University scientist joins world experts to ask big questions about blue carbon

A seagrass meadow off the coast of Cyprus

Marine scientists from the University of Plymouth have contributed to a major international study exploring the role of our oceans and coastlines in trapping atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The research, published in Nature Communications, examines the science behind blue carbon, posing a series of questions for this emerging area of marine science and highlighting where further research is urgently needed.

Blue carbon is organic carbon that is captured and stored by the oceans and coastal ecosystems, particularly vegetated coastal ecosystems such as seagrass meadows, tidal marshes, and mangrove forests.

By trapping atmospheric carbon dioxide, blue carbon ecosystems act as natural carbon sinks, helping to offset our emissions and contribute to the fight against climate change.

The study brought together more than 30 scientists who have authored the 50 most-cited papers on blue carbon science, and asked what they most wanted to know about blue carbon.

They included Professor of Marine Biology Jason Hall-Spencer, one of the world’s leading experts on ocean acidification and its impact of marine ecosystems and species.

His previous research has shown that rising CO2 levels in the oceans could have consequences for millions and that ocean acidification is having a major impact on marine life.

He also contributed to a 2018 report by the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP) highlighting the state of the UK’s maerl beds and coral gardens.

Speaking about the current study, he said:

“This is an important study, both globally and more locally. Plymouth has a surrounding network of marine conservation areas designed to protect our kelp forests, seagrass beds and salt marshes, all of which store blue carbon. These marine reservoirs of carbon need protection as if they are damaged they cannot help remove CO2 from the ocean.”


Read more about Professor Hall-Spencer's research

The study’s lead author is Associate Professor Peter Macreadie, Director of the Blue Carbon Lab at Deakin University’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

He said global interest in blue carbon stemmed from its potential to fight the impacts of climate change while protecting coastal ecosystems and fisheries habitats.

“Because this is such a critical area of emerging science, we needed to identify key questions and challenges to consolidate progress in blue carbon science and inform current debate,” Associate Professor Macreadie said.
“Understanding how climate change affects carbon accumulation in mature blue carbon ecosystems and during their restoration is an urgent priority. There was some debate over the degree to which blue carbon ecosystems leak out ancient carbon if they experience disturbance. But there was no dispute that more research investment is needed to build our understanding.”

The full study – Macreadie et al: The future of Blue Carbon science – is published in Nature Communications, doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-11693-w.

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