ireland's aquatic resources. For the past 50 years the Marine Institute's Newport laboratory has collected long term data sets comprising meteorological, physicohemical and biological information, including a comprehensive salmonid and eel census. Such data are fundamental to climate change research and heave ensured Newport's involvement in major European initiatives such as REFLECT and CLIME. In collaboration with colleagues from Trinity College Dublin and partners from ten other countries, the Institute's scientists are investigating the impact that changes in the climate have on river and lake dynamics across Europe.   A range of methods and models are being used to simulate the responses of catchments to current and future changes in the weather. 

"Long term monitoring of any kind involves a huge resource commitment and in this our Golden Jubilee year it is very satisfying to see just how valuable the Burrishoole data sets can be in dealing with issues of global importance. The Newport facility with its seamless access to river, lake, estuarine and bay habitats is unique in Europe and offers great scope for multidisciplinary research of the kind needed in climate change studies", said Dr Ken Whelan, Director of Aquaculture and Catchment Management Services at the Marine Institute.

The report, "Climate Change - Implications for Ireland's Marine Environment and Resources" complements and supports the results of recent reports such as Climate Change: Regional Climate Model Predictions for Ireland (EPA, 2005).  It is published as part of the preparation phase of a new National Marine Research and Innovation Strategy for Ireland 2006-2012.

To order a hard copy of the report email or download a copy here 

The Marine Institute was established in 1991 and has developed into an organisation currently employing some 190 staff in Galway, Newport, Dublin and the ports. Its seven specialist service teams include fisheries science, aquaculture and catchment management, marine environment and food safety, strategic planning and corporate services. It manages the two national research vessels Celtic Explorer and Celtic Voyager through its Ocean Science Services Team and is home to the Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO). Its new purpose built headquarters and laboratory complex at Oranmore, Co. Galway is due to open early in the new year.