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Displaying items by tag: Blue Carbon

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

In Co Wexford, a seven-year-old boy has joined the grassroots effort to conserve vulnerable seagrass beds around Ireland’s coastline.

According to RTÉ News, Shem Berry has lent a helping hand to volunteers who have been clearing an invasive seaweed, Sargassum muticum, which smothers a seagrass meadow at Kilmore Quay.

Seagrass meadows are considered key ‘blue carbon’ habitats, acting as a natural carbon-capture store while also filtering sediments, keeping shorelines stable and providing a safe home for inshore marine wildlife.

“I think it’s important to look after the environment, not only on land, but on the sea,” said Shem.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, environmental NGO Coastwatch has called for seagrass habitats to be specified for protection under the State’s new marine planning legislation.

RTÉ News has more on the story HERE.

Published in Coastal Notes

Invasive seaweed is a growing threat to Ireland’s vital seagrass meadows, according to Coastwatch Ireland.

The Irish Times reports on concerns for the health of seagrass habitats around the coast affected by the presence of Sargassum muticum — a brown seaweed that originates in western Pacific waters and has spread in Europe since the 1970s.

In Kilmore Quay, Coastwatch says a large zostera marina seagrass meadow is being killed off by a blanket of the seaweed.

Seagrass meadows are ‘blue carbon’ habitats, acting as significant stores of CO2 captured from the atmosphere. But they are vulnerable and can be easily overrun, says Coastwatch’s Karin Dubsky.

Last October, Afloat.ie noted findings in an Irish Wildlife Trust report that highlighted “significant declines in carbon-sequestering seagrass meadows” in four Special Areas of Conservation.

The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.

Published in Environment
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This month the Marine Institute will launch a funding call for a major programme of marine science research in the area of ‘blue carbon’.

The absorption and storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the world’s oceans and coastal regions has been identified as one of the ways in which marine ecosystems can reduce the impacts of climate change.

Funding of up to €1.6m has been earmarked for the call to support a large-scale research project to run from 2021 to 2026.

Launched in June 2020, Ireland’s Programme for Government recognised the “the enormous blue carbon potential that the ocean has to offer in tackling climate change”.

Collaborative research initiative

The Government tasked the Marine Institute — the State agency responsible for marine research and innovation — with a collaborative research initiative, aimed at investigating the climate-change mitigation potential of blue carbon and working towards creating an inventory that will assist the EU in meeting Ireland’s climate-change objectives.

In order to prepare the ground for such a large-scale research programme, the Marine Institute commissioned a synthesis report to review existing knowledge on blue carbon habitats and their role as carbon sinks in Ireland. This report was published in May 2021.

“Blue carbon refers to carbon which is stored, or sequestered, in the ocean and in vegetated habitats around coastal regions,” explains the report’s lead author Dr Grace Cott, assistant professor at the UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science.

“In terms of blue carbon which we can actively manage, what we are really referring to is the vegetation in coastal regions, and that means three main habitats: firstly, mangrove forests — which we don’t have in Ireland and are mostly found in tropical regions — secondly, salt-marsh habitats and finally, seagrass meadows.”

From photosynthesis to sediment trapping

Carbon sequestration — the long-term capture and storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere – can take place through a range of natural processes, from photosynthesis to sediment trapping, where carbon-based sediments from the tide are physically trapped by vegetation.

The Marine Institute report points out that Ireland’s tidally influenced coastal wetlands comprise approximately 160 square kilometres of salt-marsh and seagrass beds. Globally, although these habitats represent a much smaller area than terrestrial forests, their total contribution to long-term carbon storage is comparable to carbon sinks in tropical forests.

According to Dr Cott, salt marshes in Ireland are up to 10 times more efficient than agricultural grasslands at storing carbon on a per area basis. This is mainly due to the lack of microbial decomposition in these wet regions, which inland causes the release of carbon from the soil as carbon dioxide.

Supporting blue carbon into the future

The loss and destruction of vegetated coastal ecosystems threatens their ability to function as long-term carbon sinks, and mismanagement can lead to the release of stored carbon back into the atmosphere, says Dr Cott.

“But there is hope in the management of these resources,” she explains. “Even though researchers need to conduct further research into the matter, we are already becoming aware of certain strategies which can help preserve our blue carbon habitats around the Irish coast.”

These include allowing salt mash habitats to migrate inland, and improving water quality to optimise carbon capture in seagrass beds.

