Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Become programme champion for the BIO-Carbon research programme

Apply for funding to become programme champion for the BIO-Carbon research programme.

You will lead on supporting implementation of the programme, working closely with the BIO-Carbon Programme Advisory Group.

The programme will provide new understanding of the role of marine life in ocean carbon storage.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for NERC funding.

The full economic cost of the champion grant can be up to £575,000. NERC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

The champion role is for 68 months. You must start no later than 3 August 2022.

Who can apply

Normal individual eligibility applies, as described in section C of the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook.

NERC research and fellowship grants can be held at any of the following:

  • approved UK higher education institutions
  • approved research institutes
  • approved independent research organisations
  • public sector research establishments.

Find full details of approved:

Investigators can be involved in no more than one application.

NERC values equality, diversity and inclusion across all its funding programmes, and actively encourages proposals from diverse groups of researchers.

What we're looking for

The ocean stores huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) that would otherwise be in the atmosphere.

Marine organisms play a critical role in this process, but emerging evidence indicates that climate models are not fully accounting for their impact.

This undermines carbon policies, such as national net zero targets.

This biological influence on future ocean storage of carbon (BIO-Carbon) research programme is carefully designed to produce new understanding of biological processes. It will provide robust predictions of future ocean carbon storage in a changing climate.

The World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), which coordinates climate research internationally and is sponsored by UN organisations, has expressed its greatest priorities as three questions.

This programme will address two of those questions:

  • what biological and abiological processes drive and control ocean carbon storage?
  • can and will climate-carbon feedbacks amplify climate changes over the 21st century?

There are three interlinked programme challenges, which will address three aspects of biological influence:

Challenge one: how does marine life affect the potential for seawater to absorb CO2, and how will this change?

The ability of the ocean to absorb CO2 is influenced by its alkalinity. Reducing alkalinity pushes more of the dissolved carbon in seawater into the form of CO2.

This reduces the capacity of the ocean to take up further CO2 from the atmosphere.

Seawater alkalinity is influenced by a range of natural processes. The most important of these is the biological production of calcium carbonate (for example, by molluscs and fish), which removes alkalinity from seawater.

As the calcium carbonate sinks, it dissolves and the alkalinity is returned to the seawater.

Maintaining the vertical distribution of alkalinity fundamentally sets the capacity of our oceans to take up CO2. However, estimates of global ocean calcium carbonate production, vertical transport and dissolution vary by up to a factor of five.

This uncertainty is important because failure to reproduce alkalinity accurately in a climate model significantly impacts future projections of ocean CO2 uptake and storage.

Examples of significant knowledge gaps relating to key processes include:

  • what organisms are producing highly soluble carbonates in the surface ocean, and where?
  • which forms of calcium carbonate are dissolving where in the ocean?
  • what are the factors involved in the dissolution of different forms of carbonate, and what is their sensitivity to the anticipated impacts of climate change?

Challenge two: how will the rate at which marine life converts dissolved CO2 into organic carbon change?

Primary production by marine phytoplankton converts a similar amount of CO2 into organic material each year as do all land plants combined.

Climate models cannot constrain this crucial global flux to within a factor of three for the contemporary climate, which points to major gaps in understanding.

Furthermore, uncertainty about our estimates for how oceanic primary production will change under climate warming has increased, rather than lessened, this decade. Whether global primary production will increase or decrease is unknown.

Primary production is strongly influenced by ocean warming and the availability of light and nutrients. However, the contributions of changes in these drivers to trends across climate models are poorly constrained.

The importance of organism interactions and metabolism, and their associated demands for carbon and other resources, is neglected by climate models. This is despite emerging observational indications of their significance.

Examples of knowledge gaps relating to key processes, operating across different scales, include:

  • what controls the efficiency of primary production?
  • what are the contributions of nutrient recycling and the consumption of phytoplankton by zooplankton to this efficiency?
  • how do these processes vary across different ocean environments, and how might future change, such as warming and acidification, affect them?

