£47m to address critical environmental challenges facing the UK

Icebergs melting due to global warming.

Researchers will receive a total of £47 million to tackle some of the most significant environmental challenges facing the UK.

The funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has been awarded to NERC research centres that individually specialise in earth, ecological ocean, polar, and atmospheric science.

Research teams from the centres will work collaboratively to better understand:

  • coastal flooding
  • greenhouse gas emissions
  • changes in biodiversity
  • other critical environmental issues.

Critical environmental issues

Six major research projects led by the collaboration will:

  • understand how sea-ice loss and glacial melting in polar regions affect the chemical balance of the oceans. In particular, their capacity to sequester carbon and to support ocean productivity and fish stocks
  • advance our understanding of how extreme weather, and its impacts on the UK, will be shaped by climate change in the Arctic and North Atlantic
  • study the combined weather-related threats that cause coastal flooding and erosion. This will help the UK to better predict and mitigate how storms will affect coastal communities
  • support UK agriculture’s transition towards net zero emissions and improved sustainability by providing researchers and stakeholders with data from:
    • national sensor networks
    • satellites
    • a network of commercial study farms and study catchments
  • assess the future environmental, social and economic sustainability of offshore wind with:
    • blue or green hydrogen production
    • geological storage
    • utilisation of carbon dioxide and hydrogen as a potential energy transition solution for achieving UK net zero greenhouse gas emissions
  • investigate mitigation strategies that limit future climate change, for example:
    • afforestation
    • rewilding
    • methane emission reductions
    • pathways to net zero.

Multi-centre research projects

This funding comes from the NERC National Capability Multi-Centre Science programme, which aims to enable a more ambitious, integrated approach to large-scale research challenges than any single research centre can deliver alone.

The research centres involved are:

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

Delivering ambitious research

The NERC research centres will partner with key national and international institutes to deliver these ambitious projects, including:

  • Met Office, UK
  • Rothamsted Research, UK
  • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, UK
  • Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Germany.

Bringing together expertise

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

This investment in NERC’s research centres will advance our understanding of the drivers of climatic and biodiversity changes, their impact on the UK environment and how we can mitigate and adapt to such changes.

By bringing together the wide ranging expertise and specialist facilities from across NERC’s centres, along with our key partners, these projects will power scientific discoveries.

Discoveries that will help us adapt to, tackle or predict the impact of changes to our climate.

Further information

For the first time in NERC’s National Capability funding, project teams submitted plans to consider their environmental and social impact.

This was to encourage the research to be as sustainable as possible and contribute to NERC’s responsible research agenda.

Project summaries

Biogeochemical processes and ecosystem function in a changing polar system (BIOPOLE), £9 million

Led by the British Antarctic Survey, in collaboration with:

  • British Geological Survey
  • Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling
  • National Oceanography Centre
  • UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

Project partners include:

  • Alfred Wegener Institute, Germany
  • Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Germany
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks, USA
  • University of Alberta, Canada
  • University of Bristol, UK
  • University Centre in Svalbard, Norway.

Climate change is proceeding faster at the poles than any other region, resulting in sea ice loss and glacial melting.

There is a clear urgency in understanding the full implications of these changes for the polar regions themselves and for the wider Earth system.

BIOPOLE will 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.

Climate change in the Arctic-North Atlantic region and impact on the UK (CANARI), £12 million

Led by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, in collaboration with:

  • British Antarctic Survey
  • British Geological Survey
  • Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling
  • National Centre for Earth Observation
  • National Oceanography Centre
  • UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

The project partner is the Met Office Hadley Centre, UK.

The weather and climate of the UK is shaped by the large-scale circulation of the atmosphere and ocean in the North Atlantic.

This project will advance understanding of the impacts on the UK arising from climate variability and change in the Arctic-North Atlantic region. It will focus on extreme weather and the potential for rapid, disruptive change.

This will enable the UK to play an internationally leading role in addressing the challenges of understanding regional climate change and provide detailed information about impacts on the UK.

Coastal hazards: multi-hazard controls on flooding and erosion (CHAMFER), £2.7 million

Led by the National Oceanography Centre, in collaboration with the British Geological Survey and UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

Project partners include:

  • Met Office Hadley Centre, UK
  • Risk Management Solutions Limited, USA
  • Environment Agency, UK
  • Climate Change Committee, UK.

The aims of the project are to:

  • improve understanding of how weather-related multi-hazards control coastal flooding and erosion
  • determine how these multi-hazards will respond to climate change and coastal management
  • provide advice to stakeholders on coastal management and adaptation options.

In turn, this will support improved predictions of the consequences of the ‘perfect storm’ and the ability to develop effective and sustainable solutions.

Towards Sustainable, Climate-Neutral Farming Systems (AgZero+), £7.8 million from NERC and £5 million from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)

Led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and Rothamsted Research, in collaboration with:

  • British Geological Survey
  • National Centre for Earth Observation
  • Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

Project partners include:

  • Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, UK
  • National Farmers’ Union, UK
  • Agricultural Industries Confederation, UK
  • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, UK
  • National Trust, UK
  • Natural England, UK
  • Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, UK.

AgZero+ will bring together a community of researchers and farmers to test innovative farming systems.

It will balance the production of nutritious food with reduced greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution, while enhancing biodiversity and soil health.

It will provide the research community and other stakeholders with data from national sensor networks, satellites and a network of commercial study farms and study catchments.

These will be made available through data portals and advanced digital tools to support UK agriculture’s transition towards net zero emissions.

Managing the environmental sustainability of the offshore energy transition (MOET), £2.6 million

Led by the British Geological Survey in collaboration with the National Oceanography Centre and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

Project partners include:

  • Environment Agency, UK
  • National Grid, UK
  • The Crown Estate, UK
  • North Sea Transition Authority, UK.

This project will assess the environmental sustainability of:

  • offshore wind
  • blue and green hydrogen
  • carbon capture storage.

These will be assessed for selected test areas of the UK offshore, and will develop solutions for planning the technology and infrastructure of the offshore energy transition.

It will also assess public understanding and acceptance of these technologies.

Future impacts risks and mitigation actions (TerraFIRMA), £9.5 million

Led by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, in collaboration with:

  • British Antarctic Survey
  • British Geological Survey
  • Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling
  • National Centre for Earth Observation
  • National Oceanography Centre
  • Plymouth Marine Laboratory
  • UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

Project partner is the Met Office Hadley Centre, UK.

This project will provide reliable guidance on the risks and impacts of future climate change. It will assess a range of mitigation strategies:

  • impacts on allowable carbon budgets and pathways to net zero
  • wider environmental, economic and societal impacts, for example, sustainable development goals
  • co-benefits, for example, air quality.

Top image:  Credit: Sjo, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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