The National Oceanography Centre at COP26

The COP26 summit will bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Below are the National Oceanography Centre’s (NOC) key messages, key COP events that will be attended by the NOC and recent NOC News stories relating to COP themes, ahead of the conference in Glasgow during 31 October – 12 November 2021.

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Professor Ed Hill’s COP26 statement

Prof. Ed Hill

In the lead up to the COP26 conference, NOC’s Chief Executive Professor Ed Hill shares his thoughts on managing climate change, and achieving net zero goals:

“To really manage climate change and achieve ambitious net zero goals, we need to be able to understand and measure change. 93% of excess heat and 25% of carbon dioxide produced by human activities is absorbed by the ocean – it is our biggest hero in tackling climate change. We can do so much more to better utilise the ocean’s carbon sinks and storage, as well as measuring changes to sea level rise. If we understand more about the ocean’s relationship with the climate, through sustained ocean observations, cutting-edge scientific analyses, and innovative underwater technology, we can develop long-lasting solutions.”

“At NOC, we house some of the world’s leading ocean experts in marine science and technology. We hope that global leaders will recognise the need to understand climate change and measure our impact on it. The ocean is the answer to some of the world’s biggest challenges – we should use it wisely.”

The NOC’s key COP26 messages

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Rising ocean temperatures [image]

The ocean plays a fundamental role in mitigating climate change by serving as a major heat and carbon sink. The ocean also suffers the effects of climate change, as evidenced by changes in temperature, currents, acidity and sea level. As concerns about climate change increase, the interrelationship between the ocean, biodiversity, carbon absorption and climate change must be recognised, understood, and incorporated into global government policies.

Ocean productivity declines [image]

About 25% of carbon dioxide produced by humans is absorbed by the ocean. The ocean and land provide half each of the natural sinks for carbon dioxide that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere. The deep ocean is by far the largest store of carbon on Earth. Achieving ‘net zero’ by 2050 relies on ensuring natural and other carbon sinks can offset reduced emissions, especially for activities like shipping and steel production that will take longer to decarbonise. Protecting and restoring ocean ecosystems could have twin benefits of safeguarding vital carbon sinks and protecting marine biodiversity, which are also under threat from climate change and other human activities. Therefore, the ocean is an essential part of the solution.

Problem: We cannot be sure about the level of human CO2 emissions at which the ocean will no longer be able to absorb anthropogenic carbon. We cannot tell if its ability to absorb carbon varies either spatially or over time.

Solution: Through scientific research, and continuous ocean sensing with advanced technology, we can understand and track the behaviour of ocean carbon sinks better. This includes their efficiency, variability and stability. We can also protect, restore and enhance the natural carbon sinks and use innovative engineering solutions to capture, and use or store carbon that would otherwise go into the atmosphere. Research is important to better understand the links between climate change and the health of vital marine ecosystems and to provide the scientific evidence to support nature-based solutions.

Sea level rise [image]

Over 90% of excess heat is absorbed by the ocean, causing water to expand and sea level to rise. It rises even further due to the melting of ice caps. Rising average sea levels on their own - even without any changes in storms and extreme weather events – mean flooding will happen more often. Around one billion people will be affected by annual flooding by 2100. There is large uncertainty about the rate of melting of ice sheets and so about the rate of future sea level rise.

Problem: We do not measure sea level rise consistently and land level movement needs to be measured too. Therefore, the amount global sea level will rise in the coming years is based only on estimates. These range from 0.3m to 1.35m by 2100.

Solution: To provide information to check satellite measurements and to obtain information satellites are much less suited to, we need to invest in more accurate tide gauges at the coast and on oceanic islands by upgrading old systems. The data then needs to be analysed for better predictions of means and extreme sea levels, and to assess the risks from combined sea level rise and land level movement. These data can be shared worldwide to create a ‘digital ocean’, which offers greater intelligence to allow us all increased understanding and ability to drive change.

Simultaneous impacts [image]

Global underwater ocean monitoring is integral to any solutions and financing this necessary infrastructure needs a new business model.

Systematic sustained ocean observations will allow the world to understand the changing climate and inform solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing us all. You cannot manage what you cannot measure. Systematic, globally-distributed, continuous ocean sensing is an integral part of implementing climate and ocean health solutions.

Problem: The ocean is vast and hard to measure. Satellites see only the surface skin, so underwater (‘in situ’) ocean sensing is essential to detect and track changes happening at depths up to 6km and more. The volume of ocean observations needs to increase, however in the 60% of the ocean outside exclusive Economic Zones, observations are mainly supported by short term research projects, which is not systematic and leaves gaps of coverage in space and time. Coastal Least Developed Countries (LDC) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have important contributions to make to a truly global system but have limited capacity.

Solution: The Global Ocean Observing System for sensing Essential Ocean and Climate Variables is the base of a value chain of openly accessible data and information. It should be viewed as a global information infrastructure and be financed with suitable business models appropriate to an infrastructure rather than relying so heavily on ad hoc short-term research projects. Integral to national commitments to climate and ocean actions, should be commitments to finance reasonable national shares of the global ocean monitoring necessary to track climate change impacts, and to enable access and participation of LDCs and SIDS in this global effort.

Upwelling [image]

Ocean research and monitoring are vital to understanding climate change, variability, the impacts on people, the health of vital marine ecosystems, and developing climate mitigation solutions, such as generation of renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, restoring natural carbon sinks, and increasing resilience to climate impacts through improved extreme weather forecasting.