Challenge three: how will climate change-induced shifts in respiration by the marine ecosystem affect the future ocean storage of carbon?

Organic carbon produced in the upper ocean cannot be returned to the atmosphere until it is converted back into CO2 by the respiration of marine organisms.

Deeper ocean respiration supports longer carbon storage as it takes longer to return to the ocean surface and make contact with the atmosphere.

We still have poor understanding of how respiration varies with depth, location or season. We know it reflects the diversity of the organisms, from bacteria attached to sinking dead material to fish migrating daily between the surface and the ocean interior.

We also know that these organisms are responding to anthropogenic changes, such as changes in temperature which affect the metabolism of organisms.

In addition, existing models only reproduce a limited selection of relevant processes, with no consistency in that selection across models.

Examples of significant knowledge gaps relating to key processes include:

  • what is the relative influence of size, shape and composition of non-living organic material in determining the rate at which it is converted back to CO2?
  • what are the relative magnitudes of the CO2 generated by bacterial degradation of non-living organic matter and that respired directly by other organisms?
  • how might ongoing changes in the environment (for example, to oxygen or temperature) affect respiration?


In addressing challenges one, two and three, research will provide a fundamental understanding of key biological processes that are globally relevant.

By encapsulating this new knowledge in a robust modelling framework, it will examine the resulting feedback on future predictions for how global ocean carbon storage may change.

Additionally, it will provide new parameterisations of key processes for inclusion in the next generation of climate models, and ‘emergent constraints’ to identify clearly erroneous forecasts.

The use of emergent constraints has been successfully applied to other areas of climate science, such as a constraint on climate sensitivity provided by air temperature variability or cloud feedbacks. However, it is yet to be adopted widely in marine science.

Geographic focus

The BIO-Carbon programme aims to highlight the importance of international waters to discussions on carbon policy.

All BIO-Carbon projects are therefore required to focus research on processes that are globally relevant, in waters:

  • within the open ocean water column that regulate carbon storage
  • beyond the continental shelf break
  • where the seafloor is typically at a depth greater than 1,000m.

BIO-Carbon fieldwork projects, which will be funded through a future opportunity, will be focused in the North Atlantic.

This is where the programme’s resources can be most effectively mobilised, and is a region where the relevant processes can be studied.


The outcomes of this research programme will:

  • enhance our understanding of key biological processes that affect how carbon storage by the global ocean will change in the future
  • significantly improve global ocean carbon budget projections, to better inform policy development and decision making in support of net zero ambitions
  • provide new parameterisations of key processes and emergent constraints on global model behaviour for use in simulations feeding into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) seventh assessment report
  • implement new parameterisations and constraints in a suite of global models in order to provide a robust assessment to 2100 of the biologically associated changes in global ocean carbon storage, and their sensitivity to key processes identified by this programme. This assessment should be suitable for inclusion in IPCC’s seventh assessment report
  • provide a significant UK contribution to the UN Ocean Decade outcome for ‘a predicted ocean’ by improving our ability to model oceanic responses under anthropogenic influence
  • address two priorities of the WCRP’s grand challenge on carbon feedbacks in the climate system.


Apply for funding to take on the role of programme champion for the BIO-Carbon programme.

The champion will lead on supporting implementation of the programme, working closely with the BIO-Carbon Programme Advisory Group (see the ‘delivery and coordination’ section) and NERC.

Key tasks

You will lead on managing integration between projects within the research programme.

You will lead on and organise programme meetings and workshops to ensure that the knowledge generated by projects is shared to help realise programme outcomes. This includes two key workshops:

  • the first in March 2023, to inform the community of the outputs of stage one modelling and laboratory and gap analysis projects (see the ‘additional information’ section), ahead of the release of a funding opportunity for fieldwork proposals
  • the second in summer 2025, to inform the community of the final outputs of stage one modelling and laboratory and gap analysis projects, and the latest findings of the fieldwork projects, ahead of the release of the funding opportunity for modelling proposals.

