Climate Change and the Marine Environment Nov 06

Report of the Coastal Futures Conference Nov 06

This took place at SOAS, London on 30th Nov. 2006. Attendance was high (146 delegates; 77 organisations) as was the information content including reports of recent specialist workshops on the Arctic, ocean acidification and methane hydrates.

The conference opened with an introduction to the Marine Climate Change Impact Partnership (MCCIP – www.mccip.org.uk) involving CEFAS, NGOs etc. The annual report summary links to detailed topic reports which are a mine of information. MCCIP plan a series of workshops and seminars for this year.

Dr. Mark Hannam of the Hadley Centre showed the impressive power of the Met Office’s global modelling, which includes large-scale ocean circulation. If the Gulf Stream shut down, the model predicts far colder extremes in Britain, though the atmosphere temperature warming is more important world-wide. Predictions of sea-level rise centre on 0.4 metres this century and the rise will continue due to the slowness in warming the deep ocean. Climate change is upon us – the uncertainty is how much, how soon. Stern suggests that business as usual will stop economic growth. 72% of FT500 businesses are actively tackling the risks associated with changing economic and physical environment. The Hadley Centre have conducted a scoping study for impacts on the Energy Industry.
One memorable conclusion Dr Hannan gave was: “we are at a tipping point… the past is no longer a ‘barometer’ for the future.”

Other speakers showed the Arctic is changing faster than modelled. When allowance is made for regional warming (as in 1940-60) on top of global change, sea-ice is being lost at twice the rate expected from atmospheric forcing. Greenland’s glaciers are retreating fast and holes are forming in the ice cap (unknown previously). But there’s also faster accumulation of snow and scientists disagree strongly over the net effect.

Plankton are of high interest, as various species are sensitive to sea-surface temperature. Chris Reid explained that plankton have a key rôle in transferring CO2 from air to sea. Satellite mapping of chlorophyll shows a 60% increase in the NE Atlantic, but decrease in the NW, making a net increase in the biological CO2 pump (from air to sea). The impressive paper concluded:

  • Planktonic ecosystems are changing rapidly in N. Atlantic (but what is happening elsewhere?).
  • Ocean temperature and circulation are changing rapidly, which appears to be a response to global warming.
  • The oceans have a crucial position in the carbon cycle.
  • Plankton have a key rôle in the biological pump.
  • Understanding the oceans is a high priority for mankind.
  • There’s an urgent need to establish new plankton monitoring.

The northward movement of warm water species on the British coasts is being tracked, for example, southern species of barnacles among a range of intertidal invertebrates and algae.

Ocean acidification due to increased CO2 is receiving detailed attention, as affecting organisms that form CaCO3 (even a 0.1 decrease in pH is significant). It distorts the development of calcifying phytoplankton, decreases coral habitats and growth, causes aragonite to dissolve from shells.

Methane hydrates occur on the ocean margin sediments and below (~1km) permafrost. The issue is – whether release is sudden or gradual. A particular shift in carbon isotopes in the geological past indicates a sudden release. Gradual release from methane released at several 100m depth, however, has most dissolving in the water and being consumed by bacteria.

Geological storage of CO2 is considered very feasible, from experience with

  • CO2 injection into oil wells (for enhanced oil extraction),
  • disposal of H2S (40 projects in Canada) and
  • the North Sea Sleipner project.

The latter has been injecting CO2 into a saline aquifer 1000-1200m deep for 6 years – seismic testing shows the CO2 spreading and consolidating in several horizontal layers. A project being designed for the Salah gas field that contains 10% CO2 would inject the CO2 below the gas strata. At $100M, this project would work out at £7 /t CO2 and the total CO2 would be equal to the CO2 being saved by all UK wind farms – not to be sneezed at!

The Renewable Energy Association’s Dr. Stephanie Merry gave an upbeat presentation on tidal currents and wave energy. She was strongly critical of the DTI, pointing out the low estimate of tidal stream resource (12 TWh/yr) by consultants under DTI instruction, compared with the realistic 60 TWh/yr of Prof. Paul Bryden. She said that the UK has 50% of Europe’s resource in tidal currents and that devices for tapping it in the South West and off Wales are bringing this technology up to ‘take off’. The Wave Hub test facility is being developed off north Cornwall. Connections to the grid are an impediment because, unlike on land, the developer has to meet the full costs of connection to shore. Also, powers to exclude shipping from suitable areas of sea beyond the 12-mile zone depend on passage of the Marine Bill (which is now deferred).

The presentations – of very high quality – are publicly available on the website www.coastms.co.uk and give fine scientific introductions to these various topics. The conclusions as formulated by the organisers are

  • there is a growing sense of urgency for actions to limit climate change
  • Political action and leadership are vital and this must extend to national, European and International steps
  • A raft of related carbon management measures (fiscal, energy, etc) are required that need to be implemented by Government/s. The Climate Bill should provide a useful first step.
  • The Marine Bill gives an opportunity to assist climate change solutions [mitigation] offshore developments, e.g. renewables, etc
  • There are important decisions to be made with regard to the rôle of the energy sector in the marine environment including offshore oil and gas (Carbon Capture & Storage) and renewables.
Max Wallis/Cardiff January 2007

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