New programme is launched in the fight against climate change

Four leading UK marine research institutions are joining forces to explore the ocean’s role in mitigating climate change.

The Marine Biological Association (MBA), National Oceanography Centre (NOC), Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) are collaborating in the marine science research programme.

The Atlantic Climate and Environment Strategic Science (AtlantiS) programme, funded by UKRI – Natural Environment Research Council, supports the UK’s ambition for healthy, biologically diverse, and resilient marine environments, a sustainable blue economy and keeping communities safe from natural hazards.

The Atlantic Ocean has already substantially mitigated climate change in the atmosphere and on land by absorbing 90% of excess heat as well as more than a quarter of carbon resulting from human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

However, excess heat and carbon in the ocean has consequences for biological diversity, the magnitude and frequency of hazards along the coast, and for UK climate and weather. AtlantiS is delivering tools and observational evidence to respond to these consequences, which is needed to inform global policy.

NOC will be presenting AtlantiS at the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition, an annual celebration of cutting-edge research that has hosted displays and discussions of the latest scientific research since the early nineteenth century. NOC researchers will join the Royal Society’s hall of renowned presenters, showcasing an interactive experience that puts the ocean at the forefront of climate change research.

Professor Penny Holliday, interim Chief Scientific Officer at NOC, said: “Significant damage has been caused to biodiversity and productivity of marine ecosystems, to shelf seas and coastal environments, and to inland areas through natural disasters, heatwaves, and storms. Understanding and predicting the ocean’s capacity to respond to further climate change is fundamental in how society adapts and mitigates the most extreme effects.

“The AtlantiS programme will support UK government’s understanding of how the changing climate will impact society and inform mitigation efforts. Programmes such as these highlight the importance of bringing together leading UK expertise, to deliver the capability to predict future scenarios and manage the risk of reaching ocean tipping points as a result of intensified human exploitation. Importantly, AtlantiS research will place UK environmental science at the forefront of marine research.”

AtlantiS will extend the UK’s globally unique observing programmes that shed light on the long-term response of the biodiversity and functioning of marine ecosystems to the combined impacts of human-induced climate change and other disturbances.

As part of the AtlantiS programme, NOC will deliver next-generation climate, ocean and coastal modelling for predicting and understanding environmental change. New technology will enhance autonomous ocean observing capabilities to support the UK’s ambitions to achieve lower-carbon ocean observations, while simultaneously expanding the observing capability far beyond that which can be achieved with research expeditions.

PML will lead the sustained observations at the Western Channel Observatory and the Atlantic Meridional Transect (AMT) as well as lead the development of the UK’s marine ecosystem model capability.

The MBA will run the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) programme, the worlds longest running and most spatially extensive marine survey. This will provide basin-scale multi-decadal measurement of the ecological health of marine plankton. CPR data from the programme, alongside historical CPR data, will be used to further understanding of long-term marine changes.

CPR Technician Pete Ockenden servicing a CPR unit
CPR Technician Pete Ockenden servicing a CPR unit

SAMS will play a pivotal role in leading the analysis of high-quality ocean observations. These observations are essential for monitoring and understanding climate change impacts on the ocean ecosystem.

Professor Tim Smyth, Head of Science (Marine Biogeochemistry and Observations) at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, said: “It is critical that we maintain some of the longest time-series in the world at the regional and ocean basin scale, and at as high a frequency as possible.  Otherwise, we will not be able to inform national and international policy on issues as broad but interrelated as the increased incidence of marine heatwaves, the intensification of ocean acidification and changes to plankton dynamics and impacts on biodiversity.  Coupled to this, the continued development of our world-leading ecosystem modelling capability is essential if we are to predict and manage likely changes to the marine environment in the decades to come.”

David Johns, Director of Research Facilities at the Marine Biological Association, said: “Ground-breaking science relies on the solid foundations that only reliable datasets can offer. To protect our ocean and ensure there is a sustainable blue economy, we need robust and reliable datasets and tools. AtlantiS will build on our ongoing collective monitoring programmes and bring together new research technologies and directions to help our understanding of how our ocean is responding to rapid change.”

Dr Kristin Burmeister, lead scientist at The Scottish Association for Marine Science for AtlantiS, said: “High-quality, long-term ocean observations are a fundamental part of AtlantiS and crucial to our understanding about climate change and its impact on society. Through the integration and extension of autonomy in long term ocean observation, AtlantiS will take a leading role in the international research community.”

AtlantiS secures the next stage of unique marine and climate time series, which span decades and reach from the surface of the ocean to the seafloor, and from the coast to the open ocean. AtlantiS is the evolution of the Climate Linked Atlantic Sector Science (CLASS) programme, which saw five UK marine science centres publish 600 papers on the changes in the Atlantic Ocean and its profound effects on UK marine ecosystems. CLASS focused on key knowledge gaps in understanding of ocean variability, climate regulation and ocean services, with research areas including AMOC, carbon accumulation and ocean warming.

The Royal Society has held a Summer Science Exhibition to showcase the best of UK science since its early days when Fellows of the Society were invited to the President’s home to view instruments and specimens from the latest research. Royal Society Presidents have hosted displays and discussions of the latest scientific research since the early nineteenth century.