CaNDyFloSS: Carbon and Nutrient Dynamics and Fluxes over Shelf Systems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences

Abstract

The large continental land masses are surrounded by extensive shallow (ca 100m depth) seas known as the 'shelf seas'. These act as the boundary between the massively perturbed terrestrial environment and the vast open ocean marine system, and have huge socio-economic importance. They are the primary regions of human marine resource exploitation, including both renewable and fossil fuel energy sources, recreation, trade and food production. Although comprising only about 5% of the global ocean surface area, the shelf seas provide 90% of the global fish catches which form an important source of food to much of the global population. They also play an important role in the ecosystem services provided by the oceans as a whole, in particular in storing carbon away from the atmosphere.

Physical and biochemical processes in shelf seas influence the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere and the subsequent storage of carbon in the deep ocean. Biological growth draws carbon out of the water, which is then replaced by carbon in CO2 from the atmosphere. In the shelf seas this growth is supported by terrestrial and open ocean sources of nutrients, implying intimate roles for both the terrestrial biosphere and the open ocean environment in regulating shelf sea climate services. The oceans can also be a major source or sink for other greenhouse gases, including nitrous oxide (N2O), with the shallow shelf seas thought to play a key role.

The spatial extent of the submerged continental shelves varies greatly. The NW European shelf sea is one of the largest and hence is likely to play a significant role in marine biogeochemical cycling, alongside providing a useful model for other systems However, even in this relatively well studied region, we lack a good understanding of the principal controls on the cycling of carbon and the major nutrient elements, nitrogen, phosphorous and silicon. Consequently it is also difficult to predict how the cycling of these elements and hence the carbon removal they support may be altered by ongoing and potential future global change. Our proposal aims to address these uncertainties through a comprehensive study of the cycling of the major nutrients and carbon throughout the water column over the NW European shelf sea system.

Through close collaboration with a range of partners, we will undertake a year-long observation programme of the whole NW European continental shelf. We will measure the seawater concentrations of the major forms of carbon and nutrients. Combining these with physical water transports and measured transfer of gases (specifically CO2 and N2O) between the air and sea surface, we will quantify the major fluxes of nutrients and carbon between the shelf sea and both the adjacent deep ocean and atmosphere. This will definitively establish the role of this shelf system in the global carbon and nutrient cycles.

We will also undertake 4 dedicated research cruises focused on understanding the seasonal cycle of biological and chemical processing of the different forms of the nutrients and carbon. We will measure the rates at which both the photosynthetic and consumer plankton incorporate nutrients and carbon into their cellular material, and subsequently how the combined activity of this biological/chemical system influences the cycling of the major elements. This will allow us to understand the ways in which the role of the shelf system in global cycles is maintained.

The combined work delivered by both this proposal and the other programme workpackages will allow us to identify aspects of the NW European shelf system which may be susceptible to ongoing or future environmental changes. Such knowledge will provide both enhanced scientific understanding and improved predictive tools for policy makers and other stakeholders.

Planned Impact

Our work is directly relevant to Defra, the Marine Management Organisation and Marine Scotland requirements to support the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), the Water Framework Directive and the Marine and Climate Acts. The whole-shelf survey data and detailed process studies will be valuable additions to the knowledge of the state of the UK shelf seas, providing underpinning information about nutrients together with the distribution, functioning and diversity, of the planktonic ecosystem. Our new information will assist further development of indicators and targets for eutrophication and pelagic biodiversity required to implement the MSFD. It will also allow refinement of specific monitoring programmes required for the MSFD, the Water Framework Directive and the OSPAR Joint Assessment and Monitoring Programme. A combination of the observations and analysis carried out by us, and the supporting synthesis in the modelling work package, will provide targeted information to Marine Scotland, Cefas and Defra for use in delivering aspects of the Marine Act (Scotland) and the Climate Act (UK). New strategies for monitoring shelf regions, e.g. gliders, are of interest to the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS) through, for example, the UK Integrated Marine Observing Network (UK IMON) initiative. Our mooring in the central Celtic Sea will provide a new data stream to the European Marine Ecosystem Observatory (EMECO). Defra, Marine Scotland and the MMO rely on Cefas, Marine Scotland Science and UKMMAS (BODC and Medin) for integrated evidence. We will supply all quality-controlled data to BODC, and real-time data streams directly to EMECO, and the Met Office. Representatives from all agencies will be supported to attend project meetings and the final science meeting. We have also set aside a budegt for ad hoc briefings to Defra and MMO (requested as useful by Defra).

