Last week, researchers convened in Liverpool to discuss a science program investigating the shelf seas fringing the UK and Europe.

shelfseasThe Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry research program – co-funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) – is a collaborative project involving multiple research institutes, including the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and University of Southampton Ocean and Earth Science, which is based at NOC.

‘Shelf seas’ is the term given to the relatively shallow waters that fringe the continents. With depths of 200 meters or less, they are relatively shallow, given that the average depth of the ocean is about 4,000 meters. Shelf seas are also characteristically highly productive – whilst only accounting for around seven per cent of the surface of the ocean, they sustain over 90 per cent of global fisheries.

However, this important habitat is under pressure from man-made environmental stresses. The program aims to investigate what happens to both nutrients and carbon in UK and European shelf sea environments, and how these processes impact the health and productivity of global marine ecosystems. Ultimately, this and related efforts aim to deliver science to underpin more sustainable use of UK shelf seas.

The program is split into various work packages, each looking at a different aspect of the shelf seas habitat such as the water column and seafloor, and how best to quantify change. Several aspects are led by NOC and University of Southampton researchers.

Under the program, Dr Henry Ruhl will be one of the first scientists to lead a science expedition aboard the new Royal Research Ship Discovery, which was named in October last year by HRH The Princess Royal. The expedition, scheduled for March this year, will be exploring the seafloor of the Celtic Shelf, which is located beneath the Celtic Sea.

For more information on the programed, including other collaborators, see: http://www.nerc.ac.uk/research/programmes/shelfsea/

For more information on shelf seas, see: http://noc.ac.uk/science-technology/earth-ocean-system/ocean-processes

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