Climate Change

the Arctic and the United Kingdom
directions for future research

A Tyndall Centre initiative
in association with the Polar Regions Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office


Cold Facts The Arctic of Today The Arctic of the Future Implications for the UK, an Arctic Neighbour Integrated Research, Providing Choices for the Future Knowledge Gaps and Emerging Issues Adding value to UK Research

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In May 2002 the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, in association with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, hosted a one day symposium “Climate Change and the Arctic and its implications for the UK: Towards a New UK Research Agenda” in Norwich. The objectives of this event were (i) to bring together key members of the UK’s Arctic research and policy-making communities and to raise awareness of the work of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment and the UK’s engagement in this initiative (ii) to identify important knowledge gaps and the extent to which the UK can help to address these deficiencies through co-ordinated research; and (iii) to assist in formulating the UK’s future research effort in topics related to climate change and the Arctic. A list of participants is given on the back inside cover. The symposium was planned by a Steering Group consisting of Gillian Watson (Tyndall Centre and School of Environmental Sciences, UEA), Dr Neil Gilbert (Polar Regions Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Professor Liz Morris (NERC Arctic Science Advisor), Professor Steve Albon (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Banchory), Professor Mike Hulme (Tyndall Centre and School of Environmental Sciences, UEA) and Dr Neil Adger (Tyndall Centre and CSERGE, School of Environmental Sciences, UEA). The event benefited from presentations given by Dr Robert Corell (International Arctic Science Committee), Professor Julian Dowdeswell (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge), Professor Mark Nuttall, (School of Sociology and Anthropology and Northern Studies Centre, Further sources of information: Arctic Council: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA): International Arctic Science Committee: The Tyndall Centre: Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC): The production costs of this document were supported by the Polar Regions Unit of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). This document draws heavily upon the ideas and concepts presented by the speakers as well as contributions from the other participants who attended the event. University of Aberdeen), Professor Graham Bentham (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia), Dr Howard Cattle (Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research), Professor Terry Callaghan (University of Sheffield and Abisko Research Centre,) as well as panel discussion led by Dr Corell, Dr Neil Gilbert (Polar Regions Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Dr Bill Hare (Greenpeace International) and Professor Duncan Wingham (Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, University College London).


Cold Facts
Disturbing things are happening in the Arctic; temperatures are rising, sea ice is thinning and permafrost is thawing. These changes in the physical environment are already character of the region. In short, climate change is significantly affecting the Arctic. It is happening NOW and is set to continue for the foreseeable future. So what? In recent years, climate change has emerged as a major development issue for the Arctic region. It is recognised that climate change impacts and consequences will become stamped not only on the physical and natural environment, but also on Arctic economies, regional resources and peoples. The Arctic also plays a crucial role within the Earth System, for example through its role in the planetary energy balance and through its interaction with the thermohaline circulation of the oceans. Present and prospective changes in the Arctic will have consequences well beyond the region itself. It is important to consider the implications of Arctic climate change for the United Kingdom; although the UK is not an Arctic rim nation, climate change and its impacts in the Arctic merit particular attention in the UK because: the UK has sizeable commercial, environmental and strategic interests in the Arctic which will be affected by climate change; the UK can expect a number of direct and indirect environmental, economic and social impacts in the short-, medium- and long-term arising from climate change in the Arctic; Many questions remain to be answered about the extent of future Arctic climate change and its consequences, not only for the Arctic region itself, but also for the world at large. The UK is well-placed to make a significant and coordinated research contribution to the international understanding of the processes and consequences of climate change in the Arctic. The Arctic is thought to hold a quarter of the global petroleum resources yet to be discovered, estimated at 130 billion barrels of oil. The Greenland Ice Sheet holds ice representing enough water to raise global sea levels by 7m – sufficient to flood much of London. Permafrost covers more than 20 per cent of the world’s land surface, including most of Alaska and more than half of Canada and Russia. The extent of Arctic sea ice has shrunk by about 5 per cent in the last 20 years and its thickness in some areas by 40 per cent. Some model simulations suggest an ice-free Arctic Ocean in summer as early as the 2050s. Climate warming is occurring faster in the Arctic than globally.
Temperature anomaly (deg C)
2.5 2 1.5 1 0.5 0 -.5 -1 2.5 2 1.5 1 0.5 0 -.5 -1 -1.5 -2 -2.5 1850 1900 1950 2000

