Organization: Department of Commerce (DOC)

Research Title: Marine Ecosystem Response (GLOBEC)

Funding Level (millions of dollars):

FY94 2.0
FY95 1.4
FY96 0.4

Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) Component:
(a) Subcommittee: Global Change Research Subcommittee (100%)
(b) Environmental Issue: Large-scale changes in ocean ecosystems (100%)
(c) Research Activity: Systems structure and function: Understanding (50%); Impacts and adaptation: Ecological Systems (50%)

Organizational Component:
Office of Global Programs
1100 Wayne Ave.,Suite 1225
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Point of Contact:
C. Mark Eakin
Phone: 301-427-2089 xl9

Research Goals:
To assess and predict how climate variability affects the abundance and production of marine animals and the structure of marine ecosystems.

Research Description:
The primary focus of the NOAA Marine Ecosystem Response (MER) program is U.S. GLOBEC (GLOBal ocean ECosystem dynamics), an interagency (NSF and NOAA) program. Research goals are firstly to sort out natural variability from that due to anthropogenic change, and secondly to understand the relative effects of climate vs. overfishing on fish populations. Three regions have been selected for study: the northwest Atlantic/Georges Bank, the north Pacific Ocean, and the Antarctic.

The Georges Bank program, initiated in FY93, is focused on the causes for the recent catastrophic declines in the numbers of cod and haddock in U.S. and Canadian waters. Both nations closed the fishery, at an economic loss of 100's of millions of dollars. Through modeling, retrospective data analysis and process research, GLOBEC scientists are trying to sort out the role of climate vs. overfishing as causal factors, e.g., (i) how changes in stratification and coastal circulation patterns may affect the suitability of banks and continental shelf areas as spawning and retention sites for the fish populations; and (ii) how past recruitment variations are associated with basin-scale changes in wind speed and direction and water temperature. Another issue is shifts in ecosystem structure -- the ecosystem was once dominated by cod and haddock but is now dominated by mackerel and herring (pelagic fish) and dogfish and skates (demersal fish). Even with a reduction in fishing effort, the ecosystem may never return to its previous cod-dominated state.

The California Current, when initiated (hopefully in FY97), will focus on decadal-scale regime shifts and effects of ENSO variability on the California Current and North Pacific. A key issue will be understanding the basin-scale regime shift which occurred in the North Pacific in 1977 and its effects on fisheries, particularly salmon. Some changes which occurred then include: a eastward shift of the Aleutian Low, dramatic increases in salmon landing in the north Pacific and Gulf of Alaska, catastrophic declines in salmon landing off Washington, Oregon and northern California, a decline in productivity of the southern portions of California Current by nearly an order of magnitude, increases in sardine populations off Japan and California, and increases in bluefin tuna landings off Japan. Regime shifts occurred in the 1920s, and in the 1940s. Paleoceanographic work suggests that shifts have occurred in the past at 30-60 year periods. GLOBEC scientists are also planning a comparative study of climate change and coastal upwelling in other eastern boundary currents as part of the International GLOBEC Small Pelagic fish program. This program would involve the U.S., Mexico, Peru, Chile, Namibia and South Africa.

The Antarctic program is also in the planning process. When complete, an international and interagency program will be implemented involving 10 or more nations and three Federal agencies. Field work on krill, seabirds and mammals will begin no sooner than FY 1999.

Program Interfaces:
U.S. GLOBEC is jointly managed by NSF and NOAA. It is the U.S. component of the International GLOBEC with 10 national programs established. The Georges Bank studies involve 73 scientists from the U.S. and Canada and is coordinated with the Gulf of Maine Regional Research Program and NOAA Coastal Ocean Program. It is part of the five nation ICES (International Council on Exploration of the Seas)/GLOBEC Cod and Climate Change North Atlantic study. California Current studies will aid NOAA to assess the economic impacts of El Niño events. Technological developments made by GLOBEC, and coral reef monitoring activities will form a basis for the International GOOS (Global Ocean Observing System) Living Resources Module.

Program Milestones:
Summer 1995: Complete First Phase of Georges Bank field study. FY 1996: initiate modeling and retrospective analyses for California Current study. FY 1996: Prepare synthesis papers describing influence of stratification on Georges Bank marine populations.

Policy Payoffs:
All U.S. GLOBEC studies will demonstrate the importance of building climate variability into the models that drive management decisions for living marine resources. Currently, most resources are not managed with an eye toward climate variability. Yet, there is abundant evidence for example that the recent drastic reductions in coho salmon landings off Oregon and Washington are due to climate-driven changes in ocean productivity, not overfishing. U.S. GLOBEC is the only major program that will assess the response of marine ecosystems to climate change. Modeling and process research will assess seasonal-to-interannual variability; analysis of long-term data sets and paleoceanographic work will assess the relative importance of natural vs. anthropogenic change on marine animal populations. Both scales of assessments are needed by policy makers involved with implementing the Federally-mandated Magnuson Fisheries Management Act, Marine Mammals Protection Act, and Endangered Species Act. GLOBEC study sites in the NW Atlantic, California Current and Antarctic contain rich marine resources that must be managed by NOAA and other international bodies.