Shelf Seas: The Engine of Productivity

Shelf Seas: The Engine of Productivity


PML has contributed to a major new study of the shallow seas around the UK, the role they play in the carbon cycle, and how they could respond to the future conditions they are likely to face.

Shelf Seas: The Engine of Productivity, published this week, highlights how the shallow seas around Britain absorb and store tens of millions of tonnes of carbon every year, a process that is vital in lessening the impact of the UK’s carbon emissions. These shelf seas are home to rich biodiversity, are a significant source of UK fish catches, and are the location of vital biological and chemical processes. They are, however, also already being affected by climate change, with the impacts of warming waters and increased storms expected to intensify and further disrupt the ability of coastal seas to absorb CO2.

Through a series of research cruises in collaboration with the National Oceanographic Centre (NOC), Cefas, and the Universities of Liverpool, Southampton, Bangor and East Anglia, the entire range of the shelf sea around the British Isles was studied across the seasons. From this, it was possible to investigate the transport of gases between ocean and atmosphere, the variability between seasons, and calculate how much carbon finds its way to the ocean depths.

In particular, PML scientists were involved in the programme component focusing on the modelling of shelf biogeochemistry. Vast amounts of observational data were collected by a wealth of scientists and then used in PML’s comprehensive ecosystem model, ERSEM, to produce 3D simulations demonstrating how UK shelf seas will respond to different human pressures, including stressors such as trawling and climate change.

The findings from the Shelf Seas report have further highlighted the importance of these shallow seas around the UK, help us to understand the complex dynamics of the biogeochemical processes alongside changing seasons, and will help to inform policy-makers in how Marine Protected Areas around the British Isles can be effectively managed.

The full report can be read here

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