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ICES/NAFO Symposium on the Variability of the North Atlantic
and its Marine Ecosystems during 2000-2009

Key challenge of the symposium

To summarize and understand the hydro-biological variability observed during the decade of 2000-2009 in relation to longer time variability or change, and to quantify the interactions between the variability of climate, ocean environment, plankton, fish, mammals and seabirds in the north Atlantic marine ecosystems.



The North Atlantic has experienced significant changes during the past decade. The upper ocean has warmed, particularly in the temperate and arctic/boreal regions, and there have been major biogeographic shifts and changes in the phenology of the biota that appear related to the physical changes. These climate-driven changes in the North Atlantic ecosystem need to be understood at a fundamental level to anticipate future changes and to enable effective ecosystem based management of ocean resources.


A fundamental challenge is to determine the interaction between large natural variations (most often driven by climate variability) and the impact of man. Thus a major issue in marine ecology is to understand how food webs are regulated by their environment and affected by human interference. The extreme variations in physical factors in northern waters (e.g. light, temperature, and ice cover) that occur over seasonal, inter-annual and longer time-scales, cause major fluctuations at all trophic levels – there is no such thing as “ecological balance”. Due to the complexity of this challenge it can probably only be explored and quantified by sustained, multidisciplinary observations in combination with extensive use of mathematical models.

Knowledge of ecosystem dynamics is required to properly evaluate ecosystem status and predict the impact of fishing and other anthropogenic stresses on the marine food web. There are many opinions about what an ecosystem approach means. We choose to define it as: identifying the most important driving forces on the marine ecosystem and the critical processes within the ecosystem and determine how they interact. While many processes are involved, the two main driving forces on most ecosystems in the northern North Atlantic are climate and fishing. In coastal areas, eutrophication, pollution, introduction of new species or habitat disturbance may also be important drivers.

ICES · NAFO · IEO · Symposium · Santander · Cantabria · Spain · Science · Scientific · Centro Oceanográfico de Santander · Santander Convention Centre · Palacio de la Magdalena · Marine Ecosystem · Variability of the North Atlantic

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