You will support the Programme Advisory Group in developing a well-evidenced recommendation for NERC on the programme’s cruise plan, which will be included in the fieldwork funding opportunity.

This includes leading the planned community workshop.

You will proactively engage with the national and international community to ensure that the BIO-Carbon programme has strong links and synergies with other relevant research programmes and initiatives.

These might include the NERC-funded national capability BIOPOLE programme, and the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

You will lead on the communication strategy for the programme.

You will support programme management as required by NERC.

This includes leading on project monitoring and programme-level reporting, and ensuring appropriate evaluation and monitoring procedures are in place for the programme.

You will lead on ensuring that all the programme’s commissioning and delivery risks are identified at the earliest opportunity, and that appropriate risk mitigation plans are put in place.

You will lead on the data management strategy for the programme.

The programme champion role can be carried out by an individual, or by a small group of individuals with an identified lead.

Those named on the champion grant will not be eligible for any of the other funding opportunities that form part of this research programme.

The champion role is for 68 months. You must start no later than 3 August 2022.

The full economic cost of the champion grant can be up to £575,000. NERC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

How to apply

Notification of intent

Applicants wishing to submit a proposal must register a notification of intent (NoI) for their plans by 15:00 on 23 March 2022. Please use the NoI Word template (Word, 14KB) provided.

Only those who have registered an NoI will be able to submit a proposal.

The NoIs will be used to inform NERC’s plans for the assessment panel.

Email your NoI to:


You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

When applying, select:

  • council: NERC
  • document type: standard
  • scheme: directed
  • call: BIO Carbon Champion APR22.

This funding opportunity will close at 16:00 on 28 April 2022. It will not be possible to apply after this time.

You should leave enough time for your proposal to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before the closing date.

Proposals will be office rejected and not considered for funding if they:

Attachments submitted through the Je-S system must be completed in single-spaced typescript of minimum font size 11 (Arial or other sans serif typeface), with margins of at least 2cm.

Exceptionally, this does not apply to:

  • letters of support
  • quotes for services, facilities or equipment.

Arial Narrow, Calibri and Times New Roman are not allowable font types and any proposal which has used any of these font types within the submission will be rejected.

On submission, we convert all non-PDF documents to PDF. The use of non-standard fonts may result in errors of font conversion, which could affect the overall length of the document.

Additionally, where non-standard fonts are present (and even if the converted PDF document may look unaffected in the Je-S system), some information may be removed when it is imported into the research councils’ grants system.

We therefore recommend that where a document contains any non-standard fonts (for example, scientific notation or diagrams), the document should be converted to PDF before it is attached to the proposal.

References and footnotes should be in the same font type as the rest of the document, with a minimum font size of 11.

Headers and footers should not be used for references or information relating to the scientific case. Applicants referring to websites should note that referees may choose not to check hyperlinks.

Applicants should ensure that their proposal conforms to all eligibility and submission rules, or their proposal may be rejected without peer review.

More details on NERC’s submission rules can be found in the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook and the NERC guidance for applicants.

What to include

Proposals must include the following documents:

Case for support

The case for support should comprise the following:

Track record

Give details of your previous track record. In particular, note your experience in managing complex marine research programmes and large projects, ideally with ocean-going fieldwork elements.

Write up to two sides of A4.

Champion plan

You should produce a ‘champion plan’ containing the following information:

  • why you want the role and what you will bring to it
  • how much time you expect to commit to the role, and how you will manage other existing commitments while undertaking it
  • how you will coordinate the programme and integrate the multiple programme activities throughout its lifetime
  • how you will foster collaboration and community engagement
  • how you will implement broader communications for the programme, including links to other relevant national and international research programmes
  • your proposed mechanisms for monitoring programme activities, particularly those related to outcomes and impacts.

