The Changing Arctic Contents

2UK Arctic research and funding

The UK’s Arctic research

46.Arctic researchers based in the UK produce a significant quantity of rigorous, independent and high quality science. We were pleased to hear that the UK is the fourth largest producer of Arctic research papers behind the United States, Canada and Russia and that two thirds of Arctic papers have international co-authors.75 The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is responsible for funding Arctic Research via UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a new organisation that brings together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England with a total budget of more than £6 billion. Arctic research is supervised and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). There are some other research programmes, such as the Met Office’s work on climate and weather, which are funded separately by the Government.76

47.NERC has a dual function in Arctic research funding. It funds and coordinates the NERC Arctic programmes such as The Arctic Research Programme and The Changing Arctic Ocean, and it funds research undertaken by multiple higher education institutions across the UK.77 NERC is also responsible for funding the NERC Arctic Office based in Cambridge which is hosted by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the UK’s interdisciplinary Polar research organisation. The NERC Arctic Office does not itself fund research, rather it works to maximise the impact of research and investment, appropriately advise policymakers and find new collaborative opportunities.78

48.The UK has an Arctic research station in Ny-Ålesund in Svalbard, at 80 degrees north which is overseen by the NERC Arctic Office and managed on the ground by BAS operations staff.79 The station and the Arctic office are largely funded directly by NERC and subsidised by BAS core funds. We were due to visit the research station to experience first-hand the research being undertaken by world-leading UK scientists in the fast-changing environment. Unfortunately, due to an unseasonably severe storm, travel to the research station was deemed unsafe. We were told that such stormy weather was unprecedented in the Arctic and a demonstration of the kind of “new normal” the Arctic climate is shifting towards.

49.Infrastructure is critical to research in the polar regions due to the hazardous conditions and remote locations.80 Henry Burgess, Head of the NERC Arctic Office, described the UK as a “full-spectrum player” when it comes to Arctic infrastructure, contributing to European Space Agency programmes and providing ships, planes and auto-submarines.81 Possibly the most well-known is RRS Sir David Attenborough, a new state of the art research vessel operated by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) which is due to be launched in 2019.

50.We were however told that the UK’s Arctic infrastructure is modest in comparison to that in the Antarctic and experts expressed a desire to see the UK’s presence in the Arctic increased to reflect how important changes in the Arctic are to the UK.82 Professor Wingham, Chief Executive of the NERC Arctic Office, told us that although funding on research is similar for the Arctic and Antarctic, the Arctic receives far less infrastructure spending; £2.3 million compared to £34million for Antarctica.83 The cost of the NERC Arctic Office and the Arctic station in Ny-Ålesund combined is about £300,000. Professor Wingham said:

There is a geopolitical asymmetry in the Antarctic. The UK is responsible for an area of the sheet under the Antarctic Treaty. NERC has taken the responsibility from the UK Government since 1965 to maintain that activity. That activity is now the subject of a particular partition of our budget that is dedicated for that purpose. The activities we pursue under that dedicated budget of logistics are explicitly agreed with Government at each spending review and so on. Therefore, there is no equivalent of the need to maintain that territorial-related activity in the Arctic.84

51.UK-based researchers are increasingly involved in international programmes which is especially important due to the scale of the scientific challenge in the Arctic where collaboration is needed.85 UK Arctic research addresses the vast amount of environmental change taking place in the Arctic which we discussed in the first chapter of this report. UK scientists are involved in a series of international Arctic projects including;

52.Aside from specific international projects, UK Arctic research also feeds into the work of Arctic Council through the Arctic Council’s working groups.87 Each working group has a different environmental or sustainable development focus. The work carried out by the UK researchers for the working groups helps to maintain our status as an observer to the Arctic Council.88 The work of UK-based researchers also forms the basis of the UK Arctic policy. According to Sir Alan Duncan, Minister for the Polar Regions “science and scientific evidence runs throughout Beyond the Ice and is at the heart of UK Arctic policy.”89 UK Arctic research also feeds into international policy making. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are currently drafting a special report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate which has 6 UK-based authors out of a total of 103 contributors.90

53.UK Arctic research is world leading and the UK ranks fourth in the world for the number of scientific papers produced. We were pleased to hear that this research is “at the heart” of UK Arctic policymaking and also fed into work conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Arctic Council working groups. We heard how important infrastructure is for research in extreme polar environments but were disappointed to hear that the UK’s infrastructure in the Arctic is modest compared to that in Antarctica. While we understand the historical and geopolitical reasons behind this, we believe that due to the importance of the Arctic for the UK’s climate stability, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy should significantly increase funding for Arctic research infrastructure. We recommend that the Government outline its plan for the developing the infrastructure in the Arctic.

