Determining the marine ecosystem response to global change: Lessons from the past using a new Earth system model

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Geographical Sciences

Abstract

The marine ecosystem can significantly impact on our planet, sustaining the ocean food chain and strongly regulating the climate through the activity of the phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are microscopic plants that live at the surface of the ocean, use sunlight as source of energy to grow via photosynthesis. Thanks to this reaction, phytoplankton consume today as much CO2 from the atmosphere as all the trees on the planet.

Phytoplankton in the ocean are in fact many thousands of different organisms, some bigger, some smaller, others protected with shells. Each of these organisms have a specific function in the marine ecosystem and hence the climate. For instance, coccolithophores produce calcium carbonate in form of beautiful shells that fall easily at the bottom of the ocean once they die. Their shells are at the origin of the famous White Cliffs of Dover, in the South-East of England. Other important marine phytoplankton are the diatoms, bigger in size forming a silica shell, or the cyanobacteria which are smaller in size and populate most tropical and subtropical ocean waters.

Today our climate is getting warmer due to large release of carbon to the atmosphere, causing our marine ecosystem to change. We however do not know exactly how the ecosystem will response to the change in climate, mainly because the ocean is a complex system where organisms keep interacting with each other and their environment. One way to understand better these interactions is to look at significant climate events in the past. The plan of this project is to look at both the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) of 20 thousand years ago, which was a time when great ice sheets were covering our continent, and the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum (PETM) of 55 million years ago, which is a good analogue to today's climatic perturbations. The project will 1) compare the distribution and the diversity of the phytoplankton living in the ocean today with the ones of the LGM which had a much colder, more stratified and less acidic ocean, and 2) investigate the changes in the marine ecosystem due to the fast PETM warming event analogous to today. The outcome will help us to understand more how the marine ecosystem functions and reacts to changes in the climate.

The challenge for this project is that we do not have enough observations to reproduce the phytoplankton distribution and diversity of the global ocean in the past. Computer models can help solve this filling in the missing information. These models need to represent all the important factors that determine where different phytoplankton species prefer to live, such as a diverse population of organisms. In this project, we are taking an exciting approach and use a particularly sophisticated model called a self-assembling ecosystem model.

What is a self-assembling ecosystem model? Usually models represent only a couple of different sorts of phytoplankton, based on modern species which have been grown in the laboratory. Unfortunately there have not been enough experiments to realistically reproduce the wide diversity of phytoplankton of the real ocean. Our model therefore generates randomly a hundred phytoplankton 'characters', each with different abilities and properties to live. A diverse ecosystem then forms in the model while the diverse phytoplankton compete for nutrients and light. This model has already been very successful in representing most of the marine ecosystem of today, but has not been used to represent coccolithophores nor it has been applied to past climates. This project will be the first time either of these things will be done.

The core of the research will be done at the University of Bristol which has a strong group of research experts in climate observations and modelling. In addition close collaborations will be carried out with different experts: with the university of MIT in the US and with coccolithophore and diatom experts in London, Cardiff and Southampton.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit and how will they benefit from this research?

General public: Topics related to global climate change and the ocean attract a lot of attention from the general public. Marine ecosystems are subjects which capture imagination and hence provide an ideal opportunity to transfer knowledge on issues related to the impact of climate on the environment and human lives. The proposed project will directly address how climatic changes impact the marine phytoplankton ecosystem and its diversity. The results will generate meaningful, visual outputs in a 3-dimensional form that communicate the conclusions clearly.

Environmental agencies: Assessment of the environmental impact and susceptibility of the marine plankton ecosystem to change, and the consequences for the base of the food change fisheries and marine protected areas, is important for environmental agencies in the UK (e.g. defra, Cefas, DECC, Natural England, MCCIP) and abroad (e.g. WWF, EU). The proposed project offers to improve the understanding of marine phytoplankton diversity, in particular to identify and highlight important responses in the marine ecosystem as a result of climatic and biogeochemical changes in the past. This research will relate directly to the initiative "Understanding marine ecosystem connections", which focuses on understanding the way marine ecosystems function and respond to change, from the agencies defra and Cefas who have called for additional scientific collaborations.

