As the Southern Ocean starts feeling the heat scientists try to protect the region

After five years scientists from across the globe have released a “mini-IPCC” for the Southern Ocean.

The Marine Ecosystem Assessment for the Southern Ocean (MEASO) is being described as “the first comprehensive assessment” of trends in the Southern Ocean.

The MEASO report is the result of collaboration between more than 200 scientists from 19 countries and is specifically designed for policy makers to inform decision-making about the Southern Ocean.

It stresses that climate change is the most significant driver of species and ecosystem change in the region, but also highlights the tools available and recommended research priorities for its conservation.

“Long-term maintenance of Southern Ocean ecosystems, particularly polar-adapted Antarctic species and coastal systems, can only be achieved by urgent global action to curb climate change and ocean acidification,” the report says.

“[MEASO] has demonstrated the array of existing knowledge, data, tools and approaches available for informing decisions on conserving and sustaining the marine ecosystems in the region and the services they provide, and how implementation of those processes could be improved.”

The MEASO process was modelled on a working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

An overhead photo of a group of scientists at a conference
The first international MEASO conference in Hobart, Australia, in 2018.

“MEASO is like an IPCC report for the Southern Ocean, and in a similar way we have distilled the science into an easy-to-read and concise summary to inform politicians and policy makers around the world,” says co-convenor Dr Andrew Constable of the University of Tasmania, Australia.

MEASO is designed to address two main questions: What is the state of the Southern Ocean system now? And what is its future?

“The unique wildlife of the Southern Ocean is feeling the heat and, together with additional pressures from fisheries, tourism, and pollution, faces an uncertain future,” says MEASO co-convenor Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas from Australia’s national science agency CSIRO.

“As well as its fundamental importance to biodiversity, the Southern Ocean is crucial to human welfare by providing us with food and helping to control our climate.”

A photograph of ice on the ocean during a sunset
Pack ice. Credit: Sachie Yasuda AAD

According to the report, the demand for the Southern Ocean’s ecosystem services is expected to increase during the 21st century, alongside the impact of climate change on those services.

Leader of the Australian Antarctic Program Partnership at the University of Tasmania, Professor Nathan Bindoff, says that the MEASO process should continue during this critical decade for action on climate.

“Currently assessments of change in habitats, species and food webs in the Southern Ocean are compiled separately for at least ten different international organisations or processes,” says Bindoff.

“Bringing the best-available science together in a timely fashion through the MEASO process is an excellent way to harmonise the information for policy makers.”

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