Marine, Atmospheric and Climate Sciences

Marine, Atmospheric and Climate Sciences

Why this Theme?

Dramatic, continuing declines in sea ice in the Arctic Ocean after each summer have major environmental, societal and economic impacts. However, current climate models vary widely in their projections for Arctic sea-ice extent through the 21st century. In Antarctica, the accelerated melting of glaciers could have major repercussions for sea level and climate. NERC is heading a high-profile campaign to investigate the rapidly melting Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers. Addressing these challenges requires scientists able to understand the dynamic processes of ocean, atmosphere, sea ice and ice shelves, both through observations and through numerical modelling.

The World Health Organisation attributes 8 million premature deaths per year to air pollution, making it the leading cause of environmental mortality: the number is 40,000 in the UK according to the Royal College of Surgeons, with the UK in breach of EU legal limits for nitrogen dioxide in most major cities. Ozone, particulate matter, NOx, SO2, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including biogenic VOCs such as isoprene, contribute to poor air quality and, along with organo-sulfur compounds and methane, are also short-lived climate-altering substances.


ARIES brings together meteorologists, cryospheric scientists and oceanographers, with extensive research experience in the Arctic and Antarctic. Major projects in the Amundsen Sea are both ongoing and newly implemented (UEA, BAS) and will provide exciting opportunities for student projects. Expertise in polar meteorology and polar marine science (PML, UoP, UEA, UoE, BAS), climate modelling and dynamics (UEA), cryospheric experimental chambers (RHL, UEA), and fleets of ocean gliders, surface vehicles and aircraft (UEA, BAS, Cefas), collectively make a unique partnership for spearheading these advances.

UEA, RHL UoE, PML, in conjunction with NCAS, UKMO, NPL, CEH, Defra, EA and others, are internationally recognised for observing, modelling and improving our understanding of the origins of these pollutants across the globe, their complex physico-chemical transformations, the involvement of the carbon cycle and biosphere, and their societal and ecosystem impacts. ARIES is uniquely placed to address this global problem with its expertise, observatories, including the only Integrated Carbon Observation System atmospheric observatory in the UK, aircraft, instrumentation (e.g. for isotopologue measurements of multiple atmospheric gases), which have been deployed in major UK cities, as well as in Malaysia, Africa, China, and Vietnam. We also have unique facilities to simulate air pollution and chemistry over solid and aqueous surfaces, from tropical to polar temperatures.

Student training and employability

This topic trains students in observing the climate system (atmosphere, ocean or ice) and in running and interpreting sea-ice and climate models. They will also be provided with hands-on training in the equipment used to obtain data. Experience of the ARIES partners (UEA, BAS, Cefas) with the NEXUSS CDT as well as EnvEast gives a springboard for training in this research area, including the Glider ATSC which brings students together with industrial partners who both use and manufacture autonomous vehicles. Their training program will be tailored such that they obtain the complementary skills, which could range from biogeochemistry to social sciences, which will be needed to contextualise their projects and provide wider socio-economic impact. To these ends, the students could take advantage of the ARIES scheme to award an additional three months stipend to students from numerate disciplines to undergo training in the environmental sciences, and/or ARIES Multidisciplinary Workshop scheme. They will also have excellent opportunities to work with end-user partners to learn aspects of policy relating to the impacts of sea-level rise, new transport and migration routes, changes in nutrient inputs, etc., on the environment and society, and will have the chance to further develop skills such as communicating science to a wider audience. Employers such as the UK Met Office, Cefas, marine consultancies and companies require people with skills in making and analysing hands-on measurements of the earth system. The analytical and modelling skills developed by the student, coupled with their breadth and versatility, will result in high-value employees in a wide range of sectors.

Students will be trained in project-related advanced techniques, and will also be exposed to a wide range of approaches and background information that will complement their research, ranging from atmospheric chemistry and modelling to the mechanisms of biogenic VOC production. They will also have excellent opportunities to work with end-user partners to learn aspects of policy relating to air pollution’s impacts on the environment and society, and will have the chance to further develop skills such as communicating science to a wider audience. Whilst (bio)technological developments and political decisions will hopefully improve air quality, this may take decades, and new threats to air quality may arise as new products, processes and agricultural practices are developed. Therefore, ARIES students trained under this priority topic will be in demand for many years to address this global problem. Also, due to their analytical and computational skills coupled with their breadth and versatility, they will be high-value employees in a wide range of sectors.

Wider engagement

BAS led the EU-funded ICE-ARC ( project, which brought together physical scientists, social scientists and economists to study Arctic change and its impacts. The project has left a legacy of interdisciplinary collaborations that can be built on within ARIES. Many partners within ARIES are invested in issues associated with the opening of the Arctic Ocean and sea-level rise, e.g. in relation to: increased potential for oil pollution (OSRL), changing faunal migration patterns and impacts on UK fisheries (Cefas), changing marine-atmosphere gas exchange (see Priority Topic 4), flooding and coastal erosion (EA, MMO), and the impact on weather patterns (UKMO).

We currently work with Defra, NCAS, NPL, FR, Cefas and the UKMO (ARIES partners) as well as city and county councils in the UK; with Met Malaysia and the University of Malaya in Malaysia, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Tyndall Centre Fudan in China, amongst others. Collaboration with the Rutherford-Appleton Lab provides access to world-class facilities for investigating the physics and chemistry of atmospheric particles and pollutants. There is also a lot of scope for further collaborations with ARIES partners, e.g. with SAC, MSL, NCC, NOC.

Hot topics in this Theme

❖ To improve identification of potential aquaculture development sites nationally and assess potential for economic values of aquaculture at each site. Valuation techniques should incorporate emerging products and culture techniques.

❖ Ocean fluxes: Understanding how marine organisms drive major biogeochemical processes – calcification, silicification, carbon and nutrient cycling.

❖ Plastic pollution: discreet, ubiquitous and how to monitor? Plastics as a vector for oil pollution? Plastics absorb toxins, how much worse does plastic make other existing
pollutants? Bioaccumulation in tissues? How does oil interact with microplastics? Use existing long-term datasets, base lines and plug into models.

❖ To identify areas of fringing habitat and transitional communities at risk from coastal erosion and identify sites potentially suitable for managed mitigation or habitat creation
in response to coastal squeeze impacts.