Wednesday, July 3, 2024

President and Sabina host a garden party celebrating Sustaining and Conserving our Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources

It was an absolute delight to be invited to the President’s Garden Party on Thursday 27th June at Áras an Uachtaráin. The Garden Party was celebrating sustaining and conserving our Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources UN sustainable Development Goal 14 (Life below water).  The day was hosted by President Michael Higgins and Sabina and it was a joy to meet so many like-minded people working to protect and sustain the oceans.  The Irish weather was true to form for a summer garden party with all the seasons in the afternoon, but the President took it all in his stride as he welcomed guests.


“Today’s garden party is dedicated to a theme that resonates deeply with our commitment to a sustainable and thriving planet – UN Sustainable Development Goal 14, based on sustaining and conserving our oceans, seas and marine resources…. We are delighted to acknowledge and celebrate your work as we invite you to enjoy for a while the house and the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin” he said.

President Michael Higgins and Dr. Samantha Hallam

Gertrude Miria, MSc Climate Change student and Irish Aid Fellow from Papua New Guinea, joined me at the Garden Party and we had a wonderful time strolling the grounds and chatting about sea level rise in Papua New Guinea and how stronger storms are increasing storm surge across many islands in more recent years.  Michael also picked up on this in his talk. 

“In the Pacific Islands, rising sea levels are eroding shorelines and contaminating freshwater supplies with saltwater. Entire communities are being displaced, forced to leave their ancestral lands and seek refuge elsewhere. Many of these communities that depend on the oceans for their survival are the least contributors to our climate crisis, with some of the smallest carbon footprints in the world measured on either a per-capita or percentage-of-GDP basis. Yet, these communities are on the frontlines of climate change, bearing the brunt of environmental degradation caused by the actions of others. What a profound injustice this constitutes.”

Gertrude commented “The President of Ireland has addressed the harsh reality faced by many island communities in the Pacific, who are at risk of losing their homes and lands sooner than expected. Given the inadequate adaptive capacities and technology available to us, it is worrying to contemplate the future for these communities. This is the stark reality that people must live in this warming world.”

Gertrude Miria and Samantha Hallam


TOPIM projected funded by Irish Aid

Currently I am leading work on the TOPIM project which is funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs though lreland’s development cooperation programme, Irish Aid, administered and managed by the Marine Institute on behalf of Irish Aid/DFA.  We are working with The University of West Indies in Jamaica and Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. TOPIM is an ocean-coupled dynamical and statistical model for tropical cyclone intensity prediction. TOPIM will provide the Caribbean islands with a local operational tool to assist their hurricane intensity predictions and assist with local preparedness in advance of tropical cyclones reaching the islands. We are launching the TOPIM model in Jamaica later this month.  

But the Caribbean is already extremely active this year with hurricane Beryl which is marching away from the Windward Islands with 165 mph winds after tearing through scores of homes in Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where many are still without power or water. By Wednesday afternoon, the storm is forecast to hammer Jamaica with life-threatening winds and storm surge. The storm continues to smash records as it kicks off an exceptionally early hurricane season – now becoming the earliest Category 5 hurricane on record and only the second Atlantic storm of such strength to be recorded in July. In half an hour, Carriacou was flattened,” Grenada Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell said Monday.

Hurricane Beryl 2nd July 2024 - Image Courtesy of NASA

The President’s words last Thursday seem very poignant this week;


“We must at every level reaffirm our commitment to protecting the life below water, carrying with us a renewed sense of purpose and dedication, and pledge to uphold our moral duty to protect the oceans in our actions and policies, to work together, across borders and sectors, to ensure that our oceans remain vibrant and resilient, supporting the needs of present and future generations, to ensure that Sustainable Development Goal 14 is achieved as a matter of the utmost urgency”


We are currently thinking of everyone in the Caribbean 


Papua New Guinea in context


Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an archipelagic nation located in the Western Pacific Ocean and is known as the 'Rim of Fire' region. The country's main landmass comprises the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. It falls within the influence of the 'Pacific Warm Pool,' which is the warmest part of any ocean on the planet. PNG has an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covering 3.12 million km2, with a coastline of 17.110 million km, making up 88 percent of its total area (GoPNG 2019).


Situated in the southwestern Pacific near the equator, Papua New Guinea is characterized by numerous mountain ranges and some of the world’s last remaining tropical wilderness. The marine and coastal ecosystems in PNG significantly contribute to the national economy and support the livelihoods of coastal and island communities. The country's fisheries industry alone contributes an estimated PGK 350-400 million annually to the economy (GoPNG 2020).

