Coastal ecology and palaeoecology of the Baltic and adjacent seas
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The MOLTEN and DEFINE project aims

Estuarine and coastal systems have experienced massive changes in nutrient loading from human activities during the history of human occupation. Attempts to determine the long-term effects of nutrient enrichment is hampered by the limited time span of contemporary monitoring programs. Most monitoring programs began only in the last 30 years, which narrows our perspective on when the changes began and what the starting point was prior to anthropogenic alteration. These constraints act to limit our ability to manage and protect our coastal resources. In addition, without the knowledge of past conditions it is difficult to know to what level can we restore conditions in degraded ecosystems. However, paleoecological techniques, e.g. collection and analysis of sediment cores, can provide a powerful tool to determine the long-term effects of nutrient enrichment and to investigate how they have affected ecosystem functioning over time.

The overall goal of this proposed research project is to provide decision makers with a tool that can be used for the evaluation of background conditions, determination of the anthropogenic influence in the coastal zone and potential recovery of these systems with reduced nutrient loads, such that appropriate policy and management measures can be taken both at the European and national scales. To ensure that the results are made available to end-users, especially environmental decision makers, we will prepare specific guidelines for the management authorities to be used in implementing the Water Quality Directive.

Specific objectives:

  1. To develop diatom-based transfer functions for nutrient concentrations (N and P) from four European basins representing approximately one third of the total European coastal zone. A harmonised transfer function will be developed in order to provide a more general tool that can be applied at the European scale.
  2. To establish long-term historical trends in biological and chemical parameters from sediment records at four coastal sites. This multi-proxy palaeoecological work will provide insights into changes in structure of various parts of the ecosystem (phytoplankton, littoral macrophytes, zoobenthos) and is fundamental for establishing the time-scale of long-term ecological change and loss of biodiversity, and for implementation of the transfer functions.
  3. To apply the results of the transfer functions to sediment cores to estimate long-term trends in nutrient concentrations. The transfer functions will allow us to determine background conditions and determination of the anthropogenic influence of the coastal zone from four specific sites.
  4. To integrate palaeoecological data on long-term changes in ecological and chemical status and develop a system for coastal managers to evaluate the effectiveness of policies to reduce nutrient loads.