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Introducing the MARS project: Part 2

February 25, 2014

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Following last week’s Part 1 of the Introduction to MARS, we’ll now look at how the project aims to support and strengthen freshwater policy making across Europe.

Providing support for freshwater policy and management at three different scales

MARS aims to yield new and important results for water managers and environmental policy makers across Europe.  In particular this work will contribute to strengthening the Water Framework Directive, the key piece of European legislation implemented in 2000 to protect and improve the quality of Europe’s freshwaters.

As this ten year review of the Water Framework Directive (2010) by MARS co-ordinator Daniel Hering and colleagues states, a key challenge for future water policy is to deal with the impact of emerging stressors caused by climatic and social change.

In particular, Hering and colleagues highlight the need for studies on the ability of freshwater ecosystems to absorb environmental stress (a process known as resilience).  Similarly, the paper suggests new studies on the different trajectories that ecosystems may take in response to stress when restoration management is undertaken. However, at present the Water Framework Directive does not mention the impact of multiple stressors on freshwater ecosystems.

With this shortfall in mind, MARS has been designed to give useful outputs to support freshwater policy at three key scales: individual water bodies, river basins or catchments and the European continent.

Questions such as ‘what will be the consequences of greening Europe’s agriculture?’ and ‘how does climate change impact on the multiply stressed ecosystems?’ will be investigated at all scales, allowing water managers and policy makers to make decisions over mitigating stressors under a number of different future scenarios.

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Experiments at the water body scale

At the smallest scale, experiments will be carried out to simulate multiple stressors and measure the response of an ecosystem.  In lakes, these experiments can be carried out using mesocosms, which provide a small body of water that can be closely controlled and monitored when different stressors are simulated.  In rivers, experiments can be carried out along artificial channels, where variables such as flow volume, flow speed and water temperature can be controlled.  In both sets of experiments, the impact of simulated stressors such as extreme rain or water scarcity can be observed.

Computer modelling at the river basin scale

At the river basin or catchment scale, computer models will be run to simulate the impact of stressors such as climate change or land use change (especially relating to flow alterations and water scarcity ) on variables such as water nutrient levels and temperature .  These results will then be linked to the results on ecosystem functioning at the smaller, experimental scale.  MARS will study 16 river basins across Europe, including the Thames, Ruhr, Elbe and Lower Danube.

Bringing together data at the European scale

At the largest, European scale, MARS will use data gathered from projects such as WISER in the establishment and monitoring of the Water Framework Directive to study and establish large-scale relationships between freshwater biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services to humans.

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MARS: providing new information on complex freshwater environments to aid their conservation and restoration

These are complicated issues to which there are no simple answers.  MARS aims to provide new information on how multiple stressors impact freshwater ecosystems in an increasingly complex and uncertain world faced with climatic, environmental and social change.

This information will be provided at the three scales useful to water body and river basin managers and European policy makers through a range of tools and wiki information system.  It is intended that the project will help foster collaboration to promote freshwater ecosystem conservation and restoration at a range of scales, from individual rivers and lakes up to the European continent.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll transition the blog from BioFresh to MARS over a series of posts linking the two projects, giving more detailed information about many of the points raised in these two posts, and looking to the future.

Glossary of terms used by MARS.

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