Areas of research

Marine biogeochemical cycles

This research line studies the role of oceans as transporters and processors of chemical elements that are essential to the functioning of the planet, such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, oxygen, sulfur, silicon and iron. The aim is to determine how these elements, which are mobilized by natural and anthropogenic sources, are distributed and flow among the water masses, the seabed, particulate matter, living organisms, and the food webs of which these organisms form part. Particular attention is paid to the processes that occur across the interfaces between compartments (water-particles, water-organisms, water-sediment, water-atmosphere), because this is where a large proportion of the flows of matter take place. The environmental conditions of the past are also studied through the geochemical “footprints” stored in the seabed. The ultimate aim is to determine the role of the marine biosphere, today and yesterday, in the biogeochemical and climatic cycles of the oceans and the Earth, and to document—or even predict—the effects of global change on life in the oceans.

 

Science for the conservation of natural marine resources

This research line aims to provide the basic scientific knowledge necessary for the conservation and sustainable management of the marine environment and its natural resources. It therefore assesses the vulnerability of coastal areas and deep-sea ecosystems to human activities (fishing, trawling, pollution and changes in coastal and deep-sea morphology) and their modulation by natural factors. It also studies the potential of Marine Protected Areas as essential habitats for breeding and protection of endangered species. The research is aimed at improving basic knowledge of the ecology of exploited species and determining the interactions between the components of food webs. In order to assess changes in biodiversity and the exploitation of living resources, research is also aimed at identifying indicators of ecosystem impact and developing and applying models using bioeconomic and ecosystem approaches. Finally, the development of new biotechnological applications is studied in order to move towards an ecologically sustainable and profitable aquaculture.

 

Structure and dynamics of marine ecosystems

The objective of this research line is to understand the processes that occur in the marine environment and their variability. This will allow to detect the most significant natural changes and to assess their possible implications in the global change. The research aims to determine the main feedback mechanisms between environmental forcings (climate, UV radiation, hydrodynamics, etc.) and biological processes (reproduction, life cycles, food chains, benthos-plankton coupling) in order to quantify the productivity, diversity and stability of the ecosystems. The investigations analyze the relationships of the microbial and zooplankton components with the marine biogeochemical cycles, in order to assess their ability to respond and to establish what are called “points of no return”. The studied processes occur at spatio-temporal scales ranging from hours and a few meters to tens of years and hundreds of kilometers and can be modulated by global climate forcings.

 

Physics of the ocean and climate

The aim of this research line is to describe and explain the physical behavior of the ocean and its role in the Earth's climate, using the principles of fluid mechanics and thermodynamics. Variations in temperature and salinity and in the density patterns in the oceans are observed and analyzed in order to develop models to explain the dynamic interaction between climate forcing and the state of the ocean. Studies of water movement (waves and currents), the transfer of energy and momentum between the ocean and the atmosphere, and the special properties of sea water (such as the propagation of electromagnetic energy) are used to improve knowledge of the physical processes of the ocean, ranging from its microstructure to global-scale climatic events such as El Niño and the North Atlantic Oscillation. This line also includes technical analyses of oceanic data obtained from space, especially data on surface salinity, measured since 2009 by the European Space Agency's SMOS satellite. Finally, it includes the design of oceanographic instrumentation and the development of advanced numerical models for studying various aspects of ocean dynamics.

 

Marine geosciences

This research line studies the geomorphology, sediment dynamics, geochemical flows, stratigraphy and tectonics of coastal regions, continental margins and ocean basins at all spatial and temporal scales. This research includes the analysis of present-day sedimentary processes in response to natural and anthropogenic phenomena, the study of stratigraphy and the processes that gave rise to ancient deposits in different climatic conditions, the study of the morphology and structure of the seabed, and the assessment of geological hazards in coastal zones, continental margins and basins. It also includes the development and design of new strategies and methods for studying sediment dynamics, for studying the structure and physical and mechanical properties of the seabed, and for visualizing geological and geophysical data. In order to improve the general management of the seabed, some applications of this research line address issues such as the vulnerability of coasts, marine pollution, coastal and offshore facilities, oil and gas exploration, geological hazards, climate change and associated changes in sea level.