A sea change on the
Investigating the impact of the planet’s largest habitat
Philippe Archambault
Changes in the export of organic matter to the seafloor due to global changes will impact food webs and benthic ecosystems where 98 per cent of the ocean's biodiversity can be found. The seafloor is the largest habitat on the planet, and benthic organisms play a key role in global carbon budgets.
Director of the Laboratoire de biodiversité benthique et aquatique – Biome, Université Laval
Co-scientific director of the Network of Centres of Excellence, Canada ArcticNet

Transforming climate action

The Earth is teetering toward climate crisis. The ocean, more than anything, is helping to keep the balance. But emerging science shows the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon and regulate temperatures is changing in ways we don’t understand. It is a change that is not accounted for in global climate targets. It’s a risk we can no longer afford to take. The time has come to transform climate action.

The Benthos: A knowledge gap at the bottom of the ocean

Ocean sediments represent Earth’s largest interactive landscape for carbon storage, yet most ocean models ignore or minimally consider the diverse seafloor habitats. These habitats encompass the largest surface area of carbon sources and sinks – more than all other habitats on Earth combined. Moreover, the seafloor or benthic habitat is home to 98 per cent of the ocean’s species, most of which are still unknown.

With his team, Laval oceanographer Dr. Philippe Archambault investigates the ecology of benthic or seafloor habitats, from the land-sea interface spanning productive kelp bed habitats along shorelines, to aphotic deep-sea environments. A better understanding of these unknown habitats will contribute to producing reliable climate change models, protecting essential ecosystems and better estimating ocean ecosystems' roles in organic carbon accumulation and long-term sequestration.

Field work on a boat
Deploying equipment on boat

Linking Climate to Seafloor

Oceans play an essential role in climate regulation by absorbing fossil fuel emissions through chemical processes collectively known as the “ocean carbon pump”. In response, the ocean is changing at an uncertain rate, and its capacity to buffer human impact remains unknown, enhancing the urgent need to reduce uncertainty at the ocean-climate nexus.

The Arctic is influenced by important currents and climatic processes that regulate its ecosystem. The massive southward Arctic outflow of fresh meltwater that flows down in Baffin Bay has the potential to drastically modify ecosystem processes within Baffin Bay and affect the ocean carbon pump in impacted downstream areas of the Northwest Atlantic.

Dr. Archambault and his team investigate the underestimated role of the benthic component of the carbon pump. Recently, new results suggest that life at the ocean floor is contributing significantly to the biological process and playing an important role in ecosystem dynamics, carbon absorption and, therefore, climate regulation.

By linking fundamental biodiversity questions and theoretical research on global change and its effects on ecosystem functioning, Dr. Archambault and his team hope to influence applied science and policymaking.

An ocean-first approach

Transforming Climate Action will bring together more than 170 researchers at Dalhousie and its academic partners to embark on the most intensive investigation into the ocean’s role in climate change ever undertaken. It will make Canada a global leader in climate science, innovation, and solutions by putting the ocean front and centre in the fight against a warming planet.

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Reducing Uncertainty
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