Risks, Resources, and Record of the Past on the Continental Shelf

IGCP The continental shelf is a complex environment requiring multi-disciplinary research contributions and the application of various technologies. Morphology, stratigraphy, sedimentology, ecology, and human-related issues merge together in a complex environment where waves, tides, currents, input from the continent, and humans interplay through time and space. By bringing together international specialists from various disciplines, the “Risks, Resources, and Record of the Past on the Continental Shelf” (RRR) project will help better define research, management, and mitigation knowledge, criteria, and strategies thereby facilitating better global understanding of shelf processes and their influence and relevance to human society. Further, it will re-establish and expand the international collaborative research efforts developed in a predecessor IGCP projects.

The RRR project will facilitate a more interdisciplinary, global, and effective approach to continental shelf studies than currently exists. It will promote the interaction of international researchers from disparate fields thereby providing input needed to resolve complex human-related problems associated with changes recorded, observed, or anticipated on the continental shelf. The RRR project will highlight continental shelf research focusing geological and human-related research in a previously neglected research field, particularly as it relates to the carbon cycle, paleoanthropology, and other human risk- and resource-related issues. It will be left to the project's participants to emphasize or deemphasize specific aspects, without pretending to fulfill all aspects in their entirety. A major outcome of this project will be the transfer of continental shelf research and techniques from more affluent countries to less economically developed countries for application to locally and regionally relevant human-related issues.

The proposed project will focus on three main research topics related to the continental shelf and human society including:

Risks: pollutants, neotectonics, tsunami and other high-energy events, geotechnical hazards, and emergency management;
Resources: mineral, aggregates, living, and environmental management;
Record: the carbon cycle, paleoanthropology - humans and their relationship with fauna, flora, and the changing environment of continental shelves, and climate change.

This interdisciplinary project will exploit the geological record on continental shelves to enhance our understanding of its recent evolution and the application of continental shelf studies on human activities relating to risk assessment, knowledge and exploitation of resources (both living and nonliving), and the depiction of long-term changes. Through international collaboration this project will promote the use of continental shelf geoscience research in dealing with world-scale processes (such as climate change, continental shelf geological processes, and the carbon cycle), the extraction, utilization, and preservation of continental shelf resources, whether, mineral, faunal, or floral, and with issues of relevance to human history and our future in a rapidly changing world.

Human society will particularly benefit from the resulting dissemination, comparison and interchange of methodologies and research strategies. A key outcome will be the transfer of research strategies and techniques to less affluent regions through workshops, shortcourses and by making available access to laboratories for scientists, students, and data from less economically developed nations. Further, through scientific collaboration, participants will be able to utilize high-cost research facilities (e.g., research vessels) that would otherwise be unavailable.

As a consequence, we anticipate improved understanding of the extent of risks and resources on the continental shelf, thereby enhancing regional capabilities - particularly in developing countries, and future risk mitigation - especially those resulting from economic development and climate change. By focusing interdisciplinary research on the geological record, we anticipate greatly enhanced knowledge of changing conditions on the continental shelf both today and in the past, and improved understanding of their impact on human behaviour, migration, and habitation throughout the Quaternary interval.

Increased understanding of the interaction between the continental shelf and humans throughout history will improve our capacity to appreciate the potential impacts of environmental and climate change on this economically and environmentally critical region.