Women in science: Women are still a minority in the scientific community particularly in the area of geosciences. During my career as a female geoscientist I have been aided greatly by the support of other women of the field and I am keen to be able to extend that support to others, expanding the network of women working in the geosciences. Having a more balanced men/women representation in science will benefit the scientific community providing a neutral and supportive environment to work.

Scientific community: The scientific community will benefit from this research (as detailed in the Academic Beneficiaries). In addition to these areas, the proposed project will generate international collaborations between worldwide experts on marine ecosystem and climate (see Partnership Details), essential to provide original and outstanding research to the scientific community. Being interdisciplinary, this project will also bridge the gap between expertises in modelling, and data measurement and analysis, as well as between marine biology, atmospheric and ocean physics and chemistry. This project will provide the opportunity for scientists on both sides to learn new techniques and understand how to work better together.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Coccolithophores are one of most important marine phytoplankton. They are dominant in large part of the ocean easily seen from satellite imagery. Not only because these organisms are a dominant phytoplankton type in the ocean, coccolithophores are key players of the climate via the uptake of atmospheric CO2 because they calcify. However we do not know why coccolithophores calcify. Here we have gathered any evidence from laboratory experiments and in-situ observations to determine the hypothetical functions of calcification in coccolithophores. We have then developed a ocean model of coccolithophores to test the different functions of calcification. We find that coccolithophores calcify for different reasons for different regions of the ocean.
Exploitation Route Knowing that coccolithophores calcify for different reasons will help others to better asses the impact of global warming on these phytoplankton community.
Sectors Environment

 
Description ANAMMARKS: ANaerobic AMmonium oxidiation bioMARKers in paleoenvironmentS
Amount £565,149 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/N011112/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2016 
End 04/2020
 
Description GW4+-NERC PhD studentship
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2018 
End 05/2022
 
Description NSFGEO-NERC An unexpected requirement for silicon in coccolithophore calcification: ecological and evolutionary implications.
Amount £400,321 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/N011708/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2016 
End 03/2019
 
Description PhD studentship
Amount € 73,000 (EUR)
Organisation European Research Council (ERC) 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 10/2015 
End 05/2019
 
Title ECOGEM 
Description ECOGEM is the first Earth System model to include a trait-based type ecosystem model so can account for changes in marine ecosystem structure with climate change of the past. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact THe model has just been developed but we expect lots of applications on investigating the interaction between climate changes, and evolution of the marine ecosystem. 
 
Description Anammox 
Organisation University of Newcastle
Country Australia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provide modelling expertise on marine nitrogen cycle (modern and paleo)
Collaborator Contribution Develop biomarker for anammox
Impact 1 NERC Standard Grant funded: ANAMMARKS: anaerobic ammonium oxidation biomarkers in paleoenvironments, 2016-2021 Multi-disciplinary: Model-data
Start Year 2016
 
Description Biomarker for nitrogen fixation 
Organisation University of Bristol
Department School of Chemistry
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provide expertise on modelling the marine nitrogen cycle in the past
Collaborator Contribution Patricia Sanchez-Baracaldo provides expertise on phylogenomic tree of cyanobacteria. David Naafs provides expertise on biomarker analysis and paleointerpretation.
Impact In the process of writing a paper to investigate the alternative hypothesis of high level of 2-methylhopanes during Oceanic Anoxic Events (other than nitrogen fixation)
Start Year 2015
 
Description Coccolithophore diversity 
Organisation Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
Department Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Investigating the function of calcification in coccolithophores and their diversity using the innovative MIT-Darwin approach; Supervising a PhD student (Joost de Vries) on modelling coccolithophore diversity
Collaborator Contribution Providing laboratory and in-situ measurements; expertise on latest Darwin model development
Impact Multi-disciplinary: Observations vs. modelling Biology, Chemistry and Physics of the ocean 2 international workshops 1 paper: Monteiro FM, L Bach, C Brownlee, T Tyrrell, J Young, M Gutowska, P Bown, U Riebesell, A Poulton, S Dutkiewicz, A Ridgwell. Calcification in marine phytoplankton: Physiological costs and ecological benefits. Science Advances, 2 (7), e1501822 1 NERC standard grant proposal funded: An unexpected requirement for silicon in coccolithophore calcification: physiological, ecological and evolutionary implications, 2017-2022, Co-I 1 NERC PhD student: Joost de Vries to start in October 2018 on modelling coccolithophore diversity with MBA as CASE partner
Start Year 2012
 