“Looking ahead, I believe that Ireland will need an appropriate management framework, led by Government, to enhance protection of these habitats in relation to carbon sequestration,” Dr Cott adds.

Published in Marine Science

Ireland's Offshore Renewable Energy

Because of Ireland's location at the Atlantic edge of the EU, it has more offshore energy potential than most other countries in Europe. The conditions are suitable for the development of the full range of current offshore renewable energy technologies.

Offshore Renewable Energy FAQs

Offshore renewable energy draws on the natural energy provided by wind, wave and tide to convert it into electricity for industry and domestic consumption.

Offshore wind is the most advanced technology, using fixed wind turbines in coastal areas, while floating wind is a developing technology more suited to deeper water. In 2018, offshore wind provided a tiny fraction of global electricity supply, but it is set to expand strongly in the coming decades into a USD 1 trillion business, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). It says that turbines are growing in size and in power capacity, which in turn is "delivering major performance and cost improvements for offshore wind farms".

The global offshore wind market grew nearly 30% per year between 2010 and 2018, according to the IEA, due to rapid technology improvements, It calculated that about 150 new offshore wind projects are in active development around the world. Europe in particular has fostered the technology's development, led by Britain, Germany and Denmark, but China added more capacity than any other country in 2018.

A report for the Irish Wind Energy Assocation (IWEA) by the Carbon Trust – a British government-backed limited company established to accelerate Britain's move to a low carbon economy - says there are currently 14 fixed-bottom wind energy projects, four floating wind projects and one project that has yet to choose a technology at some stage of development in Irish waters. Some of these projects are aiming to build before 2030 to contribute to the 5GW target set by the Irish government, and others are expected to build after 2030. These projects have to secure planning permission, obtain a grid connection and also be successful in a competitive auction in the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS).

The electricity generated by each turbine is collected by an offshore electricity substation located within the wind farm. Seabed cables connect the offshore substation to an onshore substation on the coast. These cables transport the electricity to land from where it will be used to power homes, farms and businesses around Ireland. The offshore developer works with EirGrid, which operates the national grid, to identify how best to do this and where exactly on the grid the project should connect.

The new Marine Planning and Development Management Bill will create a new streamlined system for planning permission for activity or infrastructure in Irish waters or on the seabed, including offshore wind farms. It is due to be published before the end of 2020 and enacted in 2021.

There are a number of companies aiming to develop offshore wind energy off the Irish coast and some of the larger ones would be ESB, SSE Renewables, Energia, Statkraft and RWE.

There are a number of companies aiming to develop offshore wind energy off the Irish coast and some of the larger ones would be ESB, SSE Renewables, Energia, Statkraft and RWE. Is there scope for community involvement in offshore wind? The IWEA says that from the early stages of a project, the wind farm developer "should be engaging with the local community to inform them about the project, answer their questions and listen to their concerns". It says this provides the community with "the opportunity to work with the developer to help shape the final layout and design of the project". Listening to fishing industry concerns, and how fishermen may be affected by survey works, construction and eventual operation of a project is "of particular concern to developers", the IWEA says. It says there will also be a community benefit fund put in place for each project. It says the final details of this will be addressed in the design of the RESS (see below) for offshore wind but it has the potential to be "tens of millions of euro over the 15 years of the RESS contract". The Government is also considering the possibility that communities will be enabled to invest in offshore wind farms though there is "no clarity yet on how this would work", the IWEA says.

Based on current plans, it would amount to around 12 GW of offshore wind energy. However, the IWEA points out that is unlikely that all of the projects planned will be completed. The industry says there is even more significant potential for floating offshore wind off Ireland's west coast and the Programme for Government contains a commitment to develop a long-term plan for at least 30 GW of floating offshore wind in our deeper waters.

There are many different models of turbines. The larger a turbine, the more efficient it is in producing electricity at a good price. In choosing a turbine model the developer will be conscious of this ,but also has to be aware the impact of the turbine on the environment, marine life, biodiversity and visual impact. As a broad rule an offshore wind turbine will have a tip-height of between 165m and 215m tall. However, turbine technology is evolving at a rapid rate with larger more efficient turbines anticipated on the market in the coming years.

