Processes Influencing Carbon Cycling: Observations of the Lower limb of the Antarctic Overturning (PICCOLO)

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews
Department Name: Biology

Abstract

The vast, remote seas which surround the continent of Antarctica are collectively known as the Southern Ocean. This region with its severe environment of mountainous seas, winter darkness, strong winds, freezing temperatures and ice is unsurprisingly one of the least explored and under-observed parts of the global ocean. However, because of these extremes, it plays a large and still unquantified role in Earth's climate system. In this region, large amounts of heat and carbon dioxide are exchanged between the atmosphere and the ocean.

The physical mechanisms controlling these atmosphere-ocean exchanges are the subject of the NERC ORCHESTRA programme. We propose within PICCOLO to concentrate on the role that chemistry and biology play within those exchanges. In particular, PICCOLO will focus on understanding the mechanisms that transform the carbon contained in the seawater as it rises to the surface near Antarctica, interacts with the atmosphere, ice, phytoplankton and zooplankton inhabiting the near surface, before descending to the ocean depths.

PICCOLO will undertake an ocean research expedition to the region close to Antarctica, as computer models and satellite images show that these are areas crucial for carbon processes. Freezing seawater in these regions releases salt into the water below, making it denser and therefore causing it to sink. Strong winds cause the sea ice to be pushed away from the Antarctic coastline, leaving areas of open water called polynyas. Within the polynyas the water has enough light during the summer to allow phytoplankton to grow, as well as providing dense waters which sink to the deep, driving a giant ocean conveyor belt which has a large impact upon Earth's climate system.

The PICCOLO team will measure the key variables that control the biological and chemical processes in this region including iron, nutrients, phytoplankton and zooplankton. Crucially the team will study the controlling rate terms between different parts of this biological and chemical system. The PICCOLO team will make use of the latest technologies, including autonomous submarines, gliders and floats, to observe these processes in otherwise inaccessible and previously unstudied areas such as under the sea ice. Most ambitiously we will anchor a submarine to the seabed within a polynya and leave it over a winter season to collect data, recovering it the following spring. The PICCOLO team will put instruments on seals which will continuously take data as they dive up and down through the water, sending it back to scientists in real-time via satellite communication links.

This wealth of novel data will be analysed by the PICCOLO team, using state of the art computer models, to test our ideas about how the whole complex set of physical, chemical and biological processes affects carbon. Conceptually we will follow an imaginary parcel of water through the system looking at processes between the atmosphere and ocean, biological processes in the surface layer, exchanges between the upper and lower ocean and the final fate of the carbon.

The PICCOLO hypotheses address the following:

(i) Factors controlling the exchange of carbon dioxide between the ocean and atmosphere and the role of ultra-violet light in controlling the concentration of carbon dioxide in seawater;
(ii) The role of light, iron and nutrients in how carbon is processed by the plankton in the water;
(iii) The mediating processes governing the export of carbon from the upper ocean to depth;
(iv) The processes that take the carbon into the deep ocean on the next stage of its global journey.

Planned Impact

Here we summarise the non-academic communities who will benefit from this research project and how they will benefit. Please see the Pathways to Impact attachment for the activities we plan in PICCOLO in order to achieve this impact.

The main beneficiaries of data and knowledge from PICCOLO are:

i) Stakeholders and high level users of the Global Carbon Budget analysis will benefit through an improved product with PICCOLO biogeochemical observations being available for model evaluation and quantification of the ocean carbon sink via high-profile data synthesis products, such as the Global Ocean Data Analysis Project (GLODAP) and the Surface Ocean CO2 Atlas (www.socat.info).

ii) The global earth system modelling community, and the users of such models such as governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), will benefit from the mechanistic understanding of carbon uptake processes in the Southern Ocean that PICCOLO will deliver, together with the roadmap for representing such processes in Earth system models. This will deliver a step-change in the quality of the projections undertaken by such models. The Hadley Centre at the UK Met Office will gain insight from PICCOLO, and we will work with them to assess the various NEMO-based models. The results of the project will aid the eventual parameterisation of carbon cycling processes for use in earth system models. The major results of PICCOLO will inform government policy with regard to the uncertainties in sea level rise predictions.

