07 June 2012 | ESSEM, TD
World Oceans Day

8 June is World Oceans Day. COST would like to celebrate by highlighting the scientific research carried out by many COST Actions that help discover how the ocean will change, monitor its salinity, unravel what the ocean hides, understand the role of trace metals in ocean processes, and improve the observation and management of marine ecosystems.

Life began in the seas 3.1 to 3.4 billion years ago. There are 328 000 000 cubic miles of seawater on Earth. By volume, the ocean makes up 99 % of the planet's living space: it is the largest space in our universe known to be inhabited by living organisms.

The concept for a ‘World Ocean Day’ was first proposed in 1992 by the Government of Canada at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Thanks to a United Nations General Assembly resolution passed in December 2008, World Oceans Day is now officially recognised by the UN as 8 June each year.

Studying the future ocean evolution through underwater robots

Oceans cover 70 % of the earth and this immense area is very hard to explore. Yet, we need to learn how oceans are changing. The challenge is to understand how oceans work on many detailed levels and apply this knowledge to future scenarios. Unfortunately, data collected up to now is limited and scarce. The underwater glider is a relatively new observation platform in oceanography, but one which has great potential thanks to its smart design. These intelligent and affordable platforms are useful for long-term, multi-parameter marine observations and are able to autonomously stay in the water from three to six months and send back data. The gliders’ measurements are used to create models demonstrating how the oceans are changing and to predict their future. COST Action ES0904 'European Gliding Observatories Network' (EGO) brings together several teams of oceanographers interested in developing the use of gliders for ocean observations. Using these gliders, scientists can e.g. calculate the salinity of water and make detailed scans of the world‘s oceans. The Action coordinates ongoing research by operating an autonomous fleet of underwater gliders. This provides cost-effective methods for discovering and monitoring the ocean at global, regional and coastal scales - which benefit both basic oceanographic research and operational applications for marine activities. Using the data collected, COST Action ES0904 is able to ask those 'what if' questions which are vital to predict phenomena such as the future warming level.

Monitoring ocean salinity

Salinity is one of 45 Essential Climate Variables (ECV) identified by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to monitor climate variability. However, in spite of the relevance of salinity to the oceanographic phenomena described above, there has been a lack of Sea Surface Salinity (SSS) observations in most of the world’s oceans. Only a small fraction of the ocean has been sampled on a regular basis, at least until the recent deployment of the Argo floats observation system and the launch of the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission.COST Action ES1001 ‘SMOS Mission Oceanographic Data Exploitation’ aims at coordinating the European studies concerning the oceanographic data exploitation of the SMOS satellite mission, which is part of the Living Planet Programme of the European Space Agency (ESA). Launched on 2 November 2009, SMOS will provide SSS maps of the oceans for the first time. This COST Action will also take on the challenge of monitoring ocean salinity by coordinating the work of pan-European scientists to compare and assess the various techniques being implemented at member state-level to retrieve salinity information from satellite data.

Discovering submerged archaeological treasures and landscapes

COST does not only support ocean studies, but also helps investigate what the ocean hides and treasures. Submerged archaeological treasures and landscapes contain unparalleled information on early human populations and environmental change. Prehistoric archaeological materials have been found off the coasts of almost every European country.

Coastal environments are a primary focus for human settlement and social development, but sea level has been low for most of human existence. Most evidence for the early colonisation and deep history of Europe is now submerged.

Early ancestors of modern humans originated in Africa and, two million years ago, they evolved and spread across Europe and Asia. Migration routes involved crossing straits and channels which are now in deep water in various locations across the European continent. COST Action TD0902 'Submerged Prehistoric Archaeology and Landscape of the Continental Shelf' is an international research group bringing together archaeologists, marine geophysicists, environmental scientists, heritage agencies as well as commercial and industrial representations aiming at preserving these 'archives' of archaeological and palaeoclimatic heritage. 

Understanding of the role of trace elements in the oceans

The composition of sea water is controlled by many different processesthatdetermine ocean chemistry. The study of the dissolved chemical species and their isotopes – found in very small quantities in the ocean – advances hand in hand with progressing analytical techniques. These chemical species, also known as ‘trace elements’, include iron and other micronutrients (such as zinc, cobalt, aluminium, copper and manganese). They end up in the ocean through a multitude of processes such as dust deposition and river input, and are recycled through processes in geologically active oceanic spreading centres, where new mountain chains are built. Research on trace elements is multidisciplinary in its nature. It improves our understanding of the biogeochemical processes in the oceans, the role of these elements in ocean productivity, the past variations in the ocean environment and has implications for future climate change. COST Action ES0801 ‘The ocean chemistry of bioactive trace elements and palaeoclimate proxies’ seeks to maximise research on the marine chemistry of trace elements conducted across Europe through training of young researchers, coordinating sample collection and measurements on cruises, collaboration between laboratories as well as organisation of international data management. This Action liaises with other international research programmes such as the GEOTRACES programme.

Observing marine biodiversity and managing ecosystems

Marine biodiversity provides the basis for many ecosystem services that humans depend upon. However, marine ecosystems are undergoing profound changes, due to anthropogenic pressures, climate warming and natural variation. Understanding biodiversity patterns and studies on specific ecosystems will improve the conservation and management of marine resources. COST Action ES1003 ‘Marine Biodiversity Observatory System’ aims at initiating a pan-European large-scale network of marine biodiversity observatories to assess long-term changes in marine biodiversity and their possible causes.

COST Action ES0906 ‘Seagrass productivity: from genes to ecosystem management’ works towards a better management of European seagrass under anthropogenic pressure to help preserve these highly productive ecosystems.

World Oceans Day provides an important boost to those organisations and individuals who are deeply committed to ocean study and conservation of the 328 000 000 cubic miles of seawater on Earth. Join us in celebrating the science that is working to preserve our oceans!