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is situated in the 'Coral Triangle', known as the center of diversity for corals and other marine life. In PNG, over 7000 km2 of reef have been mapped, housing more than 500 species of coral (PNG Protected Areas Policy 2014). The coral reefs and associated marine habitats are home to approximately 2800 species of fish, representing about 10% of the world's total. Additionally, 44 species of mangrove have been recorded, which provide vital breeding grounds for marine life (GoPNG 2014).


The majority of lands and nearshore marine areas are owned by customary landowners. Our landowners and communities have inherited valuable knowledge and wisdom for sustainable living on land and sea. Our traditional cultures are deeply intertwined with the biodiversity of the land and sea. Customary landowners and communities actively participate in all decisions related to their lands and seas. However, global warming is now posing a threat to our communities and resources on land and in the sea. This threat is manifested through sea level rise, which significantly endangers the livelihoods of those who rely on these resources for their daily needs. 


Papua New Guinea - Image courtesy of Dr. Andy Lewis

Friday, June 21, 2024

'Saving the Island'

Devised as part of the coursework of the MSc Climate Change, and funded by the Department of Geography, the Circus of Climate Horrors are very fortunate to announce a new interactive exhibit ‘Save the Island’, to be featured as part of the ICARUS outreach programme through the coming summer. 

Featuring a model island inside a basin of water, this exhibit serves as a clever analogy to the impacts of high-GHG-emission sectors on the current rates of sea level rise. The purpose of this new exhibit is to test the knowledge of participants on relevant facts and statistics concerning sustainability and environmental policies. The more correct answers given, the more they can minimise the degree of coastal flooding, while each wrong answer means a concrete block is placed into the basin , forcing water levels upward. 

The annual ‘Picnic in the Park’ event at Harbour Park in Maynooth was a fitting venue for ‘Save the Island’ to make its public debut, and it was met with great success and positive reception. Connor Platt, one of the MSc students who designed the exhibit said “While younger children were interested in tackling our questions, all visitors enjoyed placing the concrete blocks into the basin to see the water levels rise. No matter how the public interacted with the exhibition, we noticed eager appreciation from our audience for the analogous significance it has for the current global issue of sea level rise” 

“From this, we hope to inspire our participants to recognise the importance of knowledge in carrying out appropriate adaptation and mitigation measures, as well as the power of choice: the more people who choose to implement sustainable options in their daily lives, the closer the world comes to establishing a robust, global circular economy which prioritises the limitation of global greenhouse gas emissions, the preservation of Earth’s natural environment and the opportunities for future generations to come.”


Papua New Guinea - A perspective



Gertrude Miria, Irish Aid fellow MSc student on the design team and from Papua New Guinea, highlights how ‘Save the Island’ has a lot of meaning for Pacific islanders. “Many atoll islands in the Pacific will be gone shortly due to warming oceans and sea level rise. From a Papua New Guinea (PNG) perspective, losing a place is more like losing your land, your family and everything you call home. Sea level rise is threatening our livelihood and our rights and ownership of the land we claim home. In PNG, the Carteret Islanders in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville were among the first climate refugees as a result of sea level rise. The relocation was difficult for the islanders, and many refused to relocate because dealing with land in PNG is a very sensitive issue. 97% of the land is customarily owned by people (clan groups) a practice common in the Melanesian societies such as PNG, Solomon Island, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and the Irian Jaya province of Indonesia. Only 3% is owned by the government. Once my island sinks, my birthright is lost; I'm a foreigner on another man's land. Dealing with customary land is a big challenge, and to date, these atoll islanders are living in care centres because the government is still negotiating with customary landowners to secure land to relocate these people; it can take more than 20 years, the case for Manam Islanders (PNG). Adaptation to climate change as a result of sinking islands is very challenging when it comes to relocation.”



The making of the ‘Save the Island’ is  possible thanks to funding from the Geography Department and the design and artistic skills of Anthony Cleary, Senior Technician in the Department of Design Innovation  at Maynooth University. The Circus is further supported by ICARUS.


Pictured (L-R) are Anthony Cleary, PhD Student Csaba Horvath, Dr. Nick Scroxton,Prof. Steve McCarron Head of Geography, and MSc student’s Gertrude Miria and Connor Platt (who along with Casaba Horvath and MSc Student Clara Bezeau designed ‘Save the Island’.








Friday, March 8, 2024

International Women's Day - Spotlight on Dr. Helen Shaw - Mud and microscopes.

It is International Women’s Day, time to celebrate our achievements and consider the past and the future. A lot has changed since I was at school, careers advice was very divided into male and female roles. Science was not always encouraged for women. I learned science later in life. 

