Polar Expertise - Supporting Development

Lead Research Organisation: British Antarctic Survey
Department Name: Science Programmes


Working in the Polar Regions, BAS has developed expertise, instrumentation and modelling techniques that have wider applicability, e.g. where research can contribute to development goals. We propose two strands of research in ODA countries that build upon the strengths of BAS as an interdisciplinary survey and research institute, and which continue strands of research begun in recent years under grant funding: one focused on the long term security of ecosystem services on South Atlantic Islands and the other water resources in the Indian section of the Indus river basin.

The food security and economies of isolated island communities in the South Atlantic, in particular Tristan da Cunha and St Helena, are heavily reliant on harvesting marine resources and, to a lesser degree, tourism. Most of these resources are taken from the small coastal shelf areas and seamounts that are isolated in vast areas of deep ocean. Understanding how vulnerable these resources are to current and future harvesting, climate change and species invasion will be key to maintaining the future economic and cultural security of these communities.

We propose to deploy a multi-disciplinary team to construct a food-web for the exploited marine populations that will allow us to identify critical links in the food chain and to assess their vulnerability. Scientific cruises and land-based fieldwork, complemented by ocean model simulations, will allow us to understand the variability and eventually to identify any longer term trends, including climate change signals.

The key to this project is that it will integrate all previous studies to develop a long term study methodology that will improve our understanding of the causes and consequences of environmental change to the coastal shelf ecosystem. It would leave a legacy of robust oceanographic and food web modelling that will provide the scientific information necessary to develop policies to manage marine ecosystem resources, especially those relating to food security and eco-tourism. Moreover, whilst feeding directly into Island governmental planning, the outputs from this research will also feed into a number of International organisations that are actively involved in conservation of marine biodiversity.

Access to water in India is a key development challenge (UN SDG 6) as population growth, a rapidly expanding economy and a large agricultural sector compete for increasingly scarce or variable supplies, and this is likely to be exacerbated by predicted climate change. Already, almost 95% of Indus river flow is extracted to feed the world's largest system of irrigated agriculture, particularly in Indian and Pakistani Punjab, which supports 237 million people and growing.

The Indus river system originates in the western Himalayas, fed by snow and glacier melt and precipitation. Snow cover and glaciers in this region have shrunk dramatically in recent years, posing a serious threat to this water supply, but almost none of its thousands of glaciers have any ice thickness measurements and so the size of the region's ice reserves is unknown. Furthermore, the fundamental precipitation inputs to this river basin are sparsely measured and poorly understood.

This proposal will address these deficiencies by adapting existing BAS polar radar techniques to survey glacier volumes from the air, and developing a high resolution atmospheric model to characterise local climate variability (particularly by improving its representation of cloud microphysics and how this affects simulated precipitation). When linked to wider glacio-hydrological modelling studies (e.g. those to be undertaken by partners in India) this will lead to better understanding of present-day and future water availability, resulting in better informed policy decisions on Indus river water use.

Planned Impact

'Long term security of ecosystem services on South Atlantic Islands' focusses on both Tristan da Cunha and St Helena's heavy reliance on marine resources for food and economic security. 80% of Tristan da Cunha income comes from the commercial lobster fishery but the subsistence fisheries are closely associated with the Islanders cultural identity. Marine wildlife also supports an ecotourism industry at both Islands. The discrete geographic extent of these Islands, and well-defined actors, allows us to clearly identify the beneficiaries of this project. The governments of Tristan da Cunha and St. Helena and commercial interests such as Overstone Fishing Company will benefit from the indicators of ecosystem health that we will provide because they will help to ensure that fisheries exploitation is sustainable and that the fisheries retain their valuable Marine Stewardship Council certification. The project will provide an enhanced understanding of the food webs and new tools that will increase resilience of the harvestable stocks. These benefits are enhanced by the programme of capability-building that we propose (training in marine surveys, pragmatic ecosystem modelling, a data archive), which will enhance the self-reliance of the islands' fisheries and conservation departments, increasing their ability to manage their own marine resources in the face of environmental change. Ongoing conservation projects (e.g., RSPB, SAERI, National Geographic, Darwin) and the locating and monitoring of marine protected areas will also benefit through the improved understanding of the marine ecosystem that this research will provide.

