New plans to strengthen UK Arctic research
8 May 2009
A dedicated office to support UK scientific research in the Arctic is being established this week by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
The move confirms NERC's recognition of the growing importance of the Arctic for UK science and its economy as well as the geopolitical significance of the region.
Until now UK Arctic research has been led by individual researchers located across a wide range of research institutes. The NERC Arctic Office has been created to strengthen the support of UK research effort. It will build on the expertise provided through NERC's existing Arctic operations, which involve research funded by NERC through universities and its own research centres.
The Arctic is changing faster than virtually any other region on the planet. It is now widely acknowledged as an early indicator of environmental changes and a major influence on global sea-level rise. Within the next 20-30 years scientists anticipate that it will be seasonally ice-free, having dramatic consequences for the plants, animals and the indigenous human populations. This will also allow increased shipping and exploitation of natural resources, which could have far-reaching social, economic, environmental and political impacts.
The NERC Arctic Office will be headed by Dr Cynan Ellis-Evans and hosted by the Cambridge-based British Antarctic Survey (BAS). It will support UK researchers in accessing Arctic infrastructure, including polar research ships and aircraft operated by BAS and the UK Arctic Station at Ny Ålesund, Svalbard, which is managed by BAS.
The new office will also manage the recently-signed agreement between the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom that aims to facilitate joint research programmes and the sharing of polar logistics, ships, aircraft and station facilities in both the Canadian Arctic and Antarctic. It is anticipated that the office will help establish agreements with other polar nations to improve access for UK researchers to other areas of the Arctic.
Next week, on 13 May, UK scientists will attend a meeting in Birmingham to consider the potential for a coordinated Arctic research programme to meet NERC's strategic objectives for Next Generation Science for Planet Earth 2007-2012.
NERC Press Office
Natural Environment Research Council
Polaris House, North Star Avenue
Swindon, SN2 1EU
Tel: 01793 411561
Mob: 07917 557215
Dr Cynan Ellis-Evans
British Antarctic Survey
Tel: 01223 221555
1. The Arctic is a focus of growing interest from the international science community. The three fastest-warming regions on the planet are close to the poles: Alaska, Siberia and parts of the West Antarctic Peninsula. Melting ice sheets, along with thermal expansion of the sea water, are causing sea levels to rise, but the exact contribution made by melting ice sheets has yet to be properly assessed. Increased loss of sea-ice in the Arctic Ocean each summer will have profound ramifications for planetary warming (changing albedo, carbon sequestration, ocean acidification), thermohaline circulation and marine ecosystem stability. These are all major interests for NERC scientists.
2. NERC's Arctic research centre is based at Ny-Ålesund on the island Spitsbergen in the Arctic Circle (79°N 11°E). The island is part of the Svalbard Archipelago which lies north of Norway. Ny-Ålesund is the focus of a growing international science community, which includes stations owned by Norway, Germany, Japan, Italy, France, South Korea, China, the UK and others. The Kings Bay Company (KBC) provides a service infrastructure for the site.
3. Research ships and aircraft operated by British Antarctic Survey are committed to the Antarctic each northern winter but are potentially available for deployment in the Arctic during the northern summer. The research vessel, RRS James Clark Ross in particular has been successfully used in the Arctic by research teams from UK universities and NERC centre/surveys in recent years.
4. The Natural Environment Research Council is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. It coordinates some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, and the genetic make-up of life on earth.
5. The Cambridge-based British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is a world leader in research into global environmental issues. With an annual budget of around £45m, five Antarctic Research Stations, two Royal Research Ships and five aircraft, BAS undertakes an interdisciplinary research programme and plays an active and influential role in Antarctic affairs. BAS has joint research projects with over 40 UK universities and has more than 120 national and international collaborations. It is a component of the Natural Environment Research Council.
Press release: 11/09
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