ISMAR conducts research in Polar, Oceanic and Mediterranean regions, focusing on the following themes:
- the evolution of oceans and their continental margins, studying submarine volcanoes, faults and slides and their potential impacts onshore;
- the influence of climate change on oceanic circulaiton, acidification, bio-geochemical cycles and marine productivity;
- submarine habitats and ecology, and the increasing pllution of coastal and deep-sea environments;
- the evolution of fish stocks with a view to keeping commercial fishing within sustainable limits and improving mariculture and acquaculture practices;
- natural and anthropogenic factors impacting economically and socially on coastal systems from pre-history to the industrial epoch.
Fisheries and acquaculture
Fisheries science is one of the main institutional interests of ISMAR, and it is aimed at managing and understanding fishery-related problems. This is a multidisciplinary science involving oceanography, marine biology and conservation, ecology, population dynamics, economics and marine management, which seeks to provide an integrated picture of fisheries.
Aquaculture and mariculture represent another important topic for ISMAR. Designed to supplement the increasing exploitation of wild fisheries, they involve cultivating freshwater and saltwater organisms such as finfish, molluscs and crustaceans under controlled conditions.
Physical and chemical oceanography
ISMAR investigates the structure and dynamics of the ocean and how it interacts with the biological and chemical processes leading to eutrophication and hypoxia/anoxia. A key goal is understanding the interaction of the ocean with the atmosphere and the seafloor, across its upper and lower boundaries. The research is carried out by combining observational and model-based approaches.
Ocean observations come from research cruises, fixed stations and remote sensing. Modelling involves analytical and numerical approaches to the study of fundamental ocean processes including the forecasting of waves and currents at coastal, regional and basin scales. Continuously recorded measurements of the ocean state in the Mediterrean Sea and in key regions of the Antarctica provide long-term time series that shed light on the ocean's role in climate change including changing rates of deep water formation, evaporation, salt concentration and acidification.
Geology and geophysics
ISMAR studies the evolution of rift basins, mid-ocean ridges and transform faults in the Mediterranean, Ross Sea, Equatorial Atlantic and peri-Antarctic seas. The team also studies active tectonic structures and related geo-hazards within the Mediterranean region as well as submarine volcanoes and hydrothermal processes.
The sedimentology team investigates coastal and abyssal environments to determine the role of along-shore cascading and contour currents, as well as storms, turbidity currents and sediment failure, in shaping the architecture of continental margins. The studies range from the integrated basin scale to elementary depositional bodies and erosion/depositional events that can be observed today. Seafloor shaping processes are also studies to monitor the evolution of deep sea ecosystems.
Climate and paleoclimate
ISMAR contributes to the study of the Earth's climate and the impact of human activities that are stressing the climate system. Changes in the Earth's climate are governed by complex interactions involving the atmosphere, oceans, planetary volcanism, the cryosphere, biosphere and external forces such as the variability of solar radiation.
ISMAR maintains long-term time series of coupled oceanographic and meteorological data in the Mediterranean and Antarctica that enable quantitative description of climate change. On longer time scales, ISMAR exploits natural archives from a number of situations using a variety of geochemical and other proxies (sedimentological, biological, geochemical, and magnetic properties) to reocnstruct Quaternary glacial cycles and the natural and anthropogenic impacts on the climate system since the onset of the Holocene.
Ecosystems and bio-geochemistry
ISMAR has a long tradition of focusing on the comprehensive study of biodiversity of marine systems from transitional to deep-sea habitats, including extreme ecosystems in polar and chemosynthetic environments. Particular attention is devoted to the study of phenology and the structure and functioning of plankton and benthic communities in relation to the environment, the climate and human impact.
ISMAR is also concerned with climate- and human-driven ecosystem variability, with particular attention paid to the issue of alien species. ISMAR research activities include the evaluation of primary production in the ocean and the examination of plankton and microbial dynamics. Special emphasis is placed on the bio-geochemical cycling of key elements in the water column, especially those associated with global warming and climate change (e.g. carbon storage).
Coastal systems: natural processes and human impacts
The coastal zone has been pervasively modified by humans over several millennia and especially since the industrial revolution. The Mediterranean provides some of the most extensive and diverse varieties of coastal environment in the world. ISMAR studies the response of these systems to climate change to improve environmental planning strategies.
The evolution of the coastal zone is analysed by integrating geophysical studies, sedimentology and habitat mapping with reconstructions from historical maps. Human impacts during industrial and pre-industrial times are defined with respect to pollution, coastal erosion and risk assessment. The quality of transitional environments is assessed by studying hydrological and ecological processes.
Technological studies are carried out to enhance the performance and efficiency of fishing equipment to reduce the quantity of protected species in the bycatch and develop fuel-saving fishing practices.
ISMAR has long been involved in studying the behaviour of innovative metallic materials in the marine environment and developing new pre-treatments and coatings designed to protect materials from corrosion and biofouling, thus minimizing environmental pollution.
In addition, ISMAR develops tools for innovative sea-floor sampling to study the water-sediment interface and retrieve long and undisturbed sedimentary sections for the study of past environmental change.