"Coasts and shelf seas are biologically highly productive and play a central role in the storing of greenhouse gases in the ocean", explains project coordinator Prof. Dr. Kay Emeis from the Institute for Biogeochemistry and Marine Chemistry in Hamburg. "In this area 20 per cent of the global uptake of carbon dioxide by the ocean takes place".
The amount of carbon dioxide which can be stored in the sea depends among other things on the efficiency with which the biomass produced by single-cell algae can be utilized. In recent years a change in the basic composition of the higher levels of the food web have been observed off the Namibian coast. The GENUS team now wants to investigate the influence on all members of the food chain, including commercially utilized fish stocks.
Phytoplankton needs not only CO2, but also nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphate. Their availability depends on the oxygen content of the wind-driven currents. If these change, this also affects the productivity: "Up to now it was assumed that the areas in question had been overfished", reports Emeis. "However, it is possible that what we are seeing is a result of climate change".
In order to investigate the interrelationships between wind forcing, biomass production and CO2 fixation, Emeis and his colleague from the University of Bremen, Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Hagen, have put together a team of experienced modelers, biogeochemists and ecologists. The objective is to set up a model system with which the ecological consequences of climate change can be predicted - for Namibia, but also for other similar upwelling areas worldwide.
The project is funded be the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) and will be an important contribution to the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program.