Our Research

The following details ongoing funded research projects and work.

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

The Horizon 2020 project, led from Bergen, aims to provide a better understanding of and advice regarding tipping points and safe operating spaces within the marine realm under anthropogenic change. Within this we will be looking for evidence of tipping points within high resolution palaeoenvironmental records from the shelf seas spanning the industrialised era, and to use simple modelling approaches to attribute the change to possible drivers.

OMG The Southern Ocean Bias: Observing and Modelling trace Gases to explore the Southern Ocean temperature Bias

This is a NERC funded Industrial Met Office CASE PhD student project to explore to what degree marine trace gas emissions can help explain the Southern Ocean warm bias in models, and more broadly understand the impact of Southern Ocean natural aerosols on the climate system.

Climate impacts on corals

This is a University of Exeter - University of Queensland jointly funded studentship to attemt to move towards mechanistic modelling of the impacts of 21st century climate change on tropical corals.

CURB CO2: Carbon Uptake Revisited – Biases Corrected using Ocean Observations

When we emit carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere through industrial activity, only around half of that CO2 remains in the atmosphere, with the remainder being taken up approximately equally through photosynthesis by plants on land and being absorbed by the oceans. These anthropogenic CO2 'sinks' are essentially saving us from a large part of the global warming that we would otherwise be experiencing. New evidence suggests that our estimates of how this fraction of CO2 that stays in the atmosphere is changing, and will continue to change, may be too high, meaning that there may be more hope that we can prevent atmospheric CO2 concentrations rising too high than was previously thought.

Whilst we can estimate how much CO2 we are presently emitting, and can measure the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, and therefore work out how strong these sinks are (i.e. how much CO2 they are taking out of the atmosphere), we must calculate how this number will change in the future if we are to determine how much CO2 we can emit as a society without exceeding dangerous CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. This project aims to give us a better understanding of what this future change in the fraction of CO2 staying in the atmosphere is, by correcting a bias we have identified in the models we use to make these projections.

We make projections of how the land and ocean CO2 sinks may change in the future using increasingly comprehensive Earth System Models (which are climate modes which also contain a representation of additional processes such as the carbon cycle). While these models are the best possible tools we have to simulate future climate change, they are still far from perfect. We have shown that in the North Atlantic, which is the most intense ocean CO2 sink, these models underestimate how quickly the CO2 absorption is increasing, and have identified what the models are doing wrong. This project will extend this work from the North Atlantic to the full ocean, and by correcting for the biases that cause the models to under-predict this change, produce new and improved future estimates of ocean CO2 absorption.

One we have our improved estimates of future changes in the strength of the ocean carbon sink, we will account for how the land CO2 sink responds to this, and produce a set of new scenarios describing how much CO2 can be emitted through human activity through time if we are not to exceed the atmospheric CO2 concentrations linked to global warming of 1.5 to 2 degrees C above preindustrial temperatures.

The overarching aim of this project is to provide UK and international governments with the best possible impartial information from which they can plan how best to work towards the global warming targets (the 'Paris Agreement') set at the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015.

CURB CO2 is a one year NERC-BEIS funded project.

Robust Spatial Projections of Real-World Climate Change

Robust Spatial Projections of Real-World Climate Change is a four year project led by Mat Collins (Exeter, CEMPS), including partners from Exeter, BAS, UEA, Reading, Oxford and the Met Office, aiming to bring together dynamical and statistical approaches to produce 'real-world' climate projections, rather than model-world climate projections. Within this Halloran's group will be trying to understand the sensitivity of the climate system (and specifically land-sea temperature contrasts) to marine emissions of biologically-produced trace gasses. 

Climate of the LAst Millennium (CLAM): An Integrated Data-Model Approach to Reconstruct and Interpret Annual Variability in North Atlantic Circulation

CLAM is a 3 year £750k NERC Standard Grant collaboration between Cardiff (lead), Exeter and Bangor, attempting to reconstruct and understand annual to centennial variability in surface North Atlantic circulation over the past millennium. CLAM aima to utilise a network of robustly calibrated and verified absolutely dated sclerochronological proxy archives from NW Scotland, N. Iceland and the Gulf of Maine, together with high-resolution climate models, to investigate the mechanisms and forcings driving variability in the circulation patterns of the North Atlantic over the last millennium. 

