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IMBER - Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosystem Research

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Summary information

Funding:IMBER is an IGBP-SCOR project
Start date:2004-01-01
Duration: months
Coordinator:Lisa Madidison (Executive Officer) (
Project name:IMBER - Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosystem Research
Project summary:IMBER (Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosystem Research) is an IGBP-SCOR project focussing on ocean biogeochemical cycles and ecosystems. IMBER builds on the success of the now-completed JGOFS and GLOBEC projects. The IMBER vision is to provide a comprehensive understanding of, and accurate predictive capacity for, ocean responses to accelerating global change and the consequent effects on the Earth System and human society. The IMBER Science Plan and Implementation Strategy (SPIS) was recently updated to facilitate the inclusion of the ongoing regional programmes from GLOBEC and the new relevant research directions. The Supplement to the IMBER SPIS can be downloaded from Alternatively, copies can be requested from Here, an overview of the scope of the IMBER science agenda is provided.

Human activities are rapidly altering Earth System processes that directly and indirectly influence society. Informed decisions require an understanding of which parts of the Earth System are most sensitive to change, and the nature and extent of anticipated impacts. This requirement underlies the IMBER goal: to investigate the sensitivity of marine biogeochemical cycles and ecosystems to global change, on time scales ranging from years to decades.

To achieve this IMBER will identify key interactions between marine biogeochemical cycles and ecosystems, and assess how these interactions respond to complex natural and anthropogenic forcings. Important forcings include large-scale climate variations, changing physical and biological dynamics, changing carbon cycle chemistry and nutrient fluxes, and widespread marine harvesting. The major drivers of change considered are physical dynamics, seawater CO 2 (controlling ocean pH), nutrients (with changing inputs to the euphotic zone from the subsurface waters, sediments and land), and intensive fish harvesting. This research will fill the critical gap between short-term climate events (seasonal scale) and anthropogenic global change (century scale). To address its goal IMBER research is structured around four themes as follows:

Theme 1: Interactions Between Biogeochemical Cycles and Marine Food Webs
Key issues: (i) the transformation of organic matter in food webs, (ii) transfers of matter across ocean interfaces, and (iii) material flows in end-to-end food webs. Interactions between biogeochemical cycles and food webs are expected to differ between environments such as continental margins associated with coastal upwelling, high latitude and Polar Regions, and tropical and subtropical oligotrophic gyres. Comparison of different systems will provide new insights for identifying and understanding fundamental interactions between marine biogeochemical cycles and ecosystems.

Theme 2: Sensitivity to Global Change
This theme will advance understanding of how marine biogeochemical cycles and ecosystems respond to the complex suite of forcings associated with global change. Identifying components that respond directly to global change is a primary concern. In this theme, responses are partitioned into four major issues: (i) effects of climate-induced changes in the physical dynamics of the ocean, (ii) effects of increasing CO2 levels and decreasing pH, (iii) effects of changes in macro- and micronutrient inputs to the ocean, and (iv) impacts of marine harvesting. The issues are considered from different interdisciplinary perspectives.

Theme 3: Feedbacks to the Earth System
This theme will focus on the present and future capacity of the ocean to affect the climate system via ocean effects on atmospheric composition and heat storage. The key issues here are: (i) the varying capacity of the ocean to store anthropogenic CO2, (ii) ecosystem feedbacks on ocean physics and climate and (iii) how changes in low-oxygen zones affect the nitrogen cycle, particularly transformations involving N2O. Understanding of local and regional manifestations of global change in the ocean is required to model the potential feedbacks from marine biogeochemical cycles and ecosystems to the Earth System.
Theme 4: Responses of Society
This theme will focus on interactions between human and ocean systems. Its motivation stems from recognition that humans not only influence ocean systems, but also depend on ocean systems for goods and services. The theme goal is to promote an understanding of the multiple feedbacks between human and ocean systems, and to clarify what human institutions can do, either to mitigate anthropogenic perturbations of the ocean system, or to adapt to such changes. A major challenge of this theme will be to bring together scientists from a wide range of disciplines, to identify areas of joint concern and interest, and to create an ongoing natural-social science marine research community.
IMBER will take advantage of new and innovative approaches to marine research ranging from new molecular techniques to sustained in situ and remotely sensed observations. The development of new sustained observation sites will be an important part of the implementation strategy complemented by targeted field-based process studies, in situ mesocosm studies, and field and laboratory experiments. A suite of hierarchical models will be developed to test hypotheses, analyse data and extrapolate in space and time, and identify crucial knowledge gaps that require new observations. Extrapolation to the global scale will require integration and assimilation of data from basin-wide surveys. To support modelling and synthesis, interconnected biological, geochemical and physical databases will be built, extended, and updated in near real-time.

Answering the broad interdisciplinary questions will require an effort much larger than any single nation can mobilise. Multiple investigators spanning disciplines, and intercomparisons of data across a range of systems will be needed. Interfacing the natural and social science communities to study the key impacts and feedbacks between marine and human systems will be a major challenge. IMBER will encourage collaborative activities that will draw on the expertise of other international research projects and programmes, including the Global Ocean Observing System, to avoid duplication and to ensure a truly interdisciplinary approach.
Project outputs:Newsletters, reports and publications are available from the project website which also includes an IMBER data portal (