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SESAME - Southern European Seas: Assessing and Modelling Ecosystem changes

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Summary information

Funding:FP6 - Integrated Project
Total cost:14790000
Ec contribution:10000000
Start date:2006-11-01
End date:2011-04-30
Duration:54 months
Coordinator:Evangelos Papathanassiou (
Organisation:Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, Institute of Oceanography – Greece
Themes:Abiotic and biotic impacts; socio-economic changes deep circulation changes; freshwater inflow
Regio:Mediterranean Sea; Black Sea
Keywords:Climate change assessment and prediction; biodiversity; ecosystem research; carbon sequestration; fisheries; tourism; ecosystem goods and services; mitigation of climate change; sequestration in water and sediments
Project name:SESAME - Southern European Seas: Assessing and Modelling Ecosystem changes
Project summary:The SESAME project was designed to study the past, present and future environmental changes in the Mediterranean and Black Sea ecosystems, and their abilities to provide goods and services with fundamental societal importance, such as tourism, fisheries, mitigation of climate through carbon sequestration and ecosystem stability through conservation of biodiversity.
With the help of historical data, in combination with newly collected data, SESAME aimed to identify the changes these two ecosystems have experienced over the last 50 years. The goal was, based on the past and current status, to predict possible changes within the next 50 years.
Project outputs:The project assessed the changes in the Southern European Seas (SES) ecosystems over the last 50 years, determined the current status and predicted the changes that may happen in the Mediterranean and Black Sea ecosystems in the 21st century. In addition, SESAME assessed and predicted the abilities of these ecosystems to provide goods and services with fundamental societal importance. The project approached the two seas as a coupled climatic/ecosystem entity, with links and feedbacks to the world ocean, something not attempted before at such a large scale for these ecosystems. Overall the project, working in an integrated and multidisciplinary mode, managed to create a large network of scientists who worked together as a team, to increase the capacity building especially in less advanced SES regions, and to ensure that a structured dialogue between researchers and potential users is created and maintained. Strong focus was placed on disseminating this knowledge to all relevant stakeholders. This involved the integration of socio-economics and natural sciences, while at the same time creating a platform for education and further learning opportunities.

SESAME completed its research activities through multidisciplinary collaborations, both within as well as outside the EU. One of these examples was the simultaneous multi-national cruises carried out in the Mediterranean and the Black Seas, which not only strengthened collaborations among the scientific teams of different partner institutes, but provided the scientists with the opportunity to produce a “snap-shot” of the ecological state of the Southern European Seas in 2008, which could be used in the years to come as reference for potential changes. The assessment of ecosystem changes was based on the identification of the major regime shifts that occurred during the last 50 years, which was successfully accomplished through the research cruises, the modelling efforts and the socio-economic focus of the project. Integrating the socio-economic evaluation of SES marine ecosystems with solid, state-of-the-art scientific modelling and field observations achieved a dual future projection. Firstly, it provided information in terms of numerical modelling efforts and, thus, the process through which we can now define the potential changes occurring in the SES ecosystem dynamics under unified consensus scenarios of climatic change and direct anthropogenic pressure. Secondly, it allows for the quantification of welfare effects for SES countries (GDP effects), which may be caused by changes in the ability of these ecosystems to provide goods and services (e.g. fisheries catch potential, ecosystem biodiversity, attractiveness etc.).

Moreover, SESAME’s scientific efforts were effectively and efficiently managed, starting with the analysis of existing and newly collected data at basin and regional scale as well as through model simulations, to attain and create a comprehensive, integrated Database regarding the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, to be maintained beyond the project’s life span.

The analysis of historical data together with models showed that several components of the SES ecosystems have changed during the last 50 years. Changes were not identical in both basins, nor attributed to the same drivers. Black Sea has been strongly affected by human activities (eutrophication, introduction of alien species, overfishing) both in coastal and offshore waters. Climate variability seems to have induced changes, mainly through the sea water temperature, affecting the dynamics of plankton. The observed changes in the Mediterranean Sea were attributed mainly to temperature through its impact on the water stratification and circulation. The occurrence of the Eastern Mediterranean Transient (EMT), connected with temperature, impacted also the system.

Useful project outcomes can be used when designing and re-defining policies that protect marine ecosystems. Results show the considerable improvements to be achieved by combining and coordinating socio-economic and scientific modelling towards the development of improved integrated research strategies and policies. Assessing the ecosystem status and societal cost for goods and services derived from the SES marine ecosystems is of key importance. In this respect, some of the project’s results clearly indicate that the warming of the atmosphere, a process apparently in action in the last quarter of the 20th century, has been found to continue and, with respect to the SES, translates in a progressive warming of the SES waters. Additionally, the temporal and spatial pattern of this progressive warming might have important consequences and alter the biogeographical structure and biodiversity of the SES. Finally, the results of the Mediterranean Sea model indicate that the progressive warming evolves with a northward shift of the surface isotherm, potentially paving the way for meridionalization processes in the basin (ingression into the basin of warm water or alien species).