RAGNARoCC: Radiatively active gases from the North Atlantic Region and Climate Change

RAGNARoCC is a Large (£2M) NERC funded directed program.

The project's object is to understand how large, and how variable, are sources and sinks of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere from the North Atlantic. We aim to be able to describe how these have changed in the recent past and how they will change in the future under different climate scenarios. Most effort will be concentrated on carbon dioxide, and we will deliver a comprehensive budgeting of natural and anthropogenic components of the carbon cycle in the North Atlantic and understanding of why the air-sea fluxes of CO2 vary regionally, seasonally and multi-annually. Observations of CH4 and N2O and estimates of their regional fluxes will additionally be made. We, in collaboration with our partner institutions in Europe and the US, will undertake surface measurements of CO2 air-sea fluxes made from networks of voluntary observing ships and at fixed sites. These will be synthesised with observations from hydrographic sections of the interior carbon content. We will thus obtain accurate estimates of the uptake, present storage, and net transport of anthropogenic carbon, and variability in the natural uptake and release of atmospheric CO2 by the N. Atlantic. In parallel with direct estimates made from these observations, forward and inverse models (of both atmospheric and oceanic kinds) of these fluxes will be developed.

ABC is a collaboration between the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), University of Exeter's Department of Geography, University of Southampton's School of Ocean and Earth Science, Newcastle University, the University of East Anglia and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML).

Within this project we are bringing together observational and modelling (box modelling and CMIP5 analysis) techniques to mechanistically understand recent observed variability.

ABC Fluxes

ABC Fluxes is a Large (£1.2M) NERC funded directed program which makes up part of the NERC RAPID programme.

The North Atlantic Ocean plays a pivotal role in the global carbon cycle, by storing carbon released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned, and by supporting the sinking flux of organic matter. Our understanding of how horizontal oceanic fluxes in the subtropics contribute to these processes is largely based on shipboard expeditions which occur every 5 years at 24N. Sampling at that interval is insufficient to resolve and understand the role that horizontal transfers play in regulating these processes.
Detailed time-series of physical properties at 26.5N from moored instruments suggest that variability in these fluxes will be occurring on a range of timescales. Once this variability is measured, it is almost inevitable that we will modify our understanding of the role the North Atlantic subtropical gyre plays in the global carbon cycle.

In ABC fluxes we will address these issues by deploying new chemical sensors and samplers across the Atlantic at 26.5N. We will use the data they provide to calculate time-series of fluxes of nutrient and inorganic carbon, including carbon released to the atmosphere by mans activities, across 26.5N. We will adopt a hierarchical approach, successively using existing observations, then new oxygen observations and ultimately direct observations of the carbon and nutrients, in order to identify the added value each successive stage of our programme provides.

We will interpret our direct flux calculations as contributions to the North Atlantic budget in conjunction with other observations and models, to assess how oceanic fluxes control the strength and variability of the role the North Atlantic plays in the global carbon cycle.

ABC is a collaboration between the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), University of Exeter's Department of Geography, University of Southampton's School of Ocean and Earth Science, and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML).

Mollusks 2 Models

Mollusks2Models is a NERC funded CASE PhD student project to bring together annually resolved palaeoclimate reconstructions from bivalves with shelf-sea modelling. The project aims to deliver new understanding about the climate drivers of ecosystem change in the North West European shelf seas.


We have recently been awarded a large NERC capital bid to work with the manufacturers to build the world's first polarising imaging flow cytometer. We will be using this piece of equipment to develop high-throughput, high-resolution palaeoclimate reconstruction techniques to facilitate the brining together of marine and lacustrine palaeoclimate research with future climate modelling.