RAGNARoCC: Radiatively active gases from the North Atlantic Region and Climate Change

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography

Abstract

Our object is to understand how large, and how variable, are sources and sinks of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere from the North Atlantic. We aim to be able to describe how these have changed in the recent past and how they will change in the future under different climate scenarios. Most effort will be concentrated on carbon dioxide, and we will deliver a comprehensive budgeting of natural and anthropogenic components of the carbon cycle in the North Atlantic and understanding of why the air-sea fluxes of CO2 vary regionally, seasonally and multi-annually. Observations of CH4 and N2O and estimates of their regional fluxes will additionally be made. We, in collaboration with our partner institutions in Europe and the US, will undertake surface measurements of CO2 air-sea fluxes made from networks of voluntary observing ships and at fixed sites. These will be synthesised with observations from hydrographic sections of the interior carbon content. We will thus obtain accurate estimates of the uptake, present storage, and net transport of anthropogenic carbon, and variability in the natural uptake and release of atmospheric CO2 by the N. Atlantic. In parallel with direct estimates made from these observations, forward and inverse models (of both atmospheric and oceanic kinds) of these fluxes will be developed. The main hypotheses are (1) that past uptake and variability of CO2 in the region can be quantified by examination of the deep carbon inventory in the Atlantic, (2) that the present observed variability in CO2 uptake is due to a combination of biological and physical processes that are driven by climatic variations, the main factors being captured by ocean carbon simulations embedded in climate models, and (3) these variations (past, present and future) are due to a combination of variability internal to the climate system and external anthropogenic forcing - in proportions we will determine. Objectives are (1) a template for operational forecasting of the fluxes of GHGs into and out of the N. Atlantic, to be implemented as part of ICOS and in combination with ECMWF (2) an understanding of that sink that can be used to improve projections of how the ocean CO2 sink will change in the future, and (3) a quantitative understanding of how and why Atlantic Ocean uptake of anthropogenic CO2 has changed as a result of climate change over the last 100 years.

Planned Impact

WHO WILL BENEFIT: Our project aims to quantify the N. Atlantic sources and sinks of greenhouse gases, and understand how and why they vary. This information is important for monitoring UK and European greenhouse gas emissions, since an independent verification method (now being used at UK, European and global levels) is to measure atmospheric concentrations and fit them to overall regional emissions -- which for accuracy, ideally requires knowledge of the region's ocean sources and sinks, especially if these are variable. Public bodies and agencies who have responsibility for monitoring or regulating the UK's greenhouse gas emissions including DECC and DEFRA therefore will benefit. There is an international effort to observe and understand the regional budgets of greenhouse gases, with the European Projects such as the Integrated Carbon Observing System (ICOS) now being set up across Europe, and the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) developing an operational system for such fluxes, and these bodies also will be beneficiaries. Reducing our uncertainty of how oceanic greenhouse gas sources and sinks, particularly for CO2, addresses a key unknown in predicting the course of anthropogenic climate change, and for this reason public at large also have an important stake in this research.

HOW WILL THEY BENEFIT: Our observations will be made available in a timely fashion to internationally recognised data processing centres from where they will be freely downloadable. The knowledge that we generate will also be directly communicated to stakeholders: for example we will put in place pathways to communicate our results by regular visits with DECC, ECMWF, via a website, a conference for stakeholders and public exhibition towards the end of the project. The relevant government departments will be able to use our results to decrease the uncertainty on estimates of emissions of UK greenhouse gases, both using the information given to them in these briefings, and via the improvement in detailed regional observations that we will deliver. Improved knowledge of how and why the ocean sources and sinks of greenhouse gases change will benefit the public at large by increasing our understanding of the long-term impacts of human emissions on the "Earth System" (including the global carbon cycle as well as the physical climate). This knowledge will feed in to future policy at national and international level that aims to set levels of future emissions.

