Submission from the Challenger Society
for Marine Science
1. In this submission from the Challenger
Society we stress the following items relevant to the questions
asked by the Inquiry:
The wide range in predicted global
warming (2.5-7.0°C for 750 ppm CO2) is in large part due
to lack of understanding of the two-way interactions between the
ocean and climate.
There is no UK national strategy
for marine sciences and few mechanisms for integrating the activities
of the many contributors.
Long-term marine observations are
vital but difficult to maintain through lack of continuing funding.
There is concern about the size and
viability of the UK research vessel fleet.
The UK should continue to play a
leading role in marine science internationally.
2. This submission is made by the President
of the Challenger Society for Marine Science (CSMS), based on
inputs from several members of the society's Council. There was,
however, insufficient time to consult with all CSMS members, and
their individual views may differ from those provided here.
3. The CSMS is a UK-based learned society,
founded over a 100 years ago. It currently has about 500 members
drawn mainly from the academic and institute marine research communities.
Information on its role and activities is given at www.challenger-society.org.uk.
4. Professor Liss is one of the three independent
members of the Inter-Agency Committee for Marine Science and Technology
(IACMST) and chairs its Marine Data and Information Partnership
(MDIP) and its Marine Environmental Data Action Group (MEDAG).
In addition, he recently chaired the IACMST group which reported
on "Underwater Sound and Marine Life". He chairs
the Royal Society's Global Environmental Research Committee and
was a member of the Society's recent Working Group on ocean acidification.
He has served on the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
and chaired the Scientific Committee of the International Geosphere-Biosphere
5. This submission is based on the bulleted
foci of the inquiry, prefaced by a section covering the Select
Committee's interests on how marine science is being used to advance
knowledge of the impact of climate change on the ocean.
6. Future climate change will undoubtedly
affect the ocean, altering temperature, circulation patterns,
sea level, ocean acidity and the distribution, abundance and productivity
of marine life. However, the ocean will also affect the rate and
scale of future climate change. Marine research must cover both
7. The importance of the ocean-climate linkage
is shown by the uncertainty range in the global equilibrium temperature
rise resulting from CO2 stabilisation at 750 ppm (from 2.5-7.0°C:
IPCC 2001; a similar range is understood to be included in IPCC
2007). Whilst even the lower end of the range has severe implications,
it could be tolerable; in contrast, the upper end of the range
would be disastrous for most life on Earth (except for microbes).
It is not possible here to cover all the reasons for these uncertainties
in the climate models, but very many involve gaps in our understanding
of the oceanarguably the most important part of the Earth
system with regard to climate change. In particular:
The ocean acts as a huge reservoir
of heat: there is more heat energy in the top 5m of the sea than
in all the atmosphere. This slows the rate at which the atmospheric
temperature is risingbut to a poorly determined extent.
Warming of the ocean interior increases ocean volume, hence driving
sea level riseprobably the most devastating (and unstoppable)
single economic consequence of climate change.
Melting of Arctic sea-ice is occurring
more rapidly than predicted by current climate models; this has
a strong positive feedback (accelerating warming), since seawater
absorbs 2-8 times more heat from sunlight than ice.
The ocean is the prime source of
water vapour to the atmosphere, driving the whole hydrological
cycleand hence determining the global pattern of floods
and droughts. Sea surface conditions are critical in this regard;
they depend on ocean circulation as much as local weather, and
both are altering as the climate changes.
The ocean also has indirect effects,
via chemistry and biology, on the formation of clouds. There are
many uncertainties in how the extent and type of clouds will alter
as the world warms. For example, a recent paper in Science
showed that areas of high marine biological production underlie
areas of enhanced cloudiness due to the emission of gases such
as dimethyl sulphide and isoprene, formed by biological processes
in the upper ocean. Thus, in order to predict future cloud type
and coverage we need to know much more about what controls marine
biological activity, by phytoplankton, bacteria and other microbes.
As well as emitting climatically-important
gases, the ocean is a major "sink" of man-made CO2,
taking up 30-40% of what we add to the atmosphere (by burning
fossil fuels etc). How this "service" that the ocean
provides will change in the future is of critical importance,
affecting the urgencyand severityof policy decisions.
We don't yet have detailed answers, but it is likely that enhanced
stratification and lowered seawater pH (due to these very CO2
inputs) will negatively affect the ocean's ability to take up
8. The above are only a selection of the
poorly-understood ways in which the ocean affects climate and
vice versa. They illustrate the many uncertainties- and research
problemsinvolved. Given the serious potential social and
economic implications of climate change,
it is clearly imperative to narrow the uncertainties in the mutual
two-way interaction between the ocean and climate.
