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Science To Impact Area

Climate change

The marine environment is fundamental to regulating Earth’s climate and has greatly slowed the rate of climate change, however this has come at a cost and the ocean has warmed, acidified and lost oxygen, whilst circulation patterns are changing, and sea levels are rising. To manage these challenges it is vital to understand the interplay between the climate, the ocean and its ecosystems and resources to support sustainable ocean management.

Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) has been studying climate change, its impacts on marine ecosystems and society for decades with our research used to inform national and international policy decisions needed to adapt and mitigate for climate change. In addition, we are working to develop technologies and novel applications in support of addressing the climate crises, including on topics such as blue carbon, offshore renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, carbon dioxide removal but also related stressors such as the impact of plastics on climate change.

PML has led and delivered ocean acidification (OA) research, a term used to describe the ongoing decrease in ocean pH caused by human carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions , such as the burning of fossil fuels, since the term was first coined in 2003. PML has been pivotal in monitoring and communicating the impacts of OA, raising awareness and inspiring action at the highest political levels. PML is a founding partner of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON) and delivering its North East Atlantic Hub. PML has contributed to the realisation of the UN Sustainable Development Goal to minimise ocean acidification (SDG14.3).

Long-term observations of the marine environment are imperative to enable us to see how the marine environment is changing and to provide a baseline for projections of how it may change into the future. PML manages the Western Channel Observatory, an integrated long-term monitoring approach where pelagic, benthic and atmospheric time series data are combined with satellite observations and computer modelling. Through an advanced fleet of autonomous assets we are also working towards delivering a net zero ocean observing system .

Our researchers are quantifying the fluxes of greenhouse gases and other climatically important gases between the ocean and atmosphere, providing key data to improve the accuracy of climate change predictions. In addition, they are applying their expertise to develop an industrial method to remove CO2 from the ocean. This involves increasing the pH of seawater, causing the dissolved carbonate to turn to CO2 and bubble out, before restoring the pH and returning the carbon-depleted water to the ocean.

We work on advanced Earth System Models to provide science knowledge in support of UK and international efforts to combat climate change. We are applying projections of how marine ecosystems will response to climate change to support climate-smart marine spatial planning, for instance, to inform the design of marine protected area networks in Ireland and in Southeast Asia.

Our Blue Carbon research is extensive with our researchers are taking part, amongst other activities, in an ambitious five-year global research programme with world-class ocean and blue carbon experts to build a greater understanding of the properties and capabilities of the ocean and its continental shelves in the earth’s carbon cycle, in the urgent effort to slow climate change.

We have demonstrated that seaweed ecosystems are major carbon sinks in addition to those already recognised for their role in mitigating climate change such as saltmarshes, mangroves and seagrass beds. If these ecosystems are degraded or damaged, their carbon sink capacity is lost or adversely affected, and the carbon stored is released, resulting in CO2 emissions contributing to climate change. We are evaluating ways in which these seaweed/sediment systems and other ecosystems can be managed to store carbon and support wildlife.

Observations from space provide unique information which greatly aids understanding and management of climate change. PML is at the forefront of developing and refining techniques, improving accuracy of the information that can be gained from satellites, aircraft and drones and PML is leading international projects, e.g. for the European Space Agency. We are also applying Earth observation to focus on climate sensitive waterborne infectious diseases, such as those associated with Vibrio microbial pathogens like cholera.

We are also studying how climate change is likely to impact society, for instance, how changes to ecosystems will affect fisheries in Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Western Indian Ocean. We are supporting the environmentally and socially responsible development of marine renewable energy and carbon capture and storage. We have investigated the impacts of offshore renewable energy installations on other marine uses (e.g. fishing) and on biodiversity, providing guidance for decision-makers on where best to site this infrastructure. We are developing methods to test whether CO2 can be safely stored in offshore geological formations.

PML is a key provider of scientific advice for international as well as national climate policy . We are an official observer organisation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP) and have been actively involved with every COP since 2009 including as co-founder of the first ever (virtual) Ocean pavilion at a COP, its Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) since 2006 as well as other UN initiatives including Rio+20, UNCLOS and the UN Ocean Conference highlighting the ocean- climate nexus and contributing to its inclusion in the UNFCCC process.

Several of our scientists are lead authors with the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC reports are key to international climate change negotiations and provide governments around the world and at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies. PML is working with the UNFCCC Secretariat as a member of their ad hoc UNFCCC Earth Observation community working group focusing on systematic observations for the Global StockTake.

Our climate change work involves colleagues across the whole organisation – the Marine Biogeochemistry and Observations and Earth Observation Science and Applications groups research the fluxes of climatically important gases in the marine environment. The Marine Ecology and Biodiversity group investigates the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on organisms and ecosystems. Marine Ecosystem Modelling develops computational models to understand how marine ecosystems will respond. Sea and Society investigates how changes in the provision of ecosystem services will impact society and how society can adapt. It is a great example of how PML is set up to conduct the kind of multi-disciplinary research needed to address complex real-world problems.

PML Project pages

People who work in this area of research

Dr Yuri Artioli

Marine Ecosystem Modeller
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Professor Nicola Beaumont

Head of Science - Sea and Society
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Professor Tom Bell

Ocean-atmosphere biogeochemist
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Professor Jerry Blackford

Head of Science: Marine Systems Modelling
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Ian Brown

Marine Chemist
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Dr Lee de Mora

Marine Ecosystem Modeller
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Dr Marius Dewar

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Andrew Edwards-Jones

Social Scientist
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Professor Helen Findlay

Biological Oceanographer
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Dr Elizabeth Gabe-Thomas

Environmental Psychologist
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Dr Frances E. Hopkins

Marine biogeochemist
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Amy Kenworthy

Ocean Acidification Research for Sustainability (OARS) Project Manager

Dr Vassilis Kitidis

Marine biogeochemist
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Dr Gemma Kulk

Phytoplankton physiologist
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Dr Gennadi Lessin

Marine System Modeller
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George Manville

PhD student

Dr Océane Marcone

Social Science Researcher
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Dr Dale Partridge

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Jani Pewter

Instrument and Data Technician

Dr Graham Quartly

Physical oceanographer (Remote sensing)
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Professor Ana M Queirós

Marine and climate change ecologist
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Professor Rees

Marine biogeochemist
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Dr Olivia Rendón

Senior Environmental Economist
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Dr Mahasweta Saha

Marine Chemical Ecologist
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Professor Tim Smyth

Head of Science - Marine Biogeochemistry and Observations
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Dr Claire Szostek

Ecosystem Services Scientist
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Dr Gavin H Tilstone

Bio-optical oceanographer
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Dr Ricardo Torres

Systems Modeller Data Assimilation
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Dr Stephen Watson

Senior Ecosystems Services Scientist
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Professor Steve Widdicombe

Director of Science and Deputy Chief Executive

Dr Ming-Xi Yang

Chemical Oceanographer
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