iii) Operational forecasters at global weather/climate services (such as the UK Met Office) and global navies will have free access to the near-real time (within hours of surfacing) temperature and salinity profiles from the Argo floats, gliders and seal tags, for assimilation into their operational forecast models. This will also benefit users of ocean reanalysis products that assimilate the PICCOLO profiles, since our targeted observational campaign location is a data desert.

iv) Those designing the global ocean (and climate) observing systems will benefit from PICCOLO. Our novel observational techniques will allow us to feed into the Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS) design in order to design effective long-term measuring systems in the most useful locations. We will engage with the SOOS community through the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR).

v) The western and central Weddell Sea is very poorly sampled compared with the rest of this sector and the size of the krill stocks within it will be of interest to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The krill fishery in the Southwest Atlantic sector has expanded and there is a clear need for better understanding of the spatial scale of the exploited stocks. ICED (Integrating Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics) is an international multidisciplinary regional programme within the SCOR/Future Earth sponsored IMBER (Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosystem Research) project, launched to develop integrated circumpolar analyses of Southern Ocean climate and ecosystem dynamics.

vi) PICCOLO will nurture and train early career scientists, giving them skills to equip them for a productive independent career and to meet national skills shortages.

vii) The general public and young people in particular will gain from PICCOLO outreach. We aim to interest more young people in science and in higher education, raise awareness of global change and polar processes, and attract more people to careers in scientific research. We will target deprived areas such as Great Yarmouth in Norfolk and Plymouth in Devon, where young people's aspirations and achievements are below the national average and where inspiration into education may make a difference.

Publications

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Description This project is funded but no work other then preparatory organization has been undertaken
Exploitation Route We intend to make all the data collected by the project freely available to anyone wishing to use them. All the data collected by the animals will be posted on the GTS in near real time for operational uses and be made available in quality controlled form on the www.meop.net web site.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism

 
Description Planned Impact:The main beneficiaries of data and knowledge from PICCOLO are: i) Stakeholders and high level users of the Global Carbon Budget analysis will benefit through an improved product with PICCOLO biogeochemical observations being available for model evaluation and quantification of the ocean carbon sink via high-profile data synthesis products, such as the Global Ocean Data Analysis Project (GLODAP) and the Surface Ocean CO2 Atlas (www.socat.info). ii) The global earth system modelling community, and the users of such models such as governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), will benefit from the mechanistic understanding of carbon uptake processes in the Southern Ocean that PICCOLO will deliver, together with the roadmap for representing such processes in Earth system models. This will deliver a step-change in the quality of the projections undertaken by such models. The Hadley Centre at the UK Met Office will gain insight from PICCOLO, and we will work with them to assess the various NEMO-based models. The results of the project will aid the eventual parameterisation of carbon cycling processes for use in earth system models. The major results of PICCOLO will inform government policy with regard to the uncertainties in sea level rise predictions. iii) Operational forecasters at global weather/climate services (such as the UK Met Office) and global navies will have free access to the near-real time (within hours of surfacing) temperature and salinity profiles from the Argo floats, gliders and seal tags, for assimilation into their operational forecast models. This will also benefit users of ocean reanalysis products that assimilate the PICCOLO profiles, since our targeted observational campaign location is a data desert. iv) Those designing the global ocean (and climate) observing systems will benefit from PICCOLO. Our novel observational techniques will allow us to feed into the Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS) design in order to design effective long-term measuring systems in the most useful locations. We will engage with the SOOS community through the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR). v) The western and central Weddell Sea is very poorly sampled compared with the rest of this sector and the size of the krill stocks within it will be of interest to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The krill fishery in the Southwest Atlantic sector has expanded and there is a clear need for better understanding of the spatial scale of the exploited stocks. ICED (Integrating Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics) is an international multidisciplinary regional programme within the SCOR/Future Earth sponsored IMBER (Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosystem Research) project, launched to develop integrated circumpolar analyses of Southern Ocean climate and ecosystem dynamics. vi) PICCOLO will nurture and train early career scientists, giving them skills to equip them for a productive independent career and to meet national skills shortages. vii) The general public and young people in particular will gain from PICCOLO outreach. We aim to interest more young people in science and in higher education, raise awareness of global change and polar processes, and attract more people to careers in scientific research. We will target deprived areas such as Great Yarmouth in Norfolk and Plymouth in Devon, where young people's aspirations and achievements are below the national average and where inspiration into education may make a difference. Funded Value: £688,827 Funded Period: Jul 17 - Jul 21 Funder: NERC Project Status: Active Project Category: Research Grant Project Reference: NE/P021395/1 Principal Investigator: Karen J. Heywood Research Subject: Climate & Climate Change (20%) Marine environments (80%) Research Topic: Biogeochemical Cycles (40%) Climate & Climate Change (20%) Ecosystem Scale Processes (10%) Ocean - Atmosphere Interact. (20%) Ocean Circulation (10%) If populated the following is a graphic depicting where in the UK the given postcode is located. 1111
 
