£39 million to tackle major environmental challenges

Dry cracked earth in a farm field of crops

Research teams have received £39 million to develop new and ambitious ideas that will tackle critical global environmental challenges.

The ideas will tackle:

  • sea level rise
  • food security
  • greenhouse gas emissions

The investment from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has been awarded to project teams at NERC research centres, and marine delivery partners, that specialise in:

  • earth science
  • ecological science
  • hydrological science
  • ocean science
  • polar science
  • atmospheric science

Novel and creative approaches

Sharing expertise and collaborating with international partners will enable researchers to approach these highly complex scientific challenges in novel and creative ways.

The 6 projects funded will:

  • investigate how the changing atmospheric and surface conditions over the coming century will affect Antarctic snow and ice, to better understand and predict the rise in sea level impacting on coastlines around the world
  • deliver solutions for human adaptation to climate change:
    • strengthening adaptation and resilience to natural hazards such as earthquakes
    • the security of supply chains
    • water resource management
    • the reduction in risk to urban and rural infrastructures
  • advance understanding how we can be resilient, adapt to, and mitigate global change in the coastal ocean environment
  • improve understanding of high-impact weather risks in the tropics such as floods, heatwaves and droughts; and advance knowledge of the chemical reactions involved in global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion
  • exploit new Earth observation data to better understand linkages between water and vegetation productivity from plot to continental scales
  • enable countries, organisations and companies to develop and deliver plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase nature-based carbon sinks, while considering trade-offs for food production, biodiversity and soil, water and air quality

The research centres involved are:

  • British Antarctic Survey
  • British Geological Survey
  • National Centre for Atmospheric Science
  • National Centre for Earth Observation
  • National Oceanography Centre
  • UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
  • Plymouth Marine Laboratory (delivery partner)

Internationally collaborative research

Dr Iain Williams, NERC Director of Strategic Partnerships, said:

This exciting investment in internationally collaborative research programmes will significantly advance our understanding of the drivers and responses to global environmental change.

Many of the environmental science challenges we face are global in nature and require an international and transboundary response.

By bringing together expertise in earth, ecological, ocean, polar, and atmospheric sciences, from NERC’s research centres with colleagues from across the globe, we can develop understanding that will help us mitigate and adapt to the changes caused by global warming.

Further information

Project summaries

Surface fluxes in Antarctica (SURFEIT): British Antarctic Survey (£2.3 million)

This new programme, led by the British Antarctic Survey and working with international partners, will improve predictions of future global sea level rise that is driven by loss of ice from Antarctica.

The specific focus is on interactions between the atmosphere and ice; the SURFEIT team will:

  • improve how polar clouds are represented in climate models
  • use pre-existing, and new observations alongside climate model output to help improve the understanding of changes in snowfall over Antarctica
  • ensure that small-scale and extreme-event weather changes in Antarctica can be accurately predicted
  • improve how earth and ice system model components link together, so that better predictions can be made of when Antarctic ice may fracture, and so raise global sea level

Geoscience to tackle global environmental challenges: British Geological Survey (£11.7 million)

The British Geological Survey programme starts with 150+ project partnerships ranging from academia, industry, research institutes, government departments to non-governmental organisations.

30 countries will be involved, including:

  • Kenya
  • Malawi
  • India
  • Malaysia
  • Singapore
  • Mexico
  • Peru
  • Bolivia
  • Argentina
  • South Atlantic UK Overseas Territories

The programme will deliver solutions against 3 global environmental challenges; strengthening adaptation and resilience to natural hazards; security of supply chains; and reduction in risk to urban and rural infrastructure:

  • living in multi-hazard environments: provide geoscientific information and practices to better appraise and manage the disaster risk posed by geological hazards (for example earthquakes, landslide, subsidence)
  • resources for the future: geoscience underpins the sustainable supply of raw materials for achieving the energy transition to net zero, economic prosperity, and supplying food and water to the growing global population
  • sustainable land management and climate change adaptation: anthropogenic land use and climate change form an inextricably linked feedback loop that can combine to impact livelihoods, communities and ecosystems

