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Call: Understanding the oceanic carbon cycle

Type of Fund Direct Management
Description of programme
"Horizon Europe - Cluster 6 - Destination 5: Land, ocean and water for climate action"

Assessing the impacts of climate change on our land and marine environments, natural resources, agriculture and food systems, and identifying mitigation options and adaptation pathways, requires interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research and investments across a broad range of activities. Research is needed to better understand who or what is exposed and sensitive to these changes, their underlying vulnerability, the associated costs and adaptive capacity. Research is also required to provide mitigation options that reduce the risk of long-term climate change

The conservation and enhancement of Earth’s natural carbon sinks such as soils and plants, forests, farmed lands, wetlands and the oceans is crucial. The European Green Deal green oath to “do no harm”, requires a careful examination of the trade-offs and synergies among the sustainability goals, including health protection, food and nutrition security, ecosystem services and biodiversity preservation both on land and at sea. R&I has a significant role to play to support the design and implementation of policies that will ensure the achievement of EU climate objectives.

Agriculture has a significant role to play to reduce and mitigate GHG emissions and to enhance carbon sinks. It also needs to strengthen its capacity to adapt to climate change and its resilience. The forestry sector faces similar challenges.

Freshwater resources are increasingly under stress as a consequence of overuse and climate change with wide-ranging consequences for human societies and ecosystems. It is therefore necessary to define the safe operating space in terms of water quantity and availability, reduce the vulnerability to change and enhance our adaptive capacity.

Strengthening the ocean and climate nexus is another priority for the EU. There is growing political awareness of the importance of ocean and polar regions as an integral part of the Earth’s climate system and of the need to ensure the integrity and resilience of these ecosystems.

While new knowledge leading to a better understanding of the impacts of climate change is necessary, a strong priority needs to be granted to the large-scale deployment and uptake of solutions for climate adaptation and mitigation. Environmental observations and related solutions will be necessary throughout, from understanding to deployment.

Understanding the impacts of climate change on primary production and natural systems is a pre-requisite for policy and societal action on climate change adaptation and mitigation. At present, our understanding of the interactions between climate change and ecosystem management, protection and restoration is limited, yet it is crucial to enabling sound decision making for mitigation and adaptation measures. Monitoring and evaluation of the impacts of climate change, land use change and associated biodiversity loss on a range of key issues related to agriculture and forestry are crucial with respect to the transition to net-zero emissions in the EU. R&I are also needed to close knowledge gaps in support of decision-making aimed at preserving the integrity of ocean and aquatic ecosystems through a better understanding of the drivers of change and of emerging threats. Moreover, since water availability is vulnerable to climate change, it is necessary to improve the projections of changes to the water cycle at different relevant scales and projections of the frequency and intensity of extreme events. We also require improved long-term observations and assessment of the effects of climate change on diverse water uses and on the state of ecosystems and their services.

Reducing GHG emissions and enhancing carbon sinks in primary production and natural systems are key elements of the European Green Deal. Achieving sustainable land management and efficient use of natural resources that foster climate change mitigation implies finding the right balance between productivity, climate, biodiversity and environmental goals in the agriculture and forestry sectors, with a long-term perspective. R&I activities will support solutions for climate- and environmentally-friendly practices, to reduce emissions of major greenhouse gases and the environmental footprint of land use changes and agricultural activities. R&I, new technologies and business models are expected to unlock the full potential of LULUCF[[LULUCF stands for land use, land use change and forestry.]] activities in the mitigation of climate change. Results of funded activities will benefit land and forest management and the delivery of multiple services provided by land and forests, such as the provision of goods as long-term carbon stocks in harvested wood products, peatlands and wetlands, the protection of soils, water and biodiversity and finally climate change adaptation and mitigation. Ocean is also a large storage system for the global reservoirs of climate-regulating factors. R&I will advance knowledge innovations to foster ocean-based solutions/mitigation options, helping to close the emissions gap.

