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COMFORT project looks to future of the ocean

 

A new EU Horizon 2020 project, involving PML researchers, is kicking off this week, aiming to detect and minimise climate change in the oceans by focussing on global ecosystems tipping points.

The COMFORT project sets out to quantify coupled cycles of carbon, oxgen and nutrients for determining and achieving safe operating spaces in the ocean, particularly in relation to global ecosystem tipping points in the oceans. With a budget of €8.19 million, the project will involved 32 partners from 9 European countries, and South Africa, India and China.

These tipping points are critical moments where anthropogenic forces become significant enought to cause a large global ecosystem change. The project will ask where and when we reach tipping points in the cases of warming, ocean acidification and oxygen dead zones, what the critical ecosystem thresholds will be in view of these tipping points, and what feasible pathways exist to limit damage.

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Guardrails for decisions

Professor Christoph Heinze from the University of Bergen and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, who is leading the project with Thorsten Blenckner at the Resilience Centre, said: "The results will provide guardrails for political and logistical decisions on combatting and avoiding dangerous climate change. We will propose revised scenarios for greenhouse gas emission reductions in order to limit the damage to ocean systems. These revisions will consider the timing and the amount of greenhouse gas reductions, and include options for realising negative carbon dioxide emissions."

Levels of CO2 concentrations vs ocean conditions

The COMFORT researchers will examine what levels of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations will cause oceanic environmental conditions to deteriorate abruptly. This will help to look at what goals for mitigating climate change need to be considered alongside temperature increase limits.

The researchers expect that reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will have to be more severe than for warming limits alone in order to avoid increasing low oxygen "dead zones" in the oceans and damage due to ocean acidification.

Working with partners

Dr Yuri Artioli, PML Marine Ecosystem Modeller and a member of the project, said: "We are very excited to be part of COMFORT, where we will investigate if the combination of warming, acidification and human activities will trigger tipping points in the North Western European Shelf that could lead to faster and heavier deterioration of the marine ecosystem and fishery.
 
"We are honoured to do so in such a big European consortium: working with our partners will allow to compare how the different European seas and oceans respond to these stressors and therefore better understand what are the drivers of the changes in UK waters."

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