There is one constant; our environment is continuously changing. The big challenge for science is to be able to distinguish between natural fluctuations and those forced by anthropogenic activities. This requires that we gather as much evidence as we can and across Marine Scotland Science we are gathering data and maintaining our long-term time series with the objective of reducing the uncertainty in projecting what the future might hold as a consequence of increasing sea surface temperatures and a change in the pH of our seas and oceans.
We need to take account of all the available evidence, be it from land or sea.
On a recent family visit to Iceland I took the opportunity to find out what is happening to the glaciers, going to one of the Icelandic government’s monitoring stations on the Solheimajokull glacier. As well as been a phenomenal experience, I came away from the glacier quite concerned. The monitoring shows a reduction in height of 9 m since May 2014, due primarily to an exceptionally warm November. However, when my guide pointed out where the glacier had previously extended to and emphasised that not that long ago you could leave your car on the main road and walk directly onto the glacier, rather than having to drive over a very rough track and then walk two kilometres, it was clear that significant change is occurring.
The monitoring station was incredibly simple, a wire with markers every metre that was dropped into a narrow hole created using a steam drill, yet the evidence compelling. This represents, of course, only one year of data. Was 2014 unusual or not? What will happen in 2015? How applicable is this one monitoring station to the wider environmental scenario? Only time will tell, but this illustrates the importance of long-term time series, be they marine or terrestrial, as well as the need to join together all the information that we have – without such data our advice will be limited. However, maintaining appropriate time series allows us to provide increasingly robust advice.
Professor Colin Moffat, Head of Marine Scotland Science