Galway Scientists Lead Major Marine Climate Change Study

Monday, 19 June 2006

One of the world's largest studies into how microscopic marine plants might affect earth's climate is currently being led by scientists from NUI Galway aboard the Marine Institute's state-of-the-art research vessel RV Celtic Explorer. The project aims to find out how dense blooms of tiny "plankton" in the ocean might enrich bursting bubbles at the surface with organic matter, leading to more stable clouds above the ocean and decreasing global warming.

The Marine Aerosol Production (MAP) Project, has a total budget of €3 million and is co-ordinated by Dr. Colin O'Dowd from the Environmental Change Institute and Department of Physics, NUI Galway. MAP will utilise NUI Galway s Mace Head Atmospheric Monitoring Station in Co. Galway, the Marine Institute s Celtic Explorer, and NASA s satellite sensors to make the required observations. The project has assembled a team of 25 research groups from 20 research institutes from Europe and the US. They will spend four weeks making measurements at Mace Head and on the Celtic Explorer and the next two years analysing the gathered data, before putting the key findings into climate prediction models. The work aims to quantify the role of natural marine aerosol production and feedbacks with climate change.

"Aerosol particles form haze and cloud layers that can hide the effect of global warming," said Dr. O'Dowd. "Quantifying the sources of aerosols and their global cooling effects will enable better future controls on greenhouse gas emissions in order to reduce the rate of global warming."

MAP is primarily funded by the European Commission with significant Grant-Aid towards the cost of the vessel being provided through the National Research Vessel Shiptime Programme of the National Development Plan 2000 –2006. The NDP Marine RTDI measure is managed by the Marine Institute on behalf of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

This work highlights the strategic geographic importance of Ireland and our offshore territories in studying the dynamics of the impacts of climate change and the importance of having world class infrastructures such as Mace Head and the Celtic Explorer available to Irish and international research groups to support wining leading roles in high profile international projects such as MAP.

Marine Institute, CEO Dr. Peter Heffernan said, "This project highlights the strategic importance of Ireland as a natural laboratory for studying the dynamics and impacts of climate change. We are lucky to have world-class research vessels such as the Celtic Explorer to support internationally recognised Irish research groups such as Dr.O'Dowd's and enable them to take their rightful place as leaders of important projects such as MAP."

The Celtic Explorer set sail to track the North Atlantic plankton blooms and their role in aerosol production on Sunday 11th June, after a week of mobilization works in Cobh shipyard. The mobilization involved 49 scientists, and almost an equivalent number of personnel from the Marine Institute, P&O Maritime and Cobh Shipyard workers.

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For further information, please contact: Colin O Dowd, MAP Coordinator & Senior Lecturer, Physics Department & Environmental Change Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway. Tel: 091-493306 email colin.odowd@nuigalway.ie

John Breslin, Manager of Research Vessel Operations, Marine Institute, Rinville, Oranmore, Co Galway. Tel: (091) 387200 email: john.Breslin@marine.ie

Notes to Editor

NUI Galway has leading expertise in atmospheric and marine science research and plays an important role in the coordination of EU research projects in these fields. In terms of atmospheric composition research and monitoring, the institution has excelled in recent years in the areas of atmospheric aerosols and cloud-climate research with a number of key publications in the leading scientific journals such as Nature. NUI Galway operates the Global Atmospheric Watch station Mace Head which over the last decades has been a world renowned research facility for monitoring global atmospheric change and for conducting intensive campaigns into key processes affecting climate change.

The Marine Institute was created under the Marine Institute Act in 1991 to "undertake, to co-ordinate, to promote and to assist" in the development of marine research and development in Ireland. Since its early days in Harcourt Street Dublin, it has grown into an internationally respected science body with almost 200 staff, two purpose-built vessels, a research facility near Newport, Co. Mayo, regional port facilities and now a brand new headquarters and laboratory facility at Oranmore, on the shore of Galway Bay.

Plankton are microscopic animals and plants that live in the ocean. Like terrestrial plants, vegetable plankton contribute greatly to the production of life-giving oxygen into the atmosphere and the removal of carbon dioxide. Animal and vegetable plankton can also "bloom" in high concentrations, discolouring the water and giving rise to "red tides", such as the bloom of Karenia mikimoti which destroyed a great deal of marine life along the West coast of Ireland in the summer of 2005.

Aerosol Particles are tiny airborne particles, about 1 millionth of a meter in size that form haze and cloud layers. They are produced both naturally and by man-made emissions. They block out a fraction of the suns energy which heats up the Earth. More aerosol particles means brighter haze and cloud layers which can reflect more of the suns energy and thus reduce the effects of global warming.

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