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Blue Carbon Research Projects Will Study How Coastal & Marine Habitats Can Reduce Climate Change

24th February 2022
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Investing in Blue Carbon - Dr Grace Cott and Dr Mark Coughlan, UCD will lead two Irish research teams under the Marine Institute’s 2021 'Blue Carbon call'

With an investment of €2.6 million under the Marine Institute’s 2021 Blue Carbon call, two Irish research teams led by Dr Grace Cott and Dr Mark Coughlan of University College Dublin, will undertake a substantial programme of research to investigate how Ireland’s marine habitats store carbon and potentially reduce carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. This flagship award by the Marine Institute is co-funded with contribution of €400,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

‘Blue Carbon’ refers to the uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by natural marine and coastal habitats in a way that can be quantified. This is a critical ecosystem service which helps to reduce the extent and speed of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

The five-year programme of research will improve our understanding of how Ireland’s Blue Carbon habitats, which include coastal salt marshes and seagrass beds, can mitigate climate change. The research will also investigate the substantial carbon sequestration capacity of seabed sediments which are challenging to quantify. The successful projects, (BlueC and Quest), will deepen our understanding of the carbon dynamics in Irish marine ecosystems and assess their capacity to be integrated into climate policy.

This is research that is specifically targeted to inform policy and regulation. It will provide knowledge and evidence to assist with Ireland’s goal of attaining 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and improve our capacity to meet broader Irish and international climate and biodiversity targets.

In line with a commitment under the current Programme for Government, the research will also inform the appropriate and effective development, regulation and use of Marine Protected Areas, and broader marine spatial planning and management frameworks including the National Marine Planning Framework.

Dr Paul Connolly, CEO of the Marine Institute said, “This research will be extremely important in generating a much greater understanding of how Ireland’s marine and coastal systems act as a key carbon sink to mitigate against climate change. The ability to quantify the uptake and storage of atmospheric carbon by marine habitats such as salt marshes and seagrass beds could be key in helping to meet national and European climate adaptation and mitigation policy goals. This project is also important in the context of meeting EU nature restoration targets for those habitats that can capture and store carbon and prevent and reduce coastal erosion and flooding.”

According to Dr Grace Cott, University College Dublin and Principal Investigator in the BlueC project, “ocean and coastal marine systems play a significant role in the global carbon cycle, representing the largest long-term sink of carbon. Ireland has two Blue Carbon habitats; saltmarsh and seagrass meadows, and a vast marine territory containing potential Blue Carbon systems, such as carbon-rich macroalgae, maërl, cold water corals, phytoplankton and sediments. Specifically, for Ireland, there is a paucity of data on the carbon storage capacity of these ecosystems, and a lack of coherent management strategies that hampers our ability to integrate these ecosystems into climate policy frameworks.”

Working with project partners NUI Galway and University College Cork, the overarching aim of BlueC is to advance scientific understanding of the carbon dynamics in Irish coastal and marine environments, whilst simultaneously improving management and harnessing their potential for climate mitigation, adaptation and other ecosystem services to underpin policy development. Dr Cott emphasises that engagement with stakeholders will be a key goal throughout the project in addition to building national capacity for Blue Carbon research across disciplines. A key deliverable from this project will be a validated national inventory of the carbon storage capacity of Blue Carbon habitats which will enable inclusion in National Inventory Greenhouse Gas reporting to the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Dr Mark Coughlan, also of University College Dublin and Principal Investigator in the Quest project, says, “Ireland’s expansive marine resource has the potential to sequester and store significant amounts of carbon in seafloor sediments and the habitats they support.”

He explains the challenge he and his partners are trying to address, “there is a scarcity of data and information on the past and present stock of carbon in seafloor sediments. At the same time, Ireland’s seabed is coming under increased pressure from direct human activities which add to the impacts of climate change itself. To fully understand, and effectively manage the seabed in terms of maximising this Blue Carbon potential, requires a thorough understanding of carbon cycling in the marine environment over time, physical processes at the seafloor and high-quality spatial mapping.”

The Quest project team (a collaboration between University College Dublin, Dublin City University and the Geological Survey of Norway) comprises experienced and skilled researchers in these areas who will conduct a multidisciplinary programme of research to qualify and quantify stocks of carbon in Irish marine sediments, examine and characterise threats to Blue Carbon in these settings and support the development of long-term management strategies. This will include supporting the designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and facilitate the delivery of the Government’s Climate Action Plan. The Quest project also intends to engage with stakeholders and the public to achieve a better understanding of Blue Carbon across society, and to raise the visibility of such research at a national and EU level.

The BlueC and Quest projects are due to commence in June 2022, and the two teams are looking forward to sharing their research findings as widely as possible over the next five years.

The Blue Carbon Research Programme is carried out with the support of the Marine Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency funded by the Irish Government.

Published in Marine Science
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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.

 

At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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