Carbon stored in the UK’s offshore exclusive economic zone (EEZ) has been fully mapped for the first time to help tackle climate change.
Scientists at the University of St Andrews have gathered updated evidence of marine carbon stores from difficult-to-reach locations around the seabed.
An EEZ is an area of the sea in which a sovereign state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind.
Attempts to bring data from the lochs, estuaries and adjacent deep waters to develop the first full understanding of carbon near the surface over the entire EEZ has previously proved logistically difficult.
Our research highlights the significant role of carbon storage in Scotland’s marine sedimentsProfessor William Austin
Dr Craig Smeaton, a research fellow at the university, said: “To overcome the issues encountered by earlier studies, nearly 275,000 data points were compiled describing the sediment type on the seabed and allowing the creation of a bespoke high-resolution map of the UK EEZ seabed.
“This, in conjunction with carbon data from across the UK EEZ, allowed a detailed picture of the spatial distribution of [carbon] storage across the seafloor.”
Professor William Austin, from the university’s school of geography, added: “Our research highlights the significant role of carbon storage in Scotland’s marine sediments.
“If we can manage some of these carbon-rich hotspots we might reduce the release of greenhouse gases that would otherwise contribute to global warming, at the same time supporting their rich biodiversity and improving their resilience to ongoing climate change impacts.”
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Earth Science, is the first comprehensive assessment of the entire UK EEZ carbon stock.
It provides a new framework to map the element in shelf sea sediments that could be applied worldwide.
The research provides a UK-wide national breakdown of carbon stocks in marine sediments, placing Scotland’s shelf seas at the forefront of these natural resources.
Sedimentary environments are believed to play an important role in the global carbon cycle and require management to ensure this continues.