Arctic natural science research in the UK

54.Around 50% of all polar research work in the UK is conducted in individual institutions, universities and research centres.91 We heard concerns that this scattered effort has resulted in a lack of cohesion in the UK’s Arctic research.92 Professor Inall from Scottish Association Marine Science suggested that “the Arctic research community in the UK could be harnessed by some more cleverly directed research within existing budgets.”93 Professor Bacon praised the two NERC targeted programmes, the Arctic Research Programme (2011–2016) and The Changing Arctic Ocean (2017–22), for helping the scientific community to “gain impact and cohesion.”94 The FCO told us that the 2011–2016 Arctic Research Programme supported nine main research projects led by 37 research institutes across the UK with many international partners.95 We also heard praise for the work of the NERC Arctic Office for identifying and bringing together UK-based Arctic research.

55.Given the effectiveness of the NERC Arctic programmes, we were disappointed to hear that their scope was limited in comparison to the vast amount of change the Arctic is facing. Professor Bacon described the most recent Arctic programme as “a missed opportunity.”96 These programmes did not cover important issues such as the effect of land ice melt on sea level rise, interaction between land, sea and air; or the relationship between permafrost thaw, glacier loss, vegetation change and the carbon balance.97 The British Ecological Society said “these less publicly known issues are just as alarming as the more visible issues and therefore require an equal research attention.”98

56.When we asked Professor Wingham, NERC Executive Chair, if there were plans to expand the remit of NERC’s Arctic research programmes he said “the short answer is no” but NERC is committed to investing in a number of Arctic science projects and “it would be quite wrong to imagine these single programmes are our only activity.”99 Henry Burgess also told us that NERC invests in a multitude of other Arctic research that is not necessarily captured by the coordinated programmes.100 However, we heard that it is NERC’s overarching strategic programmes that help to make the scientific community more cohesive. According to the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling multi-year programmes would “allow for long term planning, and for strategic capability to be maintained and further developed.”101

57.The UK produces world leading research into the environmental changes taking place in the Arctic, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. NERC’s two targeted Arctic programmes have provided coordination and communication which has increased the impact and effectiveness of the research undertaken, but the scope of these programmes is limited. We would like to see the framework for the NERC programmes expanded to provide the same level of coordinated research for other important, emerging issues such as land ice melt, permafrost thaw, carbon balance, vegetation change and interactions between land, sea and air. This would also help to improve collaborations and reduce the “scattered” nature of UK Arctic research spread across UK universities and institutions.

Social science and multidisciplinary Arctic research

58.The first chapter of this report looked at the scale of the challenges facing local communities in the Arctic, outlined the UK’s responsibility and commitment to helping these communities, and identified a lack of adaptation and resilience measures in current UK Arctic policy.102

59.The UK’s Arctic policy, CBeyond the Ice, recognises the importance of social science in the Arctic to understand fully how best to help local communities:

It is increasingly recognised that only by learning about the use of traditional and local knowledge from the indigenous and local communities themselves can changes be properly understood and genuinely sustainable responses proposed.103

60.However, some evidence we received argued that UK Arctic research is dominated by the environmental sciences and social science is not considered a priority. Professor Ford suggested that relatively little social science research has been done in the Arctic and that more interdisciplinary research is needed:

If you look at UK research to date, all these great numbers, I can count on one hand or list on one hand the number of people in the social sciences working in the Arctic on climate change issues. Of all those papers, 500-plus papers per year by Arctic researchers in the UK, probably fewer than 10 are from the social sciences.104

61.Dr Powell from the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge told us that, depending on how social science was defined, he could identify many more papers than the figure quoted above. He said that “there are excellent social sciences or humanities people all over the UK”, from the University of Highlands and Islands to University College London.105

62.We heard calls for an increased level of multidisciplinary work in Arctic research to provide a full appreciation of how physical, biological and social systems interrelate.106 The Head of Polar Regions Department at the FCO, Jane Rumble, recognised the need for multidisciplinary research:

A lot of the solutions to the complex problems of the Arctic are going to come through linking different disciplines, so there are increasingly developing connections with social sciences, engineering, arts and humanities, and beyond.107

63.Given the importance of the work carried out by the NERC Arctic Office, we were surprised to hear from Henry Burgess, Head of the NERC Arctic Office, that it is made up of only “one and a half people”, himself and a colleague working there part time and that they “do not have a dramatic plan to expand; that is not the position we are in”.108 Jane Rumble told us that, while the FCO sees the full picture of natural environment research thanks to the work of the Arctic Office, more could be done to capture the social and geopolitical science already going on in UK institutions.109

64.The importance of multidisciplinary research in the Arctic, particularly in finding ways to help achieve sustainable development and effective adaptation for local communities, is increasingly being recognised by the international community. The Arctic Council’s 2016 Arctic Resilience Report recommends a ‘social-ecological systems’ approach to building resilience to climate change:

