Nortern LightsNorthern Lights

Serious Science

The National Environmental Research Council's (NERC) Arctic Research Programme seeks to improve predictions of Arctic change at season to decade scales and its global impact. The Arctic is undergoing rapid change which has the potential to impact the UK and the rest of the world. Understanding what drives this unprecedented change and its possible future consequences is a scientific challenge of the utmost urgency with important societal implications.


Find out more about the programme's projects at The Arctic Research Programme.

The Arctic Research Programme uses many different types of scientific research. Some of these you will know. Others will be less familiar.

Do a web search to find out more - but remember, not everything on the web is accurate!

Scientists have found some amazing creatures living only 800 km from the North Pole. Watch the woolly bear caterpillar (BBC i-player) which lives only 800km from the North Pole.

Scientists work at research stations or in the field. The Svalbard Archipelago in Northern Norway is home to the Ny-Alesund Arctic Research station, an international research community, established in 1991.

Svalbard Science


Ny-Alesund is the UK's only long term presence in the Arctic and is the NERC Arctic Research Station (78° 56? N 12° E), operated and managed by the British Antarctic Survey, which is located in the research village of Ny-Ålesund on the Svalbard archipelago. The Station, established by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in 1991, provides facilities and accommodation for researchers from UK universities, research institutes and other recognised organisations (and their international collaborators) wanting to carry out environmental research relevant to the NERC science remit.

Ny-Alesund Arctic Research station
Guy Hillyard

Find out more about this region and the international research community at NERC - UK Arctic Projects.
Webcams can also give an up to date view of what it is like there. Does anything surprise you?

Ny Ålesund: Webcam with View from Hamnerabben Airport via Spitsbergen Webcams

Click on the mobile controls to listen to glaciologists Dr Andy Hodson, and Professor Tavi Murray talking about their work and life on Svalbard.

DOWNLOAD text version

DOWNLOAD text version

Click on the mobile and surf through Andy's and Tavi's photos of Svalbard

Interview - working on a melting ice floe!

What is Science on a melting ice floe like?

In July 2008, Twenty scientists were evacuated from an Arctic ice floe after it began to break up earlier than expected. The floating ice was home to 'North Pole 35', a research station where scientists lived and worked through the entire Arctic winter. Roughly three kilometres by five kilometres in September, the ice floe is now only a few hundred metres wide and dangerously unstable.

What kind of measurements did you take?

Mainly atmospheric tests to measure temperature and wind speed, and we also made ozone measurements using instruments carried on balloons. Meanwhile, the Russian researchers took conductivity, temperature and density profiles of the water. The data will be useful to help build better climate models. Because conditions were relatively favourable for most of the time, we managed to retrieve almost twice as many data sets as expected. One of the most striking things we found was the frequent occurrence of extreme temperature inversions, with air at a few hundred metres above sea level being up to 15°C warmer than on the ground. We saw the same contrasts with wind speeds. These phenomena have never been measured in situ before.

Did you see any polar bears?

Plenty! I guess there were 30 or so close encounters, with bears prowling around our cabins or marching right through the middle of our little village. You have to be a bit careful, but there were no really life-threatening incidents. We used our flare pistols quite a lot, though, to drive them away. The biggest problem was that it took more than a month in the first place to find a suitable ice floe for setting up the camp. By the time the station was fully operational it was the end of October. We had no assistance in setting everything up, so with winter round the corner it really became a race against time. Building an airstrip long enough for cargo planes to land was also a challenge.

The Arctic winter must be quite extreme?

It was actually raining when we first arrived on the ice floe. But winter and darkness came fast as we drifted north, all the while hurrying to set up the wooden cabins, the mess and our instruments. The winter was tough - on quite a few days the temperature fell below -40°C. Luckily, conditions didn't get quite as extreme as they might have, and we didn't get into any really massive storms. But when on 8 March the Sun first appeared beyond the horizon again it was still a relief. We held a little feast, with shish kebabs and all, to celebrate its return.

Source: 16 July 2008 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2008.956

Activity: Write a letter

Use the information in the interactive and the interviews with the scientists to write a letter describing what it is like to live and work on Svalbard.


"Announcement of Opportunity"!

Each year an 'Announcement of Opportunity' is posted on the NERC and BAS websites. This is a chance for scientists or students to study at the centre. They must submit a proposal and be prepared to fund their own travel and subsistence costs. The station will support their research. Successful applicants have to go through a detailed induction process, with the emphasis on safety in this wild environment, which includes field training, in firearms, radio, skidoo driving, and glacier travel.

Safety is very important in the field - for more information on essential equipment see the NERC Arctic Station Handbook

Activity: Polar Packing

Jill Jones has been successful in her application to work in Svalbard. She has muddled up her lists of clothing and equipment. Help her to pack.

Download the Polar Packing activity

Polar Bears

Every scientist has to enrol on a rifle training course to protect against polar bears!


Home | 1: Climate change | 2: Living on the edge | 3: Arctic science | 4: Hunter or hunted? | 5: Postcard from the edge | 6: Troubled waters | 7: Resources from the edge | 8: Arctic Circumpolar Governance | 9: Snow, water, ice, permafrost | 10: Adapting to change

For teachers | Resource finder | Help | About the site/terms and conditions

Discovering Antarctica, our sister site