triggering change in the natural, social and economic

-1.5 -2 -2.5

Arctic-average surface temperatures (1851 to 2001), a combination of surface air temperature over land and seasurface temperature over the oceans. Individual bars show annual values as deviations from the 1961 – 1990 average; the curve emphasises variations over time-scales of at least 30 years. This data set was provided by the Climatic Research Unit, School of Environmental Sciences, UEA.

Did you know?

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The Arctic of Today
The Arctic region covers the icebound Arctic Ocean and neighbouring seas, as well as Iceland, Greenland and the northern fringes of the North American, European and Asian land masses. Interests in the region can be characterised as: Environmental The Arctic environment is shaped by low temperatures and extreme seasonality. It supports a unique biodiversity and is of critical importance for migratory birds. Large stretches of the region can be counted amongst the world’s few remaining pristine wilderness areas. Economic The principal Arctic industries are currently fishing, timber, mining of mineral ores, oil and gas and, increasingly, tourism and renewable energy. Social and cultural Much of the region is sparsely populated built up of small, often very isolated communities. There are, however, several major population centres (for example, Tromsø, Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, Barrow and Iqaluit). The Arctic is home to several groups of indigenous peoples each of which retain a rich heritage of cultural traditions. Strategic The region is crossed by important air transportation corridors, however, sea transportation routes are extremely restricted due to the presence of sea ice. Seasonal peaks in Arctic river discharges are becoming earlier and freshwater flows into the Arctic Ocean are increasing. Permafrost thaw is accelerating; unstable ground conditions are leading to damage to infrastructure, for example, buildings, roads, airport runways and pipelines. Levels of UV radiation are increasing as the polar stratospheric ozone is depleted. The distribution of vegetation is changing. Woody scrub is expanding in Alaska and tundra is being displaced by taiga throughout Arctic Europe and Russia. Ice-melt is increasing over the Greenland Ice Sheet. Glaciers are retreating across the region. Overall both the extent and thickness of sea ice are reducing, although in certain areas sea ice is accumulating. Average surface air and upper soil temperatures are rising, particularly during springtime. There are, however, significant spatial variations in temperature trends (see plot below left). Observations show that Arctic regional climate is changing, although not necessarily uniformly. Specific examples include:

Did you know?

Arctic Temperature Trends
(1966-1995) Annual Data +1.0

Novel weather conditions are being experienced, for example thunder and lightning are reported for the first time by communities in northern Canada. Ice travel is being restricted due to safety concerns linked to thinning ice; communications/transport are increasingly impacted.




-1.0 (OC per decade)

Source: Abisko Scientific Research Station

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The Arctic of the Future
The Arctic in a future, warmer world will be significantly different to today. Changes are likely to include: Environmental Changes will occur in average and extreme temperatures, precipitation, cloud cover, sea-ice extent, snow cover and permafrost extent. The consequences of these new environmental conditions in the region will be far-reaching and will include effects on Arctic plant and animal biodiversity and species distribution. For example, significant loss of sea ice would have a devastating impact on Arctic wildlife such as the polar bear, which requires the presence of sea ice to enable it to hunt for seals. On land, more frequent extreme events may displace or even locally eliminate keystone species like reindeer (caribou). Strategic As accessibility improves and activity increases, the Arctic region has the potential to become a future political hotspot. Existing tensions over the extent of internal waters could escalate as nations compete for the right to the region’s natural and physical resources. as others attracted by improved infrastructure and transportation networks. Large demographic changes such as these would bring widespread and significant social and cultural changes to indigenous people.

