Establishing long-term baselines of marine variability in the northwest European shelf seas. (Ref:4252)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography


Project Background:

Marine environments are experiencing unprecedented pressure from anthropogenic climate change, societal impacts, and exploitation (e.g. fishing and offshore infrastructure projects). Evaluating the magnitude of these impacts requires establishing a baseline for the natural state of variability prior to the impact. Given instrumental marine observations typically only span the past few decades to the mid-20th century they are likely heavily influenced by anthropogenic factors and do not provide a representative baseline of natural marine variability. This project seeks to capitalise on recent advances in the development of ultra-high resolution records of past marine variability based on growth ring patterns and the geochemical composition of long-lived marine bivalve molluscs (sclerochronologies), synonymous to dendrochronology. These sclerochronological records provide faithful records of past marine variability and provide significant potential for addressing fundamental questions about the nature of modern and past marine variability.

Project aims and methods:

This project seeks to generate and exploit a cutting edge network of ultra-high-resolution environmental records to determine the state of past marine variability over past centuries. These records will be used to address key questions associated with the nature of modern marine variability including: Are observed modern trends in ecological/physical marine variability unprecedented in the context of past centuries? To what extent are warming sea surface temperatures impacting pelagic and benthic ecosystems? Are observed changes in North Atlantic Ocean circulation patterns impacting NW European shelf sea ecosystems?

To answer these questions, growth rings and the geochemical composition of the shells of the longest-lived animals on Earth (marine clams) will be employed to establish environmental reconstructions that span past decades to centuries from key locations across the NW European shelf seas. These records will be calibrated against marine observations (e.g. sea surface temperature, and the Continuous Plankton Recorder dataset) using cutting edge statistical modelling techniques to generate climate field reconstructions of past marine variability. The coupled observation and proxy based datasets will be interrogated to provide a probabilistic understanding of the nature of modern marine variability set against the newly defined long-term context.

Project Partners:

The student will be based within the Sclerochronology and Scleroclimatology Research Group at the Centre for Geography and Environmental Science (university of Exeter). Geochemical analyses will be conducted in the Stable Isotope Laboratory and Celtic Lab within the School of Earth and Environmental Science (Cardiff University). The project is partnering with Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Marine Biological Association who are providing leading expertise in modern marine monitoring and ecological data analysis. The MBA and PML will provide the necessary facilities to assist this training and support throughout the project.

Training will be provided on all specialised sclerochronological and geochemical microsampling/analysis. The ERC funded SEACHANGE project will provide additional training and field work opportunities. Opportunities will be available for ship based field work as part of the Western Channel Observatory monitoring programme


10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S007504/1 01/10/2019 30/11/2027
2698501 Studentship NE/S007504/1 09/01/2023 31/07/2026 Matthew Mason