The UK Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program (UK-OSNAP)

Lead Research Organisation: Scottish Association For Marine Science
Department Name: Scottish Association For Marine Science


UK-OSNAP: Summary

What is climate? The sun's energy is constantly heating the Earth in equatorial regions, while in the Arctic and Antarctic the Earth is frozen and constantly losing heat. Ocean currents and atmospheric weather together move heat from the equator towards the poles to keep the Earth's regional temperatures in balance. So climate is simply the heat moved by ocean currents and by the weather. Earth's climate is warming: the average temperature of the Earth is rising at a rate of about 0.75 degrees Centigrade per hundred years, caused by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere trapping heat that is normally lost to space. Can we forecast how climate might change in the future?

There is an old adage that rings true: "Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get". Hot weather in one summer does not tell us that climate is changing because the weather is so variable day-to-day and even year-to-year. We need to average over all the weather for a long time to decide if the climate is changing. We would like to know if the climate is changing before our descendants face the consequences, and that is where our project comes in. The ultimate ambition of climate scientists is nothing less than forecasting climate up to 10 years in advance.

Is this possible? After all we know weather forecasts become somewhat unreliable after three to five days. The answer is yes because of the ocean. Slow and deep currents give the ocean a memory from years to hundreds of years, and the ocean passes this memory onto the climate. If we know the condition of the ocean now, then we have a good chance of understanding how this will affect the climate in years to come.

We have set ourselves a huge task, but will be helped by colleagues in the US, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Denmark and Scotland. We will continuously measure the ocean circulation from Canada to Greenland to Scotland (the subpolar North Atlantic Ocean). This has never been attempted before. We have chosen the North Atlantic because the circulation here is important for the whole of Earth's climate. This is because in the high latitudes of the North Atlantic, and the Arctic Ocean that it connects to, the ocean can efficiently imprint its memory on the atmosphere by releasing the huge amounts of heat stored in it. In the UK we are on the same latitude as Canada and Siberia, and the Shetland Islands are further north than the southern tips of Greenland and Alaska, but the Atlantic Ocean circulation keeps the UK 5-10 degrees Centigrade warmer than those other countries.

We can measure across an entire ocean by deploying reliable, self-recording instruments. We will use moorings (wires anchored to the seabed and supported in the water by air-filled glass spheres) to hold the instruments in the important locations. Every year from 2014 to 2018 we will use ships to recover the moorings and the data, then put the instruments back in the water. We will also use exciting new technology. Autonomous underwater Seagliders will fly from the surface to 1 km depth on year long-missions surveying the ocean, from Scotland to 2000 km westward into the Atlantic. The Seagliders transmit their data to our lab every day via satellite, and the pilot can fly the glider remotely. Also there is a global fleet of 3000 drifting floats to continuously measure the top 1 km of the ocean. Satellites provide important measurements of the ocean surface. With these new measurements, we will find how the heat carried by the ocean changes through the months and years of the project, and we will use complex computer models to help explain what we find.

Planned Impact

Beneficiaries and how do they benefit?

Decadal and seasonal forecasters. Knowledge of the structure, behaviour and state of the sub-polar Atlantic is crucial to the skill of forecasting systems. OSNAP will provide observations to accurately form essential starting conditions, benefitting the UK Met. Office 'DePreSys' team.

UK, European and international climate modelers. The observations will provide valuable data to enable assessment, and subsequent refinement, of coupled ocean/climate models used for prediction. Modeling groups at UK Met. Office Hadley Centre and the UK National Centre for Ocean Forecasting will benefit. We will prepare tailored progress presentations for the Hadley Centre. Maximum benefit to the international climate modeling community will be ensured through links in the international OSNAP programme (US, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, France).

International and domestic climate policy and decision makers. Refinement of seasonal, decadal and climate models will contribute to increasingly reliable projections of future climate, thereby underpinning mitigation and adaptation strategies. International benefactors include future assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which synthesises international modeling work for the policy-making community; and also the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO). Domestic beneficiaries include the Depts. of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA); the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Polar Desk; and the Scottish Government whose territorial waters extend into the region. The combination of OSNAP results with data from other locations, notably RAPID-WATCH 26N and the Nordic Seas (EU projects NACLIM and THOR), will aid detection of large-scale change in the system likely to influence regional climate and require modified adaptation/mitigation policies.