Stored up trouble?
The Arctic currently stores globally significant quantities of: water locked within the Greenland Ice Sheet, small ice caps, glaciers and permanent pack ice; carbon accumulated within the Arctic ecosystems; methane held in permafrost and in methane hydrate deposits in marine sediments. Even relatively minor changes in Arctic climatic conditions could trigger the release of extra water into the world’s oceans and large quantities of additional carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. Economic In an ice-diminished future Arctic, improved accessibility is likely to encourage commercial development. Under some scenarios the region’s economy could grow significantly through full exploitation of the Arctic’s rich reserves of petroleum and mineral ores. Other industries such as fishing are also likely to expand. Arctic shipping routes are likely to open up attracting increasing numbers of cargo vessels to the region. Heightened economic activity in the region would also threaten to encroach upon wilderness areas and increase the risk of environmental damage such as pollution incidents. Social and cultural A booming economy is likely to trigger a rapid growth in the Arctic population with an influx of workers and their families as Arctic commercial and support industries are established and developed as well Global climate models, however, predict substantially less Arctic sea ice in future. Research suggests that both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route could be open to deep draft vessels with no reinforcement every summer by as early as the 2050s. Both routes have the potential to become commercially feasible for summer shipping before 2080 and could cut sailing distances between northwest Europe and northeast Asia by up to 40 per cent. Explorers have long sought to link Europe, eastern North America and the Orient via the shortest possible sea route – across the Arctic. After centuries of effort two such routes have been identified – the Northwest Passage, which passes west of Greenland, through the islands of Arctic Canada and along the coast of Alaska, and the Northern Sea Route (also known as the Northeast Passage) which skirts the coast of Siberia. Both are currently open for very limited periods to specially reinforced vessels escorted by icebreakers.

HadCM3 predictions of September Arctic sea ice by the 2080s under a “high emissions” scenario (Source: Hadley Centre)

An ice-free Arctic Ocean a future of opportunities?

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Implications for the UK, an Arctic Neighbour
The UK lies just beyond the Arctic’s fringe. As a nation, the UK has a strong tradition of Arctic exploration and maintains a long-held interest and involvement in environmental, social, economic and military developments in the region. The UK has also been actively engaged in Arctic research in several disciplines for many years. The UK’s current commercial interests in the region are wide-ranging and include fishing and exploration, extraction and processing of petroleum products and mineral ores. The UK’s insurance industry is also a world leader in underwriting Arctic activities, covering major items of infrastructure (for example pipelines) and other industrial developments throughout the region. The UK has also retained a strategic political engagement in the Arctic. The UK is an observer state to both the Arctic Council and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council.

Feeling the effects of climate change in the UK
As a close neighbour of Arctic Europe, the UK can expect to experience a number of direct or indirect effects of climaterelated changes in the Arctic over the short-, medium- and longer-term. Examples include: Short-term (less than 25 years) UK population’s exposure to UV radiation will increase by a combination of depletion of Arctic ozone and climate change related effects (for example changes in cloud cover, increasing average and extreme temperatures and changes in recreational behaviour). The interplay between climate change and the chemistry of the Arctic atmosphere will have a direct bearing on the risks of malignant melanomas for the UK population. Medium-term (within 50 years) Climate-related changes to Arctic habitats, such as reductions in tundra area and shifts in the timing of spring growth periods, are likely to have substantial impacts on breeding success of Arctic-breeding bird species which would have serious implications for numbers of migratory birds in the UK. Opportunities for UK companies to exploit rich and newly accessible Arctic reserves of petroleum, mineral ores and fish. This will need to be set against new priorities – nationally and globally – for a less polluting energy economy and more sustainable industrial development. The UK insurance industry will need to adjust to escalating claims associated with climate change related incidents, for example repair and clean-up following Arctic pipeline fractures caused by subsidence due to melting of permafrost, but will also be presented with new opportunities as Arctic activities increase. Long-term (beyond 50 years) Weakening of the thermohaline circulation through injection of increased amounts of freshwater through the Arctic. This has the potential to disrupt ocean currents in the North Atlantic and under some scenarios could alter UK and northwest European climate significantly, possibly eventually inducing lower winter temperatures. The risks associated with such perturbations remain very poorly known. Loss of Greenland ice-mass contributes to sea level rise, thus exacerbating problems of coastal inundation and erosion at vulnerable points around the UK coastline. This is a very long-term impact since the Greenland Ice Sheet responds to multi-decadal warming trends over a period of many centuries.