I always had an interest in plants, but it was only when I started an Open University degree, after several years of work in museums and arts, that I realised my fascination for science and how nature works. My Open University experience shifted my focus from arts to science. This fascination developed in a second degree in Biology at Southampton University. After time working in science administration for international science programmes, I undertook a PhD studying palaeoecology in the stunning environment of Glen Affric in Highland Scotland where ancient pine woods still survive and thrive in part of the Glen. This is where I started to specialise in my research area. My interests spanned geology, environment and ecology, so it was a natural progression to focus on palaeoecology.

Palaeoecology is the study of ecology through time. Most of the time use pollen from peat accumulations or lake sediments to infer what vegetation was there in the past. We can take cores from peat bogs, and ponds and all sorts of muddy little basins and look to see what pollen grains are in each layer. Because the layers of sediment or peat in a basin are laid down through time, each layer down core is a little older than the layer above. We can ‘see’ environmental change through time by examining the types of pollen trapped in samples from a sequence of depths in the peat core. 

I have spent many happy hours in muddy hollows collecting data on plant presence and peat cores for analysis. And many more contented hours staring down a microscope and counting the pollen grains that I find in each sample. It is a painstaking task, but very rewarding. Pollen grains come in all sorts of shapes from teddy bears ears (pine) to golf balls (grass), with some that have surface structures that look like giraffe skin (ash), and some that look like brains (elm): each is a new discovery. Counting the pollen is like a forensic investigation of the past, each new grain a new clue to the presence of a long-forgotten plant. 

My work helped to discover that some places in Glen Affric, where we thought there were lost and degenerating pinewoods, these were actually a more recent expansion; and I was able to provide evidence that the pine woods had much more diversity, with pine sharing space with other broadleaved tree species. 

The work in Glen Affric was highly applied to ideas of rewilding and reforestation. These are two other topics that really fascinate me. Ecological restoration is essential in a world where so much change has been wrought by humans, but we need to make space for restoration and rewilding to be dynamic. Ecology is always in a state of change and ecological balance might be a bit of an illusion. 

As a palaeoecologist I can provide evidence about past change over thousands of years in the life of a forest, and therefore I can help us to understand our ecological options for the future. We can also look at more recent change, to see how, for example, agriculture has changed ecology—we know surprisingly little about ecological change over the last few hundred years. I have investigated ecological change in cultural upland landscapes as well as woodlands. To do this work it is important to cross disciplines into agricultural history, and mapping, and archaeology… this just makes the subject even more fascinating!

Currently I am reexploring some of my old Glen Affric samples to investigate the other microscopic remains such as fungal spores found in the samples—spores from fungi that live on animal dung can help us infer past grazing for example. I am also working on some histories of vegetation change in the Irish midlands. These studies have involved the help of some wonderful students in the MU SPUR scheme. After years of perseverance in my subject area, a range of new conservation objectives, including the newly adopted EU Nature Restoration Law and EU Forest Strategy and guidelines for conservation of Old Growth Forest have led to an exciting new collaborative project which I am just about to start with several colleagues. Ancient Woodland Ireland, funded by Department for Agriculture Forestry and the Marine and National Parks and Wildlife Service, will map fragments of ancient woodland across the island of Ireland and will use palaeoecology alongside the mapping to explore the history of the most important woodland fragments in more detail. I am excited to be back in the woods doing palaeoecology!

Of course, supporting the learning of others is also an important part of my job. I love sharing my subject area through teaching. I am a great proponent of the joy of fieldwork, and of practical learning. The outdoors is a great learning environment and I hope to take students to the woods and involve them in the ancient woodlands work in future years. As a female geographer there are sometimes additional challenges to fieldwork, but getting muddy in a peat bog, or examining plants in a pasture, are some of life’s joys, and nothing should put us off! 

This year's IWD highlights the “crucial role of inclusion in achieving gender equality. It calls for action to break down barriers, challenge stereotypes, and create environments where all women are valued and respected”. Reflecting on my experiences as a woman in STEM, what would I tell my younger self? Don’t underestimate yourself, be determined, continue to support others and enjoy the wonderful friendships created by common interests. We should also be brave, call out poor behaviour. And what would I tell a few colleagues I have met along the way--don’t underestimate us, and don’t sideline us into the work that you do not want to do! Many women advocate that we must learn to say “No”, but in doing so we must recognise that someone else will get that work and it might well be another woman, or other undervalued person. I hope we can strive better for a fair, kind and collaborative academia full of fascinating research, great students, and opportunity for all who want it.


