SAMS news room

SAMS scientists contribute to climate change report

Prof Michael Burrows authored a chapter in the latest MCCIP report card
Prof Michael Burrows authored a chapter in the latest MCCIP report card

Sir David Attenborough has said a major new publication, involving SAMS researchers, that outlines the effects of climate change on UK seas and coastlines has ‘never been more important’.

Issued on July 28, the UK Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP) report card demonstrates the important effects climate change is having on UK seas and coastlines.  

The publication follows on from the first MCCIP report card in 2006, which identified a range of impacts on the marine environment linked to climate change, and considered potential future effects. These included warming seas, changes in the distribution of marine species and increased risks of coastal flooding.

Building on contributions from 400 scientists over this time, key findings 10 years on are:-

- Despite year-to-year fluctuations in temperature over the past decade, a long-term underlying warming trend is still clear. Some of this variability can be accounted for through short-term changes in the strength of Atlantic Ocean circulation, which has been linked to recent severe winters in the UK.

- Climate change is clearly affecting marine species and habitats, but not necessarily in the ways anticipated 10 years ago. Some warm-water marine species such as squid and anchovies targeted by fishers have become more common place in UK waters, with clear links to climate change, whilst for non-native species, other factors (e.g. ballast water, ship hulls) have been more important for their establishment.

- Seabirds in the UK face an uncertain future due to climate change, with the productivity of some species such as fulmars, Atlantic puffins, little and Arctic terns and black legged kittiwakes being impacted by temperature rise, whilst severe storms are affecting breeding success of razorbills

- Ocean acidification has become established as a major issue for marine ecosystems, and may be taking place at a faster rate in UK seas than in the wider north Atlantic. Overall the impacts are expected to be negative, most notably for shellfish growth and harvest in future decades.

- Extreme high-water events are becoming more frequent at the coast due to sea- level rise. However, this has not led to a corresponding increase in coastal flooding to date due to continued improvements in flood defences, emergency planning, forecasting and warning.

Seven SAMS scientists are named authors on the report card, which covers a range of topics from oceanographic measurements to the effect on human health.

Professor Michael Burrows of SAMS is the single author on chapter six, Intertidal species and habitats, and Dr Elizabeth Cottier-Cook led chapter five on Non-native species, which also took contributions from SAMS scientists Dr Adrian MacLeod and Christine Beveridge. Prof Stuart Cunningham was co-author on chapter two, Atlantic meridonal overturning circulation, Prof Mark Inall co-authored chapter three, Temperature, and Prof Keith Davidson was co-author on the eighth chapter, Human health.

Prof Burrows said of his chapter: “There have been big changes in UK intertidal species related to climate change, especially from 1980 to 2000 but little change since. That’s entirely in line with what would be expected from the level trends in temperature around the UK since 2000, despite continued warming elsewhere.”

Sir David Attenborough, says of the report: “Concern about the state of our seas has caused them to be studied more intensively – and extensively – than ever before. Here is a summary of the findings. They have never been more important.”

Dr. Matt Frost, chairman of the MCCIP working group that delivered this report said: “Since 2006 we have been working with the marine scientific community to provide timely, independent, non-biased information to policy-makers. As often happens in science, we have learnt that things are more complicated than first thought but in general, earlier predictions on climate impacts on the marine environment have been borne out.

“What has also been exciting with this project has been being involved in the development and evolution of a robust mechanism for communicating science to policy-makers that has now been taken up as a model for use in other countries and for other elements of science to policy reporting.”