Title of Project
Seagrass-based blue carbon – is it a red herring or a resilient green option for climate change mitigation?
UC Senior Supervisor (Project Leader)
Dr. Mads Thomsen, School of Biological Sciences: Ecologist and expert in seagrasses, blue carbon, droning/remote sensing and spatial analysis.
Other members of the supervision team
Ass. Prof. Catherine Reid, School of Earth and Environment: Geologist and expert in sediment analysis, microfossils and stratography.
Dr. Sarah Flannagan, School of Biological Sciences: Molecular Biologist and expert in genetics, bioinformatics, and spatial statistics.
Links with organisations outside UC
Dr’s. Lesley Bolton and Melanie Burns, Coastal Scientists, Environment Canterbury: Experts in local ecology of Canterbury with particular interest in climate change mitigation.
Dr. Kim Kelleher, Head of Environment and Sustainability, Lyttelton Port Company.
Prof. T. Wernberg, University of Western Australia: Global expert in impacts from marine heatwaves.
Prof. P. Staerh, University of Aarhus, Denmark: Global expert in seagrasses and modelling.
Outline Vision Mātauranga
The project is relevant to Māori and implements Vision Mātauranga through Taiao and Mātauranga – aligning with Ngāi Tahu and the government’s strategic goals for biodiversity, conservation, and climate adaptation. As kaitiakitanga of the environment around Canterbury, Ngāi Tahu seeks to maintain their relationships to places, resources and taonga under new climate conditions, that will carry through their identity. Our approach, which embeds environmental stewardship, aligns with Te Ao Māori and mātauranga Māori and will contribute to outcomes important to Rūnanga, building capability for hapū and participation in monitoring of indicator species. A component of the project is to build capability for monitoring that can be continued by citizen sciences projects and local coastal guardians/hapū/iwi living near seagrass meadows.
Burning of fossil fuels and increasing CO2 levels is causing a global climate crisis with severe ecological and socioeconomic impacts from extreme climatic heatwaves, droughts, and storms. Maintaining and increasing CO2 storage from biological organisms is often advocated as viable mitigation. Marine seagrasses are environmental indicator species that are extremely efficient in storing CO2, and yet virtually nothing is known about this ecosystem service from New Zealand seagrass meadows. The proposed interdisciplinary PhD-project will combine state of art geospatial analysis and remote sensing techniques, geological sediment analysis of stored carbon, statistical modelling of future seagrass distribution in a warmer world, ecological methods to trial different restoration methods and molecular techniques to identify genotypes with highest carbon uptake, storage, and resilience to future anthropogenic stressors.
Seascape attributes, patch dynamics and resilience to recent extreme climatic events will be analysed from a combination of geotagged images, including digital photos (0.1-100m), drone images (10-10000m) and multiple satellite products (1-100 km) to provide scalable and dynamic maps of seagrass beds in Canterbury. Furthermore, geologic sediment and tissue samples will be analysed for carbon-content and dated from microfossils (e.g., foraminifera) and radiometric methods to convert seagrass distribution and burial rates to large-scale carbon storage services. Next, ecological distribution modelling and transplantation experiments will explore options for future preservation and expansion of carbon-storage. Finally, molecular, and genetic techniques will use state of art sequencing to identify underpinning genetic stress-responses and phylogenetic relationships within and between seagrass meadows. All sampling – across spatiotemporal scales (cm-100s km) and organizational levels (genetics, ecology, geology) – is geotagged and unified in a spatial GIS framework to analyse how patch and landscape metrics (e.g., perimeter, shapes, and fractal dimensions) may affect observed genetic linkages, resilience, and patch-growth, and, ultimately, carbon storage services. A highly motivated PhD student will work closely with experts across all these fields and co-develop the research questions and methods to become a truly interdisciplinary scientist with a spatial-analytical underpinning as well as bicultural capacity.