Uncovering changing climate in the UK's seas, coasts and oceans

Squid with captured bream

Squid have become more common in UK waters

28 July 2017 by Sylvie Kruiniger

Climate change is having important effects on UK seas and coastlines and these have been brought together by the UK Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP) in their report published today.

Sir David Attenborough said of the report:

Concern about the state of our seas has caused them to be studied more intensively - and extensively - than ever before. Here is a summary of the findings. They have never been more important.

The partnership was established in 2006 and, building on contributions from 400 scientists over this time, key findings 10 years on are:

  • Despite temperature fluctuations year-to-year over the past decade, a long-term underlying warming trend is still clear. Some of this variability can be accounted for through short-term changes in the strength of Atlantic Ocean circulation, which has been linked to recent severe winters in the UK.

  • Climate change is clearly affecting marine species and habitats, but not necessarily in the ways anticipated 10 years ago. Some warm-water marine species such as squid and anchovies targeted by fishers have become more common in UK waters, with clear links to climate change, whilst for non-native species, other factors (such as ballast water, ship hulls) have been more important for their establishment.

  • Seabirds in the UK face an uncertain future due to climate change, with the productivity of some species such as fulmars, Atlantic puffins, little and Arctic terns and black-legged kittiwakes being impacted by temperature rise, whilst severe storms are affecting breeding success of razorbills.

  • Ocean acidification has become established as a major issue for marine ecosystems, and may be taking place at a faster rate in UK seas than in the wider North Atlantic. Overall the impacts are expected to be negative, most notably for shellfish growth and harvest in future decades.

  • Extreme high-water events are becoming more frequent at the coast due to sea level rise. However, this has not led to a corresponding increase in coastal flooding to date due to continued improvements in flood defences, emergency planning, forecasting and warning.

This report highlights the critical importance of independent, robust evidence gathering and the provision of clear messages when communicating climate change science to decision makers and the public. In particular, the partnership emphasises that recent short term variations need to be clearly placed in the context of longer term, human driven, climate warming.

Dr Matt Frost, chair of the MCCIP working group that delivered this report, said:

Since 2006, we have been working with the marine scientific community to provide timely, independent, non-biased information to policymakers. As often happens in science, we have learnt that things are more complicated than first thought but in general, earlier predictions on climate impacts on the marine environment have been borne out.

In 2006, a partnership of UK scientists, government, its agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), established the MCCIP group to bring together expertise across marine and climate science. In their first report card, published in November 2006, MCCIP identified a range of impacts on the marine environment linked to climate change, and considered potential future effects. These included warming seas, changes in the distribution of marine species and increased risks of coastal flooding.