Publications

10 25 50

publication icon
Bakker D (2014) An update to the Surface Ocean CO 2 Atlas (SOCAT version 2) in Earth System Science Data

 
Description 1.) We have derived a comprehensive budget for the uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide for the North Atlantic region over the past several decades. This includes the attribution of sources for the accumulation of carbon in the region (transport by ocean circulation of anthropogenic carbon into the region from the Arctic and from the tropical Atlantic, and direct air-sea uptake by the North Atlantic).
2.) We have been able to test the ability of IPCC class models of the climate system to track the uptake of atmospheric CO2 by the N. Atlantic Ocean. Though the models give approximately the correct current uptake, they do not reproduce the rapid increase in this uptake over the period since 2000 which is implied by the observations.
Exploitation Route The findings will be of use by policymakers and public as the global community attempts to limit CO2 emissions so as to avoid dangerous climate change, as expressed for example in the UNFCC COP 21 meeting in Paris in 2015. Scenarios for future emissions that to stabilize atmospheric concentrations at a given value depend on correctly modelling the natural sinks of CO2. The ocean is an important contributor to these, and will eventually be the main repository for the carbon emitted by fossil fuel burning. As such it is important to know whether current models are correctly identifying those sinks and can correctly predict their evolution over coming decades. Our project suggests that in important respects, the ocean sink is not being correctly captured by our models.
Sectors Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

URL http://www.greenhouse-gases.org.uk/projects/ragnarocc
 
Description A website explaining our project and its importance has been created: http://www.greenhouse-gases.org.uk/projects/ragnarocc An international summer school on Global Greenhouse Gases was held in Edinburgh in August 2015, and another will be held at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton on 2-12 August 2016. These courses are aimed at advanced PhD students and post-doctoral researchers in the natural sciences wishing to develop a solid understanding of the role of key greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the Earth system and the processes that govern their dynamics in the atmosphere, ocean and biosphere. An informative video "Intro to RAGNARoCC', has been made and is now live on YouTube and can be found by following the links: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAes84esdf0 and also on the Plymouth Marine Laboratory website: http://www.pml.ac.uk/Media-and-events/Video-audio As part of the Greenhouse Gas Programme we held a public engagement one day event held at Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, on 4th November 2015. As part of the Greenhouse Gas Programme we held a public meeting at the Royal Society in London, with engagmement from the public and stakeholders in government, on 8=9 March 2017.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Education,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Greenhouse Gases Summer School
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The summer school was based at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in Southampton and offered a combination of lectures, practical exercise, seminars and field/lab work. Organised by international experts in oceanography, atmospheric science and terrestrial biogeochemistry, the course provided educational support in the following areas: •theoretical background on the role of greenhouse gases in the Earth System •practical training in how to measure and model fluxes •interaction with leading experts in the field •the opportunity to network with other early-career scientists with similar interests. Topics covered: •Greenhouse gases in ocean, atmosphere and biosphere, with a focus on carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) •Instrumentation for measuring GHGs: theory and practice •Process modelling of GHG fluxes •Satellite observations of GHGs •Measuring and up-scaling fluxes in the terrestrial biosphere Researchers within the UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Feedback Programme, and researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Exeter, Bristol, York, Leicester, Manchester, and dedicated UK research centres including Forest Research, Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), National Oceanography Centre (NOC) were involved.
URL http://www.greenhouse-gases.org.uk/news/68-announcing-the-ghg-summer-school-2016
 
Description Collaboration in bilateral research project DIMES 
Organisation University of California, San Diego (UCSD)
Department Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Leadership and participation in Research cruises, supply of equipment, data analysis and synthesis
Collaborator Contribution Leadership and participation in Research cruises, supply of equipment, data analysis and synthesis
Impact publications as detailed in outputs
Start Year 2009
 
Description Collaboration in bilateral research project DIMES 
Organisation Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Leadership and participation in Research cruises, supply of equipment, data analysis and synthesis
Collaborator Contribution Leadership and participation in Research cruises, supply of equipment, data analysis and synthesis
Impact publications as detailed in outputs
Start Year 2009
 
Description Collaboration with NOC and University of Southampton 
Organisation National Oceanography Centre
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Tracer release experiment observation and analysis teams
Collaborator Contribution Provision of the James Cook for UK cruises on DIMES. Provision of National Marine Facilities staff and equipment. Physical oceanography input.
Impact Most of the papers have joint authorship
Start Year 2008
 
Description Greenhouse Gase Summer School 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The International Summer School on Global Greenhouse Gases will was held at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton on 2-12 August 2016. The intensive 10-day course was aimed at advanced PhD students and post-doctoral researchers in the natural sciences who want to develop a solid understanding of the role of key greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the Earth system and the processes that govern their dynamics in the atmosphere, ocean and biosphere.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.greenhouse-gases.org.uk/news/68-announcing-the-ghg-summer-school-2016