Arctic Research Programme

Programme overview

The Arctic is a region of higher than average climate change and is predicted to remain so. It represents a critical region for global environmental change and one where the UK has significant strategic interests. Understanding the drivers and feedbacks of rapid climate change in the Arctic, and predicting their scale and rate on timescales from months to decades, represents a major and urgent global scientific challenge of great societal importance.

To address these scientific uncertainties, NERC invested £15 million into a five-year Arctic Research Programme, over the period 2010-2015. The overarching aim of this programme was:

To improve our capability to predict changes in the Arctic, particularly over timescales of months to decades, including regional impacts and the potential for feedbacks on the global Earth System.

Background & objectives

The most iconic evidence of this rapid climate change is the loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic, with loss rates exceeding most model projections.

Other changes have included the thawing of permafrost (perennially frozen earth), melting of land ice, including ice sheets and glaciers, and the changing physical environment of Arctic ecosystems. These can lead to major feedbacks to the climate system, having global impacts; the loss of sea ice and degradation of permafrost represent potential 'tipping points' in the Earth system.

Additionally, the widespread destabilisation of gas hydrates through melting can potentially cause marine landslides and tsunamis which could impact the Arctic, NE Atlantic and the UK.

The Arctic Programme focused on four linked scientific objectives:

  • Understanding and attributing the current rapid changes in the Arctic.
  • Quantifying processes leading to Arctic methane and carbon dioxide release.
  • Reducing uncertainty in Arctic climate and associated regional biogeochemistry predictions.
  • Assessing the likely risks of submarine hazards associated with rapid Arctic climate change.

Deliverables from this programme will include:

  • New or improved models for process studies.
  • Improved parameterisation of Arctic processes.
  • Improved capabilities for predicting changes in the Arctic.
  • Interpretation of current Arctic climate change and its implications for policymakers and Arctic communities.

To achieve these objectives and deliverables, the Arctic Research Programme harnessed and coordinated UK scientific expertise and facilities in these areas, and linked these to other international efforts. Fieldwork was highly interdisciplinary, involving campaigns on land and ice stations, from ships, aircraft and satellites.

Reports & key findings

The following documents and links are related to or give more information about this programme.

Implementation plan (PDF, 109KB)

Science plan (PDF, 167KB)

Arctic Research Programme booklets - external link