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Green light for project to enhance understanding of climate change & human impacts on coastal ocean

30 January 2023

The ‘FOCUS’ project is one of six given the go-ahead as part of a £39m funding announcement from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) 

Designed to provide heightened understanding of the impacts of climate change and direct human activities on the global coastal ocean, a new project being delivered by scientists at Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) and the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) has been awarded £6m worth of UK funding, it was announced today (January 24th 2023).  

The multi-disciplinary ‘Future states Of the global Coastal ocean: Understanding for Solutions’ or ‘FOCUS’ project will support the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), encouraging a more ‘global perspective on coastal ocean science’ and advancing the understanding of measures that can be taken to improve the resilience, adaptation, and mitigation of global changes in the coastal ocean environment.  

The project is aimed at exploring:  

  • the risks and impacts of climate change on the coastal ocean  

  • the interactions of multiple human pressures on coastal habitats and ecosystem services, and the consequences for coastal communities around the world  

  • how nature-based and engineering-based marine solutions can contribute towards a net-zero carbon society  

  • how the concept of the Global Coastal Ocean can be developed by synthesizing regional scale understanding to global scale assessments of change.  

For the science team at PML, the project will span several different areas of expertise.  

The variability of impacts of climate change and acidification in regional seas across multiple levels of the ecosystem will be examined by combining analysis of in-situ observations with modelling. The team will assess the susceptibility of coastal ocean ecosystems to climate ‘multi-stressors’ at varying time-scales, and determine appropriate indicators with which to identify ecosystem risk and resilience to climate change and extreme events. 

This will be complemented by an integrated study of multiple human impacts on coastal ecosystems such as land-use changes, mining, wastewater disposal, and artificial light at night (ALAN) pollution, designed to provide a better understanding of stressor ‘hotspots’ and the compound impact of such activities.  

In parallel, solutions to support climate change mitigation will also be explored, with a particular emphasis on developing an improved understanding of the role, potential, and value of Blue Carbon habitats, and geoengineering routes, towards achieving net-zero. This will include assessing how access to carbon markets may support the development and acceleration of such solutions.  

Finally, given current knowledge gaps and the absence of a global-scale coastal ocean classification system, the team will also be seeking to develop the analysis framework for an improved suite of metrics, indicators and future predictions relating to coastal ocean resilience.  This is aimed at improving the way in which regional and local information can be upscaled in a more consistent way within a global context.  

The FOCUS project itself will run until 2026 and involves engagement with multiple international research networks to help ensure the research is solution-focused and delivers genuine societal benefit.  

PML’s Director of Science Professor Steve Widdicombe, said:  

“The coastal ocean – which connects the land with the open ocean - is a region of immense environmental and societal importance which is under unprecedented pressure from climate change and the human impacts of an increasing population. Indeed, it has been shown that almost 50% of coastal regions and marine protected areas globally are heavily impacted by human activities.  

In addition to providing us with a huge range of benefits such as food production and tourism, the coastal ocean – which is home to vitally important ecosystems and biodiversity – is critical in terms of how we manage and adapt to our changing climate. It is therefore imperative that we improve our understanding and ability to forecast the changes taking place in this environment while developing solutions that will ultimately help to protect it.”  

Speaking about the funding announcement for the broader NERC National Capability International programme, Dr Iain Williams, NERC Director of Strategic Partnerships, said:  

“This investment will significantly advance our understanding of the drivers of global environmental change.  

“By bringing together expertise in earth, ecological ocean, polar, and atmospheric science, from UK facilities and across the globe, we can develop workable ideas that will help us adapt to and mitigate changes caused by global warming.” 

For more information on the funding announcement please visit the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) website >>