Arctic blue carbon: human and climatic drivers of change

Biogeochemical Cycles



Nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change include the drawdown and burial of carbon by natural systems. In terrestrial systems this function can be performed by forests and such buried carbon is called green carbon. In the marine environment, these carbon sequestering and storing systems are termed blue carbon stores and there is evidence that at high latitudes significant quantities of blue carbon are stored in systems including algal deposits and sediments. That carbon can be the product of glacially induced primary production [via upwelling of deeper water nutrients], but also, carbon directly produced by marine macrophytes. Arctic coastlines in particular are inundated with fjords, however, there is a paucity of information on their contributions to carbon burial through changing climates and anthropogenic inputs. Understanding how these drivers of fjordic carbon sequestration influenced previous rates of carbon burial will be key to predicting how these carbon storage systems will react to future climate and land use changes.

Historic climate change has been shown to alter carbon burial and evidence is now emerging that in mid-latitude fjord systems, human interactions with their environment can alter carbon burial through changes in land use and its impact on organic material exported to the surrounding fjords. In this context Greenland is of particular importance; it is at risk of warming-driven glacial melt and also, Nuuk [the largest populated area] has shown substantial recent population increases which are projected to increase further as warming continues. Together, projected warming and changing demography may change blue carbon burial in Greenlandic repositories over the coming century.

Aim: This project will quantify current and historic rates and mechanisms of carbon sequestration, burial and remineralisation at a range of Greenlandic fjord systems [including those generated by macrophytes, coralline algae and sediments] under representative climate and land use changes. These data will allow us to explore the future potential capacity of Greenland- fjords to act as efficient carbon sinks in a changing climate and with increasing anthropogenic demands.

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Image Captions

Figure 1: Supervisory team small-boat sampling in Greenland [Nuup Kangerlua] to collect cores

Figure 2: Nuup Kangerlua Greenland near glacier during an expedition including the supervisory team [Photo: Alex Ingle]


The scholar will have the opportunity to conduct field work in Greenland and collect samples from fjords near Nuuk [including Nuup Kangerlua and Ameralik fjord] using small boat work and possibly SCUBA [not a prerequisite for application]. Samples will be short- and long- cores through coralline algal and sediment carbon repositories as well as surface macrophytes. Incubations will be conducted on collected functional habitats to quantify rates and pathways of carbon remineralisation including the use of isotope tracing. Further, longer cores will be examined for historic changes in carbon burial driven by both past climate and demographic change.

Project Timeline

Year 1

Field work, biogeochemical, molecular and ecological analyses

Year 2

Field work, biogeochemical and molecular analysis, dissemination, conference

Year 3

Field work, biogeochemical analyses, conference, dissemination

Year 3.5

Thesis completion, conference, dissemination

& Skills

Project support: The facilities and instrumentation available within the supervisors- institutions provide a combination of leading laboratory, field and analytical capability and technical support that will be ideal for this proposed research, maximising PhD training from experts in the field.

Scholar support: The School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow (GES) has a large research student cohort that will provide peer-support throughout the research program. The scholar will participate in the annual post-graduate research conference within GES, providing an opportunity to present their research to postgraduates and staff within the School, and to also learn about the research conducted by their fellow postgraduate peers. All project supervisors are highly research-active; the scholar will interact with all members of their research groups, providing an opportunity to learn about other techniques and research areas which may be applicable to their research. Additionally, the supervisors are all based in research-active departments that span a broad range of ecological, environmental and genomics research, exposing the scholar to a range of other research areas. To facilitate this, the scholar will actively participate in the Marine Global Change Group in GES and the Coastal Biogeochemistry group at the Lyell Centre. These group meetings provide opportunities to discuss cutting-edge topics in the field, review recent papers and to present current research plans to academics with a common research interest in an informal and supportive atmosphere.

The scholar will be encouraged to attend specialist courses that will directly contribute to the proposed project:
– The project involves a large component of biogeochemical, molecular and ecological research and the scholar will be encouraged to attend relevant course throughout the PhD.
– This project will involve fieldwork in Greenland, thus the scholar may attend a field first aid course in the first 6 months of the project.
– Analytical training will be provided by the supervisors and / or specialist technicians for each piece of instrumentation required for analyses.
– The project supervisors will also support and encourage the scholar attendance on transferable skills training such as data management, scientific writing and science communication. The Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Glasgow provides, for free, a large number of such courses, which are available throughout the PhD program.

References & further reading

Brodie, J., Williamson, C.J., Smale, D.A., Kamenos, N.A., Mieszkowska, N., Santos, R., Cunliffe, M., Steinke, M., Yesson, C., Anderson, K.M., Asnaghi, V., Brownlee, C., Burdett, H.L., Burrows, M.T., Collins, S., Donohue, P.J.C., Harvey, B., Foggo, A., Noisette, F., Nunes, J., Ragazzola, F., Raven, J.A., Schmidt, D.N., Suggett, D., Teichberg, M., and Hall-Spencer, J.M. (2014). The future of the northeast Atlantic benthic flora in a high CO2 world. Ecology and Evolution 4, 2787-2798.

Hopwood, M. J. et al. Non-linear response of summertime marine productivity to increased meltwater discharge around Greenland. Nature Communications 9, 1–9 (2018).

Hopwood, M. J. et al. How does glacier discharge affect marine biogeochemistry and primary production in the Arctic? The Cryosphere Discussions 1-51 (2019).

Kamenos, N. A., Hoey, T. B., Nienow, P., Fallick, A. E. & Claverie, T. Reconstructing Greenland ice sheet runoff using coralline algae. Geology 40, 1095-1098 (2012).

Krause-Jensen, D. & Duarte, C. M. Substantial role of macroalgae in marine carbon sequestration. Nature Geoscience 9, 737-742 (2016).

Mao, J., Burdett, H.L., Mcgill, R.a.R., Newton, J., Gulliver, P., and Kamenos, N.A. (2020). Carbon burial over the last four millennia is regulated by both climatic and land use change. Global Change Biology

Rysgaard, S., Glud, R. N., Sejr, M. K., Bendtsen, J. & Christensen, P. B. Inorganic carbon transport during sea ice growth and decay: A carbon pump in polar seas. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans 112, (2007).

Smith, R. W., Bianchi, T. S., Allison, M., Savage, C. & Galy, V. High rates of organic carbon burial in fjord sediments globally. Nature Geoscience 8, 450-453 (2015).

Further Information

Please contact Nick Kamenos for further details before applying.

Application procedure: For IAPETUS2 applications to the University of Glasgow please use the dedicated application portal: (you will still need to submit your administrative details to the IAPETUS2 website as well).


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