Mesocosms are enclosed environments that allow a small part of a natural environment to be observed under controlled conditions. Photo: © Visual Generation/

Boosting climate policy with aquatic research

By: Marko Reinikainen

Ocean acidification and environmental change in lakes were the most frequently cited topics by the IPCC and IPBES, according to a recent impact assessment of AQUACOSM-plus, an EU-funded project focused on experimental research in aquatic environments.

To support evidence-based decision making, it is important that governments carry out assessments that build on high-quality research and interact to produce intergovernmental assessments. Furthermore, it is important that public granting mechanisms consider the societal relevance of research that is funded (notwithstanding the fact that basic research also needs to be part of science policy and funding). Indeed, most if not all funding programmes require applicants to highlight the societal relevance of the work that is carried out. Even if societal relevance can take many forms, it is evident that one such form is the value of the work in terms of information needed for policy-relevant assessments.

However, it is not self-evident that even topically relevant research makes its way into these assessments.

A recent case study concerned the visibility of European Research Infrastructures (RIs) in a policy context. Specifically, the study focussed on partners of the AQUACOSM-plus RI – a Horizon 2020 project that recently came to its end. This project was built around mesocosms – experimental units that mimic nature – in both marine and fresh waters.

Because a number of environmental issues are studied within this community, environmental assessments were used to investigate the visibility of the AQUACOSM community in a policy context. The assessments consisted of the report from Working Group II for AR6 of the IPCC (IPCC, 2022), and the IPBES regional assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services for Europe and Central Asia (IPBES, 2018). The work of the IPCC inherently focusses on climate change, and hence visibility in IPCC reports highlights contributions to this grand challenge. The IBPES regional assessment allows for a wider range of issues (but includes climate change) and additionally brings forward regional aspects (in this case in Europe and Central Asia).

Since the AQUACOSM community and its individual partners are – by definition – RIs, they were viewed here largely as a platform (including its human resources) for the production of work that could be of importance for the assessments considered. In addition to mesocosm studies, such a platform could evidently be expected to produce other types of studies. In fact, methodological aspects of this case study inherently also produced information on the occurrence of different categories of approaches. In addition to mesocosm studies, this case study therefore also highlighted other work that has been carried out by partners of this mesocosm community. This additional information was used to briefly discuss the interfaces between mesocosm work and other approaches, and the added value of the apparent interdisciplinary work that is carried out within this RI (and very likely others as well).

There were tens of citations from the mesocosm community (68 in total, to be precise). However, although the project focussed on mesocosms, only about a quarter of the citations were related to this experimental methodology. The rest of the citations concerned e.g., long-term data studies, models, conceptual ideas etc. Only two researchers had contributed directly to the assessments as authors or reviewers.

The subjects among mesocosm studies that attracted most attention in the two environmental assessments were associated either with ocean acidification or with environmental change in lakes (including effects of climate change).

There are or have been a large number of other EU-funded infrastructure projects, which have been previously highlighted in Acid News #4-2022. Similar analyses of their impact in environmental assessments could be a useful tool in shaping and planning for the future research infrastructure landscape within the EU.

Literature: AQUACOSM-plus, 2023: Case study on impact of mesocosm studies on contemporary environmental issues (
IPBES, 2018: The IPBES regional assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services for Europe and Central Asia.
IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.



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