Researching the Caribbean Sea

/ March 23, 2015/ IMAU, Ocean Circulation and Climate

caribbeanseeBy hearing the words ‘Caribbean’ and ‘sea’, most people will think of a sunny holiday with palm trees, white beaches and colourful fish. The Caribbean archipelago indeed is an outstanding place to spend your holidays, and is especially famous for its beautiful coral reefs. But these small island groups are also very vulnerable to sea level rise. In the Caribbean, most of the tourist resorts are built right next to the beach, while 50% of the population lives less than 1.5 km from the coast. Moreover, the calcic sediment in the lagoons is primarily maintained by calcifying algae; their production rates might change with changing sea level, wave dynamics or currents.

In 2014, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) launched a multidisciplinary research program on the Caribbean marine environment. The program addresses questions like invasive species, corals, turtles and island identity. As part of this program, the multidisciplinary SCENES project (Stability of Caribbean coastal Ecosystems uNder future Extreme Sea level rise) will quantify the impact of sea level rise on Caribbean coastal (eco)systems. This is a challenging project; as the Caribbean Sea is an eddy-rich region, the spatial variability in sea level is high. It is therefore impossible to present a single number for future sea level change at the Caribbean coasts. In SCENES, global models and regional observations of sea level rise will be linked to regional changes in sediment-dynamics, temperature and ocean acidity.

The work will mainly be done by three PhD students in a close collaboration between TUDelft, Radboud University Nijmegen, the NIOZ and IMAU. At IMAU we will try to quantify the large scale changes: how did Caribbean sea level change over the last century, what is the influence of the Atlantic circulation on sea level in the Caribbean, and what would be the consequences of a possible slowdown of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation? If all goes according to plan, the Utrecht results will then be used as input for the regional bio-geomorphological model in Delft. From there on, a synthesis with fieldwork will be made and the results will be translated to ecosystem health and sediment production rates.

Fiona van der Burgt and Henk Dijkstra


Map of Caribbean Sea. Source: Kmusser/Wikipedia