This article appeared in Business Weekly on 19th September 2013
Cambridge leads £15m Arctic research initiative
Cambridge is leading the largest UK Arctic research programme ever mounted.
The NERC Arctic Research Programme is studying the impacts of a rapidly warming Arctic and aiming to better predict its consequences for UK populations and business, according to the project’s Cambridge- based science coordinator Dr Cynan Ellis-Evans.
Cambridge is also playing a key role in driving heightened awareness of the £15 million five-year initiative.
Onespacemedia, which was the creative design force behind Business Weekly’s Nerve disruptive technology conference in June, has been working with the ARP team to design and build a website that communicates the crucial work of the ARP.
The site features full-screen videos, beautiful imagery, interactive maps, live weather feeds, information on projects, people, partners, news and social media updates. Optimised for browsing on any device, the responsive site showcases some of the web’s latest trends and raises the profile of the programme.
The new Arctic research effort is being co- ordinated from the British Antarctic Survey team anchored in Cambridge where Dr Ellis-Evans is based but is very much a joint programme involving many UK institutions. The programme is funded by NERC (the Natural Environment Research Council) of which the British Antarctic Survey is a part.
Dr Ellis-Evans, told Business Weekly that there were opportunities as well as threats from the changing and challenging conditions in the Arctic region. He said: “Shrinking sea-ice, thawing permafrost and changing Arctic climate may mean more frequent extreme weather and increasing greenhouse gas emissions will increase global warming.
“But Arctic change also offers potentially shorter shipping trade routes and access to new energy and food resources so we need to better understand what is happening in the Arctic.”
Dr Ellis-Evans said the Arctic was undergoing rapid change which had the potential to impact not just the UK but the entire world. Understanding what drives this unprecedented change and its possible future consequences was a scientific challenge of the utmost urgency with important societal implications.
Changes in the Arctic affect the nature and frequency of extreme weather events and other natural hazards which threaten the UK.
Increasing ice-melt on the region’s glaciated islands and the vast Greenland ice sheet could lead to changes in sea level which will affect communities and assets along our coastlines.
Frozen soil, known as permafrost, stores greenhouse gases which are released if it melts, further reinforcing changes brought about by global and regional warming.
On the positive side, as the ice retreats, natural resources such as fish and mineral resources become more accessible and the Arctic Ocean may become an important new shipping route if it becomes ice- free on a regular basis.
Dr Ellis-Evans said a broad, multidisciplinary and open-minded approach was required to grasp the scale of the challenges that lie ahead for indigenous communities, natural habitats, governments & businesses wishing to work in the Arctic.
The NERC Arctic Research Programme’s key challenge has been to understand and improve predictions of Arctic change at seasonal to decadal time scales and to establish what the regional and global impacts of such change may be. This overarching objective shapes the four major interlinked scientific questions funded by the programme:-
• What is causing the rapid changes in the Arctic at the moment?
• What are the processes influencing the release of greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide – and how much of these gases could enter the atmosphere in future? NERC’s catastrophe weather modelling is already being used in reinsurance models to prevent the unexpected accumulation of risk.
• How can we improve existing computer models and so our predictions of what will happen to the climate in the Arctic and the amounts of greenhouse gases released in the future?
• Are the risks of natural hazards in the Arctic region increasing as a result of regional warming and what are the threats posed to the UK?
Dr Ellis-Evans said: “The challenge of studying such a large regional scale requires scientists and institutions from around the world to work together.”
The ARP has partnerships and collaborations with universities around the world to allow the programme to harness a global set of expertise and know-how. While fostering international collaboration, the ARP also significantly advances the UK’s own research capability in the Arctic. Better interpretation of cutting-edge climate science and its implications will benefit organisations such as the UK Met Office, where internationally recognised climate models are developed and maintained.
Close collaboration with DECC
The Department for Energy & Climate Change and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office facilitates more effective development of UK government policy relating to economic priorities like food and energy security and to global warming challenges. The programme is also likely to contribute guidance to UK industry regarding future environmental conditions and challenges in the Arctic – improving business processes, informing risk analysis and driving innovation which, in turn, could be converted into commercial opportunities.
More accurate modelling would have a massive impact on the insurance segment: A five per cent reduction in average insured losses from storms alone would save the insurance industry up to £130m a year.
NERC’s catastrophe weather modelling is already being used in reinsurance models to prevent the unexpected accumulation of risk.
To understand more about the Arctic research effort, visit the website.