The CACOON project will quantify the effect of changing freshwater export and terrestrial permafrost thaw on the type and fate of riverborne organic matter (OM) delivered to arctic coastal waters, and resultant changes on ecosystem functioning in the coastal Arctic Ocean (AO). CACOON employs a wide range of technical approaches generating diverse datasets covering laboratory incubation results, geochemical analyses and biogeochemical modelling, so results will be of benefit to a broad range of academic and industry users.

Our impact objectives are to:

  1. Improve policy makers’ understanding of the role of the Arctic Ocean in climate mediation and how this might change in the future, in order to assist decision making.
  2. Engage with a wide range of stakeholders, focusing upon young people of school- age and the general public to raise awareness of Arctic climate change, and of the UKs need for understanding what takes place there.

Who will benefit and how may they benefit from CACOON research?

The UK government acknowledges that our understanding of Arctic ecosystems, and in particular marine ecosystems is limited and that this knowledge gap “hampers our ability to fully understand the effects of climate change, and of human activity, on marine species in the region” [1]. CACOON will deliver improved understanding of Arctic change at seasonal to decadal timescales, to establish knowledge and understanding on the impacts of freshwater intensification and terrestrial permafrost thaw in marine ecosystem structure and biogeochemical functioning. The project will raise the profile of the UK by developing a biogeochemical model capable of adequately representing changes in the supply and character of materials from land-to-ocean, and quantifying its consequences upon key ecosystem processes and roles. CACOON will therefore benefit policy forming bodies such as governmental environment and climate change departments (e.g. BEIS, DEFRA and their international equivalents) by contributing to a new understanding of how terrestrial and marine ecosystems interact to alter planktonic food-webs, and the role (and value) of Arctic Ocean biogeochemistry in climate regulation; evidence which can underpin policy. The project focus upon the Siberian Arctic also provides opportunities to build links with Russian scientists as sought by the Science and Innovation Network [1].

Greater understanding of the functioning and role of Arctic Ocean near-shore and how this may influence changes to marine carbon cycling are directly relevant to the knowledge and confidence of environmental policy communities including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the European Union, the Arctic Council, and the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), as well as international science bodies such as the Scientific Committee on Ocean Research (SCOR), Future Earth (FE) and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and charities with a strong Arctic interest.

CACOON will benefit young people of school-age, with the aim of increasing awareness and participation in geophysics. ‘Think Geophysics’ will build on the success of the pioneering NUSTEM’ project led by Northumbria University, previously funded for ¬£1.2 million from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). Research by the Institute of Physics revealed only 21% of physics students at UK universities were female. NUSTEM looks to target this gender imbalance by changing the way young people, particularly girls and under-represented groups, engaged with science from early years to sixth form and on to university. Think Geophysics will adopt this innovative ‘blueprint as a cradle-to-career project aimed at using environmental geophysics to inspire young people, particularly in the aforementioned groups, into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The project will address the national shortage of STEM skills in the UK by inspiring more young people to take up these disciplines at university. ‘Think Geophysics’ will also help to better inform the public, by exhibiting in centres, museums, festivals and events across the North East.

[1] Government Response to the House of Lords Select Committee Report HL 118 of Session 2014-15: Responding to a changing Arctic.