New blog: 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 for aquatic life, including algae, bacteria and zooplankton. The BIOPOLE project is designed to harness facilities and expertise across the NERC Centres and our partners to design a monitoring programme capable of capturing these changes in remote Arctic and Antarctic locations. 

The BIOPOLE team have worked over the past few months to develop an approach to measure the sensitivity of major nutrient sources to climate change, in both Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems. They embarked on their maiden ‘land-cruise’ to Loch Etive, Scotland, where the Scottish weather put them to the test.  

Preparing for the campaign. The campaign was designed to prepare the field and lab teams for deployment to our four polar research stations, later in the project. These stations are Ny-Ålesund and the Tana River, in the Arctic, and Rothera and King Edward Point, in Antarctica. The first job was to compile a list of determinants to be measured and to prepare field plans and analytical protocols, equipment and shipping logs. The team will ship most of the equipment they need from the UK to the polar research stations, and back again. So, it is important that we don’t forget anything, but also that we don’t end up with crates of equipment that the field team doesn’t need.

Day one of the Loch Etive field campaign saw discussions on logistics and practicalities of sample collection. The team had previously liaised with the NERC Polar Station Management Team at Ny-Ålesund (their first stop) to scope out the fieldwork. One central challenge is on reducing the volume of water and sediment collected from remote locations whilst maximising the data produced for the wider scientific community. There are, however, other reasons to consider reducing sample volumes that need to be carried across land. Where samples are to be collected on foot from rivers in the Arctic, we will be in polar bear country and will be equipped with firearms. [We have re-named the UKCEH RIB ‘The Sea Bear’ – Ursus maritimus].

Day 2 to 4. Three sub-teams deployed to collect samples from 21 stations around Loch Etive. These stations included major inflows, sampled by foot, and transects along a salinity gradient down the loch, sampled by RIB Sea Bear. This latter survey was interrupted as winds topped 40 MPH, making boat work unsafe. Before the winds picked up, we did manage to sample some of the upper loch, in the hour or two break in the sideways rain. This uncovered a stunning display of ephemeral streams in full flow, and indicated the short-lived nature of nutrient delivery under extreme climatic events – a problem to be covered in our sampling design. Day 4 saw a final outing for RIB Sea Bear on the loch survey. If we didn’t hit this window, the data set would be compromised. It was worth the wait. The team were treated to glorious autumnal weather, calm waters, sea otters, seals and, double rainbows, and, best of all, a full cool box of sample bottles.

Of course, science isn’t all polar bears, double rainbows, and ephemeral streams. The reality is often many hours in the lab. The lab sub-team were based at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), Oban. Samples were dropped off through the week by the field teams for processing. The lab team worked to create a protocol for preparing samples, filtering hundreds of litres of water, and labelling bottles and tubes. This has been captured in one of the finest spreadsheets ever created; to track sample collection, preparation and storage, through to shipping to analytical laboratories in the UK and internationally.

What information will we produce? Our samples will be shipped to various analytical laboratories to produce data on nutrient concentrations and tracers of nutrient sources so they can be tracked as they travel through the loch to the sea. Samples were collected for eDNA analysis, to capture snapshots of the biological communities across the loch. Field and laboratory experiments were trialled to assess interactions between nutrients and suspended sediments and algae, and the major processes acting to alter nutrient delivery from land to sea. In the end, we should know where the nutrients are coming from, how they are transformed as they travel through the loch, and how much of this makes it out to sea. 

What happens next? The team is now working hard to review, refine and revise the protocols, based on experiences from Loch Etive and the data produced, in consultation with our project partners. When everyone is happy, we will publish the protocols on this website. They will form the basis of the land-based field campaigns at the Polar Stations, later in the project.

The authors of the blog – Bryan Spears, Alanna Grant, and Nathan Callaghan from the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Potential collaborations to extend the spatial and temporal coverage of BIOPOLE into east and west Antarctic 

BIOPOLE recently held a meeting with a range of stakeholders (i.e., individuals or groups who may benefit from the outputs of BIOPOLE) to discuss potential collaborations that could extend the spatial and temporal coverage of BIOPOLE in the Southern Ocean beyond the Southwest Atlantic sector, providing mutually beneficial scientific outputs to all parties. These stakeholders included Antarctic researchers from a range of national research programmes (e.g., the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), Germany, the Palmer Station Antarctica Long Term Ecological Research (Palmer Station Antarctica LTER), US, the Australian Antarctic Programme, Australia, the National Institute for Polar Research (NiPR), Japan, Instituto di Scienze Polari (ISP), Italy) and national and international initiatives (e.g., The Marine Observatory in the Ross Sea (MorSea), the Argo Network, the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) Survey, and the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling (SOCCOM) programme) that carry out BIOPOLE-relevant research activities in the east Antarctic, the Ross, Amundsen and Bellingshausen seas, along the west Antarctic Peninsula, across the Scotia Sea, and into the Weddell Sea.  