In 'Water resources of the Upper Indus', both the water resource issue and the stakeholder landscape are highly complex. Multiple, competing water users and managers interact with policy-makers at a range of scales and levels of government, local to international. In our 'pathways to development impact', we have focussed strongly on a process of identifying stakeholders and seeking to understand their needs, as a key initial task. PP Bharucha (Anglia Ruskin University), PP David Viner (Mott Macdonald), the India-UK Water Centre (IUKWC) and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) have agreed to help us target our research to best meet stakeholder needs and to disseminate our results to best inform stakeholder decision-makers.

We anticipate that our Upper Indus research will ultimately benefit the water management agencies of India (Department of Hydrology and Meteorology and associates) and Pakistan (Water and Power Development Agency and associates) by contributing datasets that will reduce uncertainty in river-flow predictions. Directly and through these agencies, greater flow predictability will benefit hydropower developers and managers by improving estimates of the generation of electricity and hence income, which will assist in both power-capacity planning and project financing. Glacial meltwater is particularly important during low flows, hence our survey work supports disaster preparedness and mitigation by contributing to improved predictions of extreme low flows in droughts. Mountain climate in the Upper Indus affects all aspects of seasonal, annual and extreme flows and how they will change in future, and so is fundamental to short-term water resource management (relevant to municipal, industrial and agricultural water consumers) and longer-term government water-resource planning in the context of expected changes in water demand. In addition, our project partners in India will benefit directly from our planned capability-building activities (glacier radar surveying, high-resolution mountain climate modelling) through which we will support our partners to develop their own survey and modelling research, empowering them further to fund and expand their own cryospheric research programmes.


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Description A special issue of Frontiers in Marine Science is being prepared, with 14 Articles either published or accepted. The special issue brings a lot of the outputs from the NC-ODA project and the UK Government Blue Belt programme into one resource for the Islanders. "Working Towards a Blue Future: Promoting Sustainability, Environmental Protection and Marine Management: Examples from the UK Government Blue Belt Programme and Current International Initiatives" is available on-line at https://www.frontiersin.org/research-topics/16336/working-towards-a-blue-future-promoting-sustainability-environmental-protection-and-marine-managemen
The work on the importance of the maritime zones of St Helena and Tristan da Cunha to blue carbon has featured heavily in climate policy discussions, including the Climate Exp0 conference associated with COP26 (https://www.climateexp0.org/).
Exploitation Route Policy-relevant for the economies of UK Oversears Territories. Findings from the Himalaya important for water resource management.

NOTE: full details of the award are provided every 6 months, direct to NERC, as part of on-going National Capability reporting.
Sectors Agriculture

Food and Drink

Communities and Social Services/Policy



Description A short outreach film on the Bedmap Himalayas project was completed, which uses footage and interviews filmed by the BAS research team during their fieldwork in the Himalayas. The film featured in BAS's CoP26 outreach programme, both in the 'CoP26 Universities Network Innovation Showcase' and the public sector of the planned Glasgow exhibition space. It was also posted on the BAS website. The designation of the Tristan da Cunha Marine Protection zone attracted a lot of media attention. For example, the designation was classified by National Geographic as "one of the seven wins that gave us hope for the environment in 2020" and as "a glimmer of hope" by the Washington Post. BAS research fed directly into the decision to designate this Marine Protection zone, as well as both the St Helena and Tristan da Cunha Blue Belt marine management plans. This is a major achievement and a great output for the project. NOTE: Full details of this award are provided every 6 months direct to NERC as part of National Capability reporting requirements. A fully-detailed Final Report has also been submitted to NERC.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment,Other
Impact Types Societal

Policy & public services

Description The Big Thaw: gauging the past, present and future of our mountain water resources
Amount £1,376,227 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/X005267/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2022 
End 11/2026