Write up to 10 sides of A4.

Host organisation statement

A senior leader within your host organisation, such as the head of department, must complete a statement in support of your application.

The statement should be on organisational headed paper, dated, and should clearly state the position held by the author.

It must include the following details:

  • the key characteristics and skills that the institution feels highlight your ability to manage a research programme
  • the level of support that the host institution will offer you as part of its standard career development package
  • additional support to help you succeed in this funding opportunity, for example, dedicated admin support, mentoring.

Write up to two sides of A4.

Justification of resources

This should be a narrative description of why you require the resources requested, for example, administrative support, teaching buyout, travel, networking events.

Write up to two sides of A4.


CVs are required for all principal investigators, co-investigators and named research staff. Write up to two sides of A4 for each CV.

CVs should include:

  • your employment history
  • your academic or professional qualifications
  • your track record of relevant experience: for grants, include start and end dates, funding body, value of award, type of grant (for example, first grant, fellowship) and your role on the grant (for example, principal investigator, co-investigator, researcher)
  • details of any current large project commitments
  • details of any current administrative activities, for example, editorial responsibilities, committee memberships, networking activities
  • other achievements, for example, invited talks, awards, prizes, memberships of professional bodies.

How we will assess your application

Proposals will be evaluated by an interview panel consisting of independent experts and relevant members of the NERC Peer Review College, where possible.

The interview panel is anticipated to take place in the week commencing 30 May 2022. You will be invited to give a presentation to the panel.

NERC reserves the right to conduct a sift process if we receive too many applications to manage at an interview panel.

Assessment criteria

Assessment will be based on:

  • your submitted proposal
  • your presentation of the proposal to the panel
  • the question and answer session following your presentation.

We will use the following assessment criteria to evaluate proposals:

Quality and appropriateness of the proposed approach for delivering the responsibilities of the role

You should have:

  • demonstrable understanding of the aims and objectives of the programme
  • an appropriate plan to deliver the programme’s requirements.

Track record, including experience of coordinating research and translation

You should have:

  • relevant research credentials
  • knowledge of the current research landscape and emerging issues related to ocean carbon storage
  • experience of leading, managing or coordinating a large research programme or projects
  • the ability to quickly assimilate relevant information from research pertaining to the programme.


You should have:

  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • the ability to communicate research aims and outputs to a variety of audiences, both nationally and internationally.

Resources, management and host institution environment

Your proposal should demonstrate:

  • appropriate allocation of funds and justification of resources
  • appropriate planning and project management for the grant, including management of any staff requested
  • evidence that your host institution will provide you with appropriate support during the lifetime of the BIO-Carbon programme.

We will provide feedback to both successful and unsuccessful applicants.

To make the final funding decisions, NERC will consider the recommendations of the assessment panel, the overall funding opportunity requirements and the available budget.

Contact details

Ask about this funding opportunity


Get help with applying through Je-S


Telephone: 01793 444164

Opening times

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Additional info


The ocean takes up 20 to 30% of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, holding 50 times the total amount of carbon present in the atmosphere.

However, the ocean’s ability to store carbon is sensitive to climate change, and inaccurately accounting for changes in oceanic carbon storage risks the efficacy of net zero ambitions and jeopardises major international efforts to reach global climate targets.

This was recently highlighted by the G7 Future of the Seas and Oceans initiative.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) has seen nations identify specific targets for their carbon emissions.

However, the ocean is already responding to anthropogenic change, and the efficacy of national targets depends on an accurate picture of how the global ocean will continue to store carbon.

The recently published global carbon budget has highlighted that there are large gaps in our understanding of how the ocean does this.

Trends in the flux of atmospheric carbon dioxide into the ocean differ by a factor of three between models and observations, leading to widening discrepancies in future projections.

