Published May 16, 2023 | Version v1
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Policy Brief and Key Findings from the H2020 COMFORT project: Tipping Points and Regime Shifts in Regional Marine Ecosystems

  • 1. University of Bergen/Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Bergen, Norway
  • 2. Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholms Universitet, Stockholm, Sweden
  • 3. Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, Norrköping, Sweden
  • 4. Council of Scientific and Industrial Research: Cape Town, South Africa
  • 5. Global Systems Institute and Geography Department, University of Exeter, Exeter, United Kingdom
  • 6. Alfred-Wegener-Institut Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung: Bremerhaven, Bremen, Germany
  • 7. Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth, United Kingdom

Description

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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Funding

COMFORT – Our common future ocean in the Earth system – quantifying coupled cycles of carbon, oxygen, and nutrients for determining and achieving safe operating spaces with respect to tipping points 820989
European Commission