Climate action calls also for fostering adaptation to climate change of ecosystems, primary production, food systems and the bioeconomy. Climate change is exacerbating existing risks to livelihoods, biodiversity, human and ecosystem health, infrastructure and food systems. There are growing concerns regarding the role of climate change in the spreading of new plant and terrestrial and aquatic animal diseases, which can jeopardise food safety and security. Human activities relying on the availability and use of water are particularly impacted by variable and extreme weather events, which may at the same time lead to desertification. Agriculture and forestry in the EU are vulnerable to climate change. There is in particular growing evidence about the effects of climate change, and of extreme weather events, on agricultural production and crop yields, which need to be mitigated, and also on the forest sector. Coastal areas are also threatened by sea level rise, saline water intrusion, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, extreme events and a shrinking cryosphere. R&I will, therefore, be critical to foster adaptation and build resilience in agriculture, forestry and coastal areas. They will aim to deliver on the urgent need to foster the adaptation of primary production, notably by providing farmers and other actors in bioeconomy value chains with better-adapted crop varieties and animal breeds with lower impacts on the related ecosystems. R&I efforts are critical to avoiding, reducing and reversing desertification. Water adaptation strategies and approaches will be developed and tested. Appropriate solutions including water allocation schemes will be developed for businesses, farmers and ecosystems. Potential trade-offs, and measures to mitigate and avoid them, will be assessed to ensure environmental sustainability and to keep the objectives of enhancing soil fertility, increasing carbon storage in soils and biomass, benefitting agricultural productivity and food security and reducing biodiversity loss. R&I will also aim at better understanding how institutions and behaviour shape vulnerability and offer opportunities for adaptation.

Expected impacts

Proposals for topics under this destination should set out a credible pathway to contributing to climate action on land, oceans and water and more specifically to one or several of the following impacts:

  • Better understanding and enhancing the mitigation potential of ecosystems and sectors based on the sustainable management of natural resources;
  • Advanced understanding and science to support adaptation and resilience of natural and managed ecosystems, water and soil systems and economic sectors in the context of the changing climate;
  • Efficient monitoring, assessment and projections related to climate change impacts, mitigation and adaptation potential in order to bring out solutions for tackling emerging threats and support decision-making in climate change mitigation and adaptation policies at European and global levels;
  • Fostered climate change mitigation in the primary sector , including by the reduction of GHG emissions, maintenance of natural carbon sinks and enhancement of sequestration and storage of carbon in ecosystems;
  • Improved adaptive capacity of water and soil systems and sectors including by unlocking the potential of nature-based solutions;
  • Better managed scarce resources, in particular soils and water, thus mitigating climate related risks, in particular desertification and erosion, thanks to informed decision-makers and stakeholders and integration of adaptation measures in relevant EU policies.

When considering their impact, proposals also need to assess their compliance with the “Do No Significant Harm” principle [[as per Article 17 of Regulation (EU) No 2020/852 on the establishment of a framework to facilitate sustainable investment (EU Taxonomy Regulation)]] according to which the research and innovation activities of the project should not be supporting or carrying out activities that make a significant harm to any of the six environmental objectives of the EU Taxonomy Regulation.

This destination contributes to support R&I on climate for areas covered by Cluster 6 notably on the implementation of climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions while Destination “Climate sciences and responses for the transformation towards climate neutrality” in Cluster 5 concentrates on activities related to climate science and modelling.

Topics under this destination will have impacts in the following impact areas of the Horizon Europe strategic plan for 2021-2024 [[Footnote indicating link to the document.]]: “Climate change mitigation and adaptation”; “Enhancing ecosystems and biodiversity on land and in water”; “Clean and healthy air, water and soil”; “Sustainable food systems from farm to fork on land and sea”; ”A resilient EU prepared for emerging threats”; “A secure and open EU society”; and “Inclusive growth and new job opportunities”.

Link Link to Programme
Understanding the oceanic carbon cycle
Description of call
"Understanding the oceanic carbon cycle"

Expected Outcome:

In support to the European Green Deal and its biodiversity and climate initiatives, successful proposals will contribute to strengthening the ocean - climate nexus by reinforcing the scientific capacity to further our understanding of the natural ocean carbon sinks and their potential role in mitigating and adapting to climate change, help identify lasting solutions to climate change by paying greater attention to nature-based solutions for healthy and resilient seas and ocean. The ocean is a large storage system for the global reservoirs of climate-regulating factors. Successful proposals will also close knowledge gaps in support of decision-making aimed at preserving the integrity of ocean and aquatic ecosystems through a better understanding of the drivers of change in the ocean and emerging threats.

