Arctic Research Programme
The Arctic is a region of higher than average climate change and is predicted to remain so. The most iconic evidence of this rapid climate change is the loss of summer sea ice, with recent loss rates exceeding most model projections.
Other changes include 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 therefore represents a critical region for global environmental change and one where the UK has significant strategic interests. Understanding the drivers and feedbacks of this change, and predicting its 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 is investing £15m into a 5 year Arctic Research Programme, over the period 2010-2015.
The Arctic Programme will focus 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 will aim to harness and co-ordinate UK scientific expertise and facilities in these areas, and link these to other international efforts. Fieldwork is expected to be highly interdisciplinary, potentially involving campaigns on land and ice stations, from ships, aircraft and satellites. Work on understanding longer term change in the Arctic will involve sediment cores and sampling on land.
The use of a range of numerical models leading to improved predictability will be a vital element of this programme. Process-level understanding developed through observation-based work will be used to improve model components, and these will be used to test the impact of the processes on large-scale predictions. Clearly, integrated and innovative research across all science areas will be needed to achieve the programme's objectives.
It is anticipated that the Arctic Research Programme will be developed in collaboration with other nations. It will also aim to work in close collaboration with a number of UK organisations and government departments, including the UK Met Office, the Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC) and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
Related events, strategies and opportunities
This research programme derives from a NERC Arctic programme community event held in May 2009 which sought community opinions on the scientific programme, and other inputs such as the NERC workshop Priorities for future UK Marine Arctic Research .
It currently involves the following NERC environmental science themes: Earth system science, climate system, natural hazards and biodiversity. Please note, in November 2009 NERC's governing Council approved the second phase of theme action plans, outlining investments of around £80m over the next few years.
Several opportunities make this programme particularly timely including the development of the NERC polar science working group report, the opening of the NERC Arctic Office, the establishment of a NERC/Canadian memorandum of understanding (providing access and research collaboration opportunities), the launch of new satellites and legacies of the International Polar Year partnerships.
NERC also has existing investment in the Arctic-based Ny-Ålesund field station in Svalbard.
About the programme
- Arctic Research Programme home
- Events and announcements
- Awards, facts and figures
- Reports and key findings
- Environmental science themes
- Theme action plans - Phase 1 and Phase 2
- Research programme opportunities
- NERC polar science working group report
- International Polar Year
- Ny-Ålesund field station