Southern Ocean Ecosystems in a Changing World

Integrating Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics in the Southern Ocean (ICED) is an international multidisciplinary science programme, undertaking circumpolar analyses to better understand the response of Southern Ocean ecosystems to natural and anthropogenic change and feedbacks to the wider Earth System. The programme was developed in conjunction with the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), and is a regional programme of Future Earth’s Integrated Marine Biosphere Research programme (IMBeR). ICED is also a co-sponsored programme of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR). Over the coming years, ICED research will be focussed around three Priority Research Areas:

1. Research to understand and quantify the state and variability of marine ecosystems

ICED research centres on whole ecosystem level understanding of the structure and functioning of Southern Ocean of ecosystems, and their variability and response to change across a range of spatial and temporal scales. ICED has focused detailed work on key species from phytoplankton to higher predators, on the structure of food webs, physical, chemical and biological interactions, and the effects of past and recent variability and change. The Marine Ecosystem Assessment for the Southern Ocean (MEASO) initiative is a current activity of ICED, aiming to provide a quantitative assessment of the status of Southern Ocean ecosystems to support decision-makers in adapting their conservation and management strategies to future change.

2. Research to improve scenarios, predictions and projections of future ocean-human systems.

ICED research on the impacts of climate change on Southern Ocean ecosystems has recently provided an initial assessment of the potential impacts on Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), their predators, and the krill fishery. This work is now providing the basis for the development of an ICED community approach for projecting and assessing potential impacts of future change, and how to incorporate this information into conservation and management decision-making.

(Photo: Alfred Wegener Institute)

 3. Research for sustainable ocean governance.

ICED works with stakeholders to ensure its research can be incorporated into conservation and management. This includes collaborations with the Antarctic Treaty Commission (ATC) via SCAR, and with a number of ATC agreements including the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).


Future ICED-SOOS collaborations

ICED has been involved with SOOS from the outset, particularly around Theme 6: Ecosystems. ICED currently maintains close communications with SOOS via shared ICED SSC and SOOS SSC members, SOOS’s Regional and Capability Working Groups, including benchmarking Southern Ocean ecosystems, ecosystem Essential Ocean Variables, and sensing Antarctic predators from satellites. In addition to involving SOOS in research under the above Priority Research Areas, there are a number of activities planned over the coming years for which ICED welcomes SOOS collaborations. These include;

  • ICED Programme – the next 5 years

ICED is developing a new programme structure that will involve a range of stakeholder representatives, including SOOS.

  • Southern Ocean sea-ice ecosystems – a multi-year multi-ship field campaign
(Photo: British Antarctic Survey)

An ICED multidisciplinary, international fieldwork campaign is currently being proposed to examine key ecological, biogeochemical and physical processes in the sea-ice and associated ice-ocean transitional zones across the Southern Ocean. Sea-ice is a central component of Southern Ocean ecosystems yet its influence on many key processes is poorly understood. It provides crucial habitats for overwintering species (such as Antarctic krill), areas of refuge from predators, feeding environments, and substrates for predators. Sea-ice extent is projected to decline during this century, with major impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems throughout the Southern Ocean. Information on these future changes is required to inform conservation and management decisions within the region. Improved understanding of sea-ice associated ecosystems around the Southern Ocean is therefore required, including their importance for krill and other species, and how their seasonal development during autumn, winter and spring affects open-ocean ecosystem processes in the summer. There is also a need to understand sea-ice environments away from the coast, which are difficult to access and require ice-capable research vessels. The ship and field studies of this multinational effort will be underpinned by year-round observations involving autonomous and satellite systems. Collaborations with SOOS in the development of the plans are already underway.

  • ICED and IMBeR

Through IMBeR, ICED scientists are involved in a series of global ocean ecosystem science activities, that also put Southern Ocean science in a global context, and are of relevance to SOOS. This includes developing agreed approaches to generating future projections of ocean ecosystems, improving understanding of human-ocean ecosystem interactions, and ocean-ecological feedbacks in the Earth System.

  • Future ICED meetings

ICED welcomes SOOS participation in a number of forthcoming ICED meetings, including the ICED session ‘Complexity, Connectivity and Change in Southern Ocean Food Webs’ at the American Geophysical Union Ocean Sciences meeting, 16-21 Feb 2020, San Diego, USA and the ICED session ‘The effects of change on Southern Ocean ecosystems: understanding, modelling, projecting, and managing change in Southern Ocean species and food webs’ at the SCAR Open Science Conference, 3-7 Aug 2020, Hobart, Australia.

For further information, or to become part of the ICED community, please email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , visit or follow on Twitter @ICEDantarctic

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