£10m NERC investment on research programme to shed light on how life in the Arctic Ocean cope with dramatic changes

Arctic sea ice. Copyright NASA / Kathryn Hansen.

SWINDON, 25-Jan-2017 — /EuropaWire/ — A major UK research programme will investigate the impact of diminishing sea ice on the fragile marine environment of the Arctic Ocean.

The Arctic is the fastest-changing environment on the planet, supporting complex yet still poorly-understood ecosystems. Rising global temperatures have caused drastic thinning and decline in the extent of the Arctic summer sea ice. Some climate models predict an ice-free summer in the Arctic Ocean within a few decades.

We do not yet know exactly how this will affect the creatures, plants and habitats of the Arctic Ocean – but it is clear that changing these diverse marine ecosystems could have far-reaching implications for the UK environment and economy. This could include influencing UK climate, migratory species and having a knock-on impact on industries such as fisheries and tourism.

Thanks to a £10m NERC investment, scientists will start work on research projects to shed light on how life in the Arctic Ocean is coping with dramatic changes – including ocean acidification and pollution as well as sea ice loss – by looking at key species in the food webs such as small creatures which are essential for the diet of whales and commercially-important fish, studying the ocean floor, and measuring the health and resilience of the environment. Understanding how marine life is responding today will help scientists predict future changes.

NERC Chief Executive Professor Duncan Wingham said:

“This £10m investment demonstrates NERC’s commitment to high-quality research in the Arctic region, building understanding of how this complex marine environment is changing in response to global climate change. Profound and fast-paced change in marine ecosystems in the Northern Hemisphere has implications for the UK and internationally. Today’s research into the impacts of stressors on Arctic marine ecosystems, including diminishing sea ice, ocean acidification and pollutants, will help scientists understand and predict future environmental change. It is vital to understand our changing Arctic Ocean, both to help manage environmental change globally and to inform appropriate decision-making around the use of our natural resources.”

Funded under NERC’s Changing Arctic Ocean: Implications for marine biology & biogeochemistry research programme, 16 UK research institutions will take part in four research projects starting in February. The projects awarded funding are:

  • Arctic productivity in the seasonal ice zone (Arctic PRIZE)
    Researchers will investigate how changes in sea ice cover are affecting the productivity of the Arctic and, therefore, its ability to support marine life, deploying marine robotic systems to conduct the research. Principal Investigator: Dr Finlo Cottier at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).
  • Can we detect changes in Arctic ecosystems?
    This project will look into past and future changes in the Arctic ecosystem by examining both the base of the food chain – marine phytoplankton – and key predators at the top – harp and ringed seal. Principal Investigator: Dr Claire Mahaffey at the University of Liverpool.
  • Mechanistic understanding of the role of diatoms in the success of the Arctic calanus complex and implications for a warmer Arctic
    Researchers will examine how the survival capacity of calanus, a small shrimp-like animal which is essential to the diet of whales, seals and fish, will be affected by changes to its food environment caused by changes in the Arctic Ocean. Principal Investigator: Professor David Pond at SAMS.
  • The Changing Arctic Ocean Seafloor (ChAOS)
    This project will look at how changing sea ice conditions impact biological communities, biogeochemical processes and ecosystems on the Arctic Ocean’s sea floor by conducting fieldwork in areas most affected by declining sea ice. Principal Investigator: Dr Christian März at the University of Leeds.

The projects will begin in February 2017 and will run for four years. The four projects have been awarded a share of £10m. The Changing Arctic Ocean programme has £16m funding in total. Full abstracts– external link can be found on Grants on the Web.

Projects will conduct fieldwork using NERC research vessels and equipment from the NERC National Marine Equipment Pool, including the use of autonomous underwater vehicles, as well as charter vessels provided by international partner institutions.

The 16 UK research institutes involved are the University of Leeds, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, the University of Southampton, Newcastle University, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Bristol, the Scottish Association for Marine Science, NERC’s National Oceanography Centre, NERC’s British Antarctic Survey, the University of Strathclyde, the Sir Alistair Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS), the University of Liverpool, the University of St Andrews, the University of Manchester, the University of Oxford and the University of Durham.

Further information

Mary Goodchild
NERC news & media officer
01793 411939


1. NERC is the UK’s main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We co-ordinate some of the world’s most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is a non-departmental public body. We receive around £330m of annual funding from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

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