International Women’s Day 2024 – Spotlight on the research scientists in the ICARUS team


In the last 12 months the ICARUS has been going from strength to strength from a female perspective and International Women’s day is an ideal time for a spotlight on some of the research scientists in the team.


Marine Biology

Dr. Kirsty Morris – Post-doctoral Researcher, Marine Biology

As a child I always had a love for marine animals and ecology and longed to be a marine biologist. With the support of my family to work for what I wanted I began my formal marine education at Aberdeen University, where I completed my under graduate degree in Marine Biology. During this time I dipped into the world of deep sea biology with my final year project, which investigated bioluminescence within an Eddie in the deep Atlantic, this work along with that of others lead to my first named author publication in 2008 (Hedger et al, 2008). Following on from this I spent a year at Glasgow University completing my MRes in Marine and Freshwater Biology and Environmental Ecology. During this I completed two research projects one on the evolution of colour and pattern in tropical fish and a second on the impact of reef walkers on fish behaviour in Sharm el Sheik which involved 3 months field work and multiple hours of snorkelling. I completed my formal education with a PhD at the University of Southampton- working on deep sea coral distribution and genetics and resulting in multiple publications. Following from this I spent 4 years working as a postdoctoral researcher at the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton, working on image analysis techniques for the deep sea resulting in multiple publications. I left this position in 2016 following the birth of my first daughter Ava to care for her full time. My second daughter Lily was born in 2019. 

In January 2024 I began working within the ICARUS Oceans Group in the Geography department Maynooth University. My first science role in almost 8 years!! I am working on a project investigating the impacts of climate change on shellfish growth in Irish waters using data supplied by the Marine Institute.  To be able to get back into the field of marine biology for which I have always been passionate after such a long time is hugely exciting. This is a part time position, which allows me to continue caring for my two daughters, working during school hours and caring for the girls after school. This is of great importance to me.

The project is in the early days, with my current work focussing on data validation. It is hoped in the near future I will begin to investigate if there are any relationships between shellfish shell and tissue growth with physical variables such as temperature, Ph and salinity. I will also be investigating if any relationships that are uncovered hold true across a range of culture types including natural bed and rope grown mussels. It is also hoped there will be the opportunity to investigate these relationships with oyster data at a later date.


International women’s day is all about shining light on women and their achievements. My two greatest achievements are my daughters. Another achievement is gaining a PhD in a field for which I have always held love. My biggest achievement in 2024 is to be able to combine these loves successfully. This is something I hope is possible to continue in the future. Happy International Women’s day 2024!!


Heger, A., Ieno, E.N., King, N.J., Morris, K.J., Bagley, P.M. Priede, IG. (2008) Deep sea pelagic bioluminescence over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Deep sea research II: tropical studies in Oceanography.




Air-Sea interaction 

Dr. Samantha  Hallam – Post-doctoral Researcher, ICARUS oceanography


Since February 2021, I have been a post-doctoral researcher in the ICARUS team at Maynooth University working on the EU funded ROADMAP project investigating the impact of ocean circulation variability (western boundary currents and AMOC) on atmospheric and climate dynamics in the North Atlantic and North Pacific. It has been a fantastic experience working in the ICARUS oceanography team. Opportunities have included undertaking research at sea along Goban Spur and the Rockall Trough, together with presenting my research in Chicago, Japan and New Orleans which has led to further collaborations.

At the end of March I will be taking up a new role as senior post-doctoral researcher in the ICARUS team, where I will be Co-PI on the TOPIM (Tropical cyclone ocean-coupled potential intensity model) project, rolling out a new tropical cyclone potential intensity model for the Caribbean Small island developing states, a very exciting opportunity. 

Here is the link to my publications



Climate Change 

Shirley Howe, PhD Researcher and Assistant Lecturer


Climate change drivers are rooted in culture and potential climate futures are dependent on human behaviour. For these reasons, my research focus is the interlinkedness of physical processes and human systems. My PhD research examines the influence of socio-ecological dynamics, culture, identities and place in shaping constructions of climate change, resilience, vulnerability and adaptive capacity. This research, for which I was awarded the Eda Segarra Medal of Excellence in 2019, is funded by the Irish Research Council and the Environmental Protection Agency. It offers a longitudinal analysis of societal perspectives and experiences of climate change on Inishbofin Island, County Galway, Ireland through periods of ethnographic residency. On an existing imprint of marginalisation manifested through insidious population decline, Ireland’s island populations face into higher climate change risk compared to the mainland. Simultaneously, their primary livelihoods—fishing, farming and tourism—are weather dependent. This study analyses the characteristics of islands, natureculture, the weather world including experience of extreme events, historical and contemporary identity making, and colonial and postcolonial governance in Inishbofin to further understandings of climate change response. By thus extending insight into the meaning of climate change and how this meaning forms, it contains implications for strategic and transformative climate action across scales. I am currently preparing to submit my PhD thesis and lecturing with the Geography Department. Additionally, I am passionate about science communication, outreach and public engagement, and with colleagues in ICARUS and the Geography Department including Michelle and Samantha, produce and present an interactive educational experience entitled ‘The Circus of Climate Horrors’ at events in Ireland and the UK.




