CalcUlating the strength of the Plastic pump In counteracting the Deep export of Oceanic carbon (CUPIDO)

Start date
1 November, 2020
End date
1 November, 2024

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The Ocean provides a fundamental ecosystem service to our society by absorbing about 30% of atmospheric CO2 which helps mitigate the effects of climate change.

Zooplankton play a pivotal role in this process through the so-called Blue Carbon pathway, promoting the transport and storage of large quantities of Carbon to the deep oceanic sediments through the sinking of their faeces, moults and carcasses and through their vertical movement along the water column. Nowadays the zooplankton Blue Carbon pathway is potentially threatened by a global emerging stressor: plastic pollution.

The amount of plastic entering our oceans is increasing worldwide, with global implications for the health of our planet.

Once in the ocean, plastic litter breaks down into millions of small fragments called microplastics (< 1 mm), which can find their way into zooplankton and lower the sinking velocity of their faeces, moults and carcasses.

CUPIDO addresses two main scientific questions:

  1. What is the role of zooplankton in promoting the transport of plastic in the ocean?
  2. How may this plastic transport interfere with the ability of zooplankton to store carbon in the deep ocean?

The central hypothesis of CUPIDO is that the pathway of plastic from the ocean surface to the depth, when incorporated into zooplankton (named the Zooplankton Plastic Pump), will reduce the capability of the ocean to regulate atmospheric CO2 emissions.

To address this hypothesis, CUPIDO adopts cutting edge multidisciplinary approaches within an extensive field-based research program, carried out in two contrasting regions with relatively low (Southern Ocean) and high (Mediterranean Sea) level of plastic pollution. Through floating and moored ocean platforms and in situ experiments, CUPIDO will generate extensive datasets to feed ecological models to determine the impact of the Zooplankton Plastic Pump on the ecosystem service provided by the oceans in sequestering atmospheric CO2.

The potential loss in Carbon export and storage by the Ocean corresponds to a change in welfare for our society. Overall, CUPIDO outcomes will assess the potential loss in climate mitigation due to the Zooplankton Plastic Pump and the related economic cost to society.

Internal Contributors:

Pip Birchenall – EDI internship student | Sea surface microplastic around South Sandwich Islands

Laura Wilkie Johnston – research placement student | Krill and salp in situ microplastic ingestion

Aanchal Jain – COMNAP fellowship | Policy analysis to curb plastic pollution in Antarctic environment

James Reid-Anderson – EDI research placement student | Numerical analysis of microplastic impact on krill faecal pellet flux

International PhD Projects:

University of Coimbra (Portugal) – Joana Fragão, PhD student | Microplastic food web in the Southern Ocean

Internal Advisors (Ecological modelling):

Dr Eugene Murphy

Dr Sally Thorpe

Project Collaborators:

Department of Civil, Environmental, Land, Building Engineering and Chemistry of the Polytechnic University of Bari (Italy) – Prof. of Hydraulics Michele Mossa

Institute of Polar Sciences of the Italian National Council of Research (Italy) – Dr Stefano Miserocchi, Geologist

University of Modena (Italy) Department of Life Sciences – Dr Elisa Bergami

Ocean Diagnostics (Canada) – Dr Anna Posacka

European Multidisciplinary Seafloor and water column Observatory (EMSO)

Project Advisor:

Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (UK) – Dr Tiziana Luisetti, Environmental economist

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