Kick-off of EU Horizon 2020 project COMFORT

Kick-off of EU Horizon 2020 project COMFORT
weee By Administrador Intranet Icman In News Posted 8 October, 2019 0 Comments

 Our safe operating spaces for our common future ocean in the Earth system

What are our safe operating spaces for the ocean?

This is the starting question for the new EU Horizon 2020 project COMFORT.

 The COMFORT project sets out to quantify coupled cycles of carbon, oxygen and nutrients for determining and achieving safe operating spaces in the ocean – and especially with respect to global ecosystem tipping points in the oceans.

 The researchers’ aim is to detect and minimise dangerous climate change in the oceans. The project focuses on global ecosystems tipping points. Such tipping points are critical points where anthropogenic forces become significant enough to cause a large ecosystem change.

  • Where and when do we reach tipping points in the ocean in case of warming, ocean acidification, and oxygen dead zones?
  • What will be critical ecosystems thresholds in view of these tipping points?
  • What feasible pathways exist to limit respective damage?

Guardrails for decisions

– The results will provide guardrails for political and logistical decisions on combatting and avoiding dangerous climate change. We will propose revised scenarios for greenhouse gas emission reductions in order to limit the damage to ocean systems. These revisions will consider the timing and the amount of greenhouse gas reductions, and include options for realising negative carbon dioxide emissions, prof. Christoph Heinze says.

Heinze is professor at the University of Bergen and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, and is leading the project together with Thorsten Blenckner at Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Levels of CO2 concentrations vs ocean conditions

The researchers in COMFORT will examine at what levels of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations the oceanic environmental conditions will deteriorate abruptly.

They will examine which parts of the ocean will undergo the fastest and most dangerous changes in the coming decades dependent on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to the atmosphere.  What goals for mitigating climate change have to be considered in addition to limits of temperature increase? 

 Heinze and his colleagues expect that greenhouse gas emission reductions will have to be more severe than for warming limits alone in order to avoid the spreading of low oxygen dead zones in the oceans and to avoid severe damage due to ocean acidification. Such changes will have severe impact also on fish stocks such as tuna and corals.

Crucial new results

– We aim at establishing how much internal variability within the climate system and ocean extreme events, such as heatwaves, can lead to irreversible change in the marine environment in addition to the average global change. Tipping points can be triggered by such extreme events both for the physical and chemical parts of the climate system, but also for ecosystems, Heinze says.

Heinze points at the background of the project: The IPCC Reasons for Concern. These five formulations connected to climate change impacts that have been one foundation for the Paris Agreement towards limiting the increase in global mean surface temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius as compared to the pre-industrial.

– We will add crucial quantitative new results about at which level of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations the oceanic environmental conditions will deteriorate abruptly, Christoph Heinze highlights.


The Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) participates in this project through the Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas de Vigo (IIM) and the Instituto de Ciencias Marinas de Andalucía (ICMAN)

The Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas de Vigo (IIM) hosts a wide range of oceanographic analytical facilities and a 25 meters long vessel, which allow the development of interdisciplinary research in marine sciences. In particular, its Oceanography Department has experience in field-orientated research, both in coastal and open ocean systems, covering key issues of the chemistry (carbon and nutrients cycling) and biology (microplankton ecology, primary production models) of marine ecosystems. The Instituto de Ciencias Marinas de Andalucía (ICMAN) also develops research projects at the coastal fringe and at basin scale. Its infrastructures include a remote sensing service for ocean colour and several analytical facilities. Its Department of Ecology and Coastal Management has a broad experience in the study of the physical-biological coupling in several marine eco-regions, such as the Gulf of Cádiz, Strait of Gibraltar, Alboran Sea and the Antarctic. Both CSIC institutes have been actively involved in EU projects, such as MORENA, OMEGA, CANIGO, CAVASSOO, SESAME, CARBOOCEAN, CARBOCHANGE, INGOS, PERSEUS, MareFRAME ATLANTOS and FarFish.

The IIM group has been a pioneer in determining the capacity of the ocean to take up anthropogenic carbon. The magnitude and dynamics of the uptake has been assessed in different regions, including the entire Atlantic Ocean. Through its participation in national and European funded projects, numerous high impact publications have been released, mainly dealing with the improvement of methodological techniques to estimate the oceanic withdrawal of anthropogenic CO2 but also with the characterization of CO2 transport by water masses and mixing processes along with the study of the air-sea CO2 exchange fluxes variability. The ICMAN group research interests lie within the field of marine biogeochemistry. Its members have been involved in a a high number of projects funded either by the EC or national agencies, whose main region of study has been the Mediterranean Sea. The expertise of the group will be then applied to assess the influence of the Mediterranean flow on the biogeochemical cycles of the North Atlantic.




  • Full name: “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”
  • EU Horizon 2020 project with a total budget of 8,19 million EUR
  • Lead by Christoph Heinze, University of Bergen and Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research
  • 32 partners from 9 European countries, South Africa, India, and Canada (institutions are welcome to be listed here)
  • Start: 1 Sept. 2019. Duration: 4 years.
  • Project website:

EU-emblemThis project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme  under grant agreement No 820989. The work reflects only the author’s/authors’ view; the European Commission and their executive agency are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information the work contains.