Biogeochemical processes and ecosystem function in changing polar systems and their global impacts

BIOPOLE is an interdisciplinary NERC programme examining biogeochemical processes and ecosystem function in polar ecosystems.

BIOPOLE will address a fundamental aspect of the Earth System – how nutrients in polar waters drive the global carbon cycle and primary productivity. The oceans play a vital role in absorbing atmospheric CO2, mitigating large amounts of manmade carbon emissions. However, this part of the global carbon cycle relies on an adequate supply of nutrients to drive the carbon-absorbing marine biological processes. Much of these nutrients are exported from the polar regions. BIOPOLE will improve our ability to quantify this export and identify its sensitivity to climate change.


Funders and participants

BIOPOLE is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), under the National Capability Science Multi-Centre award scheme (NC-SM2). The scheme is designed to enable a more ambitious, integrated approach to research challenges that require large-scale, long-timeline insights and more than any one National Capability (NC) provider can deliver alone. The scheme aims to bring skill sets and expertise together, to meet national science needs through more coherent and resilient delivery across NC providers and to increase NC science returns by generating new science opportunities that leverage additional benefits via other funding streams.

BIOPOLE is made up of five National Capability providers:

BIOPOLE started on the 1st April 2022 and will run for 5 years.


BIOPOLE will address three major questions:


What physical, chemical and biological processes modify nutrient balance en route from source to polar ocean ecosystem, and what are their sensitivities to climate change?


What is the influence of ecosystem processes on nutrient balance and movement of carbon to depth in the polar oceans, and how may these change in the future?


How may this movement of carbon to depth and the export of nutrients change in the future and what impacts will this have on global ocean fish stocks and the global carbon cycle?

Research Topics

Nutrient inputs and freshwater processes

Work Package 1 (WP1) will assess the nutrient sources of major inputs from land, sea-ice and oceans and provide information on the key transformation processes that determine their eventual inputs to open-ocean ecosystems. This information will be used alongside satellite and historical data (both observational and modelled) and projected changes in inputs, to gain insight into future impacts on supply to marine ecosystems.

Biological processes and ecosystem function

Work Package 2 will concentrate on ecosystem processes that are particular to the polar regions. Identifying the cause of excess of the nutrient phosphorus exported from the Arctic will focus on the role of pelagic denitrification as well as the coupled responses of lower trophic levels. Another focus will be the lipid pump, prevalent in both polar regions and potentially a major conduit for carbon sequestration. Fieldwork will be conducted alongside laboratory analyses and modelling to substantiate how these processes modify nutrient inputs before their export from the polar regions.

Understanding implications

Work Package 3 will carry out further focussed field sampling and a range of modelling approaches to track and quantify pathways of nutrients out of the poles. It will further synthesise results from the other work packages to determine the global consequences of perturbation of ecosystem processes at the poles for the global carbon cycle, nutrient supply and fish stocks.

Programme Management and dissemination

WP4 is an overarching and synthesising area of work will run alongside the three research topics, and led by an Executive Board (EB), it will reinforce the integration of effort across the project partners. We have national and international experts covering the breadth of BIOPOLE’s science to be members of a Programme Advisory Board (PAB). BIOPOLE pioneers an approach of simultaneous bi-polar research that will leave a strong legacy to the international science community and provide important input into geopolitical decisions on, for instance, the ecosystem implications of a future ice-free Arctic, the designation of Marine Protected Areas at both poles and future fisheries management.

Researchers in the Spotlight

Alanna Grant

Enma Elena García-Martín

Petra ten Hoopen

Robotics in the rain. Testing new autonomous vehicles for the BIOPOLE project
Robotics in the rain. Testing new autonomous vehicles for the BIOPOLE project

Underwater robots will help BIOPOLE scientists understand how changing river runoff and melting ice will impact nutrient cycling in the high latitudes and beyond. But these robots need to be tested before they are sent off into the wild… Many of the essential nutrients that are needed by marine algae in the polar regions are supplied by freshwaters, including glacial melt, river waters, and melting permafrost. As part of BIOPOLE, we’re going to track where these freshwaters flow when they hit the ocean, and what happens to all the nutrients that they supply. One set of tools that we have … Continue reading Robotics in the rain. Testing new autonomous vehicles for the BIOPOLE project

BIOPOLE in Parliament
BIOPOLE in Parliament

On 12 June 2023, BIOPOLE’s Geraint Tarling and Andy Shepherd gave evidence at a hearing called by the All-party Parliamentary Polar Research Sub-Committee exploring UK’s relationship to the Arctic environment. This parliamentary committee is considering the UK’s contribution to the Arctic through scientific research. Inquiries of this sort start with a call for written evidence, to which BIOPOLE responded with a document submitted in April 2023. The document answered questions around the benefit to the UK of supporting Arctic research activity, how UK institutions can be supported to enhance the UK’s leadership in Arctic science, and what research activities concerning … Continue reading BIOPOLE in Parliament

BIOPOLE Annual Science Meeting at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, 1-3 March 2023
BIOPOLE Annual Science Meeting at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, 1-3 March 2023

This time last week BIOPOLE community gathered for the Annual Science Meeting at Northumbria University in the lively city of Newcastle upon Tyne. Thank you to every single one of you who joined the meeting virtually or in-person! The meeting lasted for three days and was full of exciting and interesting presentations delivered by project members, project partners, and stakeholders (the BIOPOLE community). Thank you all for taking the time and sharing your knowledge and invaluable expertise! BIOPOLE Annual Science Meeting in Newcastle was a success due to everyone’s involvement. The poster sessions, breakout groups, and plenary discussions were all … Continue reading BIOPOLE Annual Science Meeting at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, 1-3 March 2023

BIOPOLE Goes Live In-Land
BIOPOLE Goes Live In-Land

One major question in BIOPOLE is whether nutrient delivery from land-based sources is sensitive to climate change? If nutrient loading changes in a warmer world, and importantly, the balance of nutrients entering the sea changes, then the impacts on polar marine ecosystems could be profound. To answer this question requires our research team to track nutrients as they travel from headlands, glacial meltwaters, through rivers and lakes, into estuaries and the sea. Along these paths, many important processes take place. Some may send nutrients to the bed sediments or change their form so that they become more or less available … Continue reading BIOPOLE Goes Live In-Land

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