Benchmark now for future ecosystem assessments

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  • December 2017

A key component of the SOOS Science Plan is to develop a coherent strategy for sustained observation of the biology of Southern Ocean ecosystems.

In 2014, a workshop was held at Rutgers University to help determine the essential variables for this purpose – ecosystem Essential Ocean Variables (eEOVs). The outcomes are reported in Constable et al (2016), which laid the foundations for the SOOS Capability Working Group (CWG) on eEOVs. This work is complementary to that being undertaken in the IMBeR-SCOR-SCAR program on Integrating Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics in the Southern Ocean (ICED).

ICED and SOOS work on, respectively:

(i) Assessments and modelling of change in Southern Ocean ecosystems.

(ii) The design and implementation of marine observing systems and the integration and facilitation of access to the observational data.

They coordinate on areas of overlap between these objectives, as well as with scientists involved in other SCAR subsidiary bodies. The work is reported to the Scientific Committee of CCAMLR (SC-CAMLR). Both SOOS and ICED are committed to continuing and developing the provision of advice to support CCAMLR, as highlighted in the 2016 joint workshop of the Committee on Environmental Protection and SC-CAMLR.

ICED is organising a conference in 2018 ( with a principle focus of assessing the status and trends of habitats, species and food webs in the Southern Ocean (see for rationale).

The assessment will enable collective input from the Antarctic scientific community on the Antarctic marine ecosystem to the Sixth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It is also intended to provide marine biological input to the SCAR Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment Report.

SOOS is designing the biological component of its observing system to be complementary to the CCAMLR Ecosystem Monitoring Program (CEMP). It is also supporting the MEASO18 conference, particularly on the theme that considers the observations necessary for regular strategic assessments of the current ecosystem state.

As part of this work, SOOS, SCAR and ICED are now developing an initiative, building on the Census of Antarctic Marine Life, to undertake a circumpolar benchmarking of the Southern Ocean ecosystem, possibly in 2022-2023.

This initiative will link historical time series from different parts of the region and provide the basis for future sustained circumpolar biological observations and assessments.

As a result of these developments, the CWG on eEOVs has morphed into a CWG on Benchmarking Southern Ocean ecosystems, within which eEOVs will be considered. The Benchmarking CWG will consider how to use observations from satellites, ships (physics, chemistry, biology), land-based observations of predators, and remote platforms such as gliders and moorings, to develop an integrated view of the state of the ecosystem.

The design of the core activities is intended to help link time-series of observations from the past with a coordinated set of observations to be made in the future. Products will further advance the SCAR Biogeographic Atlas of the Southern Ocean (de Broyer et al 2014,, support an updated assessment of the state of the ecosystem in 2025 (MEASO 2025), update the design of sustained biological observations for SOOS, and support the use of ecosystem models for assessing ecosystem scenarios for the future.

The CWG will draw on existing programs where possible and develop an integrated core program around a number of regions illustrated in Figure 1. Projects to support the circumpolar assessment, such as existing or planned national field projects, will be invited to add to the core program of work. Possible designs will be considered at the MEASO conference in April 2018 in Hobart, Australia, and developed further after the conference in preparation for presentation to SCAR at Davos, Switzerland in June 2018.

The SOOS Benchmarking Working Group is an open, community effort and we invite interested researchers to get involved in this important venture. Contact Andrew Constable for more information.


Figure 1. Map of mean summer chlorophyll a showing possible transects (red lines) and locations being investigated for measuring biological and ecosystem parameters throughout the Southern Ocean. Transects will be combined with intensive study areas (large italicised numbers) to take account of latitudinal and longitudinal variation in physical and chemical habitats and primary production, giving rise to variation in food webs.  Initials indicate regions and transect numbers: EE = East Pacific sector ecosystem transect; AE = Atlantic sector ecosystem transect; IE = Indian sector ecosystem transect; WE = West Pacific sector ecosystem transect.  Registered sites for monitoring in the CCAMLR Ecosystem Monitoring Program are shown.  Locations are coastal bases or other possible research locations.  Large dots show the degree of feasibility that existing operations in the region may be used as ships of opportunity for taking underway measurements along transects.  Dark blue dots represent transects that could be feasible for repeated sampling within current operational activity.  Lighter blue dots represent transects that could be done repeatedly but with some operational adjustments.  Light dots represent desirable transects but not easily undertaken within the current operations.  Intensive study areas are 1 – West Antarctic Peninsula through to Amundsen Sea, 2 - Weddell & Scotia Seas, 3 - Maud Rise/Bouvet Island, 4 - Prydz Bay/Kerguelen Plateau, 5 - Balleny Islands/Macquarie Ridge, 6 - Ross Sea.  

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