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SEA-Quester is a new project that brings together 10 research institutions from across the Arctic to study the phenomenon of “polar blue carbon”. The four-year project, funded by the EU Horizon Europe research and innovation programme, launched on 1 February 2024 (see our press release).

The concept of blue carbon has expanded in recent decades, including everything from coastal ecosystems like mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrasses to fish in the twilight zone, and even whale carbon.

But polar blue carbon is unique in that the Arctic and Southern oceans are experiencing some of the most dramatic ecosystem changes on the planet – losing sea ice and unique polar habitats, gaining new species from lower latitudes, witnessing kelp forest ecosystems expand and contract, and changing community dynamics like the timing of plankton blooms, all while climate change exerts physical changes like sea-level rise, and influx of glacial meltwater and sediments, and increasing ocean acidity.

The prevailing hypothesis is that these changes will increase overall productivity, and thereby increase carbon sequestration. But this is far from settled. SEA-Quester will tackle this hypothesis head on, by combining remote sensing measurements with field data and utilizing the latest trait-based models. This will also be compared with information we glean from the geologic record preserved in marine benthic sediments. As we start to get a clearer picture of what might happen to polar biodiversity, and building off previous research in projects like ECOTIP and FACE-IT, we can attempt to resolve the fate of carbon taken up from the atmosphere by our polar oceans in an changing climate future.

However, understanding or even enhancing the mitigation potential of polar blue carbon, if any exists, is just the tip of the iceberg! These sweeping biological changes also have implications for other ecosystem services like fisheries production or the adaptation and resilience of natural systems to anthropogenic stressors like pollution. Due to the interconnecting systems that we study with polar blue carbon, we hope to find synergies between climate and biodiversity policy targets such as Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, as part of the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD), the European Green Deal and the EU Nature Restoration law, and calculating National Determined Contributions (NDCs) as part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The SEA-Quester project will be enriched by continuing our dialogue with policymakers and managers of polar marine resources, both large and small. The aim is to produce both sound science and useful tools, like improved carbon accounting systems, hotspot maps, multiple stressor assessments, and a biological sequestration amplification factor, that empower people to continue learning and make informed decisions about the future of our polar seas.

This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No. 101136480 (SEA-Quester).

Views and opinions expressed are however, those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. The European Union cannot be held responsible for them.

Status: In progress

Type: Marine

Programme: Polar and Climate

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