Description Coccolithophore diversity 
Organisation Heriot-Watt University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Investigating the function of calcification in coccolithophores and their diversity using the innovative MIT-Darwin approach; Supervising a PhD student (Joost de Vries) on modelling coccolithophore diversity
Collaborator Contribution Providing laboratory and in-situ measurements; expertise on latest Darwin model development
Impact Multi-disciplinary: Observations vs. modelling Biology, Chemistry and Physics of the ocean 2 international workshops 1 paper: Monteiro FM, L Bach, C Brownlee, T Tyrrell, J Young, M Gutowska, P Bown, U Riebesell, A Poulton, S Dutkiewicz, A Ridgwell. Calcification in marine phytoplankton: Physiological costs and ecological benefits. Science Advances, 2 (7), e1501822 1 NERC standard grant proposal funded: An unexpected requirement for silicon in coccolithophore calcification: physiological, ecological and evolutionary implications, 2017-2022, Co-I 1 NERC PhD student: Joost de Vries to start in October 2018 on modelling coccolithophore diversity with MBA as CASE partner
Start Year 2012
 
Description Coccolithophore diversity 
Organisation Marine Biological Association
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Investigating the function of calcification in coccolithophores and their diversity using the innovative MIT-Darwin approach; Supervising a PhD student (Joost de Vries) on modelling coccolithophore diversity
Collaborator Contribution Providing laboratory and in-situ measurements; expertise on latest Darwin model development
Impact Multi-disciplinary: Observations vs. modelling Biology, Chemistry and Physics of the ocean 2 international workshops 1 paper: Monteiro FM, L Bach, C Brownlee, T Tyrrell, J Young, M Gutowska, P Bown, U Riebesell, A Poulton, S Dutkiewicz, A Ridgwell. Calcification in marine phytoplankton: Physiological costs and ecological benefits. Science Advances, 2 (7), e1501822 1 NERC standard grant proposal funded: An unexpected requirement for silicon in coccolithophore calcification: physiological, ecological and evolutionary implications, 2017-2022, Co-I 1 NERC PhD student: Joost de Vries to start in October 2018 on modelling coccolithophore diversity with MBA as CASE partner
Start Year 2012
 
Description Coccolithophore diversity 
Organisation Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Department Department of Earth Atmospheric and Planetary Science
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Investigating the function of calcification in coccolithophores and their diversity using the innovative MIT-Darwin approach; Supervising a PhD student (Joost de Vries) on modelling coccolithophore diversity
Collaborator Contribution Providing laboratory and in-situ measurements; expertise on latest Darwin model development
Impact Multi-disciplinary: Observations vs. modelling Biology, Chemistry and Physics of the ocean 2 international workshops 1 paper: Monteiro FM, L Bach, C Brownlee, T Tyrrell, J Young, M Gutowska, P Bown, U Riebesell, A Poulton, S Dutkiewicz, A Ridgwell. Calcification in marine phytoplankton: Physiological costs and ecological benefits. Science Advances, 2 (7), e1501822 1 NERC standard grant proposal funded: An unexpected requirement for silicon in coccolithophore calcification: physiological, ecological and evolutionary implications, 2017-2022, Co-I 1 NERC PhD student: Joost de Vries to start in October 2018 on modelling coccolithophore diversity with MBA as CASE partner
Start Year 2012
 
Description Coccolithophore diversity 
Organisation National Oceanography Centre
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Investigating the function of calcification in coccolithophores and their diversity using the innovative MIT-Darwin approach; Supervising a PhD student (Joost de Vries) on modelling coccolithophore diversity
Collaborator Contribution Providing laboratory and in-situ measurements; expertise on latest Darwin model development
Impact Multi-disciplinary: Observations vs. modelling Biology, Chemistry and Physics of the ocean 2 international workshops 1 paper: Monteiro FM, L Bach, C Brownlee, T Tyrrell, J Young, M Gutowska, P Bown, U Riebesell, A Poulton, S Dutkiewicz, A Ridgwell. Calcification in marine phytoplankton: Physiological costs and ecological benefits. Science Advances, 2 (7), e1501822 1 NERC standard grant proposal funded: An unexpected requirement for silicon in coccolithophore calcification: physiological, ecological and evolutionary implications, 2017-2022, Co-I 1 NERC PhD student: Joost de Vries to start in October 2018 on modelling coccolithophore diversity with MBA as CASE partner
Start Year 2012
 
