The marine environment is used for navigation, live and mineral resource extraction and recreation. Those activities can alter the ecosystem by modifying community habitats and structures and by causing various types of pollution, which add to those caused by domestic, agricultural and industrial waste. Other socioeconomic issues, such as shore erosion and toxic algal blooms, have causes that are both natural and anthropogenic. With a view to sustainable and safe use of coastal marine environments, the Québec-Océan teams are working on 5 sub-themes that correspond to the needs of various provincial departments (MDDEFP) and federal departments (Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada). The results will provide a knowledge base for evaluating the relevance of regulating practices that create disruptions in the marine environment.

2.1. Anthropogenic pollution, nitrogenous eutrophication and marine biotoxins
The sources of pollution in the marine environment are varied and can cause various health problems and even death among humans and animals. The coastal environment is impacted by noise, diverse contaminants (hydrocarbon, for instance) and nitrogen from urban, agricultural and industrial activities or from permafrost melting. Water pollution can drive to de-oxygenation problems (hypoxia) or contaminants’ concentration in the trophic chain, that will finally influence biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. In addition, although most of the harmful substances are of anthropogenic origin, other toxins are naturally produced by algae.

The team is studying the impacts on marine mammals of noise pollution caused by navigation, the impact of changing environmental conditions on toxic algal blooms, the accumulation of anthropogenic contaminants and biotoxins in pelagic and benthic food webs. The processes that regulate the dispersion, persistence and breakdown of various harmful substances are also examined. Likewise the team wants to better understand the nitrogen cycle and its impact on hypoxia observed in deep coastal waters, by quantifying the sources, the assimilation and the transformations by algae and microbes.

2.2. Biodiversity, conservation marine protected areas
The integrity, health and diversity of marine species, populations and communities are influenced by the anthropogenic activities that extract resources, modify habitats or promote the introduction of invasive species.

The team is evaluating the structure, dispersion and connectivity of populations and communities, at various scales, by using tagging, isotopic tagging, visual inventories, marine acoustics and remote sensing. Several tools and indicators are being used or developed to evaluate ecosystemic responses, including meta-analysis, landscape genetics, productivity, functional genomics and various biodiversity measurements. The results of this approach will make it possible to propose or improve regulations on protected marine areas and the conservation of species and habitats threatened by tourism, navigation, exploitation of stocks and global changes.
  © Caroline Bouchard

2.3. Natural risk factors and coastal erosion
Several natural events, particularly earthquakes, submarine landslides and coastal erosion, are threats to shoreline communities, ecosystems and structures installed on the seabed or along the coast. Shoreline erosion, for example, is susceptible to wave action and sediment dynamics, but also to the effects of climate change on increased water levels, sea ice reduction and freeze-thaw cycles.

The team is analyzing these various phenomena and their signatures with a view to improving natural risk management, anticipation of their potential impacts and proposing ways to lessen such impacts. In the St. Lawrence, wave and sediment dynamics are being studied in coastal marshes and adjacent intertidal zones in order to broaden knowledge of the mechanisms responsible for shoreline erosion and changes in coastal morphology.

2.4. Operational forecasts of ocean status
Maritime safety and the management of socioeconomic activities, environmental crises and natural risks depend on the ability to describe in real time the various aspects of ocean status, particularly seawater properties, currents, waves and ice movements and to forecast them for the short, medium and long term. That ability is useful, for example, in anticipating the dispersion of contaminants and algal toxins, preventing and containing hydrocarbon contamination, making navigation profitable and safe, optimizing maritime rescue and recovery operations, managing ice near petroleum installations and identifying coastal zones susceptible to water and ice erosion.

The team is combining innovative ocean status measurement and monitoring techniques (satellites, high-frequency radar and buoys) with coupled ocean-wave-ice-atmosphere digital models so as to improve the accuracy and rapidity of operational forecasts.
  © Pierre Coupel

Québec-Océan is a strategic cluster funded by FRQNT.