NERC Arctic Research Programme

Lakes and Arctic Climate cycle (LAC)
The NERC-funded project LAC [] involves researchers from Geography departments at Southampton, UCL, Loughborough and Nottingham, plus partners in Alaska, Russia and Greenland, who together are bringing a state-of-the-art approach to understanding the interactions between vegetation changes in arctic catchments and biogeochemical cycling in lakes. Our focus is on changes in carbon (C) cycling over a range of time scales (from decades to centuries and millennia).

Study sites are representative of major permafrost-affected, pan-Arctic biomes (vegetation types), past and present, e.g., moist shrub tundra, boreal forest (European Russia, Norway, Alaska), dry shrub tundra (W. Greenland); these are characterized by different dominant plant functional types and nutrient regimes. As vegetation and permafrost regimes respond to climate change, the distribution of C on the landscape and its delivery to lakes changes, which in turn affects C-processing in lakes. We are testing the hypothesis that increasing biomass and a switch toward biomes dominated by woody vegetation (for example, the current phenomenon of arctic greening) increases lake processing of terrestrial C and, in turn, C emissions as greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. To do this, we are using data on Holocene environments and lake-ecosystem dynamics derived from a suite of proxies in radiocarbon-dated lake sediments to understand how lakes responded to previous episodes of arctic greening. In an extension of the project, researchers at Southampton are developing a pan-arctic assessment of lake methane emissions using new remote sensing tools. Participants: John Anderson (PI), Mary Edwards, Viv Jones, Pete Langdon, Suzanne McGowan, Maarten van Hardenbroek.

Because of their dynamic erosion and sedimentation regimes, thaw lakes contribute disproportionally to lacustrine methane emissions in permafrost regions. Kim Davies (Southampton) has been studying the spatial patterns of methane oxidation across small thaw lakes in Alaska using a compound-specific isotope approach. The larger goal is to understand what drives down-core patterns of such methane proxies in palaeo studies. Findings are now in press in Biogeosciences []. Collaborators include Rich Pancost (Bristol), Katey Walter Anthony (UAF) and Mary Edwards and Pete Langdon (Southampton). The work was partially supported by NERC (isoptope analysis) and NSF (fieldwork).
Carbon Cycling Linkages of Permafrost Systems (CYCLOPS)
A second NERC-funded project, CYCLOPS, involves researchers from the universities of Edinburgh, Exeter, Sheffield and Sussex with Canadian collaborators at the Geological Survey of Canada, the University of Ottawa and the Northwest Territories Geological Survey. With two field seasons successfully carried out in Whitehorse (2013) and Yellowknife (2014), CYCLOPS is now focussed on data analysis and publications. Current foci involve analysis of vegetation and soil influences on active-layer thickness; methane and carbon dioxide fluxes under different vegetation, thermokarst and burn areas; and process-based modelling of soil-plant-atmosphere (SPA) interactions.

Ancient DNA

A Norway-UK collaboration funded by NFR has made considerable advances in the use of ancient, sediment-derived DNA to reconstruct vegetation changes in a lake catchment on Svalbard. The cold climate and continuous permafrost mean that DNA is preserved particularly well in soils and sediments. The data are highly promising and show that new molecular methods can contribute to understanding floristic and vegetation change in the Arctic. Collaborators include Inger Alsos (PI) and Per Sjøgren (Tromso University Museum) and Mary Edwards and Tony Brown (Southampton, Geography and Environment). Further information from Mary Edwards (
UK-Russian collaboration on Pleistocene permafrost
Collaboration on Pleistocene permafrost continues between the University of Sussex (Julian Murton), the University of Southampton (Mary Edwards) and a Russian team led by Grigoriy Savvinov at the Science Research Institute of Applied Ecology of the North of North-East Federal University, Yakutsk. This led to the publication of a monograph on the palaeoenvironmental significance of the yedoma at Duvanny Yar (Murton et al., 2015). Currently the team is finishing a preliminary palaeoenvironmental analysis of 90 m of permafrost deposits at Batagaika megaslump, in the Yana Uplands of northern Siberia. This is based on reconnaissance sampling of the site in 2011 and 2013. A follow-up systematic study of this remarkable sedimentary sequence is being planned.

Rock micro- to macrocracking

PhD student Vikram Maji of the University of Sussex has been preparing for experiments investigating the transition from micro- to macrocracking of rock during freezing. This will involve imaging with micro-CT scanning at Queen Mary University of London and sensing by electric field potential, acoustic emissions and miniature strain gauges in the Sussex Permafrost Laboratory. Pilot work on cracking of chalk and sandstone has been conducted in collaboration with Civil Engineering at the University of Brighton.
Harding, P., Ellis, C. and Grant, M.J. 2014. Late Upper Palaeolithic Farndon Fields. Chapter 2 in Cooke, N. and Mudd, A. (2014) eds. A46 Nottinghamshire: the archaeology of the Newark to Widmerpool Improvement Scheme 2009. Cotswold Wessex Archaeology, Oxbow Books
Murton, J.B., Bateman, M.D. and Dinnin, M. 2001. Yarborough Quarry (SE936108) In: Bateman, M.D., Buckland, P.C., Frederick, C.D. & Whitehouse, N. J. (eds.): The Quaternary of East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire Field Guide. Quaternary Research Association, London, pp 113–126.
Murton, J.B., Goslar, T., Edwards, M.E., Bateman, M.D., Danilov, P.P., Savvinov, G.N., Gubin, S.V., Ghaleb, B., Haile, J., Kanevskiy, M., Lozhkin, A.V., Lupachev, A.V., Murton, D.K., Shur, Y., Tikhonov, A., Vasil’chuk, A.C., Vasil’chuk, Y.K. and Wolfe, S.A., 2015. Palaeoenvironmental interpretation of yedoma silt (Ice Complex) deposition as cold-climate loess, Duvanny Yar, northeast Siberia. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 26, 208–288. DOI: 10.1002/ppp.1843

Report prepared by Julian Murton (