NERC invests £8.5 million in large-scale research to tackle big questions about climate change

5 June 2015

NERC is investing £8·5 million in cutting-edge research to further our understanding of climate change and its effects.

The money is awarded to three projects as part of NERC's large grants scheme, designed to support ambitious, large-scale and complex research which has the potential to deliver major international breakthrough.

The evidence the projects provide will cast light on some of the big scientific unknowns in this area, and better equip society to understand the challenges of climate change.

Dr Richard Sanders of NERC's National Oceanography Centre will lead a team awarded £3·1 million to investigate the ocean's twilight zone, between 100m and 1,000m below the surface, which plays a key role in transporting carbon from the atmosphere to the deep ocean.

The team includes researchers from the University of Southampton, the University of Liverpool, NERC's British Antarctic Survey and Queen Mary University London. The researchers will investigate the factors which affect how much carbon is transported through the twilight zone. This in turn will help predict how much carbon will remain in the atmosphere, ultimately improving predictions of our future climate.

Dr Guy Woodward of Imperial College London will lead a team of researchers in a £3 million project using cutting-edge genetic techniques to examine the resilience of ecosystems to climate change.

Most research into the effects of climate change on ecosystems has tended to focus on individual species. But advances in genetic sequencing allow scientists to take a closer look at entire ecosystems, right down to the microbial communities on which so many crucial processes depend. The team, including researchers from the University of Essex and Queen Mary University London, will use these techniques to monitor changes in the genetic profile of ecosystems over time. The ultimate aim is to shed light on the global ecological response to climate change.

Professor Martyn Tranter, of the University of Bristol, will lead a team which has been awarded just over £2·4 million to investigate the causes of accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

The team, including scientists from the universities of Leeds, Sheffield and Aberystwyth, will look specifically at whether melting is triggering the growth of microbes, darkening the surface of the ice sheet. Darker surfaces absorb more sunlight, and this may be causing the ice to melt more quickly. Understanding the causes of melting will help to predict how the ice sheet will evolve as the climate changes, informing predictions of future sea-level rise.

NERC's chief executive, Professor Duncan Wingham, said:

"Although much of the fundamental science of climate change is well established, many important questions remain about how it will unfold. These investments will help to address key gaps in our knowledge, and will ultimately leave society better equipped to confront the challenges ahead."

Further information

NERC media office
01793 411568
07785 520929