30 July, 2015

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has announced it will invest £16m in research to study the effects of dramatic changes in Arctic ice cover over the last three decades on the Arctic region.

Called ‘The Changing Arctic Ocean: Implications for Marine Biology and Biogeochemistry’, the research programme will explore the effects of changes to the ice cover on the marine ecosystem and the associated biogeochemistry of the Arctic Ocean.

This will help to understand how reducing sea-ice conditions in the region will affect fish, whales and other sea-life in the whole ecosystem, along with the underpinning biogeochemistry that drives much of the likely change. This knowledge will help to develop mitigation and adaptation strategies to manage these effects.

The UK and the world face serious challenges in resources, hazards, climate, and health. In just 30 years, the Arctic region has warmed faster than most other regions of the planet. Satellite observations have documented a decrease of around 40 per cent in the extent of sea-ice cover in the Arctic since 1980.

Changes in the Arctic marine ecosystem can affect the UK’s environment and economy, with knock-on, negative effects on lucrative industries such as fishing and tourism, as recently highlighted in the UK House of Lords Select Committee report, Responding to a changing Arctic.

The new research will support the development of so-called enhanced predictive tools to enable us to understand, and prepare for, these future changes, keeping environmental science at the frontier so that it keeps delivering answers to our big questions.

The research programme will fund a comprehensive fieldwork campaign using UK and international polar research facilities, such as research ships and autonomous vehicles, to improve understanding of how the reduction in polar ice is affecting the Arctic Ocean, and the life that lives within and depends upon it.

This is the first Strategic Programme Area to receive funding under NERC’s reshaped strategic research development process. This new process gives the environmental science community a greater role in setting priorities for research funding.

Grant Shapps MP, Minister for Polar Regions, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, said:

“This new strategic research programme will address some of the biggest knowledge gaps in our understanding of the Arctic. It is a fantastic demonstration of the UK’s commitment to this unique region, building on the government’s recent response to the House of Lords report on the Arctic. I look forward to seeing the fruits of the programme’s work for many years to come.”

NERC’s director of science & innovation, Professor Iain Gillespie, said:

“The changing Arctic is a hugely important issue. This new research programme will use the UK’s world-leading capability in environmental science to help us understand the changes in the Arctic Ocean, and the implications of these for the UK, enabling us to be better prepared for the future.”

NERC’s Science Board chair, Professor Angela Hatton, said:

“I am delighted with the announcement of the funding of this new Strategic Programme Area which is focusing on such an important yet poorly understood region.”

NERC will now develop an Announcement of Opportunity for the programme.