Changing Arctic Ocean: Implications for marine biology & biogeochemistry

 Giant funnel net being used on ship to collect Zooplankton

The Arctic is the fastest changing environment on the planet, supporting diverse yet still poorly understood ecosystems. Changes in the ocean and sea-ice environment of the Arctic will generate major but unknown changes in Arctic ecosystems, affecting biological processes at every level of organisation - from genetics and physiology to food webs, biogeochemical cycles, species distribution and whole ecosystems.

NERC is investing £16 million in a five-year programme - the Changing Arctic Ocean: Implications for marine biology & biogeochemistry - over the period 2017-2022. The over-arching goal of this programme is:

To understand how change in the physical environment (ice and ocean) will affect the large-scale ecosystem structure and biogeochemical functioning of the Arctic Ocean, the potential major impacts and provide projections for future ecosystem services.

Changing Arctic Ocean: Annual science meeting - January 2019

Closing date: 25 Sep

9 Aug 2018

All researchers directly involved in the Changing Arctic Ocean (CAO) programme, either through research grant awards or CAO programme management, are invited to the annual science meeting on 15-16 January 2019 with additional meetings and workshops on 17 January 2019 at the Novotel Birmingham Centre.

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The Arctic is the fastest changing environment on the planet (IPCC 2014) supporting diverse yet still poorly understood ecosystems. The Arctic Ocean, whilst small in size, has extensive shelf regions and contributes 5-14% to the global balance of CO2 sinks and sources.

Arguably the clearest evidence of change in the Arctic Ocean is the continued thinning and decline in extent of the summer sea ice. Satellite-derived estimates of sea-ice thickness and age have shown a fundamental shift from thick multi-year to thinner first-year ice, and some climate models have predicted an ice-free summer Arctic Ocean within a few decades.

There has been a significant change in the persistence and distribution of open water, leading to modification of water column structure, stability, chemistry and circulation. Other effects on the marine environment arise from increased riverine discharges altering the nutrient balance, pollutant loads and optical properties.

Arctic marine ecosystems are responding to changes in ice, water and light availability, nutrient cycling, pollutants, and acidification. Collectively, these multiple stressors are acting on the distribution of organisms and the structure and functioning of food webs and biogeochemical processes. This is exacerbated by stresses caused by human activities in the Arctic, for example changes in resource extraction, maritime traffic, and noise.

Additionally, strong seasonality is a fundamental feature of the Arctic that determines the biodiversity and functioning of its ecosystems. As sea-ice distribution changes the seasonal development of the whole ecosystem is being shifted. Understanding the impacts of such temporal changes on individual species, biogeochemical cycles and whole ecosystems will be crucial for projecting the impacts of longer term decadal and century-scale change.

Current and future changes in the Arctic marine ecosystem and associated biogeochemical cycles may have far-reaching implications for the UK environment and economy, including direct impacts on UK climate, migratory species and industries such as fisheries and tourism. This was recently highlighted in the UK House of Lords select committee report Responding to a changing Arctic (2015) and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office report Adapting to change - UK policy towards the Arctic (2013).

The focus of this programme is therefore on developing the fundamental and quantified understanding needed to generate projections of the impacts of future change on biological and biogeochemical processes affecting productivity, species distributions, food webs and ecosystems and the services they provide.

The over-arching aims are to develop a quantified understanding of:

  1. The controls on the spatial and temporal structure and functioning of Arctic ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles; and
  2. The impacts of multiple stressors on Arctic species, biogeochemical cycles and ecosystem structure and functioning.

This programme will contribute to addressing the 'Managing Environmental Change' and 'Benefiting from Natural Resources' challenges in the NERC strategy.


2017 - 2022

Can I apply for a grant?

The next funding opportunity under phase 2 of the programme will be announced in due course.


This programme has a budget of £16 million over five years.

Full bid panel

Eleven full applications received by the 17 March 2016 closing date were considered by a panel of experts on 21 & 22 June 2016.

Changing Artic Ocean moderating panel - March 2016 (PDF, 84KB)

Awarded grants can be viewed here.

Programme Advisory Group (PAG)

The Programme Advisory Group (PAG) will advise on the delivery of the Changing Arctic Ocean research programme and will work closely with the Science Coordinator, Dr Kirsty Crocket.

Programme Advisory Group membership:

  • Professor David Thomas, Bangor University (Chair)
  • Professor Rolf Gradinger, UiT The Arctic University of Norway
  • Dr C J Mundy, University of Manitoba (Canada)
  • Professor Corinna Schrum, Helmholtz Centre Geesthacht (Germany)
  • Dr Colin Stedmon, Technical University of Denmark
  • Professor Anya Waite, Alfred Wegener Institute (Germany)