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Scientists at the University of Birmingham have been awarded £1.6M by the Natural Environment Research Council to lead a project investigating shipping emissions in the Arctic and North Atlantic atmosphere.

Called SEANA (Shipping Emissions in the Arctic and North Atlantic Atmosphere), the project also includes partners from the University of Exeter, British Antarctic Survey and Cranfield University. It will run for 5 years from the start of 2019. 

Dr Zongbo Shi, Professor Roy Harrison, Dr David Beddows and Dr Manuel Dall’Osto (honorary researcher), of Birmingham’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, aim to better understand the impact of increasing ship traffic in the Arctic and also the impact of the international maritime organisation’s (IMO) emission regulation on atmospheric aerosols and the climate in the Arctic and North Atlantic Atmosphere (ANAA). 

The SEANA team has also been granted accesses to NERC’s high-performance computer – ARCHER, as well as a scientific expedition to the Arctic in 2021, possibly by the new £200M NERC polar ship - RRS Sir David Attenborough.

Ship emissions are a significant source of aerosol particles in the marine atmosphere.  They have a major impact on the climate by reflecting sunlight back to space and by changing cloud properties.  Quantifying the impact of ship emissions on the climate is challenging, however, due to a lack of understanding of ocean-derived aerosol particles (a dynamic baseline from which predictions are made) as well as uncertainty in quantities of pollutants emitted from current and future shipping industries. This is particularly true at high-latitudes.

Dr Zongbo Shi, lead investigator from the University of Birmingham’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, said: ‘The new International Maritime Organisation (IMO) regulation will be implemented in January 2020 to reduce the maximum fuel sulphur content by ships in international waters from 3.5% to 0.5%. This offers an unprecedented and never-again opportunity to observe how our atmosphere responds to this major ‘natural’ perturbation. Such observations will significantly enhance our understanding of the role of shipping emissions play in the wider climate change debate. This will help us to validate and improve global climate models to more accurately predict climate change and to find out how we can best tackle this issue.’

SEANA will, for the first time, carry out synergistic yearlong observations at Faroe Islands and Greenland and intensive field studies on research ships along the Northwest Passage (NWP), with a focus on aerosol and cloud condensation nuclei (CNN) sources and processes.  The new data will be integrated with recent and ongoing measurements at existing ANAA stations in order to generate a benchmark dataset on aerosol baselines in ANAA.

SEANA will also employ a ‘before and after’ regulation observation to determine the “real-world” impact of IMO regulation on aerosol and CCN.

The new datasets will be used to evaluate and improve a state-of-the-art global aerosol model to represent key aerosol sources and processes, including shipping emissions as well as model responses to emission changes in ANAA.  The researchers will apply their improved model to provide robust predictions on both the impact of future shipping traffic and IMO regulation on aerosol and the climate in the Northwest Passage.

SEANA also involves ten international partners - Faroe Islands Environment Agency, Korea Polar Research Institute, Stockholm University, Aarhus University, Institute of Atmospheric and Climate Science – CNR, University of Florence, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Italy Laboratory for Observations and Analyses of Earth and Climate, University of Toronto and University of Helsinki.

Beck Lockwood, University of Birmingham press office, tel 0121 414 2772