iCRAG researchers Dr Mark Coughlan (University College Dublin) and Dr Brian Kelleher (Dublin City University) have been awarded funding as part of an investment of €2.6 million from the Marine Institute’s 2021 Blue Carbon call. Dr Coughlan and Dr Kelleher will lead the Quest project, supported by Dr Mike Long at UCD, Dr Anthony Grey at DCU and Dr Markus Diesing at the Geological Survey of Norway (NGU). They will work closely with Dr Grace Cott from University College Dublin who is team lead of the Blue C project.
Blue Carbon’ is the carbon captured by the Earth’s natural marine and coastal habitats. The storage of carbon in this way is critical to help reduce the extent and speed of Earth’s changing climate.
The five-year programme of research will improve our understanding of how Ireland’s Blue Carbon habitats, which include coastal salt marshes and seagrass beds, can mitigate climate change. The research will also investigate the substantial carbon sequestration capacity of seabed sediments which are challenging to quantify. The successful projects, titled BlueC and Quest, will assess the impacts of both human activities and climate change on this important ecosystem service.
This is research that is specifically targeted to inform policy and regulation. It will provide knowledge and evidence to assist with Ireland’s goal of attaining 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and improve our capacity to meet broader Irish and international climate and biodiversity targets.
In line with a commitment under the current Programme for Government, the research will also inform the appropriate and effective development, regulation and use of Marine Protected Areas, and broader marine spatial planning and management frameworks including the National Marine Planning Framework.
Dr Mark Coughlan, Principal Investigator in the Quest project, says, “Ireland’s expansive marine resource has the potential to sequester and store significant amounts of carbon in seafloor sediments and the habitats they support. Under the National Marine Planning Framework, a number of key areas offshore have been identified as having a high contribution to carbon sequestration”
He explains the challenge he and his partners are trying to address, “However, there is a scarcity of data and information on the past and present stock of carbon in seafloor sediments in these areas, as well as an understanding of the processes involved. 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, requires a thorough understanding of carbon cycling in the marine environment over time, physical processes at the seafloor and high-quality spatial mapping.”
The Quest project team is an international collaboration and will conduct a multidisciplinary programme of research to qualify and quantify stocks of carbon in Irish marine sediments, examine and characterise threats to Blue Carbon in these settings and support the development of long-term management strategies. This will include supporting the designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and facilitate the delivery of the Government’s Climate Action Plan. The Quest project also intends to engage with stakeholders and the public to achieve a better understanding of Blue Carbon across society, and to raise the visibility of such research at a national and EU level.
The BlueC and Quest projects are due to commence in June 2022, and the two teams are looking forward to sharing their research findings as widely as possible over the next five years.
The Blue Carbon Research Programme is carried out with the support of the Marine Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency funded by the Irish Government.