INDO-EUROPEAN RESEARCH FACILITIES FOR STUDIES ON
MARINE ECOSYSTEM AND CLIMATE IN INDIA

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Structure

INDO-MARECLIM will build on the expertise of NERCI and extend it as a joint research facility for scientific co-operation between India and the European Union member states and associated countries in the areas of monsoon climate variability, marine ecosystems and costal management including impact on society.

The Specific objectives:

  1. To establish scientific cooperation focusing on: (a) Monsoon and ocean variability, climate change and sea level variations, (b) Marine ecosystem studies, including algae blooms and (c) Coastal zone management including impact on society.
  2. To organize and host workshops and summer school for the project partners, invite other European and Indian scientists, post-docs and PhD students aimed at e;xpanding Indo-European cooperation.
  3. To define, prepare and submit competitive new joint scientific research projects in cooperation between Indian and European research institutions to national and international funding agencies, including EU.
  4. To prepare the way for institutional arrangements at NERCI to include research organizations from additional Member States and Associated Countries.

Methodology and associated work plan

INDO-MARECLIM comprises three related, but complementary, scientific fields of research of interest to India and Europe;

  • (a) Monsoon and ocean variability, climate change and sea level variations,
  • (b) Marine ecosystem studies, including algae blooms and
  • (c) Coastal zone management and impact on society.

The relevance of these selected priority research foci are:

a. Monsoon and ocean variability, climate change, and sea level variations

The annual heating/cooling of the Asian continent, the meridional gradient of tropospheric heating and the associated monsoon circulation are among the most important aspects of atmospheric circulation. Almost half of the world's population live in areas affected by the Asian summer monsoon, and even slight deviations from the normal monsoon pattern can have great impact on agricultural production, water availability and hydroelectric power generation to name a few (Wang, 2006). Against the backdrop of rising global surface temperature, the stability of the monsoon rainfall and associated circulation remains to be a challenge to the scientific community (e.g. May 2004; Ueda et al., 2006; Annamalai et al., 2007; Cherchi et al., 2011).

The Asian monsoon influences the currents in the North Indian Ocean while the atmosphere's anticyclonic circulation influences the circulation in the South Indian Ocean. Recently, the Indian Ocean has been discovered to have a much larger impact on climate variability than what was previously thought of (Joseph and Sijikumar, 2004; Joseph et al., 2005). Changing winds and currents in the Indian Ocean during the 1990s have contributed to the observed warming of the ocean during this period. Understanding the cause of this warming and predicting its future evolution are major challenges to the scientific community, as the ocean warming is tied into a much larger global cycle of events. Also the warming of the Indian Ocean has an impact on the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) through teleconnections between the low and high latitudes, important for the weather in Europe.

Global average temperature and sea level have increased, and precipitation patterns have changed in the past 50 years. As the earth warms, glaciers and ice sheets melt, releasing fresh water into the oceans, in addition to the direct thermal expansion (Nicholls and Cazenave, 2010). Most of the world's largest cities containing millions of people lie at or very close to sea level and will therefore be affected by the rising sea level and accordingly cause significant societal implications. Data records, satellite Earth observation data, global oceanic reanalysis and coupled numerical ocean and atmosphere models will be used to study the variability of the monsoon system and the Indian Ocean under a changing climate.

INDO-MARECLIM will be addressing several of the scientific research challenges raised in India's first National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) released in June 2008.

b. Marine Ecosystem studies, including algal blooms

The marine ecosystem is vulnerable to global change processes and its importance for human harvesting of marine food resources makes it of utmost importance to humans. Knowledge of changes in the marine ecosystem is accordingly an essential part of the present research and higher education on climate and global change processes. Recent simulations using a regionally downscale ecosystem model of the east coast of India suggest that primary production could increase by 25-50% by 2100 compared with the pre industrial baseline (Allen pers comm.), potentially very important for the world food supply in the future.