Project results are expected to contribute to all of the following expected outcomes:

  • Furthered ocean exploration and increased understanding, predictability and reduced uncertainty associated with the oceanic carbon cycle and the role, capacity, spatial and temporal changes and trends over time in the ocean and its ecosystems in absorbing and storing CO2 from the atmosphere.
  • Improved understanding of the potential of the ocean and its ecosystems for contributing to the next generation of carbon cycling models, such as those used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to set global climate policy.
  • Significant contribution to closing the knowledge gaps in the ocean carbon cycle and substantial contributions made to key international assessments, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), World Ocean Assessment (WOA) and other major regional and global initiatives.


The ocean has a key role in regulating atmospheric CO2 concentrations and currently take up about 25% of annual anthropogenic carbon emissions. The oceanic carbon cycle is composed of processes that exchange carbon between various pools within the ocean, as well as between the atmosphere, Earth interior, and the seafloor. The oceanic carbon cycle is a result of many interacting forces across multiple time and space scales. The oceanic carbon cycle is a central element of the global carbon cycle and contains three main processes (or pumps): the solubility pump, the carbonate pump, and the biological pump. In order to better understand, quantify and predict the ocean’s potential for carbon uptake, actions should further research the oceanic carbon cycle. The deep sea and its water column may be the largest carbon sink on Earth but its large-scale carbon uptake potential and future is still unknown. Ocean carbon sequestration options include the management of natural ocean processes, i.e. actions to maintain the integrity of natural carbon stores and actions that enhance the long-term (century-scale) removal and sequestration of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere by marine systems, primarily by biological means. Actions should aim at developing innovative approaches to understand the complex processes underlying the oceanic carbon cycle, its efficiency, climate sensitivity, and emerging feedbacks. Actions should further the understanding of the resilience to climate change and temporal and regional variability of the natural carbon inventory in the ocean. Actions should further the understanding of how the biological pump and the deep ocean carbon sink will respond to the rapid and ongoing anthropogenic changes to our planet—including warming, acidification, and deoxygenation of ocean waters. Actions should advance the scientific understanding of marine pelagic and benthic invertebrate and vertebrate carbon, the carbon services they provide (i.e. trophic cascade carbon, biomixing carbon, carbon mineralisation, bony fish carbonate, whale pump, twilight zone carbon, biomass carbon, deadfall carbon and marine vertebrate mediated carbon), and the intricate biological pathways involved in carbon cycling and the associated implications for climate regulation. Actions should assess and model the marine vertebrate carbon services and should link them to population dynamics, with a view to gathering enough evidence to enable their inclusion in the models of carbon cycling. Actions should assess and model the as yet poorly quantified carbonate-forming invertebrate species in the deep sea, such as reef-building scleractinians, as well as their resilience to cumulative impacts of global changes. Actions should contribute to ocean observations and the Digital twin of the oceans by providing an ocean carbon-modelling environment. Actions should improve the sampling of regions and metrics for marine organisms and should gather evidence and data to estimate and quantify the global CO2 sequestration potential of protecting and restoring populations of invertebrates and vertebrates to previous levels. Actions should explore the efficiency and global magnitude of the biological pump and how this will be affected by climate change. Actions should deliver quantification and predictability of the ocean carbon sink and in so doing, should contribute to resolving the uncertainty in the magnitude and sign of projections of future global ocean primary production. The regional variability in the amplification or reduction of the efficiency of the ocean carbon sink is an important element that actions should take into consideration, as the climate effects on the carbon sink (both on the physical and biological drivers) will have a strong regional correlation. The importance of polar regions in the carbon cycle needs to be kept in mind. Actions should further the regional predictive skill beyond five years.

Actions should further investigate tipping points and irreversibility in the ocean carbon cycle (both for the upper ocean and the intermediary & deep ocean), the biogeochemical feedbacks, the changes that will occur in the 21st century, both globally and regionally, and how the multiple stressors will affect the primary production (monitoring strategies to have access to all the compartments - upper, intermediary and deep ocean). Among the stressors, the effects of trawling, drilling, overfishing, deep-sea mining and dredging on carbon cycling and sediment dynamics should be included and investigated using marine monitoring techniques. Actions should look into the policy implications of the findings of this research.

For this action, the multifaceted nature of the ocean carbon cycle necessitates collaboration across disciplines, taking an ecosystem approach. At a minimum, actions should link science on the changing ocean physics and chemistry, and more generally on climate, with the study of the marine biota and their evolution. International cooperation is strongly encouraged. Actions under this topic should plan on a close collaboration among each other and should build upon and link with Horizon 2020 projects and other European and international ocean observing initiatives, including the Integrated Ocean Carbon Research, IOC-R. All in-situ data collected through actions funded from this call should follow INSPIRE principles and be available through open access repositories supported by the European Commission (Copernicus, GEOSS, and EMODnet). Where relevant, creating links to and using the information and data of the European Earth observation programme Copernicus, the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) is expected.

