New Ecosystem Overview for the Greenland Sea

ICES releases nine updated and one new Ecosystem Overview.
Published: 10 December 2020

​​​​ICES has released nine updated Ecosystem Overviews and published a new overview that covers the Greenland Sea ecoregion. The newest overview was developed by the Working Group on Integrated Ecosystem Assessment of the Greenland Sea (WGIEAGS), established in 2020. Co-chair Jesper Boje, DTU Aqua, states, “We can now provide users - managers, policy-makers, institutes, scientists, the public - with access to an overview of the ecosystem and related information".

Greenland Sea

The Greenland Sea ecoregion spans the length of the East Greenland Shelf stretching over 20 degrees of latitude. Despite having a large coastal boarder, the catchment area has a relatively small human population, and therefore has limited influence from local anthropogenic activity. However, the ecoregion has and continues to experience environmental change, mostly as a result of far-field anthropogenic activity.

The ecoregion has two distinct subregions - the north with cold and fresh polar waters, year round sea ice, and little anthropogenic activity and the south with warmer, more saline waters, seasonal drift ice, and activities of demersal and pelagic fisheries. The majority of commercial fisheries take place in the southern half of the ecoregion. Fishing, abrasion caused by bottom-trawl fisheries, and pollution are named as the main pressures in the ecoregion.

The sea ice extent has reduced, resulting in the increased northwards penetration of warmer waters from the Atlantic. Climate model comparison studies indicate that from 2000 to 2050, the maximum fish catch potential in the region will increase by 25%  which is globally unique and in strong contrast to latitudes south of approximately 60°N, which are expected to show the opposite trend.

Colin Stedmon, WGIEAGS co-chair notes that, “It is difficult to provide an accurate assessment of change in the region as there is very little coordinated sustained data collection. Our working group hope to be able to better identify these needs as we continue to compile the available data form the region".

Read the full Greenland Sea Ecosystem Overview​.

What are Ecosystem Overviews?​

To manage how human activities affect our seas and oceans, we must be able to assess the impact of human pressures on the ecosystem from the coasts to the deep sea and monitor trends in species and habitat biodiversity. Ecosystem Overviews are one of ICES key products that identify human activities and resulting pressures. Describing the current state of regional ecosystems, ICES Ecosystem Overviews explain how these pressures affect key ecosystem components at a regional level. Presenting the main human activities in a region creates awareness of their distribution and the resultant pressure on the environment and ecosystems across ICES regions.

The strength of the overviews lies in the quality of the data and information provided, based on contributions from a large number of expert groups within the ICES community. The overviews are developed with the most up-to-date knowledge available to the scientific community, but they also inform where knowledge is lacking, alerting to situations that need further attention and where effort is needed to close the gap. 

Who uses Ecosystem Overviews?

Nils Höglund, Baltic Sea Advisory Council (BSAC), has complimented ICES work on Ecosystem Overviews, “The overviews represent a welcome addition and hold a promise of a future of integration to a more complete picture of both qualitative and quantitative descriptions of the ecosystem that is the Baltic Sea. BSAC is always open to advancing knowledge to better manage the Baltic Sea". Höglund hopes to see fisheries impacts on the ecosystem becoming more and more integrated into the assessments in the future.

Karin Linderholm, Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SwAM), has commented that, "In our work at SwAM, we cover issues related to both fisheries and other aspects of the marine environment. We use the Ecosystem Overviews as a general barometer for the shape of the ecosystem in our major marine ecoregions, the factors shaping the state of the ecosystem, and the role fisheries play in this. The overviews are valuable reference material as regards the development over time on key parameters and we appreciate that they are updated annually. All in all, we use them in different fields of our competence and appreciate that ICES continues to prioritize Ecosystem Overviews and to further develop the content over time based on the impressive expertise and competence within ICES". 

“OSPAR make use of ICES Ecosystem Overviews (alongside other evidence) as part of its work on the relationships between human activities, pressures and ecosystem components, including consideration of the cumulative effects from human activities on the quality status of the North East Atlantic", states Adrian Judd, Convenor of the OSPAR Commission's Intersessional Correspondence Group on Cumulative Effects.

Next generation

To keep these overviews relevant to the knowledge needs of management, we are continually developing to address new information as well as changes in the ecosystem and legislation.  The process of designing the third generation of Ecosystem Overviews recently began. The Workshop on methods and guidelines to link human activities, pressures and state of the ecosystem in Ecosystem Overviews (WKTRANSPARENT) took place in December with natural, economic, and social scientists taking an inclusive and comprehensive approach to ensure interdisciplinary contributions to Ecosystem Overviews. 

Growing capacity

Following today's advice release, ICES now provides ecosystem overviews for ten ecoregions : Barents Sea, Norwegian Sea, Icelandic Waters, Greater North Sea, Baltic Sea, Celtic Sea, Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast, Oceanic Northeast Atlantic, Azores, and Greenland Sea.

In 2021, an overview will also be produced for the Central Arctic Ocean led by a working group, co-chaired by ICES, PICES, and PAME.  

Alongside our Ecosystem Overviews, ICES also provide Fisheries Overviews for nine ecoregions​ and in 2021 will publish the first Aquaculture Overviews.  

As a growing series, the overviews highlight the capacity of ICES to advance and shape ecosystem understanding throughout the North Atlantic Ocean, the Baltic Sea, and beyond. ​​​

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New Ecosystem Overview for the Greenland Sea

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