Two Irish climate projects on marine habitats receive €2.6m funding

24 Feb 2022

Dr Grace Cott and Dr Mark Coughlan. Image: UCD

The projects will look at how Ireland’s coastal and marine habitats can help the climate emergency, and how to protect them.

Two research teams have received €2.6m in funding to investigate how Ireland’s marine habitats store carbon and potentially reduce CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, as part of the Marine Institute’s 2021 Blue Carbon Call.

Blue carbon refers to the uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by natural marine and coastal habitats in a way that can be measured.

Future Human

Marine Institute CEO Dr Paul Connolly said: “The ability to quantify the uptake and storage of atmospheric carbon by marine habitats such as salt marshes and seagrass beds could be key in helping to meet national and European climate adaptation and mitigation policy goals.

“This project is also important in the context of meeting EU nature restoration targets for those habitats that can capture and store carbon and prevent and reduce coastal erosion and flooding.”

The two five-year projects will led by Dr Grace Cott and Dr Mark Coughlan. Both researchers are from University College Dublin (UCD).

The first project, BlueC, aims to advance the scientific understanding of carbon dynamics in Irish coastal and marine environments, while improving management and harnessing their potential for climate mitigation. It will be supported by NUI Galway and University College Cork.

“Ocean and coastal marine systems play a significant role in the global carbon cycle, representing the largest long-term sink of carbon,” said Cott, who is leading the BlueC project. “Specifically, for Ireland, there is a paucity of data on the carbon storage capacity of these ecosystems and a lack of coherent management strategies that hampers our ability to integrate these ecosystems into climate policy frameworks.”

The second project, Quest, will look into Irish marine sediments, examine potential threats to blue carbon in these settings and support the development of long-term management strategies. This includes supporting the designation of marine protected areas, while engaging with stakeholders and the public to achieve a better understanding of blue carbon across society.

“There is a scarcity of data and information on the past and present stock of carbon in seafloor sediments,” Coughlan said. “At the same time, Ireland’s seabed is coming under increased pressure from direct human activities which add to the impacts of climate change itself.

“To fully understand and effectively manage the seabed in terms of maximising this blue carbon potential, [it] requires a thorough understanding of carbon cycling in the marine environment over time, physical processes at the seafloor and high-quality spatial mapping,” Coughlan added.

The Quest team is a collaboration between UCD, Dublin City University and the Geological Survey of Norway. The BlueC and Quest projects plan to begin in June this year, with the two teams sharing their research findings over the next five years.

The Blue Carbon Research Programme is also being supported by the Environmental Protection Agency, which contributed €400,000 to these projects. It is also funded by the Irish Government.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com