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Understanding our seas

2 December 2013

The Met Office is part of the MCCIP (Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership), which has just released its latest summary of the evidence of the impacts of climate change around our coast and in our seas.

Formed in 2005, the MCCIP brings together scientists, governments, their agencies, non-governmental organisations and industry. The MCCIP assesses the current state of the marine environment and considers the effects that climate change is having on the Government's vision for a healthy and biologically diverse marine ecosystem, and clean, safe and commercially productive seas. As one of the partner organisations, Met Office science and scientists play a key part in this work.

Every year, the MCCIP publishes a Report Card. Every other year the report focuses on breadth (with over 30 topics) and depth (special report cards focus on a specific theme). The latest Report Card covering a full range of topics was released on 28 November. With contributions from over 150 scientists from 55 of the UK's leading scientific organisations it has been eagerly anticipated and is the most comprehensive assessment by the MCCIP to date.

Dr Matthew Frost from the Marine Biological Association is also Chair of the MCCIP Report Card Working Group said:

"It is always an exciting challenge to collate the latest findings on climate change and the marine environment from a wide range of organisations and communicate these in an accurate and succinct way to government and other stakeholders. A key part of this challenge is the large number of topics addressed and the way climate impacts on these topics in different ways and over different spatial and temporal scales. We have provided a straightforward summary showing the impacts of climate change in the marine environment but have also attempted to explain some of the underlying complexity in analysis and interpretation."

For the first time, Arctic sea-ice coverage was considered by MCCIP, and one of the Report Card's key messages is that there is a clear long-term decline in sea-ice coverage. As air and sea temperatures rise, Arctic sea ice is both retreating and becoming thinner.

The report cites observational evidence showing that the seven lowest Arctic sea-ice extents in the satellite era have all been recorded between 2007 and 2013. It also outlines how this is providing opportunities for commercial ships to travel via the Arctic to move between Europe and Asia - something that was previously impossible.

Another key message is about the changes to the productivity of UK waters. Southern regions, such as the Celtic Sea and the English Channel, are expected to become up to 10% more productive, while northern regions, such as the central and northern North Sea, are expected to become up to 20% less productive. This clearly has implications for businesses and trade, both in those areas and farther afield.

The key messages and findings tend to focus on where understanding has increased since the last Report, or where findings on a particular topic have become significant. The Report Card is very clear when it comes to communicating the confidence level (given as low, medium or high) that it has in its evidence, and whether this has increased or decreased since the last report.

There continue to be challenges in identifying the impacts of climate change, and less is known about the impacts on the marine environment than it is on other areas. The Report highlights what it calls 'Knowledge Gaps', which are likely to form the basis for future research.

All in all there are 33 topics covered by MCCIP this time - ranging from ocean acidification to sea birds, coastal flooding to fisheries. For each of these topics, a full peer-reviewed report exists for anyone keen to delve deeper into the detail, but what the Report Card does is distil these individual reports to their main messages.

Dr Jonathan Tinker, a Met Office climate research scientist specialising in marine and shelf seas climate projections and impacts, is the Met Office representative within MCCIP and is also part of the Steering Group. He explained that the Report Cards are key products of MCCIP and are aimed at Government and policymakers: "The Report Cards are well respected and used within Government and are always very well-received. They act as a one stop shop for the evidence that can then inform planning and decision making to safeguard the future of the marine environment."

Wave

MCCIP was formed following the recognition that although specialist organisations held a wealth of knowledge individually, it was not being combined for a UK-wide benefit. The active role that the Met Office takes in MCCIP has shown that there are other positives too.

Where we offer world leading science through the UKCP09 UK climate projections and climate products such as HadISST (the Met Office Hadley Centre Sea Ice and Sea Surface Temperature data set), we gain the ability to be able to engage with users - finding out what projection data would be most useful to them.

Part of Jonathan's research is now informed by these responses and he is currently working on extending the shelf seas component of UKCP09 to include a more complete set of projections for the 3D changes to temperatures in UK waters. As Jonathan explains: "Without working in this type of partnership, this engagement would not have been possible, and there would have been opportunities missed."

Encouragingly, the MCCIP Report Cards have been recognised globally as being a good way of communicating climate science. They were shortlisted for Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Civil service awards for best team in partnership and science delivery. Their format has been replicated as far afield as Australia.

The Met Office will continue to play a key role in MCCIP, and as we use our scientific expertise to advise the public, businesses and the Government on the impacts of climate change worldwide, engagement and communication of this sort is more important than ever before.

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