9. UK marine research is carried out by
a wide variety of organisations. These include government departments,
agencies and associated bodies (eg Meteorological Office, Centre
for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), Fisheries
Research Service (FRS), MoD/QinetiQ), NERC-funded laboratories,
university departments and industrymostly having different
funding streams, little coordination between them, and no overall
national strategy. Given the magnitude of the tasks outlined above
with regard to climate-related research (let alone other aspects
of ecosystem dynamics, eg related to fishery management), this
would not seem the optimum way to arrange things.
10. In the universities, where much of the
cutting edge marine research is being done, there is an almost
complete lack of national coordination or overall marine science
strategy, made worse by NERC's abolition of its marine research
grant committee some years ago (noting that NERC is the major
funder of university research in this area). There are signs that
the recently reconfigured National Oceanography Centre (NOC) at
Southampton is now beginning to take on a national leadership
role; however, this has not been forthcoming in the past.
11. A positive example is "Oceans 2025",
the recently approved research programme for NERC marine Centres,
where a joined-up, well-coordinated approach is central. However,
although this is designed and approved in principle as a five
my understanding is that funding is currently only assured for
the first two years.
12. IACMST is a forum that is intended to
promote coordination between government department and agency
research programmes (not the university sector). In my view, it
has been only partially successful in this role because the component
bodies are primarily focused on their own (policy-driven) research
agendas. They are often unwilling to contribute to the bigger
picturewhich may be more about new research ideas than
immediate policy issues.
13. However, IACMST has been successful
at horizon scanning for new policy-related research areas (eg
the effect of sound on marine mammals). It has also run several
useful action groups concerned with global observing systems and
data issues (MEDAG and MDIP). In particular, MDIP is specifying
and designing the data system to support the multi-use of UK marine
data ("measure once, use many times" concept), that
is directly relevant to marine spatial planning.
14. Several other countries appear to have
better arrangements for coordination of their marine activities
than exist in the UK (eg France, USA). In the UK, there is no
equivalent in the marine realm of the operational role the Met.
Office plays in basic data gathering, atmospheric forecasting
and relevant research (although much oceanography is required
for this). The merits of having a UK "Wet" Office might
usefully be considered by the Select Committee under this inquiry.
The Marine Management Organisation discussed in the Marine Bill
Consultation document could form the starting point for such an
organisation. An alternative model is the US National Oceanographic
and Atmospheric Administration that has responsibilities for many
aspects of both marine and atmospheric affairs.
15. UK marine scientists have played, and
continue to play, substantial roles in internationally-organised
global change programmes relevant to marine research. Further,
NERC is currently funding the International Project Offices for
three such marine-oriented activities: the World Climate Research
Programme's "Climate Variability and Predictability"
(CLIVAR, at NOC), and the IGBP's "Global Ocean Ecosystem
Dynamics" (GLOBEC, at Plymouth Marine Laboratory) and "Surface
OceanLower Atmosphere Study" (SOLAS, at UEA).
16. In addition, NERC funds the Planning
Office for the International Polar Year (at British Antarctic
Survey), which also covers much oceanographic research, and the
European Office for IODP (Integrated Ocean Drilling Program) at
17. Provision of the project offices described
in paras 15 and 16 is highly commendable since it gives the UK
a strong leadership role in what is planned and executed worldwide,
with many benefits to both the UK community as well as to individual
scientists who can participate in projects much larger than they
or indeed the UK could mount alone.
18. In Europe, UK marine scientists also
play substantial roles and the EU Framework Programmes provide
real opportunities for us to lead and participate in larger marine
(field and modelling) studies than national funding alone will
19. Funding constraints do, however, limit
the involvement of UK scientists in global marine programmes.
In the past NERC has been able to devote substantial resources
to its science contribution to international projects such as
the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE) and the Joint Global
Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS). The current NERC budget makes it difficult
for this to happen at the scale required. For example, although
significant funding was awarded for SOLAS work, it was subsequently
reduced (due to an overall funding shortfall in NERC), and there
are currently no directed funds for national participation in
either the CLIVAR, GLOBEC, IMBER (Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry
and Ecosystem Research) or GEOTRACES projects. This means that
to take part in international activities under these projects,
scientists have to individually obtain responsive-mode funding
from NERC, a system that makes it very difficult to coordinate
20. Long-term observational records are
a vital part of ocean studies but are often costly and have proved
difficult to maintain on a continuing basis. For example, the
75-year survival of the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) survey
has been fortuitoushaving been very close to closure on
many occasions. The new NERC marine research programme "Oceans
2025" attempts to address this but, as noted above, even
that funding is not yet committed beyond the next two years.