From "the Earth's surface" to the "Earth from space"

Sandra Cristina Deodoro, PhD Researcher

I would like to start by saying I am fascinated by Geography and maps! 


My research interests mainly focus on Earth Observation satellites applied to environmental monitoring, namely soil and water. I am also interested in topics related to geology and (fluvial)geomorphology and environmental education.


My (formal)Geography journey commenced at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil), where I completed a B.Sc. in Geography and Postgraduate Diplomas in Water Resources Management and Geoprocessing (GIS). After that, I undertook a M.Sc. in Environmental Systems Analysis and Modelling at the same university. In my master´s dissertation, I explored spectral reflectance data from an optical-based remote sensor (Sentinel 2) for soil particle size analysis and employed Discriminant Analysis as a statistical method to classify soil texture patterns in a meandering stretch of the Uruguay River located between the states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil). Currently, I am collaborating on the project Geomorphodynamics of Chapecó River Basin’s Landscape (Santa Catarina State) carried out by researchers from the Federal University of Chapecó and Italian researchers from Roma Tre University and Padova University.

In 2021, I commenced my journey at Maynooth University by pursuing a PhD in Geography. In my research, I am delving more into Earth Observation satellites by assessing the use of microwave-based remote sensors (C-band SAR Sentinel 1) to estimate topsoil particle-size fractions and predict soil texture, with application to Ireland. Thus, moving from tropical-sub-tropical climate soils to temperate-climate soils. I am also testing a radar polarimetry-based technique to retrieve soil information under vegetated soil conditions, which is a common characteristic in Ireland. The method employed is also relevant to locations where optical remotely sensed data is limited and/or where vegetation cover is present throughout the year (Deodoro et al., 2023; 2024). The primary goal of my PhD thesis is to provide a methodological framework to inform the design of in situ soil surveys as well as to provide a means to estimate soil properties over large spatial areas to generate new data products for use in hydrological, land surface, climate, and other model-based approaches that currently employ coarse global scale soil texture products.


Outside of research, I enjoy exploring nature, playing with my four-legged friends, and of course, drinking coffee! 

Earth´s surface signatures from EO satellites (Sentinel 1 and 2). Microwave remote sensing signatures of soil, vegetation, and urban area (Sentinel 1; plot on left); spectral signatures of different types of soil and vegetation from Sentinel 2 (plot on right). Figures: Deodoro et al.(2024).





Deodoro, S.C., Moral, R. de A.; Fealy, R.; McCarthy, T., & Fealy, R. (2024). Using the surface scattering mechanism from dual-pol SAR data to estimate topsoil particle-size fractions. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, 128, e10374,


Deodoro, S.C., Moral, R. de A.; Fealy, R.; McCarthy, T., & Fealy, R. (2023). An assessment of Sentinel 1 SAR, geophysical and topographical covariates for estimating topsoil particle size fractions. European Journal of Soil Science, 74(5), e13414, DOI: 10.1111/ejss.13414,


Bertolini, W. Z., Deodoro, S. C., Zambot, N. (2023). Morphometric analysis of Chapecó river basin: Searching for vestigial trace of neotectonic on a basaltic landscape at southern Brazil. Journal of South American Earth Sciences, 124, e104271,


Historical instrumental series to assess climate change

Dr Carla Mateus, Assistant Professor


In May 2023, I joined the ICARUS and the Geography Department at Maynooth University as an Assistant Professor ( My research interests mainly focus on climate science, namely historical climatology, assessment of past extreme weather events and environmental history. I am also interested in climate action, climate adaptation, climate mitigation, environment and sustainability research topics. Historical long-term meteorological observations are crucial to analyse extreme events and trends and to examine modern climate warming within a historical context (e.g. Mateus and Potito, 2022). 


I am passionate about teaching, outreach, public engagement and science communication. I have experience developing outreach programmes in climate and geography for primary and transition year students. Additionally, I enjoy communicating my research to the public.


From 2021 to 2023, I worked as a Postdoctoral Researcher at Met Éireann – the Irish Meteorological Service – on the project ‘Climate maps and data to support building design standards in Ireland’.


