Coastal Marine Heatwave Interdisciplinary Research group (CMHIR)


Background and rationale

Our understanding about the drivers, processes and teleconnections that cause large-scale marine heatwaves (MHWs) has substantially improved (Holbrook et al. 2019, 2020). However, the implications of MHWs on the inner continental shelf are much less understood, despite the ecological importance and the relevance of this zone for the global economy. In this sense, Izquierdo et al. (2022) stated that large scale remote sensing and climate models do not properly represent the coastal condition and, therefore, field observations are more appropriated to study the impact of MHWs at the land-sea interface. For instance, a recent study described the combined effect of heatwaves with lower dissolved oxygen and pH events in United States estuaries (Tassone et al., 2022), demonstrating the co-occurrence of atmospheric and estuarine heatwaves. Juza et al. (2022) further asserted that MHWs close to the coast are strongly influenced by local characteristics.

The impact of MHWs on coastal communities has been broadly documented during the last 10 years. Some harmful algal blooms have been associated with the occurrence of MHWs (Wetz & Yoskowitz 2013; McCabe et al., 2016, Dodrill et al., 2023). Furthermore, MHWs can also affect the physiology of some species, including reproduction, growth rate and resistance to diseases. Finally, ecological effects may include changes in aquatic metabolism (i.e., production and respiration), predator-prey interactions, shifts in community composition to heat tolerant organisms, and increased spatial distribution and competition with exotic species.

This Coastal Marine Heatwave Working Group aims to study the coastal response to MHWs by adopting an interdisciplinary approach that combines physical, chemical and ecological perspectives. We will take advantage of our strong disciplinary expertise, cross-disciplinary experience, and geographic diversity to generate collaborative research on coastal marine heatwaves and promote an active discussion with local stakeholders and policy-makers.

Global Context

Marine heatwaves have become an urgent issue regarding climate risks due to their proliferation in frequency, duration, magnitude, and spatial extent. These phenomena have a strong impact not only at the global and regional level (e.g., substantial events in the Northeast Pacific (2013-15), Mediterranean Sea (2003) and Tasman Sea (2015/16 and 2017/18)), but also at the local level. In this sense, MHWs have become an increasingly serious threat not just from the perspective of pelagic and benthic ecology on the continental shelf but also for coastal aquaculture and fisheries, as demonstrated by many reports of fisheries closures from around the world caused by MHWs. It is noteworthy that estuaries, in particular, represent environments with high productivity and biodiversity that sustain important economic activities like aquaculture and fisheries.

While our understanding about the causes, impacts, duration and extension of MHWs has increased significantly during the last 10 years, this information has largely come from large scale studies of the global or regional oceans. This is large-scale perspective is informed by climate models and remote sensing as the main data sources, which are unable to spatially resolve smaller coastal systems such as estuaries and bays. To gain insight into the coastal response to MHWs, this group proposes a different approach, combining in-situ observations, remote sensing and high-resolution modelling in the coastal zone. The geographic intercomparison will contribute to a better understanding about the impact of MHWs on the global coastal areas and the potential implications under climate change scenarios.

Relevance to POGO and fit with POGO’s Strategy

The Coastal Marine Heatwave Interdisciplinary Research group (CMHIR) has identified a key knowledge gap in understanding coastal MHWs. So far, most efforts have been at large ocean and regional scales and not much attention has been paid to coastal systems. The studies focused on the consequences of MHWs for biodiversity have been mostly focused on single species and local benthic and planktonic communities. However, the predominance of different drivers determines varying and complex local coastal responses in terms of the extend, intensity, depth and atmosphere-ocean conditions. These factors will in turn generate complex ecological responses that are necessary to be studied from an integrated and interdisciplinary perspective.

To lead innovation and development of the crucial components of the ocean observing system. CMHIR aims to generate an integrated and ecosystem-level approach to understanding MHW characteristics and impacts on coastal and estuarine systems. We aim to combine our efforts to promote an interdisciplinary discussion and analysis on the present and future consequences of MHWs for coastal systems in terms of biodiversity, ecology and human-environment interaction. Our members will contribute with capabilities in terms of technical resources, expertise and information to establish this ecosystem perspective.