 

The Renewable Electricity Support Scheme is designed to support the development of renewable energy projects in Ireland. Under the scheme wind farms and solar farms compete against each other in an auction with the projects which offer power at the lowest price awarded contracts. These contracts provide them with a guaranteed price for their power for 15 years. If they obtain a better price for their electricity on the wholesale market they must return the difference to the consumer.

Yes. The first auction for offshore renewable energy projects is expected to take place in late 2021.

Cost is one difference, and technology is another. Floating wind farm technology is relatively new, but allows use of deeper water. Ireland's 50-metre contour line is the limit for traditional bottom-fixed wind farms, and it is also very close to population centres, which makes visibility of large turbines an issue - hence the attraction of floating structures Do offshore wind farms pose a navigational hazard to shipping? Inshore fishermen do have valid concerns. One of the first steps in identifying a site as a potential location for an offshore wind farm is to identify and assess the level of existing marine activity in the area and this particularly includes shipping. The National Marine Planning Framework aims to create, for the first time, a plan to balance the various kinds of offshore activity with the protection of the Irish marine environment. This is expected to be published before the end of 2020, and will set out clearly where is suitable for offshore renewable energy development and where it is not - due, for example, to shipping movements and safe navigation.

YEnvironmental organisations are concerned about the impact of turbines on bird populations, particularly migrating birds. A Danish scientific study published in 2019 found evidence that larger birds were tending to avoid turbine blades, but said it didn't have sufficient evidence for smaller birds – and cautioned that the cumulative effect of farms could still have an impact on bird movements. A full environmental impact assessment has to be carried out before a developer can apply for planning permission to develop an offshore wind farm. This would include desk-based studies as well as extensive surveys of the population and movements of birds and marine mammals, as well as fish and seabed habitats. If a potential environmental impact is identified the developer must, as part of the planning application, show how the project will be designed in such a way as to avoid the impact or to mitigate against it.

A typical 500 MW offshore wind farm would require an operations and maintenance base which would be on the nearby coast. Such a project would generally create between 80-100 fulltime jobs, according to the IWEA. There would also be a substantial increase to in-direct employment and associated socio-economic benefit to the surrounding area where the operation and maintenance hub is located.

The recent Carbon Trust report for the IWEA, entitled Harnessing our potential, identified significant skills shortages for offshore wind in Ireland across the areas of engineering financial services and logistics. The IWEA says that as Ireland is a relatively new entrant to the offshore wind market, there are "opportunities to develop and implement strategies to address the skills shortages for delivering offshore wind and for Ireland to be a net exporter of human capital and skills to the highly competitive global offshore wind supply chain". Offshore wind requires a diverse workforce with jobs in both transferable (for example from the oil and gas sector) and specialist disciplines across apprenticeships and higher education. IWEA have a training network called the Green Tech Skillnet that facilitates training and networking opportunities in the renewable energy sector.

It is expected that developing the 3.5 GW of offshore wind energy identified in the Government's Climate Action Plan would create around 2,500 jobs in construction and development and around 700 permanent operations and maintenance jobs. The Programme for Government published in 2020 has an enhanced target of 5 GW of offshore wind which would create even more employment. The industry says that in the initial stages, the development of offshore wind energy would create employment in conducting environmental surveys, community engagement and development applications for planning. As a site moves to construction, people with backgrounds in various types of engineering, marine construction and marine transport would be recruited. Once the site is up and running , a project requires a team of turbine technicians, engineers and administrators to ensure the wind farm is fully and properly maintained, as well as crew for the crew transfer vessels transporting workers from shore to the turbines.

The IEA says that today's offshore wind market "doesn't even come close to tapping the full potential – with high-quality resources available in most major markets". It estimates that offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 420 000 Terawatt hours per year (TWh/yr) worldwide – as in more than 18 times the current global electricity demand. One Terawatt is 114 megawatts, and to put it in context, Scotland it has a population a little over 5 million and requires 25 TWh/yr of electrical energy.

Not as advanced as wind, with anchoring a big challenge – given that the most effective wave energy has to be in the most energetic locations, such as the Irish west coast. Britain, Ireland and Portugal are regarded as most advanced in developing wave energy technology. The prize is significant, the industry says, as there are forecasts that varying between 4000TWh/yr to 29500TWh/yr. Europe consumes around 3000TWh/year.

The industry has two main umbrella organisations – the Irish Wind Energy Association, which represents both onshore and offshore wind, and the Marine Renewables Industry Association, which focuses on all types of renewable in the marine environment.

©Afloat 2020

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