A key aspect of this approach is that it sees people as a fundamental–and increasingly influential–part of nature. It emphasizes the unique human capacity for agency–for engaging in deliberate action.110

65.The G7 Academies (science academies from the G7 countries - The Royal Society being the UK’s one science academy) announced in May 2018 that a series of research summits would be taking place on the topic ‘The Global Arctic: Sustainability of Communities in the Context of Changing Ecosystems’. The joint launch statement said:

The G7 Academies stress the critical need to support and enhance basic Arctic research endeavours and cooperation that promote healthy and thriving coastal communities in the context of changing ocean systems. To address this need, the G7 Academies propose a vision of broad international collaboration that includes natural, social, and health sciences, engineering, humanities, and Indigenous knowledge.111

However, the UK’s contribution to the G7 summits could be limited by the fact that the Royal Society is predominantly a natural science institution, whereas the Royal Society of Canada for example is far more interdisciplinary.112

66.We heard that Economic and Social and Arts and Humanities Research Councils do not contribute significant amounts of funding for Arctic research in comparison to NERC.113 Henry Burgess, Head of the NERC Arctic Office, cautioned against encouraging the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to create a specific Arctic project on the grounds that ESRC “is working on a smaller budget” than NERC. However, as the FCO told us that “scientific evidence runs throughout Beyond the Ice and is at the heart of UK Arctic policy” the benefit of an increased multidisciplinary approach in UK Arctic research seems evident. Jane Rumble agreed that more could be done in terms of feeding the social science work that is being done into foreign policy but commented “that is what I would like, but obviously it is a decision for BEIS on the basis of its priorities.”114

67.To remain as a world leader in Arctic research, the UK will need to move towards a multidisciplinary approach, which includes the social sciences and brings research together from across research councils. According to the Minister for the Polar Regions, “scientific evidence runs throughout Beyond the Ice and is at the heart of UK Arctic policy”, but we heard that despite the UK having world leading social scientists, this expertise is not being harnessed to inform UK Arctic policy. The Economic and Social Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council do not fund Arctic research to the same degree as the Natural Environment Research Council due to limitations in their budgets.

68.We recommend the Government allocate specific funds for an Arctic project within UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) which would enable collaboration between the Economic and Social, Arts and Humanities and Natural Environment Research Councils. Multidisciplinary research is key to finding solutions to the complex problems of the Arctic and the NERC Arctic Office is facilitating this to the best of its ability given the limited resources available. We recommend the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy provides for the expansion of the NERC Arctic Office to coordinate the new UKRI Arctic Project and to identify disparate Arctic social science research already taking place in UK academic institutions. Expanding the NERC Arctic Office would enable it to increase its work on building international connections, new collaborations and encouraging multidisciplinary approaches. This would enable the Government to take a leadership role on developing climate resilience for remote communities, which would bring domestic benefits, and allow adaptation measures to assume a higher priority in UK Arctic Policy.

Impact of leaving the European Union on UK Arctic research

69.International co-operation is particularly important in polar research, due to the costs and complexities of operating in such extreme environments. Individual expertise in polar research is spread out across the world.115 Professor Wolff from the Royal Society told us Arctic research “is impossible to do … by yourself.”116 He also noted that major Arctic projects could not have been done “without European funding because we would never have managed to glue together the money properly without having the European Union as the centre of it.”117NERC provided examples of UK-based Arctic research involved in EU-funded programmes:

70.The European Union has its own Arctic policy, published in April 2016, which states “The European Union has an important role to play in supporting successful Arctic cooperation and helping to meet the challenges now facing the region”.119 The EU policy for the Arctic builds on a number of existing EU activities and decisions that already have an impact on the region following the 2008 policy communication, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council the European Union and the Arctic Region, and an update and overview of activities in 2012, Developing a European Union Policy towards the Arctic Region: progress since 2008 and next steps.

71.Three Arctic states are members of the EU: Finland, Sweden and Denmark through its Greenland connection; and Iceland and Norway are close partners. Professor Wolff from the Royal Society told us that this makes the EU particularly interested in the Arctic.120 The Minister for the Polar Regions said that the UK will continue to play an active role in shaping the EU’s policy towards the Arctic, up to the point the UK leaves the EU.121

72.Two recurring concerns regarding the effect of leaving the EU on UK Arctic research were raised in the written evidence. Firstly, uncertainty over funding; whether the UK will continue to contribute to and benefit from large programmes such as the European Research Council (ERC), Horizon2020, Copernicus, Galileo, which is important for satellite monitoring of melting ice. Secondly, uncertainty about personnel, the ability to attract the best researchers to academic positions at all levels and collaborate with European partners.122

73.Jane Rumble, Head of Polar Regions, FCO told us that BEIS would lead on the future of science funding after the UK leaves the EU.123 She noted that the UK, as the fourth biggest contributor to Arctic science, will still have “phenomenal Arctic expertise” after we leave the EU and that “the question comes back to where the funding will come from”.124