Operational modellers of shelf seas at the UK Met Office have a direct interest in real-time data and in new process-focused data in shelf seas. Our data will help Met Office operational modelling (for data assimilation) and model validation (e.g. time series of vertical turbulent mixing, new CTD and towed vehicle transects, and current data). Agencies with responsibilities for fisheries (e.g. Cefas, AFBI) have a clear interest in our nutrient and plankton community data , in the context of how shelf sea primary production supports fish stocks. Cefas is a collaborator on our project. Representatives from AFBI and the Met Office will be supported to attend project meetings and the final science meeting. The WWF-led Celtic Seas Partnership also has interests in methods and data that could be applicable to ecosystem-based management of shelf seas, particularly in waters to the west of the UK; they will be engaged through the Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry programme Knowledge Exchange activities, providing an important route into other relevant stakeholder groups and NGOs.

There is a general public interest in our shelf seas as a source of food and energy that is susceptible to climate change. This includes interest from schools that often require societally-relevant novel questions to drive the science curriculum. A project website will be supported by the NOC Communications and Public Engagement Office, along with regular press releases. Many of our PIs have experience in interacting with local and national press. We will use our work to provide a demonstration of a cost-effective method of engaging with school children that has quantifiable results in attracting pupils towards STEM subjects at university.

Publications

10 25 50

 
Description Several papers are currently in the process of being submitted to a Special Issue of Progress in Oceanography. Key aspects are:
1. We are beginning to understand how the shelf exports carbon - in particular that the carbon is probably in the form of organic carbon that is very difficult for bacteria to recycle.
2. We have demonstrated that nutrients required by shelf sea phytoplankton are almost exclusively sourced via transports from the open ocean (i.e. riverine nutrients are not important away from the coast). Most of this ocean nutrient transport could be happening in summer.
3. We have shown that the growth of plankton during autumn is as important as the growth during the spring bloom - the autumnal growth is generally neglected up to now.

Papers are currently approaching the end of the review/revision stage. We expect publication in the next 12 months.
Exploitation Route Continuing engagement with Defra. Final Defra meeting to discuss policy implications expected during 2018.
Sectors Education,Environment

 
Description Project findings, particularly research on cruises, continue to be transmitted to Defra via annual science meetings and ad hoc engagement.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Education,Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Title Cruise data 
Description Large datasets collected during 4 research cruises as a part of the NERC Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry research programme. Data provided to the British Oceanographic Data Centre. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The data represents one of very few physics/Biogeochemistry datasets that resolves seasonality of a shelf sea. 
 
Description Conference presentations at AUG Ocean Sciences, New Orleans, USA, February 2016. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 2 oral presentations and 2 poster presentations on results of the project presented at the conference.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://osm.agu.org/2016/
 
Description DEFRA meeting (London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Meeting to discuss results from recent shelf sea research cruises and relevance to DEFRA monitoring and policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Mersey River Festival 2015 (Liverpool) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Demonstrations on board University research boat moored in Albert Dock during the Mersey River Festival. public invited aboard to view equipment used and samples collected by Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry NERC research programme. event lasted 2 days.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Public talk at a local SciBar (Kirby) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk to a regular SciBar programme.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Radio 4 Gardeners Question Time 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview/discussion on ocean plants as a part of Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description School visit (West Kirby) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk presented to about 50 pupils and parents as a contribution to a monthly programme of science presentations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Talk presented to Natural England, Liverpool 2nd November 2016. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A talk on how we can link shelf sea oceanographic processes to the distribution of fish and fishing vessels.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Talk presented to a SciBar (Knutsford) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation to a regular SciBar series.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Visit to Lymm High School, Warrington, 10th March 2016. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact A morning was spent at Lymm High School, Warrington. A talk was given to school pupils on the oceans, ocean microbes and climate. Samples of zooplankton from project research cruises were used in the school lab to give the students microscope experience and some practical link back to the material in the talk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016