Marine Environment

Marine Water. Photo:CDanmark

Major drivers and pressures to research areas in marine environments include a number of anthropogenic threats. Major ones are excessive loads of nutrients and toxicants, overfishing of marine resources (commercial and non-commercial fish species, shellfish, etc.), climate changes, invasive species, physical disturbances, and ship traffic. Marine ecosystems are most often crossing national borders, and research and management of local and regional seas need substantial international co-ordination.

In Europe, a number of directives represent the legislative foundation for part of the research, monitoring and management. Major marine directives include the Water Framework Directive (WFD), the Habitats Directive (HD), and The Marine Strategy Directive (MDS). WFD covers the coastal zone, MSD the open marine waters, and HD species, populations and habitats. The directives represent a comprehensive and globally unique science-based management concept, and they cover both the European dimension and regional and local properties. Major research challenges include lack of indicators, insufficient models, deficiencies in terms of uncertainties, and local and regional aspects and lack of knowledge on the interplay between agriculture, fishery, climate changes, environmental quality and economy.

Societal impact and strategic research objectives

On a global scale, the marine environment comprises 70% of the surface, controls a significant part of the climate and constitutes a major food, energy and habitat resource for mankind. An overall strategic research objective is to establish a body of knowledge on sustainable resource utilization and to establish fundamental relationships between the physical, chemical and biological regimes as a basis for establishing a status of the structure and functions of marine ecosystems and as a prerequisite for scenarios and predictions for future changes in drivers and pressures. A more specific research objective is to develop and improve models to link the marine environment to atmospheric models, regional and local models on land use in drainage basins, integrated ecosystem and fishery models, cost-minimization models and ecosystem services assessment models.

Political and administrative frame of the problem

Management of aquatic ecosystems is legally defined in a number of European Directives. Currently, the European countries are in the middle of the process including baseline studies, environmental quality definitions and water and action plans to reach the environmental goals in marine ecosystems. Since most of the environmental targets have to be met in the period 2015-2021, all the involved countries are in the middle of a hectic process of implementing the directives. A number of intercalibrations facilitate the work, however, a large part of the work to develop reliable and robust indicators, define limits between quality levels, and implement realistic monitoring programmes are laid down to the individual European countries.

Main sub-fields and areas

With reference to the overall strategic research objective and the political and administrative impacts and effects of the research a number of important areas can be defined:

  1. Improving the understanding and models on ecosystem structure and functioning,
  2. Development of scenario- and predictive ecological models on global, regional and local scales,
  3. Strengthening the scientific platform for the implementation of the European Directives,
  4. Integrating climate change and climate variability, and
  5. Integrating marine science with monitoring, management and socioeconomics.


A general overall approach is that most of the scientific work to be carried out needs to be interdisciplinary and international. This suggests that pan-European projects will have strong impacts and administrative effects, since most of the legislative work is common for the European countries. Most of the research is strategic meaning that there are needed contributions from both basic and applied research activities. Current limitations include lack of fundamental knowledge which needs to be carried out before appropriate strategic research activities can be made. Such limitations call for research activities that combine experimental designs with conceptual, theoretical and applied research.