This topic links with research conducted under Cluster 5 (‘Climate, Energy and Mobility’) Destination ‘Climate sciences and responses’; Cluster 6 (‘Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment’) Horizon Europe Mission Ocean, seas and waters, Destination ‘Biodiversity and ecosystem services’, Destination ‘Clean environment and zero pollution’, Destination ‘Land, ocean and water for climate action’, Destination ‘Resilient, inclusive, healthy and green rural, coastal and urban communities’ and Destination ‘Innovative governance, environmental observations and digital solutions in support of the European Green Deal’; Horizon Europe Mission Ocean, seas and waters.

Link Link to Call
Thematic Focus Research & Innovation, Technology Transfer & Exchange, Capacity Building, Cooperation Networks, Institutional Cooperation, Clustering, Development Cooperation, Economic Cooperation, Green Technologies & Green Deal, Climate, Climate Change, Environment & Biodiversity, Agriculture & Forestry, Fishery, Food, Circular Economy, Sustainability, Natural Resources, Administration & Governance, Competitiveness, SME, Disaster Prevention, Resiliance, Risk Management, Mobility & Transport/Traffic , Regional Development & Regional Planning
Funding area EU Member States
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
Origin of Applicant EU Member States
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
Eligible applicants Research Institution, International Organization, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, SMEs (between 10 and 249 employees), Microenterprises (fewer than 10 employees), NGO / NPO, Public Services, Other, Start Up Company, University, Enterprise (more than 250 employees or not defined), Education and Training Centres
Applicant details

eligible non-EU countries:

  • countries associated to Horizon Europe
At the date of the publication of the work programme, there are no countries associated to Horizon Europe. Considering the Union’s interest to retain, in principle, relations with the countries associated to Horizon 2020, most third countries associated to Horizon 2020 are expected to be associated to Horizon Europe with an intention to secure uninterrupted continuity between Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. In addition, other third countries can also become associated to Horizon Europe during the programme. For the purposes of the eligibility conditions, applicants established in Horizon 2020 Associated Countries or in other third countries negotiating association to Horizon Europe will be treated as entities established in an Associated Country, if the Horizon Europe association agreement with the third country concerned applies at the time of signature of the grant agreement.

  • low-and middle-income countries

Legal entities which are established in countries not listed above will be eligible for funding if provided for in the specific call conditions, or if their participation is considered essential for implementing the action by the granting authority.

Specific cases:

  • Affiliated entities - Affiliated entities are eligible for funding if they are established in one of the countries listed above.
  • EU bodies - Legal entities created under EU law may also be eligible to receive funding, unless their basic act states otherwise.
  • International organisations - International European research organisations are eligible to receive funding. Unless their participation is considered essential for implementing the action by the granting authority, other international organisations are not eligible to receive funding. International organisations with headquarters in a Member State or Associated Country are eligible to receive funding for ‘Training and mobility’actions and when provided for in the specific call conditions.
Project Partner Yes
Project Partner Details

Unless otherwise provided for in the specific call conditions , legal entities forming a consortium are eligible to participate in actions provided that the consortium includes:

  • at least one independent legal entity established in a Member State;and
  • at least two other independent legal entities, each established in different Member States or Associated Countries.
Further info

Proposal page limits and layout:

The application form will have two parts:

  • Part A to be filled in directly online  (administrative information, summarised budget, call-specific questions, etc.)
  • Part B to be downloaded from the Portal submission system, completed and re-uploaded as a PDF in the system

Page limit - Part B: 45 pages

Type of Funding Grants
Financial details
Expected EU contribution per projectThe Commission estimates that an EU contribution of around EUR 15.00 million would allow these outcomes to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of a proposal requesting different amounts.
Indicative budgetThe total indicative budget for the topic is EUR 15.00 million.
Typ of ActionResearch and innovation actions (RIA)
Funding rate100%

Activities are expected to achieve TRL 3-5 by the end of the project.

Submission Proposals must be submitted electronically via the Funding & Tenders Portal Electronic Submission System. Paper submissions are NOTpossible.

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