Ocean motion: moves to protect seas gain momentum

A major EU-funded research project on the Atlantic highlights worldwide efforts to preserve marine biodiversity under a landmark treaty.

By Horizon Staff

When it comes to life on Earth, the importance of the Atlantic Ocean may be bigger even than its size.

The world’s second-largest body of water after the Pacific, the Atlantic is unique because of its large-scale ocean circulation. This movement of water and heat from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere has no equivalent in other oceans.

For Noel Keenlyside, a professor of tropical meteorology at the University of Bergen in Norway, this feature of the Atlantic makes it an invaluable gauge of environmental trends in the world and the effects of global warming.

The ocean’s circulation generates types of climate variability that influence weather conditions in Europe and connects marine ecosystems, including in two regions off Angola, Namibia, South Africa and Brazil where nutrients brought to the surface sustain fisheries important to the local economies.

‘The impacts of climate change are felt more strongly in the Tropical and South Atlantic,’ said Keenlyside.

In September 2023, countries around the globe signed a landmark agreement to protect the world’s oceans, which cover about 70% of the Earth. The EU hailed the United Nations pact, known as the High Seas Treaty, which had been in the works for more than a decade and Europe played a leading role in forging.

The treaty aims to protect 30% of oceans by 2030. The EU has pledged to protect at least 30% of its sea areas over the period through a special “mission” called “Restore our Ocean and Waters”, the core of which involves research initiatives.

Keenlyside led a major EU-funded international project on ocean research that wrapped up in November 2023 after more than four years. Called TRIATLAS, the project focused on the southern and tropical Atlantic and brought together dozens of organisations from 15 countries that ranged from Angola and Brazil to Norway and Spain.

Below is a Horizon Magazine video interview with Keenlyside about the southern and tropical Atlantic.

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This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.

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