FOCUS: Future states of the global coastal ocean: National Oceanography Centre and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (£6 million)

This project is a multidisciplinary programme of research to:

  • address the key environmental challenge of the impacts of climate change and direct human activities on the global coastal ocean, and the need to understand this challenge
  • provide adaptation routes, at the regional to local scale of human interaction

The project will:

  • understand the risks and impacts of climate change on the coastal ocean
  • study the interactions of multiple human pressures on coastal habitats and ecosystems services, and the consequences for coastal communities around the world
  • explore how nature-based and engineering-based marine solutions can contribute towards a net zero carbon society
  • develop the concept of the global coastal ocean by synthesising regional scale understanding to global scale assessments of change

The project will be achieved through engagement with international research networks.

This will help ensure this solution-focused research effectively delivers societal benefit by advancing understanding of solutions towards resilience, adaptation, and mitigation of global change in the coastal ocean environment.

FOCUS will provide a significant UK contribution to the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021 to 2030), aiming at ‘The science we need for the ocean we want’.

International collaboration in high-impact weather and global chemical change: National Centre for Atmospheric Science (£4.3 million)

The National Centre for Atmospheric Science will partner with around 40 research and end-user organisations across Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia to:

  • improve understanding of high-impact weather risks in the tropics such as floods, heatwaves and droughts
  • advance knowledge of the chemical reactions involved in global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion

The collaborative network, led by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, will combine atmospheric research capabilities for making long-term measurements, real-time observations, developing atmospheric models and new technologies.

As research innovators, this programme aims to help society rise and respond to the challenges of climate change, air pollution, and hazardous weather.

Improve understanding of high-impact weather in the tropics by:

  • developing the atmospheric science research community’s ability to predict the changing risks of high-impact weather events, across timescales of hours to decades
  • providing critical knowledge to support early warning systems and risk assessments for high-risk weather, to limit loss of life and infrastructure, and aid climate resilience planning
  • informing decision making to mitigate the effects of high-impact weather in sectors such as energy, agriculture, water management and health

Investigate chemical reactions involved in global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion by:

  • advancing understanding of the chemical composition of the global atmosphere
  • providing insights on the reactions and processes taking place that relate to urban air pollution, health of people and places, ozone layer recovery, and climate change

Constraining coupled carbon and water cycle processes with Earth observation (CPEO): National Centre for Earth Observation (£2.2 million)

This project led by scientists at the National Centre for Earth Observation will focus on North America and tropical Africa.

The carbon and water cycles are intrinsically linked, but further modelling and new observations are needed to better understand their relationship and hence the interaction between physical climate and the biosphere.

This project will improve understanding of the impact of climate change on terrestrial vegetation productivity and, in turn, the control of vegetation on regional climate.

We will develop new observational data sets from Earth observation satellites, and integrate these with state-of-the-art process based models using advanced mathematical techniques.

Working collaboratively with international partners will enable the global community to progress faster towards meeting these significant challenges.

This will be enabled by a new network supported by major international scientific initiatives such as FutureEarth.

International science for net zero plus: UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (£12.6 million)

Following the 2015 Paris Agreement, signatory countries must submit their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change every 5 years through nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

However, developing and delivering science based, realistic and comprehensive plans, which reconcile competing priorities, is very challenging.

The programme will create data-driven models and information to support the NDC process and underpin high-impact investment in climate change mitigation and adaptation worldwide.

It will enable countries, organisations and companies to develop and deliver plans to reduce emissions and increase nature-based carbon sinks, while considering cascading effects and trade-offs.

The programme is focused on south-east Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and global, intergovernmental initiatives, with project partners including:

  • The World Meteorological Organization
  • United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
  • United Nations Environment Programme
  • World Climate Research Programme
  • international science centres and universities in south-east Asia, east and west Africa, North America and Europe

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