The ocean plays a key part in the regulation of our planet’s climate. Ocean currents redistribute heat from the equator to the poles and as the water sinks to the deep ocean, it stores much of the excess CO2 and associated heat released by the burning of fossil fuels. However, this climate regulation comes at a cost. As the deep ocean warms and becomes more acidic (due to the increase in dissolved CO2), the amount of available oxygen and food particles at the seafloor is projected to decrease as well. It is predicted that this could have devastating effects on life in the deep sea, including many deep-water coral species and commercially important fish species. Furthermore, these deep-sea ecosystems are also threatened by human activities such as destructive fishing practices, overfishing, oil and gas exploration, oil spills, deep-sea mining and increasing amounts of marine litter.
In order to protect these fragile deep-sea ecosystems and the services they provide to society, there is an urgent need for sustainable, ecosystem-based management. However, this requires a comprehensive understanding of the different processes affecting ecosystems in the largely unexplored deep-sea. To address this need and provide policymakers with the right tools to sustainably manage the deep-sea, the Horizon 2020 ATLAS project has been exploring the deep North Atlantic Ocean to “improve our understanding of how deep ocean ecosystems function, their roles as reservoirs of biodiversity and genetic resources, and their health under future scenarios of climate change and human use”.
In a recent study, the Horizon 2020 ATLAS project has predicted the climate-driven changes in the habitats of 6 cold‐water corals and 6 commercially important deep‐sea fishes in the North Atlantic by 2081-2100. The map of the week shows the predicted loss, preservation (refugia) and gain in the habitat of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) under a business-as-usual climate change scenario. You can also explore how the study predicts the change in habitat of other deep-sea fish and coral species in the European Atlas of the Seas.