The Arctic Council
The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that provides a mechanism to address common concerns and challenges of the Arctic region. The Arctic Council has Members drawn from the eight Arctic-Rim States and importantly is open to participation from up to eight Indigenous Peoples organisations. Key objectives of the Arctic Council are to: promote co-operation among Arctic States on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection; oversee and co-ordinate working groups established under the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy; co-ordinate a sustainable development programme e.g. trade, transport, education and health matters; disseminate information, encourage education and promote interest in Arctic related issues. The UK is a State Observer to the Arctic Council. In doing so UK Ministers recognise the importance of maintaining an influence in the high north; of providing support to the Arctic states in meeting the objectives for the Arctic Council, and of the potential scientific and commercial opportunities that the Arctic holds. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is lead Government Department, with attendance at Senior Arctic Official and Ministerial meetings provided by the FCO’s Polar Regions Unit (PRU).

For more information visit the Arctic Council web site at

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Integrated Research, Providing Choices for the Future
The challenge Climate change in the Arctic poses many interlinked environmental, social and economic questions and challenges, but it is just one of many drivers of change in the Arctic; political restructuring and liberalisation, globalisation, changes in land use and energy technologies will also have substantial effects on the region. The effects of, and responses to, climate change must therefore be considered within this broader context. Uncertainties surrounding future climate change will continue to be large, but it is essential to start to plan now and to make decisions that allow the consequences of climate change to be managed through the pursuit of desirable long-term environmental, social and economic objectives. Such decisions can best be informed through programmes of integrated assessment and research. Taking an integrated approach to research Integrated assessments draw together findings from a wide range of traditional research disciplines (for example physical sciences, life sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and economics) and organises them in a coherent way. At the same time, the value and relevance of the research findings can be optimised by close engagement and dialogue between the researchers and those affected, such as community organisations, industry representatives, planners and decision-makers at a local, regional, national and international level. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment is one example of such an activity (see Box right). Integrated assessments, however, need to be complemented by programmes of underpinning transdisciplinary research that pay due attention to the science of integration. This is not just an exercise in piecing together elements of knowledge from different disciplines, but of co-designing research activities from the beginning using insights from natural and social sciences and allowing the resulting common methodology to deliver qualitatively different research findings to emerge. This mode of research is being increasingly recognised as essential in relation to questions global change and sustainable development and the Arctic is a prime candidate for applying such emerging methods, as recognised by the European Science Foundation in its 2002 Global Change Forward Look: “An integrated programme of research in The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) is an international research initiative being conducted under the auspices of the Arctic Council. The goals of ACIA are to: estimate and synthesise knowledge on Arctic climate variability, climate change and increased UV radiation in the Arctic, and their consequences; provide useful and reliable information to governments, organisations and peoples of the Arctic region in order to support policy-making decisions; input to the continuing work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The initiative involves the close collaboration of experts, peoples of the Arctic region and others impacted by changes across the Arctic region. It aims to integrate both scientific and indigenous knowledge and is being conducted within the context of other developments and pressures on the Arctic environment, its economy, regional resources and peoples. Detailed and synthesis reports of the findings of the scientific analysis and indigenous insights as well as a set of policy/action recommendations are expected to be delivered in 2004. A number of leading Arctic and climate change experts in the UK have been, or continue to be, involved in the ACIA initiative, which represents a sound basis for further integrated research on the topic.