21. IACMST has developed a list of long-term
observational needs. From that list, two examples are:
funding of satellites for marine
measurements [noting the many problems a couple of years ago in
assembling the UK contribution to the 2nd Joint Air Sea Interaction
experiment (Jason) mission]; and
placing the UK's observational programme
into ocean CO2 measurements onto a sounder footing (noting that
the UK has no programme for making CO2 measurements in the atmosphere!).
However, it has proved impossible to date to
find a funding mechanism for these studies or even a route by
which to request new funds, for example via a bid in a Comprehensive
Spending Review. Without them we will struggle to quantify changes
occurring in the ocean as a result of climate change.
22. An issue of concern to many marine researchers
is the availability of suitable ocean-going research vessels.
A few years ago NERC reduced its general purpose, non-polar fleet
by a third and RRS Discovery is now close to the end of
its effective life. In the past year, three research cruises (each
of ~one month duration, involving 20-25 researchers and a total
investment in excess of £1 million) have been either abandoned
or postponed for a further year or so due to severe technical
problems with this vessel. A new research ship (RRS James Cook)
has recently been delivered, to replace RRS Charles Darwin
but there has been a gap of nearly a year, resulting in a backlog
of nearly 20 approved but unscheduled field-based projects. Replacement
of RRS Discovery is, I understand, timetabled for 2012,
but in the meanwhile there is greatly reduced capacity. It would
seem that this can only be solved by chartering non-UK ocean-going
research vessels for at least six months per year (if available),
but NERC could not easily find the resources for such action.
23. A closely-related problem is the limited
availability of research ships for studies in coastal and shelf
waters. With the reduction in the NERC fleet and with Cefas and
FRS Aberdeen now possessing only one suitable vessel each, we
have lost significant capacity for near-shore work. This is arguably
as important as open ocean studies for detecting the effects of
climate changefor example, changes in river flow, flooding
and sea level are likely to deliver more nutrients and sediments
to coastal waters, hence affecting planktonic and benthic biodiversity,
fishery productivity etc. For these reasons, we need to expand
monitoring and research in coastal and shelf waters, the opposite
to the present direction of travel.
24. Overall the UK currently seems to be
viewed from abroad as an exciting and reasonably well-funded place
to do research. Thus, recruitment into academic posts in marine
science in the university sector is relatively buoyant: senior
and more junior appointments of high quality have, and are being,
made. There have, however, been retention problems at some institutions
and in some key science areas.
25. Student recruitment (at both undergraduate
and postgraduate, PhD level) into marine sciences suffers from
the endemic shortage of students wanting to study science in the
UK. However, it would appear that the problem is not as severe
in the marine area as in the pure sciences due to the considerable
public interest in the subject. Furthermore, it is significantly
easier to find excellent students in biology than in physics and
26. The concept and role of marine Sites
of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is inherently different
from that on land. Whilst littoral and benthic habitats of particularly
high conservation value can be mapped and boundaries drawn, there
are still many dependencies and interactions with much larger
spatial areas. Enforcing regulation of controls in the marine
environment is also more complex, due to the many stakeholder
interests, local, regional, national and European/international.
27. Fragmentation of research responsibilities
in this area (between English, Scottish and Welsh conservation
bodies, fishery laboratories and NERC) is acute. The poor science
base may not be the only factor responsible for the lack of UK
marine SSSIs, but it has certainly contributed to it.
28. More ambitious plans for marine reserves
and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been developed overseas,
with relevant research effort.
Proposals for a nationally-integrated research initiative on sustainable
marine bioresources, that could cover the role of MPAs in promoting
fishery recovery, have been under discussion between NERC, Defra
and the Scottish Executive for several years, but there has been
very great difficulty in securing funding for such an initiative,
despite its political importance.
9 N Meskhide and A Nenes (2006) Phytoplankton and
cloudiness in the Southern Ocean. Science 314, 1419-23. Back
Stern Review on economics of climate change, HM Treasury, 2006.
Online at www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/independent_reviews/stern_review_economics_climate_change/stern_review_report.cfm Back
NERC press release, 10 January 2007. Also "Oceans 2025 Overview",
online at www.oceans2025.org Back
eg J Sobel and C Dahlgren (2004). Marine Reserves: A Guide to
Science, Design and Use. Island Press. Back
Prime Minister's Strategy Unit (2004). Net Benefits. A sustainable
and profitable future for UK fishing. Back