Description ECOGEM 
Organisation University of California, Riverside
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Originating the idea; provide expertise in modelling marine ecosystem and paleoclimate
Collaborator Contribution UCRiverside provides expertise in GENIE development; UoSouthampton developed the new Earth system model combining cGENIE with the Darwin model
Impact 3 published papers: 1. Grigoratou, M, Monteiro, FM, Schmidt, DN, Wilson, JD, Ward, BA & Ridgwell, A 2018, 'A trait-based modelling approach to planktonic foraminifera ecology' Biogeosciences Discussions, vol. 2018, pp. 1-36. 2. Wilson, JD, Monteiro, F, Schmidt, D, Ward, B & Ridgwell, A 2018, 'Linking Marine Plankton Ecosystems and Climate: A New Modeling Approach to the Warm Early Eocene Climate' Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018PA003374 3. Ward, B, Wilson, JD, Death, R, Monteiro, F, Yool, A & Ridgwell, A 2018, 'EcoGEnIE 1.0: plankton ecology in the cGEnIE Earth system model' Geoscientific Model Development, vol. 11, no. 10, pp. 4241-4267. https://doi.org/10.5194/gmd-11-4241-2018
Start Year 2016
 
Description ECOGEM 
Organisation University of Southampton
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Originating the idea; provide expertise in modelling marine ecosystem and paleoclimate
Collaborator Contribution UCRiverside provides expertise in GENIE development; UoSouthampton developed the new Earth system model combining cGENIE with the Darwin model
Impact 3 published papers: 1. Grigoratou, M, Monteiro, FM, Schmidt, DN, Wilson, JD, Ward, BA & Ridgwell, A 2018, 'A trait-based modelling approach to planktonic foraminifera ecology' Biogeosciences Discussions, vol. 2018, pp. 1-36. 2. Wilson, JD, Monteiro, F, Schmidt, D, Ward, B & Ridgwell, A 2018, 'Linking Marine Plankton Ecosystems and Climate: A New Modeling Approach to the Warm Early Eocene Climate' Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018PA003374 3. Ward, B, Wilson, JD, Death, R, Monteiro, F, Yool, A & Ridgwell, A 2018, 'EcoGEnIE 1.0: plankton ecology in the cGEnIE Earth system model' Geoscientific Model Development, vol. 11, no. 10, pp. 4241-4267. https://doi.org/10.5194/gmd-11-4241-2018
Start Year 2016
 
Description Foraminifera diversity 
Organisation University of Bristol
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provide modelling expertise of MIT-Darwin approach
Collaborator Contribution Provide foraminifera observations Develop novel model of foraminifera diversity within the MIT-Darwin model
Impact Multi-disciplinary: Model vs. Observations Supervising Maria Grigoratou, PhD student, on modelling foraminifera diversity using the MIT-Darwin model (started in October 2015)
Start Year 2014
 
Description PaleoDarwin with MIT model 
Organisation European Centre for Research and Teaching of Environmental Geosciences (CEREGE)
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provide expertise on darwin modelling and paleo ocean biogeochemistry modelling
Collaborator Contribution CEREGE to develop the model to look at the changes in ocean diversity at the Ordovician and Cretaceous; Reading provides expertise in model paleoclimate physical models with the MITgcm
Impact In the process of coupling the different model components. Hope to have first results in the Summer 2018 which will then result in the publication of at least 2 papers. Very interdisciplinary: paleoclimate, oceanography, biodiversity; biogeochemistry; climate dynamics; modelling
Start Year 2016
 
Description PaleoDarwin with MIT model 
Organisation University of Reading
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provide expertise on darwin modelling and paleo ocean biogeochemistry modelling
Collaborator Contribution CEREGE to develop the model to look at the changes in ocean diversity at the Ordovician and Cretaceous; Reading provides expertise in model paleoclimate physical models with the MITgcm
Impact In the process of coupling the different model components. Hope to have first results in the Summer 2018 which will then result in the publication of at least 2 papers. Very interdisciplinary: paleoclimate, oceanography, biodiversity; biogeochemistry; climate dynamics; modelling
Start Year 2016