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Marine deserts could give clues to understanding climate change


Remote ‘marine deserts’ in the Atlantic Ocean could provide scientists with valuable clues to understanding climate change.

A research team led by the Plymouth Marine Laboratory will shortly set sail from the Falkland Islands, for the start of an expedition to study the interaction between tiny floating marine organisms (plankton) and the atmosphere. By monitoring the plankton and the influence of changing climate on its growth, they hope to discover whether the plankton act as a source of carbon dioxide, or a sink in which the carbon is contained.

The areas of marine desert, known as gyres, have been studied very little in the past. Because they are home to very small populations of plankton and fish that feed on it, the researchers expect very different results from this study compared to studies in more densely populated areas.

The expedition, aboard the RRS James Clark Ross, is part of the Atlantic Meridional Transect Programme (AMT), a £2.3 million project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. The RRS James Clark Ross is taking time out of its annual trip back to the UK to assist the research team.

Says Dr Carol Robinson, head of the AMT programme, “We’re basically hitching a ride aboard the James Clark Ross and buying some research time to visit the gyres, which are well away from the normal shipping routes. I’m really excited about what we might find from this sparsely populated area, compared to our last cruise which studied areas teeming with plankton.”

Combined with results from earlier expeditions, this study will provide a unique 10 year data set which will aid scientists in their studies of long-term impacts of climate change.

The research voyage begins on Monday 26 April, with 21 British scientists aboard the Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross.
The RRS James Clark Ross is a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) vessel. The ship is currently heading back to Port Stanley in the Falklands on the final leg of its latest Antarctic cruise. BAS is a component of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

The current AMT programme is a series of six research cruises that transect the Atlantic Ocean in April and September each year. 12 similar cruises have taken place since 1995. The programme involves scientists from six UK institutes, led by Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The others are: the Universities of East Anglia, Liverpool, Newcastle and Plymouth, and the Southampton Oceanography Centre. More information can be found at

Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) is an independent and impartial collaborative centre of NERC. On the 1st April 2002 PML transferred from being a wholly owned NERC research centre to form an independent organisation with charitable status.

The Natural Environment Research Council is one of the UK’s seven Research Councils. It uses a budget of about £300 million a year to fund and carry out impartial scientific research in the sciences of the environment. NERC trains the next generation of independent environmental scientists. It is currently addressing some of the key questions facing mankind, such as global warming, renewable energy and sustainable economic development.

Marion O’Sullivan | alfa
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