Jump directly to the page contents

About Topic 6


Topic 6 will provide the scientific foundation for a sustainable management of the ocean by determining the functions and dynamics of marine ecosystems and assessing options to remedy and mitigate human impacts.


About 70 percent of the Earth is covered by oceans. But only 13 percent of this huge area can be considered pristine. Most marine and polar habitats are suffering as a result of shipping, commercial fishing, pollution, global warming, and rising levels of CO2. All of this has a serious impact on biodiversity and on ecosystems, including the services they provide. Normally, the oceans absorb large quantities of the carbon dioxide generated by human activity, thereby reducing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

We want to investigate how marine biodiversity is responding to this pressure through adaptation, habitat shift, or changes in the composition of biotic communities. We will analyze the impact that these changes have on food webs, on the uptake and release of carbon, and on other fundamental cycles. Examples of subjects we aim to explore include the extent to which marine ecosystems are able to continue storing sufficient quantities of CO2 in the oceans, especially under the influence of climate change, and what the long-term impacts of deep-sea mining are on ecosystem functions and microbial communities on the seafloor.

Our research into marine and polar biodiversity draws on a range of sources, such as data collected on the Polarstern research icebreaker during the international MOSAiC expedition in the Arctic. The Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity at the University of Oldenburg (HIFMB) will develop scientific grounds for marine protection and management measures by analyzing the roles and functions of biodiversity in ocean ecosystems. The Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), and the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel will also pool their expertise in biology and biogeochemistry to describe how the entire Atlantic Ocean is responding to and coping with changes in the global climate for the first time. We will contribute these findings to international expert bodies, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Recent Highlights

Bottom-up driver interdependencies alter the projected response of phytoplankton communities to climate change

Interaction matters

Phytoplankton growth is controlled by multiple environmental drivers, which are all modified by climate change. While numerous experimental studies identify interactive effects between drivers, large-scale ocean biogeochemistry models mostly account for growth responses to each driver separately and leave the results of these experimental multiple-driver studies largely unused. Here, phytoplankton growth functions were amended in a biogeochemical model by dual-driver interactions (CO2 and temperature, CO2 and light), based on data of a published meta-analysis on multiple-driver laboratory experiments. The effect of this parametrization on phytoplankton biomass and community composition was tested using present-day and future high-emission (SSP5-8.5) climate forcing.


Graphic Representation of Subtopics

Subtopics in detail

Participating Centers