Scientists working with a University of Plymouth team on sea ice in the Arctic (credit: Simon Belt/University of Plymouth)
Scientists working with a University of Plymouth team on sea ice in the Arctic (credit: Simon Belt/University of Plymouth)

Scientists from the University of Plymouth are taking part in a new project which aims to enhance our understanding of past changes to Arctic and Antarctic sea ice.

The research, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, will aim to develop the first ever proxy for reconstructing past changes to transmitted light through sea ice.

It will also aim to enhance the use of such approaches for reconstructing Earth’s past climate conditions, and positively impact our understanding of environmental parameters currently undergoing rapid change.

The project is being jointly coordinated by Dr Nikolai Pedentchouk, in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, and Professor of Chemistry Simon Belt, who will supervise a Post-Doctoral Researcher in Plymouth and oversee elements of the laboratory experiments.

He will also provide sea-ice algal biomass samples from the Arctic, through his participation in the complementary multinational MOSAiC project, co-funded by the Natural Envionrment Research Council (NERC).

Professor Belt said:

“Our climate is changing at a rapid pace, with predictions that sea ice cover could reduce drastically in polar regions over the course of this century. But to fully understand what we are seeing today, we need to appreciate how sea ice has changed historically. This new project will expand our knowledge in this area and give us new techniques with which to enhance our understanding of past and future sea ice change.”

Professor Belt is a world-leading expert on the changing state of polar sea ice, and has pioneered the development of using organic compounds made by algae as a means of carrying out sea ice reconstructions.

He has also recently been awarded funding by NERC to examine the relative importance of ice algae and open water phytoplankton to species that rely on such organisms for food in the Arctic.

The new research has the following main objectives:

  • To identify how the organic compounds made by sea ice algae and phytoplankton are influenced by different light conditions under laboratory and environmental conditions;
  • To use these outcomes to determine how the properties of sea ice, such as thickness and snow cover, have changed in the past.


Chemistry at Plymouth has a long research history in the area of environmental modelling and biogeochemical processes and uses interdisciplinary approaches and novel analytical techniques to deliver world class research.

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The activity highlighted here is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major environmental issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more.

NERC is part of UK Research & Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.