Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry

sea surface

The Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry research programme is co-funded by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and has a budget of £10·5 million. The programme directly relates to the delivery of the NERC Earth system science theme.

The aim of the programme is to reduce the uncertainty in our understanding of nutrient and carbon cycling within the shelf seas, and of their role in global biogeochemical cycles. The programme will also provide effective policy advice and make a significant contribution to the Living With Environmental Change programme.

Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry final science meeting

Closing date: 17 May

21 Mar 2017

All researchers directly involved in the Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry (SSB) programme, either through research grant awards, research studentships, SSB cruise participation or SSB programme management, are invited to the final science meeting on 5-6 June 2017 at the University of Winchester.

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The Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry research programme directly relates to the delivery of the NERC Earth system science theme and aims to provide evidence that supports a number of marine policy areas and statutory requirements, such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and Marine and Climate Acts.

The shelf seas are highly productive compared to the open ocean, a productivity that underpins more than 90% of global fisheries. Their importance to society extends beyond food production to include issues of biodiversity, carbon cycling and storage, waste disposal, nutrient cycling, recreation and renewable energy resources.

The shelf seas have been estimated to be the most valuable biome on Earth, but they are under considerable stress, as a result of anthropogenic nutrient loading, overfishing, habitat disturbance, climate change and other impacts.

However, even within the relatively well-studied European shelf seas, fundamental biogeochemical processes are poorly understood. For example: the role of shelf seas in carbon storage; in the global cycles of key nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, silicon and iron); and in determining primary and secondary production, and thereby underpinning the future delivery of many other ecosystem services.

Improved knowledge of such factors is not only required by marine policymakers; it also has the potential to increase the quality and cost-effectiveness of management decisions at the local, national and international levels under conditions of climate change.

The Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry research programme will take a holistic approach to the cycling of nutrients and carbon and the controls on primary and secondary production in UK and European shelf seas, to increase understanding of these processes and their role in wider biogeochemical cycles. It will thereby significantly improve predictive marine biogeochemical and ecosystem models over a range of scales.

The scope of the programme includes exchanges with the open ocean (transport on and off the shelf to a depth of around 500m), together with cycling, storage and release processes on the shelf slope, and air-sea exchange of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide).


2011 - 2018

Can I apply for a grant?

No, there are currently no open calls for this programme.


This programme has a budget of £10·5 million.

Programme awards

Award details are shown in our online grants browser - Grants on the Web.

View details of funded applications - external link

View details of funded studentships - external link


Programme Advisory Group

The Programme Advisory Group (PAG) will provide independent strategic advice on the programme research direction to the Programme Executive Board.

  • Professor Tim Jickells, University of East Anglia (Chair)
  • Dr David Turner, University of Gothenburg
  • Dr Maren Voss, Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research
  • Dr Robin Raine, NUI Galway

Science coordinator: Dr Phil Williamson, NERC/University of East Anglia