Climate change is one of the most urgent issues facing humanity and life on Earth.
Whilst our everyday understanding of climate concerns the warmth of the atmosphere, the ocean is critical in controlling how our planet’s climate changes. This is because the ocean absorbs vast quantities of heat and carbon dioxide which, if they had remained in the atmosphere, would have greatly accelerated the rate of climatic change there.
Since the industrial revolution, the global ocean has absorbed around 30% of anthropogenic (human-produced) CO2 emissions. In addition, 93% of the total extra heat in the Earth System since the onset of global warming has been absorbed by the ocean. This is equivalent to around 170 terawatts, the power that would be required for each of the 7 billion people on Earth to continuously operate sixteen 1500 watt hairdryers.
Improving climate prediction thus requires us to learn more about how the ocean works, and how it interacts with the atmosphere to control the split of heat and carbon between them. A key region in this context is the Southern Ocean, the vast sea that encircles Antarctica.
Although the Southern Ocean occupies only around 20% of the total ocean area, it absorbs about three-quarters of the heat that is taken into the ocean, and approximately half of the CO2. This is because of its unique pattern of ocean circulation: it is the key region globally where deep waters upwell to the surface from 1-2 km down, allowing new water masses to form and sink back into the ocean interior. This exposure of old waters to the atmosphere, and the production of new waters, is fundamental to the exchanges of heat and carbon with the atmosphere. More information on how the Southern Ocean influences global climate can be found in a recent article in Nature; click here.
Despite this knowledge of the key role the Southern Ocean plays in global climate, there are many important unknowns. These include an incomplete understanding of the detailed mechanisms by which heat and carbon and transferred across the sea surface and drawn down into the interior, a lack of knowledge of the rates of these transfers and how they will change in future, and insufficient information of the distribution of the heat and carbon around the globe within the planetary-scale ocean circulation.
To address these issues, a new £8.4M programme funded by NERC has been created – ‘Ocean Regulation of Climate by Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transports (ORCHESTRA)’. The project is led by the British Antarctic Survey, in partnership with National Oceanography Centre, British Geological Survey, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM), the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews and the UK Met Office, along with numerous national and international partners.
ORCHESTRA will span five years and use a combination of data collection, analyses, and computer simulations to radically improve our ability to measure, understand and predict the circulation of the Southern Ocean and its role in the global climate. It will make unique and important new measurements in the Southern Ocean using a range of techniques, including use of RRS James Clark Ross and RRS Sir David Attenborough, as well as deployments of autonomous surface and underwater vehicles, the BAS meteorological aircraft, and other innovative techniques for collecting data. It will also involve the development and use of advanced ocean and climate simulations, to improve our ability to predict climatic change in coming decades.
Full details of the ORCHESTRA programme, including the detailed descriptions of the fieldwork and model developments, are available in the Case for Support. This was approved for funding by NERC following international peer review and assessment by the NERC Science Board.
This work was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council [ORCHESTRA, grant number NE/N018095/1].
For further details on ORCHESTRA, contact the Principal Investigator: Dr Emily Shuckburgh: [email protected]
Our programme aim is to advance our understanding of, and capability to predict, the Southern Ocean’s impact on climate change via its uptake and storage of heat and carbon.
ORCHESTRA will significantly reduce current uncertainties concerning how the uptake and storage of heat and carbon by the ocean influences global climate, by conducting a series of unique fieldwork campaigns and innovative model developments. This is a leading-order challenge of great societal relevance and strategic importance to NERC, but progress is currently hampered by poor provision of data with which to improve understanding of the key processes and constrain their rates, and inadequate representation of the key dynamics in ocean and climate forecast models.
The area requiring the most urgent improvement is the Southern Ocean, where many of the controlling mechanisms and exchanges occur, and yet where data coverage is most sparse, dynamical understanding is weakest, and climate models show greatest biases and least realistic depictions of processes.
ORCHESTRA will address these issues using the UK’s world-leading capability and infrastructure in ocean and high-latitude research, including major ship expeditions, autonomous vehicle deployments and research aircraft campaigns, with the data collected used to improve model schemes and validate model outputs, and with the improved capability fed through to UK climate model development.
ORCHESTRA represents the first fully-unified activity by NERC institutes to address these challenges, and will draw in national and international partners to provide community coherence, and to build a legacy in knowledge and capability that will transcend the timescale of the programme itself.
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Data will be managed by the BODC – The British Oceanographic Data Centre by Joana Beja De Almeida E Silva. The BODC is the designated Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) data centre responsible for the management of data sets originating from the ORCHESTRA programme.
Once data have been submitted to BODC, we will archive a copy, assign data access conditions and assemble the data set into a relational database, so that spatial and temporal links to all data within the programme and within BODC can be maintained. BODC will then take responsibility for distributing the data to programme members and the wider community. Data can be submitted directly to the project data manager, Joana Beja, via email, or copied onto a CD, DVD or Zip disk and sent by post to:
Joana Beja, British Oceanographic Data Centre, Joseph Proudman Building, 6 Brownlow Street, Liverpool, L3 5DA, United Kingdom.
FTP server transfers can be arranged where large files are to be submitted.
Observational data and data arising from physical samples will be downloadable through the (BODC’s) searchable interface.
Data that have been assigned a data citation (Digital Object Identifier, DOI) will be freely available to download from BODC’s Published Data Library (PDL) catalogue.
Live data from gliders may be viewed at the Marine Autonomous and Robotic Systems (MARS) group glider portal.
Near Real Time Seal tag data will be automatically submitted through a partnership between the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) and BODC, and arrangements for delayed-mode versions of the data must be agreed in advance and will result from a co-operation with the MEOP Consortium.
The Centre for Environmental Data Analysis (CEDA) is the NERC designated data centre for atmospheric data, more specifically for the data sets originating from the MASIN aircrafts.