Fine scale mapping, modeling and quantification of thermal habitat in rocky shore ecosystems

How hot is the rocky shore?

Rocky shores are inhabited by marine organisms that have to withstand terrestrial conditions every low tide. So, during sunny days, things can get too hot very quickly! But what exactly is "too hot"? And how frequently do those conditions occur? And is Climate Change affecting these patterns? NORTEROCKS is all about answering these questions with unprecedented detail.

What we'll do

Map rocky shores

Rocky shores are complex. While some rocks don't get covered by water even during high tide, others only become exposed to terrestrial conditions when the tide is at its lowest. Then there are tide pools, crevices, ridges and a myriad of small-scale features. And because most intertidal organisms are quite small, the shade from a knee-high rock can cool organisms by up to 10 °C!

This means that describing temperature patterns in rocky shores requires deep knowledge about their 3D structure - the micro-topography. Thus, our first task was to assembly a high resolution (7-10 cm) digital elevation model (DEM) covering 150 kms of rocky shores from Espinho to Moledo. The model obtained is unique because of the length of coastline covered and the fact that it includes all (yes, ALL!) rock outcrops in the study area.

The high res DEM of all rocky shores in Northern Portugal is already available and can be shared upon request


Model body temperatures

Next, in order to study the distribution of thermal stress, we need to be able to estimate the body temperature of all organisms in the study area at any given moment. For that we will use a land-surface model (LSM). LSMs take lower resolution weather data (e.g., satellite data) and output downscaled estimates of surface temperature. However, LSMs were originally developed for forest ecosystems. Thus, in this task we will implement modifications to NCAR's LSM for use in extremely complex intertidal ecosystems.

The optimization of NCAR's LSM is currently underway, and when ready it will allow for the estimation of body temperatures in all facets of our DEM


Measure rock temperatures

But before the temperature estimates obtained with the LSM can be used, those estimates must be validated against real data. Since the required dataset does not currently exists, we will deploy a vast network of temperature loggers on sun-exposed and shaded microhabitats along the entire study area. With over a thousand loggers deployed, we will be able to characterize the extremes of thermal exposure with unprecedented detail.

The northern section (Cabo Fisterra to Aveiro) is already up and running, and the remaining sites (Peniche and northwards) will be deployed in early 2021

Max Temp
Min Temp

Quantify thermal stress

Finally, we will run the optimized and validated LSM with environmental reanalysis data (ECMWF’s ERA5). This will allow for the reconstruction of hourly temperature profiles for ALL facets of the DEM, from today to as far back as 1979!

After analyzing this new, game-changing dataset, we will be able to say how the spatial distribution of cool microhabitats has been changing in Northern Portugal over the past decades.

Study area

NW Iberia

Characterised by cool summer water temperatures, rocky shores in this area are ideal "natural laboratories" for the study of the mechanisms shaping the distribution of organisms. We'll keep collecting temperature data well beyond this project's timeframe.

Devices installed

List of sites

Rui Seabra
Project Leader
Fernando Lima
Project Co-Leader

Our team

Rui Seabra is an Early Career marine biologist expert in rocky shore thermal dynamics. Fernando P. Lima is the leader of CIBIO's MarChange research group, and is an expert in the biogeography of rocky shore organisms.

Backed by a multidisciplinary team of biologists and engineers, as well as an extensive network of international collaborators, we have been leading in the study of thermal stress in intertidal ecosystems all over the world.
Bruno Loureiro
Luis Pereira
Manuel Carvalho
Catarina Queiroga
Cátia Monteiro
Francisco Arenas
Brian Helmuth
Francis Choi

Latest publications

From datasets to methodologies, models and insights into the ecology of intertidal ecosystems, multiple aspects of this project will certainly be worthy of publication.

Here you can find the up-to-date list of the scientific publications resulting from this effort, as well as of major contributions from other authors that draw heavily from our outputs.

View all




A shared experience

Are you an undergraduate student looking for some fieldwork experience, a nature lover wanting to know more about the intertidal, a teacher searching for enriching field visits or a parent looking for a fun family activity? Reach out and we'll try to make it happen!