Decadal variability in the North Atlantic

Learn about the intersection of environmental change and human interactions from the latest symposium issue in ICES Journal of Marine Science.
Published: 30 April 2024

​​​The recent "Symposium on Decadal Variability of the North Atlantic and its Marine Ecosystems: 2010–2019" offered a deep dive into the shifting dynamics of one of the world's most important oceanic regions. 

Held in Bergen, Norway, from 20 to 22 May 2022, this event, hosted by the Institute of Marine Research and jointly sponsored by ICES and Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), marked the fourth in a series that began in 1991. While the first symposium focused on reviewing the hydrobiological variability of the 1980s, subsequent editions have evolved to integrate social sciences, reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of marine research. 

Addressing the primary challenge for marine ecosystems, César González-Pola, Spanish Institute of Oceanography and co-convener of the symposium, highlighted the urgency of environmental change, particularly climate change, and its intersection with resource exploitation sustainability. "Providing a precise knowledge-based picture is a basic and well-acknowledged responsibility of science", he stated, "I hope that the message is properly conveyed to society, so politicians are supported in taking decisions that may not be popular in the short term but are needed for the long term". 

The 2022 symposium, aligned with the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021–2030, explored climate impacts on marine ecosystems and living resources across the North Atlantic and Subarctic regions.

Key themes of the conference 

Ocean climate and physical environment: Presentations highlighted patterns of change, including freshening of the upper ocean and warming of deep waters, impacting stratification and deep water formation. Variations in sea ice coverage and temperature trends underscored the region's dynamic nature.

Decadal change in plankton communities: Studies revealed complex relationships between plankton dynamics and environmental changes. Shifts in species composition and abundance underscored the influence of climate change and anthropogenic factors.

Trends in fish and invertebrates: Insights into shifts in fish distribution and population dynamics showcased the complex interplay between ocean currents, temperature changes, and predator-prey interactions. Differences between the Northeast and Northwest Atlantic highlighted regional variations in response to warming trends.

Expanding horizons: Social-ecological systems: Addressing the human dimension of marine ecosystems, this session emphasized the need for integrated research to understand the socio-ecological impacts of environmental changes. Despite progress, challenges remain in fully integrating social science into marine research frameworks.

Looking ahead 

While the symposium showcased advances in understanding North Atlantic variability, challenges persist in sustaining long-term observation programmes and integrating multidisciplinary approaches. Reflecting on the challenge of sustaining long-term observation programmes, González-Pola emphasized, "Ocean time-series are maintained by committed groups or even individuals in research organizations in ​competition with 'discovery science' which is more profitable in terms of purely scientific metrics". Underscoring the importance of international cooperation, González-Pola states, "The way to keep these vital time-series alive is, in my view, through international agreements requiring the establishment and sustained coordination of long-term observations". As the ocean continues to undergo rapid change, maintaining continuity in monitoring efforts is paramount. 

Read all submitted articles in ICES Journal of Marine Science's latest symposium issue, 4th Symposium on Decadal Variability of the North Atlantic and its Marine Ecosystems: 2010-2019.​

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Decadal variability in the North Atlantic

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