The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment

Further information is available at the ACIA web site at

© BP p.l.c. (2003)

the Arctic and sub-Arctic Basin … is identified as a flagship programme ..” (ESF, 2002)

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Knowledge Gaps and Emerging Issues
It is generally acknowledged that we still have a limited understanding of many aspects of the Arctic system, and that predictions of the extent and nature of future climaterelated changes in the Arctic remain subject to uncertainties. At the meeting, a large number of widely ranging research topics were suggested. These have been consolidated and collated into five cross-cutting headings which could be used to add focus to a co-ordinated programme of research. Exemplar questions spanning the research disciplines are suggested for each heading. Establishing Arctic baseline information under current climatic conditions What is the background natural level of climatic and ice variability in the Arctic? What are the critical dynamics of Arctic ecosystems, especially during winter? How do indigenous Arctic communities define sustainable development? Defining critical thresholds, linkages and feedbacks in the Arctic system What are the key thresholds for change? How will climate change interact with other drivers of environmental/social change? What types of events trigger changes in individual and/or community behaviour? Identifying the pivotal drivers of change What controls the magnitude and frequency of extreme events in the Arctic system? What controls the distribution limits and population abundance of species and ecosystems? How will changes in species zoning impact on resourcedependant communities? The marginality of much of the Arctic for human activities means that interactions between environmental changes and social responses are particularly sensitive. Arctic communities’ need to promote social-ecological resilience and to design adaptive responses for uncertain futures. The Arctic research community should investigate using equipment and methodologies and research tools developed by researchers in other fields. There is potential for applying these tools in an Arctic research context. Construction of a community integrated regional model for the Arctic, representing physical, ecological and social processes and with trans-national ownership would be highly beneficial. It is unrealistic for any single country to attempt to develop a model of this type on its own, but UK researchers and research groups could make very significant contributions to any multilateral project of this nature. Assessing vulnerability to change and the capacity to adapt When and how often are critical thresholds likely to be exceeded in future? Will species adapted to harsh conditions prove inflexible when the environment becomes more benign? How vulnerable are biological systems, including humans, to increases in UV radiation? How vulnerable is Arctic infrastructure to permafrost melting? Placing Arctic climate change in the Earth System context Why has climate warming been greater in the Arctic than globally? Is the Arctic a net sink or source of greenhouse gases? How fast will the Greenland Ice Sheet melt? How sensitive is the thermohaline circulation to freshwater exchange between the Arctic and the North Atlantic? How do global and Arctic changes interact? In addition, the following general observations were highlighted.

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Knowledge Gaps and Emerging Issues


UK strengths in relation to Arctic research
The UK has a particularly strong tradition of excellence in climate modelling, glaciology and ecosystem science and research bridging natural and social sciences – there is plenty of scope for UK scientists to apply high quality science and technology to Arctic problems. Many UK or expatriate UK scientists already lead/coordinate international Arctic science projects. Examples include: the International Tundra Experiment (ITEX), DART (project on dynamic response of the forest-tundra ecotone to environmental change), the Land Arctic Physical Processes experiment (LAPP), CONVECTION (project on mechanism of convection in the Greenland Sea), GreenICE (Greenland Arctic Shelf Ice and Climate Experiment), as well as selected International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) projects and Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) chapters. The Arctic represents a relatively well-bounded system about which it is possible to develop new integrated models that represent both physical and social dynamics and which allow relevant decision and policy makers to explore the implications of different scenarios. Such scientific integration is an area where UK scientists have an international lead. The UK has no Arctic territory and so UK researchers have a pan-Arctic approach. The UK has substantial archival data and records relating to the Arctic that can be exploited for understanding historical changes. The UK has a strong background in Antarctic research much of this expertise and experience is directly transferable to Arctic systems.

