Researchers and policy makers gather for Ocean Carbon Workshop

October 5, 2022

We can’t manage what we can’t measure: key takeaways from the 2022 Ocean Carbon Workshop

Researchers and policy makers gathered in Halifax on October 5, 2022, for the Ocean Frontier Institute’s 2022 Ocean Carbon Workshop.  

Held as part of the World Ocean Tech and Innovation Summit hosted by The Economist, the workshop focused on the urgent need for integrated ocean observation globally in order to close the gap on climate models – a critical tool for mitigating climate change.

From left to right: Dr. Joanna Post, Dr. Anya Waite, Dr. Michel Jean, and MP Andy Fillmore.

Deep blue carbon

Deep blue carbon – carbon stored in the high seas – was a particular area of focus in the discussion.

“More than 90 per cent of carbon in the ocean is deep blue carbon,” says Anya Waite, chief executive officer and scientific director of the Ocean Frontier Institute.

“We need to consider how to better manage and report on Deep Blue Carbon,” she added, while noting that this represents a gap in the Paris Agreement.  

Extreme weather events

Extreme weather events such as hurricanes were also top of mind during the discussion, and the role improved ocean data can play in improving climate and weather prediction.

“One in five Canadians live in coastal communities…We are extremely vulnerable to frequent extreme weather events,” said Andy Fillmore, Member of Parliament for Halifax.  

“Data for early warning systems around the globe are extremely relevant and very important," said Joanna Post, Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Under Waite’s leadership, OFI is working to increase global awareness of these gaps – specifically that current climate equations are incomplete. Insufficient ocean carbon data means we lack the evidence to accurately assess the critical mitigation required to stay within current net zero frameworks.

Understanding key ocean inputs that are driving the climate carbon balance will have a direct impact on our ability to predict, and thereby adequately prepare for climate change. “Ocean observation needs stronger and longer-term investment to close the knowledge gaps,” said Post.

Creating an integrating observation system

Michel Jean, President of the Infrastructure Commission at the World Meteorological Organization, added that we already know there is an urgent need to link ocean, land, and atmospheric carbon observation in a globally integrated system.  

How this can be done was a key question during the workshop. Nations must build from existing resources and expertise, Jean says.

"There are already ocean observing systems around the world,” said Jean, underscoring the need to integrate and elevate existing observation systems. “We strongly believe we need a concerted, international coordination effort.”

The North Atlantic as an exemplar

The Ocean Frontier Institute has proposed an innovation solution: a North Atlantic Ocean Carbon Observatory (NACO), which aims to collect, link, synthesize, and deliver ocean and atmospheric information worldwide. This would be possible through a globally integrated system, supported by an international consortium of acting nations and partners.  

NACO will help to ensure the validity of Canada’s emissions targets, while enabling development of timely solutions to climate challenges.

“Our policy decisions and our actions must be based on best available scientific information,” said Senator Stan Kutcher. “We can’t manage what we can’t measure.”

Kutcher stressed the urgency of the issue, but also our unique potential in solving it. “The right people with the right skills are here…Canada has a vital role to play in this important work.”