Coastal and Continental Shelf Seas

Coastal and Shelf Seas in the Global System

In the next five years, we aim to take significant steps in the advancement of our knowledge concerning the role of coastal and continental shelf seas in the global system

The Challenge

The shallow seas of the continental shelves and ocean margins form a vital part of the Earth System. They are the most biologically productive regions of the marine environment and play crucial roles in some key biogeochemical cycles, such as the drawdown of atmospheric carbon dioxide, nutrient cycling and the release of some potent greenhouse gases. These seas also play important roles in water-mass formation, for example in polar regions where dense waters form on the continental shelves and cascade down the slope to form part of the global thermohaline circulation. They are the first point of entry to the marine environment of all material from the land, for example freshwater, nutrients and dissolved organic carbon. They are also regions where human society has the most direct interaction with the sea. The seas are substantially exploited for living and non-living resources, they provide a wide range of services, as well as also posing a range of physical and biological hazards physical, including tsunamis and harmful algal blooms. Studying these seas, particularly on a global scale is made exceptionally challenging by a number of factors: the physical processes at work here are generally much smaller scale than in the deep ocean and their conditions are shaped by local differences in coastline, bathymetry and climate.

Our Research

We investigate many aspects of shelf sea physics, biogeochemistry, ecosystems and sediment transport through state of the art modelling and observational approaches, increasingly drawing on new autonomous observing platforms. We particularly investigate how different parts of the system interact and are driven by external factors such as the wider ocean and atmosphere, large scale climate change and direct human intervention. The latter includes, for example, ‘what-if’ scenarios to investigate the impact of large arrays of off-shore renewable energy devices. We have a long history of working in the waters around the UK and NW European, but are increasing exploiting our expertise in seas around the world to address both regional issues and global scale challenges.

How this provides a benefit to society

Given the substantial societal importance of these regions, fundamental and applied oceanographic research plays a vital role in informing the actions of a wide range of stakeholders. These include government departments and other agencies acting to assess and deliver the policy directives to maintain good environmental status and sustainable resource exploitation of the seas. We work closely with the Met Office to deliver core marine products, both as forecasts and multi-decadal hindecasts, which provide the underlying marine information for a wide range of marine and maritime activities. We also work to provide estimates of potential future climate impacts in shelf seas on aspects such as the currents, temperature and waves.