Description Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research 
Organisation Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research
Country Germany 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution equipment expertise analysis writing
Collaborator Contribution logistics, expertise, analysis, writing
Impact It is obviously necessary to "account" for investment in science by some process. And unfortunately, it is felt this process has to take into account the very narrow vision of science that seems to dominate the governance of science these days. But by overly constraining the expression of this value, the process may itself defeat its purpose. I believe that with research fish, this is the case. The simplest way I can think of supporting this notion is via an example of how NERC investment in a linked chain of my NERC grants has created a string of high impact papers, an unprecedented legacy of ocean data and a rich global network of collaborators that collectively have brought in a high level of resources synergistically to support the work. On top of this, the collective of people associated with these projects supported the technological development and evolution of unique methodology within SMRU Instrumentation. It is worth remembering that SMRU Instrumentation is a group supported largely by the "sales" (with a turnover of 1 M £, much from overseas) of the monitoring equipment for observing the ocean used in these grants, which both facilitates collection of observations from important but unobserved times and locations with drastically reduced cost and logistic requirements. So how did NERC funding help to bring the remarkable success of these projects about? And how much funding did it leverage? It's not a simple story and not one that can be reflected in researchfish in any sensible way. The only way to shoe-horn it into the system forces the misrepresentation of the process of the scientific endeavour itself. The chain of my NERC projects involving ocean obs started with a £5000 pound NERC grant to build a couple of the first animal-carried ocean profiling instruments, CTD-SRDLs. The initial development of these tags had been supported with about £20,000 pounds from the Norwegian Polar Institute and then later, $250,000 from the US Office of Naval Research. The success of these "proof of concept" instruments resulted in my submitting a NERC grant to support their first large-scale deployment in the Southern Ocean on elephant seals. We also sold tags to researchers in France, Australia and the US to deploy the tags simultaneously on elephant seals in their areas of interest in the Southern Ocean. The combine effort was collectively known as the SEaOS project. The success of this project led to an even larger follow-on project in both polar oceans involving 10 different countries, MEOPP (an awkwardMarine Mammals Exploring the ocean Pole to Pole). It was part of the International Polar Year. Collectively, these projects generated data about the distribution, behaviour and environmental associations 100s of seals and produced hundreds of thousands of ocean profiles from the seas around f both poles, often from unsampled times and locations. These projects generated momentum of animal platform approach that has led to a growing range of onging projects and new proposals. To date, the many hundreds of animals that have carried the tags have delivered almost 400,000 ocean profiles and these data sets numerically outnumber all other data available in the Southern Ocean . All of the data were sent out on the GTS and are or will be freely available, either through the world ocean database or in published data sets. They projects have generated a large and growing number of publications and have been used operationally by the Met office. How do we capture the value of this in Researcfish? The success of SEaOS and MEOPP lhas also led on to the current ocean2ice project (part of NERC iStar project) includes the use of seals to study the oceanic heat flow to the Pine Island glacier. The BAS ship, JCR , moorings and autosub collected detailed highly accurate data from the immediate area during the month it was in position. The seals provided an additional 12000 CTD profiles in a wide area of some 20,000 km^2 from February through October that dramatically increased the value of the other data sources. How do you account for that increase in value in researchfish terms? The NERC contribution to this complex set of interlinked project was critically important but represents only a small fraction of the total cost of the combined effort. The value of the data , however, very much depended on the scale large cooperative effort involved. The deployment of these tags and the analysis of the data collected involved universities, research institutions and the polar research arms of all the countries in 10 countries. Ships, logistics, maintenance of bases, help from voluntary technical personnel, etc. are all involved and sometimes un-costed even in each group's proposals . Assigning contributions in cash or kind in a realistic way is impossible for me. So I will not even attempt to include all these links collaborations in my researchfish input. The only way I could do it is by pulling numbers out of the air to satisfy the required fields and I will not do this. In the final analysis, the value of the larger global, cooperative project and each national component of it cannot be measured in simple monetary terms but only in its on-going academic output, the growing use of the data in publications and models, the way the approach affects, in a difficult to determine way, the cost effectiveness of the general on-going effort in ocean observation. Perhaps, more importantly, researchfish , in demanding that we pound large round pegs in small square holes, can't even start to assess, in any realistic way, how the improved understanding of the behaviour of the oceans in the climate system allows us to plan ahead and prepare for change nor the value of understanding of the functioning of a complex and exploited marine ecosystem. I think the real worry is that in using such constrained accounting practices to provide a narrow measure of value to pander to a government that seems only able to measure value in simple monetary terms, you risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater. You devalue the process of science and lead to a downward spiral in the perception of that value in government and the public. This really is a dangerous spiral to get caught in. Perhaps I am taking researchfish too seriously and should just ignore its inadequacies. Like I suspect many more sensible people will do, I should just fill in the forms as quickly as possible and get on with useful work, treating the task as just one more of the many silly things we have to do to satisfy an increasing perceived need for detailed accounting, regardless of how unrealistic the results are. But I feel I should at least try to make the case for a developing broader, more meaningful approach for "valuing" my scientific efforts. In the final analysis, I thought expressing these concerns was more valuable than labouring over a flawed set of forms.
 
