VulnErability of the Italian coastal area and marine Ecosystems to Climatic changes and Their rOle in the Mediterranean caRbon cycles (VECTOR)

Summary of the project

The marine coastal regions are largely affected by changes in climate (e.g. changes in sea level rise, precipitation and related changes in the hydrological cycle); moreover, the marginal seas and the continental shelves play an important role in biological productivity enhancing both air-sea CO2 exchanges and carbon sequestration. The amount of CO2 potentially absorbed from the ocean systems, and in particular from the Mediterranean Sea, is still uncertain (about 50%, on a decadal basis) and the mechanisms regulating the air-sea exchanges have not been clarified. The main objective of the project is to assess the mechanisms related toCO2 sequestration from the Italian Seas through the analysis of existing and newly collected data and to validate coupled hydrodynamic and ecosystem numerical models targeted to simulate the nutrient and carbon cycles in the water column, the carbon sequestration and the benthic-pelagic coupling. 

The VECTOR project, assigned to CoNISMa by Italian Ministery for the University and Research, is carried out in collaboration with the main Italian research institutes, such as CNR, ENEA, ISPRA, CMCC, OGS and Stazione Zoologica “Anton Dohrn”. The scientific activities of VECTOR consist in 10 workpackages, aimed at studying the most significant impacts of climate changes on the Mediterranean marine environment and its role in carbon sequestration. 

In order to draw future scenarios related to different mechanisms, five areas of study were selected: the Northern Adriatic shelf, the Central Adriatic coastal area, the Calabrian margin in the Ionian Sea, the Napoli Gulf and the Tuscan coast in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Besides these regions the Venice Lagoon (strongly modified by human activities) represents an additional site of particular interest being a low area, prone to flooding and a world heritage to be protected.

The research themes are developed into a number of specific objectives that concern: the modification and the extension of the coastal areas; the morphology of the backshore-foreshore-shoreface; the alongshore littoral transport; the aerosol transport from the sea to the coastal area; and finally the related impacts on the areas subject to anthropogenic activities as well as on freshwater reserves. These themes will be associated with those related to changes in the Venice lagoon, to the shelf and pelagic ecosystems, providing quantitative and qualitative estimates and budgets of the nutrient and carbon cycles.

As for the latter the main activities will concern:

  •  the kinetics of CO2 transfer from the atmosphere into the water column through mixing at the surface and storage into the deep waters; – the assessment of CO2adsorbed by the ocean and its spatial and temporal variability through direct measurements and numerical simulations; 
  • the assessment of positive or negative feedbacks generated by changes in the stratification, in the input of macro- and micro nutrients and in the functioning of the trophic web;
  • the assessment of the carbon transformation within the trophic web and its vertical transfer by active physical/biogeochemical processes until its burial; 
  • the final carbon sequestration in the sediment and its separation from the system at centennial time scales.

 The aims are to: 

  • define, with adequate accuracy and spatial-temporal coverage, sources and sinks for CO2 at the air/sea and land/sea interfaces; 
  • improve the understanding of the carbon cycle and the sensitivity to global changes, providing significant data on the atmospheric CO2 levels for the next 200 years; 
  • to develop predictions on the behavior of the ocean towards carbon sequestration; 
  • to provide data related to the capacity of carbon absorption of the Italian seas, to be used in the International negotiations. 

Actually 29 cruises are conducted for more than 209 days at sea, using a remarkable effort both of men, scientifical and economical resources. Preliminary results of activities are discussed during the 1st and the 2nd VECTOR annual Workshop.

Area of study

The Venice Lagoon, the Northern Adriatic shelf, the Central Adriatic coastal area, the Calabrian margin in the Ionian Sea, the Napoli Gulf, the Tuscan coast in the Tyrrhenian Sea and the whole Mediterranean Sea.

TimeTable for activities

February 2006 – Autumn 2010