In 2021, I obtained my PhD in Geography at the University of Galway after successfully defending the thesis ‘Development of long-term daily maximum and minimum air temperature series and assessment of past extreme air temperature events in Ireland’. 


I carried out placements as a Technician at the Portuguese Environment Agency and as a Meteorological Observer at the Geophysical Institute of the University of Coimbra in Portugal.


I completed a Bachelor’s in Geography with a pre-specialisation in Physical Geography in 2012 and a Master’s in Physical Geography, Environment and Spatial Planning in 2014 at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. In 2014, I completed an Erasmus Placement at the University of Galway and fell in love with Ireland. Therefore, I decided to move to Ireland to conduct my PhD research and to advance my professional career.


For the list of my publications, see:



Mateus, C. and Potito, A., 2022. Long-term trends in daily extreme air temperature indices in Ireland from 1885 to 2018. Weather and Climate Extremes, 36, p.100464.



Predicting waves: Where science meets nature

by Ashly Kalayil Uthaman, PhD Researcher




Ever wondered what drives the waves break against our shores? Or how we      can predict their behavior not just for tomorrow, but for years? DeWaPIC – Decadal Wave prediction of Irish Coast uncover the secrets of ocean waves around Ireland and explore how numerical models to can be used to predict waves.

Ocean waves are not only mesmerizing to watch; they also play a crucial role in shaping our coastlines and influencing marine ecosystems. From providing habitats for countless species to driving coastal erosion and creating surf breaks, waves are dynamic forces of nature.

Predicting ocean waves comes with its challenges. Uncertainties abound, from the complex interactions between atmospheric and oceanic processes to the inherent limitations of numerical models.

Waves formed by wind travel long distances before reaching the coastline. Upon reaching shallower waters, they interact with the seafloor, causing the stored energy to be released through breaking waves in the surf zone. Different models rely on varying assumptions. In this study, numerical models such as WAM and SWAN are used to simulate waves from deep to shallow waters. These wave models are driven by atmospheric conditions obtained from climate models. This provides insight into how changes in wind patterns due to climate change may affect wave characteristics such as height, period, and direction. Such information is essential for coastal planning and marine resource management.





North Atlantic decadal predictability

Catherine O’Beirne, PhD Researcher


After completing a B.A. in Environmental Science at Trinity College Dublin in 2016 and an M.Sc. in Climate Change at Maynooth University in 2018. I am 4th year PhD candidate at Maynooth University and have submitted my thesis. The area of focus is on understanding Atlantic variability and its connection to the Irish shelf advancing knowledge of Irish sea-level change in an Atlantic context; development of predictive capacity on decadal timescales for the North Atlantic; and how these predictions can be applied for stakeholder needs. 

I am currently in the process of finalising a paper based on the prediction skill around the western coast of Ireland. To write two further papers based on the improvement of skill and how to tailor predictions for the fishery industry. Having the ability to predict changes in the future stock will support adaptation and fish stock management. In decadal climate prediction, initialized predictions have demonstrated improved prediction skill for the North Atlantic. The different stages of fish development are dependent on oceanic variables like temperature and variability and investigating decadal prediction skill for those variables will allow me to make statements on potential changes in fish stock. 











Friday, December 15, 2023

COP28. United Nations Climate Change Conference.

 COP28. By Prof. John Sweeney, Day 1.

Holding COP28 in a major oil and gas producing country was always going to be fraught with controversy. This is particularly so since the host President, Sultan al Jaber, is also the CEO of the United Arab Emirates national Oil Company, a company which is responsible for more emissions that Exon Mobil or BP. However, at the end of the first week, the events have not played out according to plan for either the hosts or most of the 197 countries hoping for a breakthrough to tackle the dire climate situation laid out by the scientists of the IPCC or the Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres.

The Presidency needed an early win to provide some momentum. And so it seemed this had occurred with the surprising announcement that the long running dispute on Loss and Damage was settled on day 1. This took everyone by surprise and was swiftly followed by the pledging of $100M by the host country and several substantial commitments to the Loss and Damage Fund by other countries, including €25M from Ireland (claimed to be the second highest per capita contribution after the UAE). While the figures adding up to date to around €720M sound impressive, in reality, the expressed need is measured in trillions. Of course the likely beneficiaries are not the primary drivers of global heating. That responsibilities falls to the developed countries. G20 countries emit 7.9 tonnes of greenhouse gases per capita while the corresponding figure for the least developed countries is 2.2t per capita. Ireland’s figure is 11.9t per capita, so maybe it should be among the highest contributors to the Loss and Damage fund.

