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HERMES - Hotspot Ecosystem Research on the Margins of Europe

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Summary information

Funding:FP6 - Integrated Project
Total cost:22730000
Ec contribution:15560000
Start date:2005-04-01
End date:2009-03-31
Duration:48 months
Coordinator:Philip Weaver (
Organisation:Natural Environment Research Council, Southampton Oceanography Centre - United Kingdom
Themes:Deep circulation changes; sedimentation changes; abiotic impacts; biotic impacts; socio-economic consequences
Regio:Arctic; North Atlantic; Mediterranean Sea; Black Sea
Keywords:Biosphere, European deep ocean margin, geosphere, hydrosphere, sedimentary systems, carbon cycle
Project name:HERMES - Hotspot Ecosystem Research on the Margins of Europe
Project summary:Abstract
HERMES is designed to gain new insights into the biodiversity, structure, functioning and dynamics of ecosystems along Europe's deep-ocean margin. It represents the first major attempt to understand European deep-water ecosystems and their environment in an integrated way by bringing together expertise in biodiversity, geology, sedimentology, physical oceanography, microbiology and biogeochemistry, so that the generic relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning can be understood. Study sites will extend from the Arctic to the Black Sea and include open slopes, where landslides and deep-ocean circulation affect ecosystem development, and biodiversity hotspots, such as cold seeps, cold-water coral mounds, canyons and anoxic environments, where the geosphere and hydrosphere influence the biosphere through escape of fluids, presence of gas hydrates and deep-water currents. These important systems require urgent study because of their possible biological fragility, unique genetic resources, global relevance to carbon cycling and possible susceptibility to global change and man-made disturbances.

Past changes, including catastrophic events, will be assessed using sediment archives. We will make estimates of the flow rates of methane from the geosphere and calculate how much is utilised by benthic communities, leaving the residual contribution to reach the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. HERMES will enable forecasting of biodiversity change in relation to natural and man-made environmental changes by developing the first comprehensive pan-European margin Geographic Information System. This will provide a framework for integrating science, environmental modelling and socio-economic indicators in ecosystem management. The results will underpin the development of a comprehensive European Ocean and Seas Integrated Governance Policy enabling risk assessment, management, conservation and rehabilitation options for margin ecosystems.
Project outputs:This many highlights of the HERMES project include, among other no less significant results:
- increased knowledge of submarine canyons and the heterogenous habitats they sustain (Tyler et al.)
- identification of cold water cascading in the Gulf of Lion, its impact on the shrimp fishing industry, and the susceptibility of the process to climate change (Canals et al.)
- the discovery that ecosystem functioning and efficiency on continental margins increases exponentially in deep-sea ecosystems characterized by higher biodiversity (Danovaro et al.)
- work on cold-water coral reefs that has shown the importance of the reef mass itself in distributing organic matter (Lavaleye et al.)
- many new discoveries about the distribution of cold-water coral reefs, including in the central Mediterranean where they were previously believed to be rare (Freiwald et al.)
- measurement of rates of subsurface fluid flow and methane release at some mud volcanoes and cold seeps (Foucher et al.)
- identification of a vast heterogeneity of cold seep habitats and faunal assemblages, on scales of tens to hundreds of meters (Vanreusel et al.).

Results from all of these studies have contributed to better understanding of ecosystem food webs, which are explored from a modeler’s perspective by Soetaert et al. One of the great strengths of the HERMES project has been its ability to bridge the gaps among policymakers, nongovernmental organizations, and HERMES scientists. The HERMES project was designed to provide the scientific knowledge base that will support policy decisions concerning the sustainable management of Europe’s natural offshore resources and to contribute to the success of a holistic approach to European maritime governance (see Grehan et al., this issue). There has been a necessary learning curve for all concerned, with scientists learning to make their research more relevant and policymakers learning to put their problems directly to scientists. A number of discussion sessions involving policymakers, nongovernmental organizations, deep-sea industry representatives, and HERMES scientists have been very successful in identifying some key issues that will need to be taken forward in subsequent projects.

These issues include the need for holistic, long-term research strategies to answer societal needs and to support deep-sea governance. Key knowledge needs for policy and management include interdisciplinary and multisectoral research to fill management gaps, such as integrated management, environmental impact assessments, strategic environmental assessments, spatial planning, marine protected areas, and implementation of a precautionary approach. Research must also be conducted to illustrate for policymakers and stakeholders the impact of good management decisions and practices, and the value of deep-sea ecosystems to society (Armstrong et al.). This cross-sectoral community will be important in the development and implementation of the European Maritime Policy and Marine Strategy, and for responding to the EU Habitats directive.

Finally, the research community has a key role in making science visible to the wider public, and raising awareness among the public and policymakers (see De Mol et al. and Gunn and Thomsen). HERMES has made a significant start in integrating research across a range of disciplines and across a wide range of European institutions, and in addressing the societal issues mentioned above. Testament to the success of the project is the inclusion of HERMES in the European Commission’s list of the Top 40 projects funded under its Framework Six Programme.