The marine food resources in coastal and offshore waters of the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal are essential to India. The particular oceanographic conditions of the Indian Ocean, due to the seasonal and inter-annual monsoon variations, contribute to emphasize the linkage between the physical and biological ocean variations (Jayaram et al., 2010). India has developed an infrastructure and launched satellite sensors for monitoring the marine primary production and for use of integrated observational and forecasting systems to support sustainable use and management of the marine food resources (Platt et al., 2007).

Changes in SST and increases in land-derived nutrients may have increased the frequency of algal blooms in the marine environment. Some of these algal blooms are harmful to life, resulting in anoxia, fish kills and toxin production. The presence of HAB toxins in the human food chain can result in chronic illness and even death. The exact mechanisms by which the formation of harmful algal blooms is triggered is still not completely understood and is highly species dependent.

Information on algal blooms in the Indian Ocean gathered from in situ observations based on the collection of around 800 fixed oceanographic stations in the Indian seas has clearly shown patchiness, discontinuous distribution and sporadic blooming during different seasons especially the monsoon (Padmakumar et al., 2010). Clear-cut increase in the number of algal blooms has been noticed since 1990. Prof. N. R. Menon (the INDO-MARECLIM coordinator) has established a data set of HAB events in the Exclusive Economic Zone of India. Cataloguing the data available on the algal blooms based on the sea truth data would be very meaningful for comparative studies employing ocean colour data available

INDO-MARECLIM will benefit from the complementary scientific expertise developed in India and Europe related to marine ecosystem studies, exploiting research capacities in marine biology, satellite Earth observation and numerical marine ecosystem modelling.

c. Coastal zone management and impact on society

Study of the marine ecosystem and the disturbances to its normal functioning becomes holistic only when the societal impact is also assessed. The adoption of an ecosystem-based approach to managing the seas is a step towards addressing these complexities in terms of environmental state. The central tenet of such an approach is the holistic assessment of impacts of human activities on the marine ecosystem and the development of integrated management measures. With this perspective, NERCI has included Coastal zone management and related social issues in its strategy plan. The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification of Govt. of India in 1991 has witnessed conflicts of interests between traditional fishermen community and aquaculture and tourism industries. There has been a growing global concern for fisheries management, particularly the initiative by FAO to integrate fisheries management with coastal area management. Ecologically, coastal areas comprise of critical terrestrial and aquatic realms with valuable assortment of natural resources. Any alteration from the prevailing pattern of upwelling or monsoon, or variation in the fish catch has serious repercussions on the socio-economic scenario. Thus the ecosystems are closely linked with the socio-economic systems, which are in need of careful management actions as they are threatened by overuse and abuse by man (Ajith and Balchand, 2000).

A very large proportion of the coastal communities are totally or partially dependent on the coastal zone activities for their livelihood (Ramachandran et al., 2005). The activities include fishing, farming and related occupations. The CRZ regulations passed by the Indian Parliament in January 2011 has included the territorial waters in the regulation and thus has given enormous importance to fishermen community related activities. There are several societal issues ranging from drinking water requirements, management of suitable dwelling units, post-harvest activities such as fish drying and fish curing demanding organised attention. Village level information gathering and computing would be a very useful activity that would in the long run help in charting out programmes to help fishermen community for the betterment of their quality of life.

A lot of information on the biodiversity aspect of the coastal zone is available in the literature. No proper inventory has been carried out so far which would help in analysing changes in biodiversity of the coastal faunal groups. With changing seawater characteristics there is every likelihood that major disturbances in the biodiversity of the coastal flora and fauna will occur. A detailed digitised inventory based on secondary data would be a suitable step to analyse changes that are likely to occur in the plant and animal communities of the Indian coast.

INDO-MARECLIM will capitalize on the complementarities and commonalities of Indian and European research addressing the contemporary challenges in coastal zone management in India including the impact on the coastal society.