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Policy Brief and Key Findings from the H2020 COMFORT project: Tipping Points and Regime Shifts in Regional Marine Ecosystems

Dagmara Rusiecka; Thorsten Blenckner; Christoph Heinze; Helena Martins; Precious Mongwe; Beatriz Arellano-Nava; Paul Halloran; Laurent Oziel; Helen Powley

Human-induced climate change is causing significant harm to our oceans, with ocean acidification, warming, and deoxygenation posing fundamental threats to marine life and ultimately, human societies (Gruber, 2011; Schubert et al., 2006). These processes provide specific threats to marine ecosystems and increase the possibility of crossing tipping points: “critical thresholds beyond which a system reorganizes, often abruptly and/or irreversibly” (IPCC, 2022)a. Once crossed, physical, chemical, and biological, changes may result in food web reorganisations and regime shifts triggering. These regime shifts, although regional, may add up to a problem of global dimensions for natural resources and human well-being.

To address these issues, the H2020 COMFORT project focused on investigating tipping points in the Earth system, specifically in relation to acidification, warming, and deoxygenation processes. The project aimed to assess safe operating spaces, mitigation pathways, and future scenarios. In this document, we present key findings from the COMFORT project and complement them with available literature on human-induced impacts on marine ecosystems, particularly in the Arctic, Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans, as well as in three European seas: the Mediterranean, Baltic, and North Sea.

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