Scientific challenge

Climate change is proceeding faster at the poles than any other region, resulting in sea ice loss and glacial melting. There is an urgent need to understand the impact of these changes on biogeochemical processes and ecosystem function in the polar regions and implications for the wider Earth system.

Project summary

BIOPOLE (Biogeochemical processes and ecosystem function in a changing polar system) investigates a fundamental aspect of the earth system – how nutrients in polar waters drive the global carbon cycle and primary productivity in oceans.

The oceans play a vital role in absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide, mitigating large amounts of human-made carbon emissions. However, this part of the global carbon cycle relies on an adequate supply of nutrients to drive the marine processes that absorb the carbon. Much of these nutrients are exported from the polar regions. BIOPOLE will improve our ability to quantify this export and identify its sensitivity to climate change.

The project will thus provide a step change in the knowledge and predictive capability concerning how polar ecosystems regulate the chemical balance of the world’s oceans and, through it, their effect on global fish stocks and carbon storage.

BIOPOLE is a £9 million collaborative project led by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and funded by the NERC National Capability Multi-Centre Science programme, which aims to enable ambitious, integrated approaches to large-scale research challenges.

UKCEH contribution

UKCEH are leading land-based survey work across the NERC polar stations and will work with international collaborators operating in the Arctic and Antarctic to produce pan-polar data to inform modelling (led by the National Oceanography Centre and BAS) of elemental pathways from source to receptor polar marine ecosystems.

Dr Bryan Spears of UKCEH co-leads Work Package 1: Nutrient inputs and freshwater processes.

UKCEH people

Nutrient Hydrochemist. Group Leader. River Water Quality and Ecology