In a commentary published in Nature Climate Change 28 January 2015, centre deputy science director Henrik Österblom together with a group of 12 other scientists argue that the Nordic countries are in a unique position to showcase how to handle the growing pressure on the oceans, however this relies on a collective ability to regard change as connected.
The Nordic Seas are among the most sensitive to environmental change on Earth.
This suggest that the high latitude regions are in for a hefty roller-coaster ride in the years to come with increased temperatures, changed wind patterns, more acidic water and retreating sea ice.
"What we’re just beginning to realize is the sheer level of complexity that arises from the fact that change is taking place at all levels in the oceans"
Øyvind Paasche, Bergen Marine Research Cluster
Many cooks, and oh the broth
But not only climate matters; complex interplay due to an ever-growing human presence also emerges.
"During the last decades it is mainly changes in temperature and sea ice that have made headlines, but the ecosystems themselves are also changing, which is of utmost importance," he adds.
Another aspect, which recently has gained global attention, is the potential for industrial expansion in the Nordic Seas, which can represent a boom for many coastal societies. Tourism, oil and gas, aquaculture, and shipping are all major players that already are expanding in this region.
"We need to produce food and we need to have a healthy economy, but what really is at stake here is the question of sustainability. If we continue adding pressure to systems that are close to the breaking point, or will be in a short time, the consequences will be long-lasting and far-reaching," says Henrik Österblom.
The Nordic seas: 1, Baltic Sea; 2, North Sea; 3, Greenland Sea; 4, Norwegian Sea; 5, Barents Sea. Mean surface salinity 1980-present. Salinity gradients are projected to become steeper in future, making these seas more sensitive to environmental change.
All in one big pot
The authors stress that the Nordic seas need to be understood as connected, and not treated as separate compartments. "The Ocean is always in motion and the level of interdependency is much higher than what one might think."
"We are now in the process of creating an analytical framework that can make sense of a multi-stressed ocean," says Professor Nils Christian Stenseth, the chair of NorMER and one of the co-authors, "but we’re only at the beginning, and unless the Nordic Countries enhance collaboration within this field, our understanding will continue to lag behind the change we already observe, which is in no one’s interest."
The authors conclude that policy makers must not only be informed, but be informed by state-of-the-art insights, and that can only be accomplished by acknowledging that the Seas of Norden are connected.
"Now is the time to move from global attempts to study the Earth System from disconnected natural and social science perspectives to focus on integrated social–ecological science at the regional level. It is time to move away from an emphasis on problems as identified by narrow sector-specific scientists, and increasingly work across disciplinary boundaries to understand possible ways to address challenges."
Paasche, Ø., Österblom, H., Neuenfeldt, S., Bonsdorff, E., Brander, K., Conley, D.J., Durant, J.M., Eikeset, A.M., Goksøyr, A., Jónsson, S., Kjesbu, S.O., Kuparinen, A. and Stenseth, N.C. (2015). Connecting the Seas of Norden. Nature Climate Change, Vol. 5.
Henrik Österblom is Deputy Science Director at Stockholm Resilience Centre. He is also joint theme leader for the centre theme Governance and ecosystem management of coastal and marine systems.
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