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A Workshop on Planning Coordinated Research on Ecosystems, Climate, and Policy in the Northeast

January 11-13, 2005

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» Workshop on Planning Coordinated Research

Executive Summary
On January 11 to 13, 2005, a diverse group of researchers, program managers, and ecosystem and marine resource managers were brought together to determine the coordinated research needed to support better understanding of marine ecosystems in the Northeast region of the United States and of the impacts of climate variability and the human population on these ecosystems. The long-term goal of such a coordinated research effort is to improve ecosystem-based approaches to marine resources management in the Northeast.

Climate variability that changes water properties and transports is apparent at time scales of several years and longer. Marine animals at higher trophic levels live several years or longer. Variability in the catch of finfishes and shellfishes has been seen at the several year and longer time scales. The challenge is to distinguish marine resource changes due to human impacts from those resulting from natural forcing, especially climate variability and change.

To initiate discussion, four focus areas were identified prior to the workshop: harmful algal blooms, nutrients and contaminants, fisheries, and biodiversity conservation. Dialog among the participants on the key issues and challenges in these four areas, both from scientific and management perspectives, was used to draw out the common and pressing needs for efforts in the areas of research, observations, modeling, education, and outreach. The workshop concluded by prioritizing the needs and laying out a recommended time line for coordinated research over the next decade.

Discussed in greater detail in section IV the key recommendations are to:
• Assess the horizons of predictability and management, using research to find the limitations on the deterministic and probabilistic models required for forwardlooking management strategies.

• Establish a baseline for identifying ecosystem change and thus for managing and conducting research in the Northeast by using field surveys, retrospective analyses, facilitated data exchange, and facilities for sample archiving.

• Develop improved predictive capabilities for the Northeast, built around an integrated ecosystem model approach, which considers multiple abiotic and biotic factors and assesses the role of climate change in comparison with other sources of natural and human induced change. Drive model improvement with strong links
between sustained observations and comprehensive studies of processes.

• Build the Northeast observing system, establishing sustained observations at key sites and broad surveys in the domain and of the estuarine, atmospheric, alongshore, and offshore exchanges within the region in order to provide the data required to initialize, test, and improve climate and ecosystem models and management tools.

• Conduct comprehensive research studies characterized by high temporal and spatial sampling to address key uncertainties, determine and resolve critical processes, and build improved understanding, parameterizations, and models.

• Develop a system for an adaptive approach to management of the Northeast ecosystem resources, with research embedded in the cycle of evaluation and improvement of the management tools and methods and with facilitated flow of data, analyses, and results to managers as well as of management feedback to the

• Foster ongoing dialog among climate, ecosystems, biodiversity, and fisheries researchers, ecosystem and fisheries managers, marine resource stakeholders, the general public, and the NOAA goal teams and program managers to support the adaptive management system, to integrate observations and research results, to effectively disseminate research results, and to guide future observations and research.

Based on considerations of readiness, impact, and sequential progress the following phasing is

Phase 1 (near-term, 0 – 3 years):

• Initiate development of a baseline assessment (collect and assemble existing data, carry out retrospective analyses, integrate results from current field surveys). As part of this development, facilitate the exchange across the community of the diverse data types (e.g., physical oceanographic, fisheries, atmospheric forcing, catch, biodiversity, population variability across a range of trophic levels).

• Identify the priority elements of the Northeast observing system (agree on key sites as sentinel and reference sites, agree on indicator species, develop enhancements to present repeat broad scale sampling, integrate and coordinate all possible sampling elements including those for the critical estuarine, atmospheric, open ocean and adjacent coastal exchanges, and identify the need for new sensors and sampling methods) and the sequence of more intense sampling studies needed.

• Assess the coverage of climate and ecosystem issues provided by present models and observations and develop strategies for moving toward integration of all trophic levels and multiple forcing functions.

• Initiate the program to assess the horizons of predictability, probing the reasons for limitations on skillful prediction. As part of this identify key data (initialization, validation), parameterization, and understanding (realistic incorporation of all key physical and biological processes, realistic models of elements of the system) needs.

• Initiate a working group of researchers (observationalists, modelers, and analysts; climate, ecosystems, fisheries, policy), managers, marine resource stakeholders, and NOAA climate and ecosystems goal team staff to continue interaction, and to embed the research process in a plan for adaptive management of the ecosystems of the Northeast; repeat the Workshop every two years to review progress and improve research plans.

Phase 2 (3-7 years):

• Complete the baseline assessment (including comprehensive field surveys of bathymetry, substrate, biodiversity, and retrospective analyses).

• Establish sustained observations at key sentinel and reference sites; begin the high intensity process studies addressing the shortfalls in predictive skill and understanding.

• Produce and validate improved surface forcing fields; integrate improved surface meteorological and air-sea flux observations (buoys, towers, ships) with improved regional atmospheric and climate models.

• Establish partnerships, agreements and cooperative efforts to obtain data from the boundaries of the region: the coast, the open ocean, the coastal ocean to the north, and the coastal ocean to the south.

• Begin building the integrated ecosystems model system, drawing upon the models used as building blocks by the research community and supporting a consortium to do the integration; provide operational and research model results to the community, placing an emphasis on having a good regional climate model, accurate surface forcing to drive ocean models, biological models that span the trophic levels, integration of the component models, and assessment of uncertainties in predictions.

• Institute model validation experiments, keying on the intense sampling studies, time series at key sites, and broad scale sampling to examine different models and using the historical data collected for the baseline assessment to test hindcast results.

Phase 3 (7-15 years):

• Build the integrated ecosystem model system into a Northeast region adaptive ecosystem-based approach to marine resource management, developing the products sought by managers; target prediction of decadal scale variability and longer term change as the goal of this phase.

• Operate and improve the Northeast observing system to support and improve the model system; embed it in and link it to the ocean, atmosphere, and land observing systems that provide key knowledge of fluxes at the boundaries. Where possible, develop and include automated observing systems for key biological elements such as plankton, intertidal organisms, and benthos.

• Carry out comprehensive studies to resolve processes, build parameterizations, and test and improve models.

• Institute a 4-year cycle to document change in the physical and biological systems of the Northeast, the success of models (predictive and hindcast) describing variability and change in these systems, the effectiveness of the observing system, and the success and continuing challenges of an ecosystem-based approach to management in the Northeast.

Last updated: October 14, 2008

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