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Adding Value to UK Research
The UK has an active Arctic research interest involving a number of research councils, government agencies, universities and higher education institutes and commercial organisations. Furthermore, the UK’s researchers are active in a broad range of disciplines and geographical locations. But against this broad spectrum of Arctic research interest, is the UK handling its Arctic research effort in the most effective way? Recommendation: In addressing this issue the meeting recognised that there were significant benefits to be gained from improved coordination on Arctic issues, including among the research community, industry and government. Benefits would include: enhanced opportunities for inter-disciplinary research initiatives spanning the interests of several research councils; Mechanisms to achieve this might include: establishing or identifying a UK Arctic focal point representing the range of UK Arctic interests and that has recognition from both the research councils and from government (e.g. through an existing institution or as a virtual centre as a partnership initiative across several institutions); enhanced communication on Arctic issues through the development of a UK Arctic research network; increased participation of the UK research community in international programmes such as those of the Arctic Council. improved capacity for the development of and input to bilateral (e.g. with Canada or Russia) or multilateral (e.g. through the European Science Foundation or EU FP6) Arctic programmes; arctic research that is more closely allied to government objectives and policy in the region; greater capacity to influence the international Arctic scene through enhanced scientific diplomacy.

Credits and Acknowledgements Front cover: photo by Martin Johnson page 1: photo by John Sharp page 2: image by CAFF page 5: photos by BP p.l.c. and Martin Johnson page 6: photo by John Sharp page 7: photo by Martin Johnson page 8: photo by Martin Johnson

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Participants at May 2002 “Climate Change and the Arctic and its implications for the UK: Towards a New UK Research Agenda” meeting:
Dr Neil Adger Professor Steve Albon Dr Sheldon Bacon Dr Chris Baker Dr Bob Baxter Professor Graham Bentham Dr Grant Bigg Dr Rob Brooker Mr David Brown Professor Terry Callaghan Dr Howard Cattle Alison Champion Dr Bob Corell Professor Trevor Davies Professor Julian Dowdeswell Dr Vincent Fleming Dr Neil Gilbert Dr Jenny Gill Dr Dougal Goodman Dr Richard Harding Dr Bill Hare Dr Mike Harrison Dr Alex Haxeltine Dr Karen Heywood Professor Mike Hulme Lord Julian Hunt Professor Brian Huntley Dr Elaine Jones Dr Malcolm Light Professor Liz Morris Mrs Angela Morrison Dr Larissa Naylor Professor Mark Nuttall Dr Mike Richardson Dr Clare Robinson Daniel Sherry Professor Graham Shimmield Ms Alyce Tidball Dr Simon Torok Dr Ian Townend Professor Peter Wadhams Dr Rachel Warren Professor Andrew Watkinson Dr Andrew Watson Ms Gillian Watson Professor Duncan Wingham Dr Sarah Woodin Dr Christoph Zöckler Tyndall Centre and CSERGE and School of Environmental Studies, UEA CEH Banchory Southampton Oceanography Centre NERC Department of Biological Sciences, University of Durham School of Environmental Studies, UEA School of Environmental Studies, UEA UK Arctic Network (UKAN) NERC Abisko Scientific Research Station and University of Sheffield Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research Marine and Waterways Division, DEFRA Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) School of Environmental Studies, UEA Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) Polar Regions Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office School of Biological Sciences and Tyndall Centre, UEA Foundation for Science and Technology CEH Wallingford Greenpeace International Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research Tyndall Centre and School of Environmental Sciences, UEA School of Environmental Studies, UEA Tyndall Centre and School of Environmental Sciences, UEA University College London Department of Biological Sciences, University of Durham Tyndall Centre and School of Environmental Sciences, UEA Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM), University College London NERC Arctic Science Advisor NERC Tyndall Centre and School of Environmental Sciences, UEA Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Aberdeen Polar Regions Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office King’s College, London Polar Regions Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Scottish Association for Marine Science 1st Secretary, American Embassy Tyndall Centre and School of Environmental Sciences, UEA ABP Research University of Cambridge Tyndall Centre and School of Environmental Sciences, UEA Tyndall Centre and School of Biological Sciences, UEA School of Environmental Studies, UEA Tyndall Centre and School of Environmental Sciences, UEA Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM), University College London Department of Plant & Soil Science, University of Aberdeen UNEP-WCMC

Produced by the Tyndall Centre in association with the Polar Regions Unit and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Winter 2002/2003