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.

Theme Leaders

Dr Carol Robinson, Reader, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia
Carol Robinson leads a team which studies the role of marine bacteria, phytoplankton and zooplankton in the global cycling of carbon and oxygen, and how this varies in space and time and with changing environmental conditions such as increasing nutrient supply, temperature and carbon dioxide and decreasing dissolved oxygen. This involves laboratory and field observations, remote sensing, numerical models and the use of water mass tracers (sulphur hexafluoride), gliders and time series datasets. Recent projects have included the determination of oxygen photolysis as a potential bias in the determination of plankton production, the impact of coastal upwelling on carbonate chemistry, the relationship between apparent oxygen utilisation and dissolved organic carbon, and determination of the proportion of plankton respiration attributable to bacterioplankton.
Carol is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology and past President of the Challenger Society for Marine Science.
Dr Michael Steinke, Senior Lecturer, School of Biological Sciences, University of Essex
Michael Steinke is a marine biologist with over 20 years of experience in research. He obtained his PhD from the University of Bremen, Germany and subsequently worked as a Postdoctoral Researcher and Fellow at the University of East Anglia. He is currently the Course Director for Marine Biology at the University of Essex, where he has worked since 2006. His main research interest is the production of biogenic trace gases in marine environments. Other research interest areas include: Environmental volatilomics, Ecology and biogeochemistry of trace gases, Infochemistry of algae and zooplankton, Chemodetection of dimethyl sulfide (DMS) and isoprene in herbivorous plankton, Production of trace gases in algae and terrestrial plants, and Sensor technology.
Dr Michael Steinke has over 50 publications to his name, including in Nature, Science, PNAS and Scientific Reports.
Prof Richard Thompson, Director of the Marine Institute, University of Plymouth
Richard Thompson obtained his Ph.D. in The Ecology of Epilithic Microalgae from the University of Liverpool, before working at Newcastle University and the University of Southampton. He has over 160 publications including Nature, Science, Current biology (h-index 48). He began working at the University of Plymouth in 2001 as a Reader in Marine Ecology, and then as a professor of Marine Biology. He currently leads the International Marine Litter Research Unit and is Director of the University Marine Institute.  His research focuses on three main topics: 1) the effects of plastic debris in the marine environment, 2) modification of coastal engineering, structures such as coastal defences and off-shore renewable energy devices, to enhance biodiversity and 3) the ecology and conservation of shallow water habitats.
Richard received an OBE in 2017 for his services to Marine Science. His research is of considerable relevance to policymakers and in 2013 he presented to the UK House of Commons Select Committee session on water quality and was recently invited to give a keynote presentation on marine debris to US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in Washington and more recently for international audiences at the OECD in Paris and G7 in Tokyo. He is a member of the Marine Biological Association, the British Ecological Society and the Society for Research in Higher Education. In addition, he has roles in numerous external bodies.
Prof Claire Reeves, Professor in Atmospheric Science, School of Environmental Sciences, UEA
Claire Reeves is an atmospheric scientist whose main interests are in tropospheric ozone chemistry and in halogenated gases that are stratospheric ozone depleting and greenhouse gases.  She came to UEA as a student in 1983 and loved it so much that she never left.  Initially she studied for a BSc in Environmental Sciences before obtaining a PhD in Atmospheric Science.  She was then employed as a researcher for 15 years on various projects and, for a couple of years, was supported by the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAS).  In 2005 she began a RCUK Academic Fellowship, becoming a Reader in 2010 and subsequently a Professor in 2014.  Prof Claire Reeves teaches atmospheric chemistry and is currently the Deputy Head and Director of Research of the School of Environmental Sciences.
Claire has been a co-author of the UNEP/WMO Scientific Assessments of Ozone Depletion that are used by the Parties to the Montreal Protocol to amend their controls on ozone depleting substances. In addition, she is on the NCAS Executive Committee and is a member of Defra’s Air quality Expert Group.
Dr David Viner, Global Practice Leader – Climate Resilience, Mott MacDonald
An internationally recognised expert, David brings with him over 27 years of experience working in the area of climate change. David worked for 17 years at UEA’s Climatic Research Unit, where he developed a worldwide reputation working across all areas of climate change. During this time he was also director of the UEA’s innovative climate change masters course. David has worked as Natural England’s principal Climate Change specialist and as Global Director at The British Council where he developed a ground breaking cultural relations strategy and programme that was delivered through 250 offices in 109 countries. In 2012 he started at Mott MacDonald at which he is now the Global Practice Leader for Climate Resilience, and where his expertise in areas such as water resources, hydropower, agriculture and environmental systems together with his extensive publication record have prepared him excellently for his role in a huge variety of projects, from feasibility studies for hydropower schemes to risk assessments for buildings projects, to education projects overseas.
David contributed to the reports of the IPCC, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. He has published over 100 papers and research reports and has undertaken numerous public lectures around the world. David is currently a Lead Author for the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land and has been appointed as Convening Lead Author for the IPCC 6th Assessment report.