Participants shared current and future plans of these programmes and initiatives, together with their research foci and spatio-temporal scope. With these in mind, we discussed a range of possibilities to increase opportunities for biological, physical and biogeochemical data collection in areas of interest to BIOPOLE aligned with future national Antarctic programmes (e.g., sharing of free berths with BIOPOLE researchers and/or opportunities for stakeholders to collect samples from marine cruises/expeditions and underway technologies, and provide data from glider and mooring programmes and marine mammal tagging studies), technologies associated with international initiatives (e.g., MORSea, Argo, and SOCCOM, including Argo and BIO-Argo floats, gliders, and mooring platforms equipped with a range of sensors), and data from long-term monitoring programmes (e.g., from Palmer Station Antarctica LTER, US Antarctic Marine Living Resources (AMLR), the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), and monitoring programmes conducted by the Germans, Norwegians and Koreans) and data stored in open access portals (e.g., the Southern Ocean Observing System, SOOS). To maximise the use of data collected in the field, everyone agreed the need for standardised sampling protocols (as per the BIOPOLE cookbook) and trial samples to calibrate equipment (e.g., to replicate BIOPOLE activities already underway for the Arctic). Recognising the cost of Southern Ocean research, BIOPOLE also extended help to these stakeholders in addressing data and analysis gaps (e.g., in collecting and sharing samples and data, or providing BIOPOLE expertise) and linking to relevant international programmes and initiatives. Given the uncertainty of Antarctic fieldwork plans and ship logistics (of both current and new vessels) and our shared research interests, we all agreed on the value of collaborating and sharing opportunities for sampling and berths as they arise. This will ultimately provide mutual benefit to both BIOPOLE and the activities of our stakeholders. We would also like to hear from other national operators and programmes who are interested in working with BIOPOLE to achieve these objectives. Please contact  

New blog: 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 available to us to track these waters is autonomous vehicles – marine robots full of sensors that can measure the temperature, saltiness, and other properties of the water at very high resolution in space and time, independently of a boat. Also, critically, these robots can reach places that boats can’t reach safely (or at all), such as near icebergs and glaciers, and work with a much lower carbon footprint.

The BAS Polar Oceans team have recently got new additions to their robotics fleet, including a new rechargeable Slocum G3 glider and mini autonomous vehicles called ecoSUBs. Before the new kit is deployed in the Arctic and Antarctic as part of BIOPOLE, everything needed to be tested – somewhere a lot closer to home!

So, at the end of September, members of the Polar Oceans Team headed up to the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban to do just that.

The first week involved a lot of work in the Scottish Marine Robotics Facility getting everything ready in the laboratory. The glider and ecoSUBs first need to be tested for buoyancy, so that they float in the water under the right conditions. This is done by adding or taking away weights within the frame of the vehicles, and then testing them in a large tank of seawater. Then the communications need to be tested, to make sure that the robots are receiving and transmitting data via satellite to and from the team’s computers and servers in Cambridge.

In the second week, it was time to let the robots out into the wild (and the early October driving rain). Thanks to friends in SAMS, the team were able to take the glider out into a nearby sea loch, deep enough to test deploying the vehicle and to run a “mission”, and into a shallower bay to test an ecoSUB. Except for a few little adjustments to make (as is always the case for a ‘dress rehearsal’) the robots worked well – and, most importantly, all were recovered at the end!

Next step: it’s back to the lab for the glider and ecoSUB for more tweaking and then, eventually, out into the Arctic and Antarctic in 2023-2024.

The author of the blog – Kate Hendry (British Antarctic Survey)

First BIOPOLE paper published!

Quantifying the roles of food intake and stored lipid for growth and development throughout the life cycle of a high-latitude copepod, and consequences for ocean carbon sequestration

By Thomas R. Anderson, Dag O.Hessen, Wendy C. Gentleman, Andrew Yool and Daniel J. Mayor.

Frontiers in Marine Science, open access.

Author Tom Anderson explains the key purpose of the paper: “We investigate the role of lipids in the life-cycle of high-latitude copepods by developing and presenting a new model that explicitly separates storage reserves and structural biomass in these animals.

The model is used to simulate an individual copepod at Station Mike (66°N, 2°E) in the Norwegian Sea, with results indicating that the primary function of lipid is to support metabolism during diapause and gonad development. The resulting respiration of lipid led to an estimated sequestration of carbon in deep waters via the “seasonal lipid pump” (SLP) that is remarkably similar in magnitude to the contribution made by of particles via gravitational sinking pump. The SLP has not as yet been explicitly represented in the global biogeochemical models that are used to project ocean-climate interactions.

Our new copepod model paves the way for this to take place, as well as highlighting important knowledge gaps in our mechanistic understanding of the ecology and physiology of lipid use by high-latitude copepods including as a supply of energy, for gonad development, egg production, mortality and in the regulation of buoyancy.”

FIGURE 1 Fat-laden lipid sac (outlined in red) within Calanus finmarchicus; scale bar is 1 mm. (image from Mayor et al., 2020© D.J. Mayor).

You will be able to find all BIOPOLE papers listed on our Publications page.

BIOPOLE Kick-Off Meeting

The Kick-Off meeting for BIOPOLE was held on the 27th – 28th April 2022, hosted by the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton.

BIOPOLE kick-off meeting attendees, in person and virtual.

We had a really productive hybrid meeting, with 54 project members and Programme Advisory Board members getting the chance to meet each other and build collaborations, but also allowing productive involvement to those who couldn’t attend in person. The meeting consisted of plenary presentations and breakout sessions for the work packages, and groups such as the Executive Board and the Early Career Members.

BIOPOLE underway

I am delighted to announce that project BIOPOLE is underway. Our project will undertake a truly ambitious programme of research in both polar regions. Our aim is to understand the role that both poles play in determining the chemical balance of the oceans. It is this balance that facilitates the productivity of all marine life. The team of over 60 scientists will gather at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton next week to share further thoughts and add greater detail to the 5-year plan of research. This research will include deployment of advanced autonomous instruments capable of gathering data in critical but otherwise inaccessible parts of the polar oceans. It will also make use of one of world’s most advanced research vessels, the Sir David Attenborough. We can’t wait to get going. Geraint Tarling (Principal Investigator)


Welcome to the NERC funded BIOPOLE! The programme has not yet started, we are just in the process of setting up, we will update more when everything is finalised.