We will manage our User Community List for climate policy-making for circulating notification and summaries of relevant publications. We will engage with users (known and new) and assist with the extraction, presentation and analysis of OSNAP data; we will make extensive use of a website. We will publish an annual Project Summary Briefing for the climate policy community, outlining project progress and key findings. We will work with the UK Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership and the UK Climate Impacts Programme to ensure that findings are included in their reports including the 'Annual Report Card' and the AMOC Stakeholder Guidance Note. We will visit key policymakers throughout the project, and invite them to our Project's final UK meeting, shaping part of this meeting towards delivery of Project results within a user context.

Outreach. Ocean science is an exciting and engaging topic for the general public, particularly children. UK-OSNAP will showcase physical science and technology and inspire children in the science and engineering elements of the curriculum. The Scottish Ocean Explorer Centre in Oban will highlight the cutting edge technology with a particular focus on gliders, utilising live feeds of the incoming data and displays showing the tracks of the gliders. The highly-regarded website (Southampton) will carry regular features for pupils and teachers. The press offices of NERC, NOC, SAMS and U. Oxford will be kept appraised of newsworthy developments. We will exploit the publicity opportunities afforded by annual NOC & University Open Days. We will maintain cruise blogs targeted at non-scientific audiences.

We will disseminate findings by publication of articles in high-impact refereed journals and presentations at key international science conferences. We will develop a project website to act as a point of access for users of our results, reports and value-added data products.


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Title "How the north east Atlantic influences global climate" 
Description Youtube animation on glider flight and data from OSNAP study area. Credit: Dr. Sam Jones, SAMS 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact Audience engagement, understanding of mechanics of glider flight and the potential for high resolution data gathering in harsh oceanic environments 
Description Published in the journal Science, the study shows how a deep-ocean process in the North East Atlantic Ocean are playing a much larger role in regulating the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) than previously thought.

The AMOC transfers heat from equatorial regions to the Arctic Ocean, driven by current and westerly winds and warming the atmosphere above. As a consequence, Scotland's climate is five to 10 degrees Celsius warmer than other maritime countries on a similar latitude. As these waters cool and sink - a process known as overturning - they absorb excess heat from the atmosphere, slowing the rate of global warming.

In a departure from the prevailing scientific view, the study shows that the vast majority of the overturning in the Atlantic is occurring not in the Labrador Sea off Canada, as past modelling studies have suggested, but in regions between Greenland and Scotland. There, warm, salty, shallow waters carried northward from the tropics convert into colder, fresher, deep waters moving southward through the Irminger and Iceland basins.

These new findings will help scientists better predict how the changing AMOC will affect our climate.
Exploitation Route -Form the basis for a new scientific framework on AMOC
-help inform societal decisions on how we deal with the effects of climate change
Sectors Environment

