Author First name, Last name, Institution

Oliver Legge, University of East Anglia
Martin Johnson, University of East Anglia
Natalie Hicks, University of Essex
Tim Jickells, University of East Anglia
Markus Diesing, Norges geologiske undersekelse
John Aldridge, Centre for the Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
Julian Andrews, University of East Anglia
Yuri Artioli, Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Dorothee C.E. Bakker, University of East Anglia
Michael T. Burrows, The Scottish Association for Marine Science
Nealy Carr, University of Liverpool
Gemma Cripps, Food and Rural Affairs
Stacey L. Felgate, National Oceanography Centre Southampton
Liam Fernand, Centre for the Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
Naomi Greenwood, Centre for the Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
Susan Hartman, National Oceanography Centre Southampton
Silke Kröger, Centre for the Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
Gennadi Lessin, Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Claire Mahaffey, University of Liverpool
Daniel J. Mayor, National Oceanography Centre Southampton
Ruth Parker, Centre for the Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
Ana M. Queirós, Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Jamie D. Shutler, University of Exeter
Tiago Silva, Centre for the Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
Henrik Stahl, Zayed University
Jonathan Tinker, Met Office
Graham J.C. Underwood, University of Essex
Johan Van Der Molen, Utrecht University
Sarah Wakelin, National Oceanography Centre
Keith Weston, Centre for the Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science

Document Type


Source of Publication

Frontiers in Marine Science

Publication Date



© Copyright © 2020 Legge, Johnson, Hicks, Jickells, Diesing, Aldridge, Andrews, Artioli, Bakker, Burrows, Carr, Cripps, Felgate, Fernand, Greenwood, Hartman, Kröger, Lessin, Mahaffey, Mayor, Parker, Queirós, Shutler, Silva, Stahl, Tinker, Underwood, Van Der Molen, Wakelin, Weston and Williamson. A carbon budget for the northwest European continental shelf seas (NWES) was synthesized using available estimates for coastal, pelagic and benthic carbon stocks and flows. Key uncertainties were identified and the effect of future impacts on the carbon budget were assessed. The water of the shelf seas contains between 210 and 230 Tmol of carbon and absorbs between 1.3 and 3.3 Tmol from the atmosphere annually. Off-shelf transport and burial in the sediments account for 60–100 and 0–40% of carbon outputs from the NWES, respectively. Both of these fluxes remain poorly constrained by observations and resolving their magnitudes and relative importance is a key research priority. Pelagic and benthic carbon stocks are dominated by inorganic carbon. Shelf sediments contain the largest stock of carbon, with between 520 and 1600 Tmol stored in the top 0.1 m of the sea bed. Coastal habitats such as salt marshes and mud flats contain large amounts of carbon per unit area but their total carbon stocks are small compared to pelagic and benthic stocks due to their smaller spatial extent. The large pelagic stock of carbon will continue to increase due to the rising concentration of atmospheric CO2, with associated pH decrease. Pelagic carbon stocks and flows are also likely to be significantly affected by increasing acidity and temperature, and circulation changes but the net impact is uncertain. Benthic carbon stocks will be affected by increasing temperature and acidity, and decreasing oxygen concentrations, although the net impact of these interrelated changes on carbon stocks is uncertain and a major knowledge gap. The impact of bottom trawling on benthic carbon stocks is unique amongst the impacts we consider in that it is widespread and also directly manageable, although its net effect on the carbon budget is uncertain. Coastal habitats are vulnerable to sea level rise and are strongly impacted by management decisions. Local, national and regional actions have the potential to protect or enhance carbon storage, but ultimately global governance, via controls on emissions, has the greatest potential to influence the long-term fate of carbon stocks in the northwestern European continental shelf.




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Life Sciences


biogeochemistry, budget, carbon, coastal, impacts, marine, shelf

Scopus ID


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Open Access


Open Access Type

Gold: This publication is openly available in an open access journal/series

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Life Sciences Commons