To identify and contribute to the development of the key skills, capabilities and capacities needed to achieve the vision. We are committed to engage undergraduate and postgraduate students in the CMHIR activities, whether as short seminar projects or attending and actively participating the webinar/workshop we are planning to carry out.

To work with governments, foundations and industry, to articulate the benefits to society and required funding to build and sustain the system. Considering the implications of MHWs for activities like aquaculture, fisheries and marine protected areas, we plan to organize a workshop especially focused on the relevance and consequences of coastal MHWs for sustainable management of the ocean.

Work plan, deliverables and milestones

The WG aims to develop an active collaboration and coordination to establish a communication that allows us to highlight the importance and necessity of studying the implications and consequences of MHWs in coastal areas. So far, the impact of MHWs in coastal areas has been evaluated in few recent papers; however, our WG is multidisciplinary, including coastal ecologists, coastal modellers and climate scientists. Hence, the distinctive feature of this group is its special focus on the shallow continental shelf and its interdisciplinarity. We plan to keep an active communication and coordinate our respective research efforts so that we can generate intercomparison, taking advantage of the interesting geographic diversity (Canada, North America’s east and west coasts, South America’s west coast, Australia’s southeast coast, Mediterranean Sea, Antarctica’s glacial embayment’s).

This WG will advance POGO’s mission through actions focused on establishing the concept of coastal marine heatwaves by means of a long-term collaboration focused on coordinating future research and look for funding that allows further studies that will allow us to explore more in detail the response of the planktonic and benthic neritic environments to the occurrence of MHWs. Ultimately, the goal of this group is to promote this interdisciplinary approach through PhD projects and create awareness on the complexities of the coastal areas when evaluating the current and future impact of marine heatwaves, and how these responses would evolve under climate change scenarios.

An important aspect of this WG will be the strong interaction with stakeholders, including public services, NGOs, traditional owners and, especially, the industry (aquaculture, fisheries). It is expected to communicate the CMHIR’s activities and objective to local stakeholders, academia and decision-makers and get feedback on future efforts.

An important objective of this group is to consolidate this collaboration in the long term; therefore, we aim to apply for an extension to continue our commitment and obtain funding for collaborative studies with participation of graduate and undergraduate students. We envisage funding from government, foundations and intergovernmental organizations.

 MilestonesDate to be reached
1Scientific workshop/webinar on the impact of marine heatwaves on coastal
environments (Chile). Hybrid modality with participation of all group members.
2Submission of a review manuscript on the impact of MHWs on coastal areas.30/08/2024
3Webinar on the impact of marine heatwaves on aquaculture, artisanal fisheries
and marine protected areas with participation of industry (fishing and aquaculture
companies and organizations) and public services.

Status: Active Working group

Year: 2023 - 2024

Working group website

Members involved

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Working group Participants


  • Dr. Julio Salcedo-Castro, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies-University of Tasmania, Australia


  • Andrea Piñones, Austral University of Chile - COPAS COASTAL, IDEAL Center, Millenium Institute BASE, Chile
  • Héctor Hito Sepúlveda, University of Concepción, Chile
  • Spencer Tassone, Michigan Technological University, USA
  • Antonio Olita, National Research Council - Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Italy
  • Christopher Harley, University of British Columbia, Canada
  • Murilo Zanetti Marochi, Universidade Estadual Paulista, Brazil
  • Hans Burchard, Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research, Germany
  • Piero Mazzini, Virginia Institute of Marine Science - William & Mary University, USA
  • Ryan Walter, California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, USA
  • Cécile Pujol, University of Liège, Belgium
  • Neil Holbrook, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies-University of Tasmania, Australia
  • Thomas Wernberg, University of Western Australia Oceans Institute, Australia
  • Dan Smale, Marine Biological Association (MBA), UK
  • Katie Smith, Marine Biological Association (MBA), UK
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