Shortly after day 1, however, the drip feed of information questioning the real intentions of the President began to emerge. First was the publication of leaked documents by the BBC indicating that the President was intending to do ‘side deals’ with various countries to facilitate the expansion of their fossil fuel infrastructure. This was generally condemned as not something the COP President should be doing during a COP and could be interpreted as a misuse of his position as well as demonstrating a serious conflict of interest. His defence was rather unconvincing to this author.

A few days later, a recording emerged of a feisty interchange between Sultan Al Jaber and former Irish President Mary Robinson. In the heat of this debate Al Jaber stated there is ‘no science’ behind calls for a fossil fuel phase out’. Although this was recorded from an event that predated COP28, its revelation was devastating. Here was someone tasked with achieving the one thing that could save the planet from what Guterres had described as ‘opening the gates to hell’ denying that fossil fuel cessation would provide a way of avoiding the catastrophic tipping points being breached.

Both the Tanaiste and Minister Ryan have been generous with their time and have met with the Irish civil society group to provide updates. For the most part the negotiating position of the Irish government is progressive and Minister Ryan in particular is heading up, together with France, the EU negotiations on climate finance. But the world outside Europe is a very different collection of countries with often widely differing priorities. President Putin has been visiting those countries in the region over the past few days which do not risk his arrest for war crimes. These countries, like Russia, are major fossil fuel producers and one can imagine that ceasing fossil fuel production was not a priority in their meetings. Indeed one of the young Ukrainian climate activists condemned the way energy production has become weaponized as a result of the war.

What is now emerging as the sticking point for the wording of the final communique is the extent to which it will embody a commitment to phase out all fossil fuels: coal, gas and oil, before 2050. A new global plan with strict milestones is necessary for this. At this stage in a COP the President assumes

control over deadlocked negotiating committees and seeks to drum out compromise texts. How successful he will be in doing this is not at all clear given the misgivings in his neutrality emerging over recent days. Various draft texts already in circulation repeat the mantra of previous COPS: “phasing down”, “phasing out unabated fossil fuel emissions”, or even omitting any reference to fossil fuel reductions entirely! We won’t know until the final gavel comes down if India, China, Saudi Arabia or Russia will veto the final wording as happened in Glasgow. On this rests the verdict as to whether this will be a COP for change or not.

Fossils and Fossil Fuels. By Prof. John Sweeney, Day 2.

It is customary for civil society groups to nominate a country that they feel has done least to tackle climate change as ‘Fossil of the Day’. These nominated are subsequently entered into ‘Fossil of the Week’ etc. to hopefully embarrass countries into upping their game. It’s a bit of a stunt, but has been a feature of COPs for many years. Friday was Youth and Children’s day and the nominated country was Israel, narrowly pipping Russia and Australia. The nomination of Israel was emphasising that there can be no climate justice without social justice, and reflected on the tragic loss of young life presently occurring in the region. In the case of Russia, the fact that Mr. Putin landed in the UAE the day before and didn’t even come to COP was pointed out, together with the long standing opposition of Russia to emissions reductions. His potential motive in going from one petrostate, the UAE to another, Saudi Arabia, was also commented on by the nominators. The contribution of fossil fuels to the Russian economy is as high as 40% and new markets are needed following the EU boycott. This of course raises doubt as to what Russia will agree to in the final communique.

In the case of Australia, the fact that they have made no contribution as yet to the Loss and Damage Fund despite being one of the world’s leading exporters of fossil fuel was pointed out. The very limited contribution they have made to ameliorating climate change impacts in their neighbouring countries was also a factor. Of course the awards are purely symbolic, but do tend to show up the real ‘laggards’ in the negotiations.

Also produced at each COP is the country ‘league table’ which positions 59 countries and the EU in terms of their climate performance. Rankings are decided by a panel of experts with inputs also provided at a national level. After improving briefly in 2022 to reach 37th place, largely as a result of the passage of climate legislation, Ireland has now slipped to 43rd place in 2023. Not quite in the relegation zone yet, but clearly being overtaken by other countries. The reasons given primarily relate to implementation failure, namely Ireland’s failure to convince the evaluators that the carbon budget agreed for 2021-2025 will be achieved. Indeed the EPA have also projected recently that the subsequent budget period 2026-2030 will also not be achieved. So despite ‘talking the talk’, Ireland is not ‘walking the walk’!

