UK and Germany combine forces to fund crucial Arctic science

For the first time, the UK and Germany have joined forces to investigate the impact of climate change on the Arctic Ocean.

NERC and Germany's Federal Ministry of Education & Research (BMBF) have jointly invested almost £8 million in 12 new projects to carry out crucial research in one of the most inhospitable regions on the planet. The new projects start today and join the existing NERC Changing Arctic Ocean research programme, which aims to better understand - and predict - changes to the Arctic marine environment and ecosystems.

Climate change is having obvious and severe impacts in the polar regions. The Arctic is currently warming at more than double the rate of other parts of the globe, causing unprecedented change to the region's ocean environment. The Arctic Ocean ecosystem is especially sensitive to warming because of its reliance on sea ice. From the algae that grow on its underside, to polar bears that hunt and live on its surface, the animals, plants and microbes that rely on the ice are under threat from its melting.

Any reduction in sea ice habitat will affect the entire food chain, including some of the most productive commercial fishing grounds in the world. Scientists don't yet understand how these impacts are going to unfold. They need more data and improved computer models to predict the consequences. Facilitating cutting-edge science from 32 research organisations, the NERC Changing Arctic Ocean research programme is helping to address these challenges.

UK Science Minister Sam Gyimah said:

“I am proud the UK is leading the way in tackling harmful climate change and today's announcement means world-class researchers from both the UK and Germany will now be doing vitally important work to understand changes to marine life in the Arctic Ocean.

Through our modern Industrial Strategy, we have committed to investing 2·4% of GDP on research and development to help tackle major global challenges like climate change, ensuring a better world for future generations.

Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek emphasises the particular importance of international cooperation in Arctic research: What is happening in the Arctic strongly impacts global climate and therefore also us in Europe. We need research on the fast and profound changes occurring in the Arctic climate because these changes affect us all. That is why we are launching this important Arctic research collaboration with the UK and hosting the 2nd Arctic Science Ministerial in Berlin in October of this year. Together with science ministers from across the world and representatives of Arctic indigenous peoples, we will discuss the great societal challenges facing the Arctic.

Professor David Thomas from Bangor University is the Chair of the Changing Arctic Ocean Programme Advisory Group. He said: International collaboration is essential to understand how the Arctic Ocean is responding to climate change. This concerted effort from the UK and Germany, together with other international partners such as the Norwegians and the Canadians, will combine resources, for example by deploying both countries' polar research ships, and pooling the knowledge and expertise of scientists in both countries.

With unprecedented warming in the Arctic, this crucial research will lift the lid on the impact of climate change on the region's marine life, and help understand how these changes could impact us closer to home.

The 12 research projects span many of the effects of warming on the Arctic Ocean's ecosystem:

  • Eco-light (Ecosystem Functions Controlled by Sea Ice and Light in a Changing Arctic) will examine disappearing sea ice as one of major drivers of change to the ecosystem.
  • EISPAC (Effects of Ice Stressors and Pollutants on the Arctic Marine Cryosphere) will look at the impact of chemical pollutants and plastic debris that are released during rapid melting of sea ice and are detrimental to marine life.
  • PETRA (Pathways and Emissions of Climate-relevant Trace Gases in a Changing Arctic Ocean) will look at the impact that ice melting and exposure of the ocean's surface have on release of climate-sensitive gases to the atmosphere.
  • APEAR (Advective Pathways of Nutrients and Key Ecological Substances in the Arctic) and PEANUTS (Primary Productivity Driven by Escalating Arctic Nutrient Fluxes) will look at how sea ice retreat alters ocean circulation patterns, with the potential to enhance the delivery of essential nutrients from the Atlantic and the Pacific and from deeper Arctic waters.
  • Micro-ARC (Understanding the Links between Pelagic Microbial Ecosystems and Organic Matter Cycling in the Changing Arctic) will investigate how well micro-organisms, that form the base of the Arctic food chain, can grow in the sun-lit surface waters.
  • Diatom-ARCTIC (Diatom Autoecological Responses with Changes to Ice Cover) will investigate how well these micro-organisms can grow on the underside of thinner and less abundant sea ice.
  • Coldfish (Potential Benefits and Risks of Borealisation for Fish Stocks and Ecosystems in a Changing Arctic Ocean) and MiMeMo (Microbes to Megafauna Modelling of Arctic Seas) will investigate how climate change in the Arctic Ocean impacts the food chain, with a focus on fish, and the potential consequences for the very productive fishing grounds in the Arctic Ocean.
  • CACOON (How will Changing Freshwater Export and Terrestrial Permafrost Thaw Influence the Arctic Ocean?) will look at the impact of soil nutrients and toxins released from thawing permafrost entering the Arctic Ocean, including impacts on biological productivity, greenhouse gas emissions and ocean acidification.
  • CHASE (Chronobiology of Changing Arctic Sea Ecosystems) will look at the migration of new species to the Arctic, due to rising temperatures, with the challenge of adjusting their biological clocks to Arctic day-lengths.
  • LOMVIA (Linking Oceanography and Multi-specific, Spatially-variable Interactions of Seabirds and their Prey in the Arctic) will look at the potential northward displacement of Arctic species due to rising temperatures.

The Changing Arctic Ocean programme started in February 2017 with four large research projects funded by NERC. These projects involve more than 80 scientists from 18 UK research institutions. As of today, the further 12 projects co-funded by NERC and BMBF increase the programme to over 170 scientists working at 32 organisations, based in both Germany and the UK.