Healthy oceans help combat climate change
A quest for new discoveries
The ocean plays a vital role in the Earth’s carbon cycle. It holds 50 times more carbon than the atmosphere and currently, captures around 25% of the carbon emitted by burning fossil fuels. To help solve the climate crisis we need to understand how carbon is stored in the ‘seascape’ and seafloor.
Introducing the Convex Seascape Survey
Understanding the ocean carbon sink
The survey is an ambitious, five-year global research programme developed by project partners: Blue Marine Foundation, University of Exeter and Convex Group Ltd. World-leading experts will investigate and quantify carbon storage in coastal seas around the globe. The carbon capacity of these vast areas is currently unknown.
Questions the research will address:
Where is blue carbon stored, when did it get there, where has it come from?
What is the role of marine plants and animals in carbon capture and storage?
Are blue carbon stores under threat from human activities?
We will survey coastal seas around the world
Coastal seas stretch from the shore to a depth of 200m and make up around 7% of the ocean’s surface, that’s about 10 million square miles (27 million km²). Investigating carbon storage in coastal seas will help us fully understand the ocean's role in the global carbon cycle and its ability to slow climate change.
What we know about carbon capture in the ocean
It starts with phytoplankton
Trillions of plant-like organisms called phytoplankton use energy from the sun for photosynthesis. They capture 3-5% of global atmospheric carbon annually, and have produced over half of the oxygen on Earth.
The ocean’s primary food source
Floating near the surface, these microscopic phytoplankton capture carbon dioxide. They absorb the carbon and release the oxygen as a byproduct back into the sea. Plankton are either eaten, or sink to the seafloor when they die, helping store carbon in sediment.
Zooplankton are primary consumers
Zooplankton are tiny marine animals that rise to the surface at night to devour huge quantities of phytoplankton. They in turn are eaten by other sea creatures, and the carbon in their bodies is passed along the food chain.
Big fish eat smaller fish
As carbon passes through the food chain, some of it is excreted as faeces that sinks into the ocean depths. This circular process of consuming, excreting and sinking continues until all the captured carbon reaches the seafloor.
Whales are key to the carbon cycle
Over their long lives, whales accumulate enormous amounts of carbon in their bodies. They travel huge distances, spreading their carbon and other nutrients around the world’s oceans, stimulating the growth of phytoplankton and promoting the capture of more carbon dioxide.
A baleen whale can absorb as much as 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide in its lifetime.
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Whales are huge carbon stores
When whales die their bodies and the carbon within them sink to the ocean floor. They become food for seafloor creatures and the carbon is locked away in the ocean sediments.
Life on the seafloor plays its part
Animals that live in and on the seafloor, such as clams, oysters, worms and brittle stars, work together to transport the carbon from the overlying water into seafloor sediments.
Carbon can be stored for hundreds of years in a healthy seafloor
When animals and plants die, the carbon they contain gets mixed and moved around the seafloor. Ultimately it gets buried in ocean mud and, if left undisturbed, will remain locked away.
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