An understanding of the fundamental processes responsible for ocean carbon storage is also essential for any meaningful discussion of the efficacy and risks of climate mitigation through artificially perturbing the ocean as part of carbon dioxide removal schemes.

Such discussions are restarting internationally due to the emerging need for negative emissions unless there is urgent action to avoid a temperature rise greater than 1.5°C.

Biological processes are responsible for maintaining a lower concentration of carbon in the ocean surface relative to deeper waters, facilitating ocean storage of atmospheric CO2.

However, the mechanisms by which they do so, and the sensitivity of these mechanisms to climate change, are poorly understood.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) sixth assessment report stated that there is high confidence that feedbacks to climate will arise from anthropogenically triggered alterations to ocean biological processes.

However, there is low confidence in the magnitude of the feedbacks, or whether they have a positive or negative effect.

This knowledge gap is reflected in current climate models, with no consensus on which biological processes are included and no analysis of the consequences for predictions of this inconsistent representation.

There is therefore an urgent need for an integrated observational and modelling research programme that provides the capability to predict the future of global oceanic carbon storage with the accuracy required to guide human activity towards desired climate goals.

Such a programme would address the critical need for ‘a predicted ocean’, identified as a priority by the UN Ocean Decade to provide the knowledge, skills and tools to predict, and adapt to, future changes in the ocean and their impacts.


This research programme has two stages.

Stage one will provide new understanding of key processes. Stage two will integrate this new knowledge into models, to assess its global consequences.

The strategy for stage one is to encourage modelling, laboratory work and fieldwork to overlap, recognising that such an interdisciplinary approach is key to solving this complex issue.

Stage one is split between projects not requiring fieldwork and projects requiring fieldwork. These projects are staggered so ideas for novel techniques or sampling strategies from non-fieldwork projects can percolate into planning for fieldwork projects.

Fieldwork projects will form part of a major fieldwork programme, with scope for significant use of NERC ship time and autonomous systems.

In addition to bringing novel modelling approaches to bear on this topic, stage two will make use of contrasting global models that are routinely used across the UK community.

This will allow the feedbacks arising from climate-triggered shifts in processes to be assessed.

Using a diverse range of models will provide a robust assessment of the impact of biologically affected changes in ocean carbon storage to 2100, and its uncertainty.

The UK has a range of models needed for this important step that very few other countries possess.

Delivery and coordination

A programme champion will be appointed to provide a coordination function and to ensure the effective delivery of the programme. They will be advised by the BIO-Carbon Programme Advisory Group (PAG).

The champion will lead on critical tasks as defined by NERC and the PAG. They will not be allowed to bid for research funding from the programme.

The PAG will be appointed by NERC and will include international members who have experience in developing and delivering similar programmes.

It will, among other things:

  • play a critical role in advising NERC on the programme’s cruise schedule and constraints for larger fieldwork projects
  • assess the progress of all funded projects every six months
  • maximise opportunities to secure stronger outcomes from the programme’s funded projects.

The programme will span the majority of the UN Ocean Decade (2021 to 2030).

Working closely with the champion, the PAG and funded researchers, NERC will ensure that by the end of the programme it has made a major UK contribution to the Ocean Decade.

The programme will seek endorsement as a UN Ocean Decade project. It will link to other relevant Ocean Decade programmes to benefit from wider activity in this area and ensure results have maximum impact.

Responsible research

Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment, not just through research outputs and outcomes but through the way in which research is conducted and facilities managed.

All NERC grant holders are to adopt responsible research practices as set out in the NERC responsible business statement.

Responsible research is defined as reducing harm or enhancing benefit to the environment and society through effective management of research activities and facilities. Specifically, this covers:

  • the natural environment
  • the local community
  • equality, diversity and inclusion.

Grant holders should consider the responsible research context of their project, not the host institution as a whole, and take action to enhance their responsible research approach where practical and reasonable.

Supporting documents

Notification of intent template (Word, 14KB)

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