Description BAS Autosub 
Organisation British Antarctic Survey
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution See under University of east Anglia (UEA)
Collaborator Contribution See under UEA
Impact See under UEA
Start Year 2011
 
Description BAS Weddell Sea 
Organisation British Antarctic Survey
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We designed, built and deployed the instruments attached to seals. We were involved in data analysis and publication of results.
Collaborator Contribution This was an Antarctic Funding Initiative partnership. The BAS PI and associates were involved in writing the proposal, data analysis and publication. BAS provided all logistical support.
Impact Several papers directly related to the particular data from Award set have been published. Other papers listed made use of the data in combination wioth that from other sources, some NERC funded (e.g. XXX) and some funded by international partners (e.g.YYY).
Start Year 2010
 
Description University of East Anglia 
Organisation University of East Anglia
Department School of Environmental Sciences UEA
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I (through SMRU instrumentation) provided the the instruments. I provided the biological and technical expertise for locating, choosing, catching the animals, attaching the instruments, collecting and decoding the data and making it available to the oceanographic partners. I am analyzing the biological data ofn seal movements and diving behaviour in relation to environmental factors (e.g. ice cover, oceanographic conditions, seasonal variability etc.)
Collaborator Contribution This project is joint with those listed below. Joint reference: M1403508 NERC has full details of each partners' contribution Joint Documents: Lead document with Professor K Heywood Organisation: University of East Anglia Department: Environmental Sciences Non-lead document with Professor A Naveira Garabato Organisation: University of Southampton Department: School of Ocean and Earth Science Non-lead document with Professor A Jenkins Organisation: NERC British Antarctic Survey Department: Science Programmes Non-lead document with Professor M Fedak Organisation: University of St Andrews Department: Biology
Impact As listed elsewhere. This was an interdisciplinary, collaborative effort between biologists and ocean scientists that has not only helped us to understand oceanic heat flow to critical parts of the West Antarctic Ice sheet (critical in predicting future sea level), but also provided unexpected biological results leading to a new appreciation of the distribution of seals withing sea ice and polynyas near ice sheet margins. The study would have been impossible without the interdisciplinary approach. The seals collected a unique data set throughout the antarctic winter in ice bound waters that will become freely available via the MEOP web site. Uncertainty in sea level prediction will be costly and the future of the west Antarctic ice sheet contributes the greatest uncertainty. This project's objectives and those of the greater NERC iStar project (http://www.istar.ac.uk/) were to reduce this uncertainty, allowing all countries to better taylor sea defenses, allowing evidence-based decisions on sea defenses. The potential economic consequences are thus enourmous and are likely to affect any country with a coastline.
Start Year 2011
 
Description University of Plymouth 
Organisation University of Plymouth
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution One of 4 partners in the PICCOLO overall Grant. St Andrews is responsible for providing the animal platform data.
Collaborator Contribution Each provides an important specialization to this very broad environmental study on the biogeochemical cycle in the Weddell Sea.
Impact Multidisciplinary. physical and biological oceanography; climate modelling; Antarctic; Biology of marine mammals.
Start Year 2017