The phrase ‘Open Sesame’ is frequently used to elicit the opening of doors or similar contraptions in order to gain access to coveted prizes. Hence, the choice of the term SESAME as the name for an ambitious project involving the collaboration of 20 different countries, most of which verging on the southern European seas – i.e. the Mediterranean and the Black Sea – is apt indeed. The Physical Oceanography PO-Unit of the University of Malta, directed by Prof. Aldo Drago, represents Malta within such a consortium.

SESAME aims to assess and predict changes in the Southern European Seas (Mediterranean and Black Sea) ecosystems and in their ability to provide key goods and services with high societal importance, such as tourism, fisheries, ecosystem biodiversity and mitigation of climate change through carbon sequestration in water and sediments. The Mediterranean and Black Sea, are unique and evolve rapidly with large interannual to decadal variability and abrupt fluctuations. For this reason, SESAME will merge economic and natural science in order to study the changes in the Western and Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea. To this end, it will bridge the gap between natural and socio-economic sciences in order to assess the ability of the ecosystems to sustain these essential functions.

In the first week of June, the second SESAME summer school was organized, and this was hosted by the University’s PO-Unit and supported by the Black Sea Commission and by CIESM (International Commission for the Scientific Exploration of the Mediterranean Sea). The theme for this year’s SESAME summer school was coupled ecological modeling and was designed to give participants hands on experience through laboratory sessions following detailed lectures on the applications of marine ecological models, as in fisheries and marine resource management areas. The school was coordinated by Dr. Marco Zavaterelli from the University of Bologna.

The theme might sound esoteric or even tortuous to some, but the potential of ecological modeling in explaining at least part of the complexity of the living world around is slowly emerging. In fact, ecological modeling involves the use of computer simulations or mathematical equations to address questions that cannot be answered solely by experiments or observations. Ecological models have two major aims: to provide general insight into how ecological systems or ecological interactions work; and to provide specific predictions about the likely futures of particular populations, communities, or ecosystems. Models can be used to indicate general possibilities or to forecast the most likely outcomes of particular populations or ecosystems.

SESAME is ambitious indeed – it formulates for the first time a joint and coordinated study of the Mediterranean and Black Sea, and establishes a modelling and observational network beyond country and basin borders. Through the PO-Unit, Malta is part and parcel of such an ambitious vision. More useful information about the SESAME project and about the operations of the PO-Unit can be gleaned from and from