Theme 4: Synthesis, dissemination and outreach
What do we do? - Science


Theme leader: Carol Turley CT (at) PML


WP 13 - Uncertainties, risks and thresholds (“tipping points”)

WP 14 - Dissemination, exploitation and management of knowledge


The Royal Society Working Group Report on “Ocean Acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide” concluded that “In setting targets for future reductions in CO2 emissions, world leaders should take account of the impact of CO2 on ocean chemistry, as well as on climate change. These targets must be informed by sound science”. It is therefore imperative that EPOCA has an effective and targeted approach to knowledge transfer. Themes 1, 2 and 3 will provide better understanding of the likely impacts on the chemistry, biology and biogeochemistry of the oceans, resulting from their acidification. This better understanding must be passed on to business leaders, policy-makers and other end-users to inform the management strategies by which the human society can mitigate those changes or adapt to them. Although the study of ocean acidification and its consequences is in its infancy, the EPOCA consortium will take the challenge of using the language developed by climate scientists and policy-makers by addressing the issue of “tipping points” within ocean acidification (WP13) using the results from studies within this project and from literature data. These will be communicated, along with a synthesis of the science of ocean acidification past, present and future, to policy-makers involved with climate change and emissions reduction and other stakeholders including the general public (WP14).

A “tipping point” is the critical point (threshold) in an evolving situation that leads to a new and irreversible development (state). Tipping points of the Earth system, defined as changes of the system where the state after the change is qualitatively different from that before it, or where the change in the affected system is considerably more rapid than the change in the driving factors. Large or rapid changes, however, and changes characterized by multiple stresses and detrimental systemic feedbacks, can lead to an amplification of change once a threshold or system of thresholds in environmental conditions is crossed. This then triggers a state change or the loss of a system. One of the most threatening dimensions of climate change is the potential for human activities to push parts of the climate system past critical tipping points into different states (e.g. potential switch off of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation, melt of the Greenland ice sheet or release of methane hydrates). These can have positive or negative feedback to climate. Ocean acidification has the potential to impact at the global, local, organismal, cellular and molecular levels, and assessments of risk of tipping points must be made at all these levels and involve chemical, physiology, evolution and modelling approaches. Already, there have been attempts to identify a pH value below which the oceans should not drop (a guard rail) by key advisory organisations such as the Royal Society and the German Advisory Council on Climate Change. The later has suggested that the average ocean pH should not drop by more than 0.2 unit below its current value. It must be pointed out, however, that little data is presently available to support such a threshold. The overarching questions of Theme 3 are:

What are the “tipping points” in ocean acidification, their uncertainties and risks to the marine environment and their feedback to climate and Earth system, what CO2 emissions targets will help avoid them and how to best communicate this to policy-makers and other stakeholders?

Within WP13 we will identify the potential thresholds or "tipping points" associated with ocean acidification and assess the uncertainties, probabilities and risks to the marine environment as well as their feedback to climate systems. This will help inform the EPOCA researchers to reduce uncertainties. We will also assess pathways of CO2 emissions required to avoid the identified thresholds, with particular emphasis on IPCC AR4 mitigation and non-mitigation scenarios, and pathways to CO2 stabilisation. We will describe the state change if these emissions are exceeded and the subsequent risk to the marine environment and Earth system. As this is a cross-cutting theme, all participants will contribute to it through outputs from WPs 2-12 so that potential “tipping points” are examined at the level of genes, cells, organisms and ecosystems through input into the Tipping Points Group (TPG) which will have representation from every work package. The TPG will prepare a “straw man” document of potential tipping points for internal circulation, comment and feedback within EPOCA. This document will be “live” within the project duration with continuous updates as our understanding of potential impacts of ocean acidification clarifies through sound scientific research. The interim findings will be presented at the EPOCA annual meetings. Theme 4 will produce, in year 4, a final synthesis report in a format and language suitable for policy-makers, that identifies thresholds, new states, risks to the marine environment and potential feedback to climate and associated uncertainties, probabilities and thresholds with IPCC AR4 mitigation and non-mitigation scenarios and pathways to CO2 stabilisation.


Within WP14 we will communicate the current knowledge and understanding of ocean acidification and its impacts to the wider user community in a language suitable for that specific community. We will also give certainty levels for statements to help users understand their scientific basis. These certainty levels will be agreed upon by the EPOCA consortium members so that there is a scientific consensus following the approach used by the recent IPCC WGII in its “Summary for Policy Makers”.

Dissemination (a general approach) and outreach (a more targeted approach) are the processes that facilitate the communication of research-based knowledge, expertise and skills within the EPOCA consortium to users of this knowledge. We will target users and stakeholders from the scientific community, climate change, energy and environmental policy community, industry, governmental agencies and departments, intergovernmental bodies, public bodies, non-governmental organizations and the general public.

The method of information flow from research scientists to policy makers is also an important consideration for EPOCA. While historically some strategies have been hierarchical with information flowing up an organisational hierarchy where information flow may lead to a change in quality of information through generalisations, loss of context, misinterpretation, misconstruction and where probabilities become reported as facts. The EPOCA strategy aims to circumvent these hazards by contributing high quality science directly to expert groups and committees, to feed information directly to policy-makers through government and intergovernmental committees, to give clear information to the media with scientists knowledgeable in communication and through the formation of the EPOCA Reference User Group (RUG) of stakeholders.

The methods of dissemination will include a multifunctional web service for communication, information, education, and publication of results, thematic dissemination through research seminars around core themes, scientific publications in international refereed journals and presentation at conferences, short reports and flyers to authorities, public bodies, agencies, institutions and organisations, and the formation of the EPOCA RUG. Flyers and posters will be available on the EPOCA web site for members to download, distribute and display. Synergies with other related FP7 proposals will be formed to ensure effective exchange of information. Members of the RUG will advise on the usefulness of the products for the end-users.

The RUG concept was first developed for the EU COST-IMPACT programme (Costing the impact of demersal fisheries on the marine environment), which ran between 2001 and 2004. It has since been used in other programmes and has proved to be a highly successful mechanism for ensuring the relevance and user-friendliness of research as well as ensuring outreach to targeted stakeholders that research scientists would not normally come into contact with. The EPOCA RUG will comprises a number of potential stakeholders and end-users of the results of the research project from both commerce and government, with interests spread across relevant climate policy, environmental, industry and conservation sectors. The RUG will work with the project to examine in detail the user related issues. The specific Terms of Reference for the RUG will include advise (i) on the types of data and analyses and products that will be most useful to managers, policy advisors, decision makers and politicians, (ii) on the format and nature of key messages arising from the research project, (iii) on the dissemination procedures for the project to ensure that the results from the project are disseminated to all potential end users of the information and (iv) to feedback key science developments into their own sector/parent organisation during the life time of the project. To carry out these roles effectively members of the RUG and EPOCA PIs will meet annually and have regularly correspondence. Dr. Dan Laffoley is Principal Specialist of the Marine Science and Evidence Team for Natural England and the Vice Chair (Marine) of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) World Commission on Protected Areas and will chair the RUG.



Turley C. M., 1999. Taking research into policy making. Proceedings of the Third European Marine Science & Technology Conference, Brussels




 This web site is hosted by Observatoire Océanologique de Villefranche sur Mer