There is a striking presence of ‘Big Agriculture’ lobbyists at this COP. While the omni present oil lobbyists tend to get the greatest attention, industrial agriculture lobbyists are very active. Emissions associated with food production amount to about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions with over half of this due to livestock farming. Methane is particularly problematic, trapping 80 times more heat than the same amount of CO2 over a 20 year period. Yet the focus in this COP seems to be largely restricted to reducing methane from oil and gas flaring, rather than from livestock. Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture has arrived and will meet civil society groups tomorrow where the COP theme focus will be on agriculture and food. It should be interesting given that Ireland emits 3.7 times as much methane per capita as the average EU citizen.

Today there was a lot more activism inside the COP venue with noisy marches and demonstrations to rightly remind negotiators what is at stake. However there are growing concerns that the final decision will not signal an end to fossil fuels. Presently the negotiators have a number of alternative texts to argue over. These range from ‘an orderly and just phase-out of fossil fuels’ to no text at all being offered. Somewhere between the two there will be compromises suggested involving ‘unabated emissions’ and ‘phase down’ of fossil fuel emissions. The planet however can’t wait for compromises in this area. Nonetheless the requirement for unanimity which has bedevilled progress in this area for 28 years means that it will only take one country to veto what over 190 countries want to do. The next few days will tell the tale.

COP28; See Through the Spin. By Prof. John Sweeney, Day 3.

As a veteran of 13 COPs I can confirm that I left disillusioned from 12,with only Paris being different. The pattern is ominously similar here in Dubai. The first week is dominated by world leaders arriving with their entourage and making lovely noises about how this particular COP is crucial, how the window for avoiding the tipping points is rapidly closing, and how much we should listen to the science. In the three minutes allocated to each world leader in the Plenary Hall, we hear noble statements of how much a particular country is doing to tackle the problem. Seldom do we hear figures of how much their emissions have increased since their last appearance or how structural changes in their economies and societies are underway to achieve a sustainable world for the next generation. Of course there are exceptions, but the first week is mainly designed for domestic consumption back home. If you can’t say our emissions are increasing, instead say we are reducing emissions intensity, or we are a rich country and are contributing finances to ease the plight of climate victims in poor countries or those facing submergence.

The second week is very different. The delegates are given a brief from their bosses and tortuous negotiations commence. Draft agreement texts are prepared, riddled with square brackets to be accepted or rejected in lengthy sometimes overnight negotiations. Around the conference venue activists march and young people demonstrate to keep the pressure up on negotiators to deliver. It makes for a colourful and noisy COP, especially with reference to the indigenous peoples groups. Amazonian indigenous people in full costume protesting their loss of habitat, Canadian First Nation people protesting their mistreatment by big oil etc. For most countries however their minorities are silent, protests by them would not be countenanced by their national governments. All the while, the men and women in dark suits ply their trade. 2,500 oil and gas lobbyists are active behind the scenes. Taking a lesson from the big oil playbook, Big Agriculture presents a greenwashed perspective loosely draped in what they believe passes for ’food security’.

And then the Saudis send in their lawyers.

Having seen these individuals in action in previous COPs I can only marvel at their skills. Often Harvard or Yale educated, they are expert at dismembering sentences. A comma here, a semi colon there and the whole meaning of a sentence is changed. Of course taking up speaking time with lengthy statements also is a good tactic, especially late at night.

The first draft text that emerged could have been written by OPEC. It contained little of substance and was crammed with aspirational language that promised little implementation certainty. The so-called North Star that the President emphasised as his compass to keep the planet heating up beyond the Paris 1.5oC threshold was certainly not in evidence. The phrase ‘rapidly phasing down unabated coal’ was especially scorned by the delegates. No mention of other fossil fuels being ‘phased down’ far less ‘phased out’. This immediately led to threats of a walkout from the EU. The final text that was agreed after a day of wrangling, was not that much better. When Sultan Al Jaber finally brought down the gavel on Wednesday morning the delegates hugged and cheered as usual. But in reality the concrete achievements of COP28 are not likely to avoid the planet warming above the 1.5oC threshold.

The key phrase in the final agreement called on countries to contribute to global efforts to ‘transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science’. But this contains

no timescale or quantification of what transition actually means. It is purely voluntary, reflecting the watering down of intentions that occurs in a system where unanimity is required. Unsurprisingly, after the deal was reached, an oil representative reportedly said the deal ‘does not affect our exports, does not affect our ability to sell’.

Maybe expectations were too high. Maybe the tactics of having an especially poor first draft made any improvement seem good. Maybe the COP did for the first time signal a transition to a fossil free world. But the question hanging over the event is will countries live up to their commitments this time, or will global climate change wait long enough for a sustainable future for the next generation? On both counts the prognosis is poor.