Description Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP) report
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Description European Commission
Amount € 8,600,000 (EUR)
Funding ID 308299 
Organisation European Commission 
Department Seventh Framework Programme (FP7)
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 11/2012 
End 01/2017
Description European Commission Horizon 2020 Funding
Amount € 21,000,000 (EUR)
Funding ID SEP-210177333 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 04/2015 
End 07/2019
Description European Commission Horizon 2020 Funding
Amount € 9,200,000 (EUR)
Funding ID 678760 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 04/2016 
End 03/2020
Description MASTS Dynamics and Properties of Marine Systems
Amount £3,000 (GBP)
Organisation Government of Scotland 
Department Scottish Funding Council
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2015 
End 04/2016
Description iAtlantic
Amount € 10,729,843 (EUR)
Funding ID Proposal number: SEP-210522255 
Organisation European Union 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 01/2020 
End 12/2021
Title Github Glider post-processing toolbox 
Description A toolbox to read glider data, perform automatic and manual quality controls and plot the QC flagged data. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Used to prepare data for two publications associated with this award. 
Title UK OSNAP near real-time glider dataset 
Description Houpert L.; Inall M.; Dumont E.; Cunningham S.A. (2018). UK OSNAP near real-time glider dataset. British Oceanographic Data Centre - Natural Environment Research Council, UK. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Used in two publications associated with this award 
Description A Trans-AtLantic Assessment and deep-water ecosystem-based Spatial management plan for Europe (ATLAS) 
Organisation University of Edinburgh
Department MRC Institute of Genetics & Molecular Medicine
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This EU H2020 funded programme is led by Prof. Murray Roberts. Cunningham (work package leader & PI) is instrumenting the eastern boundary OSNAP array with biogeochemistry sensors. This programme also funds an 80% post doc over 4-years who will work on research related to OSNAP.
Collaborator Contribution Murray Robers is the ATLAS PI (value of Euro 9.2 Million)
Impact none
Start Year 2015
Description Blue Action: Arctic Impact on Weather and Climate 
Organisation Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI)
Country Denmark 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We contribute analysis of OSNAP and EEL observations to this EU H2020 project
Collaborator Contribution Wide EU collaborative network
Impact none
Description Canada - United Kingdom: Ocean Science and Technology Theme Canada Mission to the UK 
Organisation Government of Canada
Country Canada 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Early stage talks with delegates from University of Victoria, Dalhousie University, Ocean Networks Canada, MEOPAR, Canadian National Research Council and Department of Fisheries and Oceans aimed at a collaborative approach to basin-scale oceanographic questions.
Collaborator Contribution Not yet applicable
Impact N/A
Start Year 2019
Description Drivers and Impacts of Variable shelf Edge tRanSport and Exchange (DIVERSE) 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department The Wessex Institute
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Submission of NERC Standard Grant (Feb 2017) building on observations in this proposal
Collaborator Contribution Partner led this bid.
Impact NERC Standard Grant Submitted
Start Year 2014
Description Extended Ellett Line (NERC National Capability Programme) 
Organisation National Oceanography Centre
Department Marine Physics and Ocean Circulation
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution Cunningham is Co-PI with Dr Penny Holliday (NOC) for the NERC National Cabability programme "The Extended Ellett Line" Cunningham leads a biennial cruise and annual seaglider sections from Scotland to Iceland This programme is a critical contribution to OSNAP, supporting the eastern boundary array observations
Collaborator Contribution Cunningham is Co-PI with Dr Penny Holliday (NOC) for the NERC National Cabability programme "The Extended Ellett Line"
Impact none
Start Year 2012
Description : Scottish Parliament engagement event - Gliders for environmental science 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The NERC reception aims to showcase NERC brand messages to Scottish parliamentary audiences and NERC advocates through a celebration of NERC science and people with a Scottish connection.

The reception objectives are to:
• Showcase NERC brand and messages to Scottish parliamentary audiences and NERC advocates through a celebration of NERC science and people with a Scottish connection, in support of our broader external affairs aims.
• Demonstrate how NERC:
o Helps find solutions to the problems facing people, society and the economy;
o Works with Scottish parliament and policy-makers to ensure our evidence informs policy;
o Engages the UK public with environmental science evidence.
• Raise awareness, support and enthusiasm for NERC UnEarthed showcase with attendees through an element of fun!
• Build closer relationships with a community of NERC advocates in Scotland from research, partner and parliamentary stakeholder groups.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Animation illustrating glider flight and OSNAP oceanographic observations 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Movie detailing the mechanics of robotic glider flight and showing an example of glider data across the Iceland Basin. This was widely disseminated on Facebook and Twitter at the same time as the Science paper press releases and had high viewing figures. The Youtube link provided was added retrospectively.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Interview for national news - Prof Stuart Cunningham talk to John Beattie on BBC Radio Scotland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Prof Stuart Cunningham was on BBC Radio Scotland around lunchtime today (8/2/19). To give you an indication of the audience, BBC Radio Scotland has 749,000 (adults 15+) listeners per week in a population of 4,580,000 (adults 15+). The John Beattie Show is one of the most popular on the station. This was about the OSNAP paper. See URL (interview from 45.48 onwards.)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description News story on institution websiate and across social media 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact News story on institution website and across social media - "Seas off the UK key to regulating climate" detailing the recent publication of first OSNAP results, and marking a shift in the prevailing view on heat transfer between Atlantic and Arctic. Picked up by > 210 news outlets including Washington Post: and AP:
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Pennie Latin talks to Professor Stuart Cunningham named oceanographer of the year in 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact BBC Radio Scotland, Brainwaves, Episode 8, 28mins.
Interview discussing my career as a Physical Oceanographer and my current research interests.