Problem: Ocean and climate science need research ships because, although new ocean sensing technologies are being developed, there are many things only a ship can do. A large oceanographic research vessel can emit over 6,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year – but at the same time we need more data not less, because the ocean is already under-sampled and is rapidly changing.

Solution: Invest in new technologies that can massively increase coverage of continuous global, underwater ocean monitoring but without necessarily having to increase the number of research ships. Commit and plan now for the next generation of research ships built in the decade 2030–2040 to be Zero Emissions Vessels, taking early advantage of developments in ship-design, green fuels, and shore infrastructures needed to decarbonise shipping more generally.

The National Oceanography Centre is calling for:

  • Recognition that the ocean is integral to climate change and climate solutions because there is no pathway to achieve net zero emissions that does not inherently rely on the protection of existing ocean carbon sinks and the restoration and enhancement of marine carbon sinks.
  • Research and systematic global ocean sensing to assess the size, stability and variability of ocean carbon sinks and to inform restoration of natural marine carbon sinks.
  • Investment in the upgrade of the global network of accurate coastal and island tide gauges for monitoring long-term sea-level trends and extreme statistics at coasts, validate satellite measurements, and improve multi-hazard warning systems.
  • Ensure ongoing systematic, continuous ocean sensing of Essential Ocean and Climate Variables, which are integral to any adaptive ocean and climate management actions because you cannot manage what you cannot measure. Whilst environmental monitoring alone will not solve climate change, it is fundamental to design, adoption, and evaluation of solutions as well detecting unexpected changes likely in a system as complex as the Earth and its ocean.
  • Finance, govern and operate the global ocean observing system and the value chain of ocean information based on it as a global data infrastructure. There should be binding national commitments to contribute appropriate shares to the costs of building and operation of this infrastructure, and enabling the capacity of LDCs and SIDs to fully participate and benefit, and not rely on short term research projects to support it.
  • Reduce the carbon footprint of ocean and climate observations by: (a) investing in new technologies to increase the volume and rate of the gathering of global ocean information without necessarily increasing the member of research vessels needed; (b) commit to and planning for the next generation of large ocean research ships built in the decade 2030–2040 to be Zero Emissions Vessels.

The National Oceanography Centre – who we are and what we are doing

The National Oceanography Centre is one of the world’s leading centres of expertise on the ocean’s interaction with climate change.

Our scientists lead ground-breaking research into climate change, sea level rise, carbon uptake and storage, and monitoring how the ocean is changing. Our engineers are developing innovative ocean sensing technologies, including miniaturised highly accurate micro-sensors and autonomous underwater vehicles, to help us measure and track change in the ocean as part of the Global Ocean Observing System.

We operate large research infrastructures including global class research ships. We have been leading a project to scope future net zero oceanographic capabilities.

Our scientists and technologists gather and manage openly-accessible data used by people the world over, to understand and map the ocean. We model what might happen to the oceans with ongoing climate change, and we play a key role in supporting mitigation of climate change through nature based and engineering solutions.

The NOC at COP26

  • Tracking ocean climate change and impacts on our fragile oceans

    Date: 1 November

    Overview: The motivation is to highlight the importance of observing and predicting our ocean to inform climate action and the need for support. Working in collaboration with Met Office, WMO and G7 FSOI UK Office, with input from PML, SAMS, BAS, UKIMON, NPOP, UK Gov/Defra and in close liaison with GOOS and IOC regarding the Ocean Decade.

  • Science Pavilion: The UKNCSP Launch

    Date: 3 November

    Overview: Prof Paul Monks is to launch the UK National Climate Science Partnership (UKNCSP) which will bring together the Met Office, The Natural Environment Research Council supported by research centres which include the NOC, BAS, British Geological Survey, the NCAS, the National Centre for Earth Observation, PML and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology to join forces to develop a new national alliance focused on climate solutions for society.

  • Earth Information: Adaptation poster event. Sea level rise proses economic threat to coastal communities

    Date: 3 November

    Overview: COP26 Delegates will be joined by experts online for a question and answer session designed to provide an informal discussion on the science that is informing of the risks of climate change.

  • Cryosphere Pavilion: Will the Arctic Warm or Cool?

    Date: 6 November

    Overview: A panel discussion including NOC and SAMS will expose participants to the complexity and range of possible outcomes for the Arctic Ocean and Cryosphere.

‘Boaty McBoatface’ at Ice Worlds Greenwich

The NOC will be taking part in Ice Worlds Greenwich, an event hosted by Royal Museums Greenwich and British Antarctic Survey on 28–30 October!

We’ll be showcasing Autosub Long Range (ALR), better known as Boaty McBoatface, and how it works with RRS Sir David Attenborough to undertake Arctic and Antarctic science ahead of COP26.

Find out more about this event

Prof. Meric Srokosz

NOC answers school children’s climate questions in BBC Science series

Later in the week, the NOC's Professor Meric Srokosz will be taking part in one of a series of short BBC films entitled Kids on climate change, which will be shared via YouTube and Facebook.

The film will see curious children direct questions to Professor Meric Srokosz about the future of the planet. The series will be shared on YouTube and Facebook and will provide an engaging and entertaining way of delivering climate information to the public.