iAtlantic is a new multidisciplinary research programme seeking to assess the health of deep-sea ecosystems across the full span of the Atlantic Ocean

Marine scientists from countries bordering the north and south Atlantic Ocean have joined forces to assess the health of ecosystems in the deep sea. They hope to determine the resilience of both the animals that live there, and their habitats, to threats such as temperature rise, pollution and human activities. The new iAtlantic project aims to deliver knowledge that is critical for responsible and sustainable management of Atlantic Ocean resources in an era of unprecedented global change.

Funded by a €10.6M grant from the European Union's Horizon 2020 programme, the ambitious iAtlantic project will - for the first time - undertake an ocean-wide approach to understanding the factors that control the distribution, stability and vulnerability of deep-sea ecosystems. Work will span the full scale of the Atlantic basin, from the tip of Argentina in the south to Iceland in the north, and from the east coasts of USA and Brazil to the western margins of Europe and Africa. Central to the project's success is the international collaboration between scientists throughout the Atlantic region, with sharing of expertise, equipment, infrastructure, data and personnel placed at the forefront of iAtlantic's approach. 

To assess the status of ecosystems, scientists need to know more about how they are connected and distributed, what functions they perform and how stable they have been over time. All this requires the collection of new data, but also innovative approaches so that observations taken at local and regional levels can be scaled up to address questions at ocean basin scale. 

To do this, iAtlantic will align deep-ocean observing capacities in the north and south Atlantic, which will provide accurate and detailed insights into ocean circulation in the past, present and future at a range of spatial and temporal scales. The latest marine robotics and imaging technology will be used to develop predictive mapping tools toadvance understanding of deep-sea habitat distribution across the ocean. Combined with genomic data and ecological timeseries data, all this new information will provide an unprecedented view of the impacts of climate change on Atlantic ecosystems, allowing scientists to identify key drivers of ecosystem change and determine which areas of the Atlantic Ocean are most vulnerable to the effects of sustained, increasing and multiple pressures.

To generate the enormous quantities of data required to achieve this, iAtlantic is underpinned by an extensive field programme comprising some 32 research expeditions that collectively span the length and breadth of the Atlantic Ocean. Drawing on a multinational fleet of research vessels and the latest marine technology and instrumentation, efforts will focus on 12 locations in the deep sea and open ocean that are of international conservation significance and of interest to Blue Economy and Blue Growth sectors. These expeditions will not only probe the most remote corners of the Atlantic but will also provide invaluable opportunities for enhancing human and technological capacities, driving forward cooperation between science, industry and policymakers in countries bordering the Atlantic. 

> Read more about our flagship iMirabilis 2020 cruise here

iAtlantic launched in June 2019 and will run for 4 years. The multidisciplinary consortium of 33 partners is led by Prof. Murray Roberts at University of Edinburgh. 

For more details please contact i-atlantic@ed.ac.uk

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 818123 (iAtlantic). This output reflects only the author’s view and the European Union cannot be held responsible for any use that may be  made of the information contained therein.

Image credits, from top: University of Edinburgh; NOAA-OE Expedition to the Deep Slope 2007; Chris Pearce/NOC. Main banner: University of Edinburgh.