I received a number of follow up email enquires from the general public, my fans (i.e. living relatives)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Press Release associated with OSNAP moorings cruise and first deployment of biogeochemitstry sensors on the mooring array funded by EU programme ATLAS 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Deep in the Atlantic Ocean: high-tech sensors to gather long-term biogeochemical data
Press release: June 2017
The crew of the Royal Research Ship Discovery, a scientific research vessel of the United Kingdom,
recently deployed high-technology biogeochemical sensors onto existing 'Overturning in the Subpolar
North Atlantic Program' (OSNAP) moorings in the Rockall Trough, a major deep-water area in the
North Atlantic Ocean. By taking continuous measurements in this important yet remote location, the
sensors will contribute much needed long-term biogeochemical data to further our understanding of
the interactions occurring in our ocean.
The North Atlantic Subpolar Gyre, located in the North Atlantic subpolar region, is a large system of
rotating ocean currents which forms a key component of the global climate system. In this region, the
ocean warms the atmosphere (keeping northern Europe relatively mild) and atmospheric carbon
dioxide is drawn into the deep ocean. The flow of energy and elements through the North Atlantic
Ocean ultimately drives patterns of marine biodiversity at the ocean basin scale (
OSNAP is an international program designed to provide a continuous record of physical ocean
properties in the subpolar North Atlantic through an array situated on moorings which cross the
Atlantic. The newly deployed equipment consists of sensors to additionally measure levels of
nutrients, oxygen and pH in the Rockall Trough. A Remote Access Sampler (RAS) will simultaneously
collect samples of seawater to validate and complement the automatically recorded data from the
As Professor Stuart Cunningham, from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) explains,
adding these new sensors to the existing infrastructure is an important step: "So far, only the physical
parameters of ocean circulation data can be measured at the OSNAP array. Combining this data with
the new biogeochemical measurements will, for the first time, give us a long time-series of changes of
ocean currents, nutrient concentrations and more. This will be a big advance in our ability to
understand the interactions of ocean physics with ocean ecosystems, particularly the cold-water coral
systems of the Atlantic."
This work was undertaken as part of the multidisciplinary EU-funded Horizon 2020 ATLAS project
which aims to improve our understanding of the complexity of deep-sea ecosystems, and to predict
future shifts and vulnerabilities of these ecosystems and their associated species. For more
information on ATLAS, please visit:
The biogeochemical sensors that have been deployed are not new developments in themselves.
However, as Prof Cunningham explains, "We are using them in a novel way. Combining
biogeochemistry on this large physics array is ground breaking! By adding new observations of
biogeochemical properties to existing large scale observing infrastructures we can make
biogeochemical measurements at broader scales, matching the current physical observations. As a
result, the possibilities and implications for understanding the critical processes occurring in our
oceans are vast."
Implementing key agreements to protect biodiversity and support adaptive ocean management
requires improved knowledge on the Atlantic Ocean basin scale. ATLAS will contribute by enhancing
the purpose-built trans-Atlantic array to deepen our understanding of the importance of ocean
currents. Improved knowledge gained through the use of this unique basin scale infrastructure will
help predicting ecosystem tipping points and understanding the link between ocean currents, species
distribution and connectivity. This will, in turn, drive forward an ambitious new decision support tool
for integrated Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) of the Atlantic Ocean.
For more information on the sensors please contact:
Prof Stuart Cunningham:
For more information on the ATLAS project, please visit:, follow @atlas_eu on
Twitter or email Dr Claudia Junge (
Notes for Editors
ATLAS is a research and innovation action funded under the European Union's Framework Programme
for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020, grant No 678760. It is the largest integrated study of deep
Atlantic ecosystems ever undertaken. The four-year project was launched in May 2016 and has a total
budget of €9.1 million.
Led by the University of Edinburgh (Scotland, UK) ATLAS brings together 24 partners (and one linked
third party) from 10 European countries, the USA and Canada. It consists of 12 universities, four
national research institutes, five small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and four government
agencies. AquaTT (Ireland) is the project dissemination partner.
SAMS, as the ATLAS partner in charge of the sensor deployment, have also been partly funded by the
Horizon 2020 AtlantOS project to instrument part of the OSNAP array with these biogeochemical
sensors, to contribute to exciting new work on our deep ocean.
The Rockall Trough is a major deepwater area which lies to the west of Ireland and the United
Kingdom. Enhanced hydrographic mixing, upwelling and down-welling around the adjacent Rockall
Bank may give rise to localised and specialised biological communities such as sponge aggregations,
Lophelia reefs, and coral gardens. The Rockall Bank supports large and productive stocks of fish, and
has been proposed as an "Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area" under the Convention on
Biological Diversity.
The existing OSNAP moorings run across the Atlantic Ocean, from Canada to Greenland and from
Greenland to Scotland. This array measures the circulation and heat and fresh-water fluxes to better
understand the role of the Atlantic overturning circulation in Earth's climate. For more information,
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017