74.Professor Wingham, NERC Executive Chair, explained that funding for Arctic research comes from both national and EU budgets and that the UK wins about 15% of its funding each year from Horizon 2020 (approximately £4 billion a year). He said “whatever the future holds, we need to find a way of ensuring we can maintain all of the benefits that arise from that funding”.125 Professor Wingham informed us that NERC is working with BEIS to consider “almost any scenario that may arise concerning funding” and noted “we will have to see what comes out of the negotiations with the EU.”126

75.We received evidence to suggest that Arctic research is already being affected by the decision to leave the EU. The Methane in the Arctic: Measurements and Modelling (MAMM) project, which was a NERC-funded Arctic research project, said that EU funding for laboratory work monitoring methane has already ceased:

A substantial amount of lab work at Royal Holloway analysing carbon isotopes in thousands of air samples from countries in Europe has now stopped. This was previously funded with EU money, and is no longer taking place. As there is not the capacity to process such large numbers of samples within Europe, it is our presumption that a lower standard of analysis is taking place instead, or a reduced number of samples fully analysed. This is a negative impact not only for scientists within Europe, but also for this crucial monitoring of methane and its isotopes.127

76.Additionally, we heard from the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) that the UK does not participate in European Research Council user forums to decide and prioritise the next generation of polar satellite missions that monitor the loss of land and sea ice in the Arctic. CPOM pointed out that “although UK industry, via continued UK membership of the European Space Agency, can be involved in its build”, leaving the EU will mean “a lack of influence over mission direction” and may also affect the UK’s ability to obtain free satellite data. CPOM caution that this, in turn, will “affect the degree to which the UK can collaborate with other EU Arctic actors on climate data services”.128

European Polar Board

77.We have heard that remaining a member of the European Polar Board (EPB) will be “crucial” for Arctic research to enable collaboration with European partners.129 The EPB is an association of 27 members of European countries that have polar science activities. Henry Burgess, head of the NERC Arctic Office informed us:130

The European Polar Board is not a funding body. It is a representative body of the institutions that work in the Arctic and the Antarctic. What they are doing is coming together and combining their expertise. They produced recently a database of infrastructure, north and south, funded by the European Commission Horizon 2020 project, EU-PolarNet, which provides better access to those systems.

The Minister for the Polar Regions told us that it was “the full intention” that the UK will remain a member of the European Polar Board after we leave the EU.131

78.A recurring concern raised in the evidence was uncertainty over Arctic funding following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. We are pleased to hear that the UK will remain a member of the European Polar Board. It is not, however, known whether the UK will continue to contribute to large programmes such as the European Research Council (ERC), Horizon2020, Copernicus and Galileo. There is also uncertainty about scientific personnel and maintaining the ability to attract the best researchers to academic positions. These uncertainties are having a chilling effect on UK Arctic research. Maintaining the UK’s strong track record in Arctic research is vital, but UK institutions need secure funding sources and free movement for the brightest researchers to continue their world-leading research.

79.The Foreign and Commonwealth Office should emphasise the importance of securing funding for Arctic research to the Treasury and to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, given that UK Arctic research underpins all UK Arctic Policy. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy should commit funds for any shortfalls in funding after we leave the European Union. Membership of the EU has been vital to UK leadership in arctic science. In negotiating the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the Government should seek to maintain the current level of collaboration and co-operation with the EU and ensure the same access to EU programmes.


79 BAS (ARC0004)

82 Q54, Edinburgh University Glaciology (ARC0017)

85 Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) (ARC0010)

86 Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) (ARC0010)

87 British Ecological Society (ARC0011), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) (ARC0010), British Antarctic Survey (ARC0004))

89 Foreign and Commonwealth Office (ARC0016)

95 Foreign and Commonwealth Office (ARC0016)

97 Professor Nienow, Edinburgh University Glaciology (ARC0020), British Ecological Society (ARC0011)

98 British Ecological Society (ARC0011)

101 Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (ARC0015)

103 Beyond the Ice, HM Government, 2018

110 Arctic Resilience Report, 2016, Arctic Council

111 The Royal Society (ARC0014)

118 NERC (ARC0010)

121 FCO (ARC0016)

122 Edinburgh University Glaciology (ARC0017), Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (ARC0015) Measurements and Modelling (MAMM) project (ARC0018), The Royal Society (ARC0014), Scottish Association for Marine Science (ARC0013), British Ecological Society (ARC0011), The National Oceanography Centre (ARC0001) and British Antarctic Survey (ARC0004)

127 Measurements and Modelling (MAMM) project (ARC0018)

128 Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (ARC0015)

129 British Antarctic Survey (ARC0004)




Published: 29 November 2018