Norwich researchers investigate how marine ecosystems regulate climate

Female scientist looking with a aqua scope into the shallow water of the Baltic Sea. Gotland island.

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is funding high-risk and innovative science at UEA surrounding marine ecosystems - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A new investment of £8m means UEA scientists can pursue innovative research into the mortality of marine micro-organisms and their effect on climate change. 

Prof Corinne Le Quéré from the School of Environmental Sciences at UEA 

Prof Corinne Le Quéré from the School of Environmental Sciences at UEA - Credit: Corinne Le Quéré / UEA

With the United Nations COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow next month, the University of East Anglia (UEA) has been selected to lead one of five innovative new government-funded research projects that could push the boundaries of science and help us understand key questions of environmental and earth science.

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has invested a total of £8m in the projects as part of a unique pilot scheme called Pushing the Frontiers to fund high-risk and innovative science. It is the first time the NERC has launched a scheme of this kind.

The scheme consists of a series of ambitious studies, each tackling fundamental questions about the Earth and our environment. It aims to facilitate truly adventurous and ambitious science and exploit new technologies and approaches.

Researchers at UEA, led by Prof Corinne Le Quéré from the School of Environmental Sciences, will investigate the limits of stability of the Earth’s marine ecosystems, using modelling on a scale never undertaken before.

Marine micro-organisms live on the ocean surface and once they die or are eaten, their organic matter sinks to the bottom of the sea. This is a vital process in regulating our climate.

Understanding the causes of mortality of micro-organisms, and the roles of viruses, microplastics and early life cycles, is critical. Organisms’ lifespans are very short and changes in mortality can have a substantial impact on marine ecosystems. Yet mortality processes have received little attention so far.

Marine scientists in boat in the Antarctic Ocean

Researchers at UEA will investigate the limits of stability of the Earth’s marine ecosystems, using modelling on a scale never undertaken before - Credit: Getty/iStockphoto

Prof Le Quéré said: “Using data from new technology such as the imaging of ocean plankton, we will be able to develop and use a global ecosystem model to better understand how marine ecosystems are affected by things like climate change, ocean acidification, microplastic pollution and pressure from fisheries, and test the limits of their stability under extreme conditions.”

Science minister Amanda Solloway said: “If the UK is to lead the world in achieving scientific breakthroughs, it’s vital that we give our most pioneering scientists and researchers license to go where others haven’t before, by driving forward high-risk, high-reward research.

Most Read

“That’s why we are backing these five ambitious studies to the tune of £8m, to help solve unanswered questions about our universe – all while helping to secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower.”

Robyn Thomas, associate director of research and skills at NERC, said: “These highly innovative research projects could advance our understanding of fundamental questions in environmental and earth science, and lead to important scientific breakthroughs. The grants are the outcome of an exciting new pilot scheme to encourage and fund some of the UK’s most exceptional environmental scientists to lead more risky and transformational research.”

Norwich Research Park has established itself as a world-leading centre for research into climate change and being selected to run these prestigious projects only serves to underline the recognition it has gained in this area.

Prof Le Quéré will be attending the climate conference in Glasgow with the ‘Friends of COP26’ – a group of international experts advising the UK government – and as part of the team launching the annual update on carbon emissions titled the 2021 Global Carbon Budget.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter