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Arctic Seas Research


Why study the Arctic?

arctic map tpThe Arctic Ocean is a vast, partially ice-covered sea consisting of a central deep basin surrounded by broad continental shelves and adjacent marginal seas (click map to enlarge).

Historically difficult to access, the Arctic Ocean was traditionally viewed as a remote, pristine and barren environment. Recent changes in climate, however, make the Arctic the fastest warming region of the globe.  High latitude ecosystems, which include  Arctic indigenous peoples, are under pressure from changing climate and increasing outside demand for natural resources. Current predictions foresee the entire Arctic Ocean to become ice-free in the summer sometime in the coming decades with impacts for marine and terrestrial systems far beyond the Arctic region that will affect our environmental, economic, social and political landscapes.

There are therefore many reasons to study the Arctic Ocean:

  • The ocean and sea ice in the Arctic are a crucial part of the global climate machinery, influencing atmospheric and oceanographic processes, and biogeochemical cycles beyond the Arctic region
  • The Arctic is home to unique organisms, adapted to extreme temperatures and salinity, with biotechnological potential
  • Arctic marine ecosystems are susceptible to environmental change and pollution with loss and displacement of species ultimately affecting the viability of northern fisheries
  • Economically, the Arctic is facing opportunities and threats resulting from the seasonally reduced ice state, making the Arctic more attractive for resource extraction and trans-shipping
  • The pace and magnitude of environmental change is greater in the Arctic than at any other location on Earth

The aim of the Arctic Research Theme is to promote and facilitate Arctic marine science research and education at SAMS, and to enhance SAMS’ international reputation as an institution contributing to understanding the nature of Arctic marine systems  

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Arctic Seas research at SAMS: a summary
"SAMS is the UK's leading centre for Arctic marine expertise and research, and home to the most experienced Arctic marine scientists in the country."

We undertake interdisciplinary research projects exploring all aspects of the Arctic marine environment:

  • Physical oceanography of Arctic seas  more...
  • Arctic meteorology  more...
  • Palaeo-oceanography of Arctic seas  more...
  • Arctic marine ecosystems and biogeochemistry  more...
  • High latitude technologies for measurement, monitoring and data transfer  more...


A sample list of recent publications on Arctic Seas is available here  more...



Infrastructure for SAMS Arctic Seas research

Within the UK, our scientists have unrivalled access to Arctic infrastructure and logistics.  We study the Arctic from numerous platforms (ships, moorings, submarines, ice camps, aircraft, diving) to observe directly any changes that are occurring in the Arctic.  We have established strong links with the circumpolar nations of Russia, Korea, USA, Canada, Norway and Greenland. This logistical base supports our state-of-the-art observational, experimental and modelling expertise.

Kings Bay Marine Laboratory, SvalbardInternational Arctic Marine Laboratory

We are a consortium partner/member in the international Kings Bay Marine Laboratory in Ny Ålesund in north west Svalbard.

This facility allows our scientists to conduct controlled experiments and to sample the regional biology, ice, water column and sediment.


Deploying a mooring near SvalbardArctic observatory

Since 2002 we maintain an oceanographic observatory in the shelf waters off north west Svalbard.

A suite of instruments is permanently deployed there to monitor the physical, chemical, biological and geochemical environment. Similar observatories are now in place at two other location in the north and west of Svalbard. Arctic time series data...


esa satellite to tranfer Arctic data to SMITechnology

Our active technology team has been developing a wide range of cutting-edge autonomous environmental monitoring instruments used to study changes in polar environments with a particular focus on sea ice.

The instruments make significant use of satellite data telemetry and GPS.  Major advances have been made in data transfer technologies, instrument longevity, autonomy and low cost systems.


drilling on ice jcrPlatforms

Our scientists have access to a range of research platforms including the international fleet of polar research vessels and associated ROV technologies.

Recently we have also begun to collaborate with indigenous hunters from Greenland and now deploy instruments on their sledges.


scientific diving in the Arctic by NFSD diversScientific Diving

Through the National Facility for Scientific Diving based at SAMS, we provide expert training and advice on techniques for scientific diving in low temperatures and ice covered waters.

Our divers also support polar research programmes conducted by us and our partners.


Policy research and advice

Advisory committees

Several members of our staff are active on Arctic consultative, advisory and policy boards and committees, e.g.


Education and training relating to Arctic Seas

unisAs the Arctic becomes a focus for industry, government and science, the job market will demand graduates with a holistic view and experience of the Arctic.  Through the University of the Highlands and Islands SAMS offers a unique undergraduate honours degree course that in Marine Science with Arctic Studies, which includes one or two semesters at the University Centre on Svalbard   more...

SAMS PhD (through UHI/Univ. Aberdeen) and MRes programmes (jointly with St. Andrews), provide postgraduate students with opportunities to acquire further Arctic experience and expertise,  with dissertation topics across the spectrum of arctic science.  More...

In addition, SAMS provides bursary opportunities for students to gain field skills in the Arctic, and supports young scientists to participate at international conferences on Arctic science, and organises and hosts national and international meetings, workshops and conferences on various Arctic research themes.

SAMS’ STEM Ambassadors engage with younger students through local primary and high schools, and Arctic researchers engage with special-interest groups and the general public on Arctic topics through talks, workshops, visits and open days.

Laura Hobbs, a SAMS PhD student, is currently education coordinator with the UK Polar Network for Early Career Scientists.


SAMS Arctic Expeditions

SAMS researchers have led and participated in many expeditions to the Arctic Ocean, and its adjacent seas and fjords. The following links show how we live and work in cold and remote Arctic Seas:

  • Oceans 2025 ICE CHASER expedition to the Arctic 2008
  • Baffin Island Expedition 2009
  • Oceans 2025 ICE CHASER expedition to the Arctic 2010
  • UK Ocean Acidification program expedition to the Arctic 2012
  • Greenland Sledge
  • Greenland Fjords
  • Student in Arctic Pages


Our Arctic Seas research in the media

Our Arctic Seas research has gained significant media interest over the years, and we link you to a sample of this coverage here:

  • Giving evidence to the House of Lords enquiry into the Arctic  more...
  • BBC Newsnight on our 2008 Ice Chaser expedition   more...
  • 2008 Ice Chaser expedition podcasts and BBC radio broadcasts  more...
  • Listen to a podcast of our Arctic Seas research  more...
  • Arctic ocean acidification podcast  more...
  • Politics Show Scotland  more...
  • We have also produced a flier explaining our research  more...
Contact us
Scottish Marine Institute
Oban, Argyll, PA37 1QA
T: 01631 559000
F: 01631 559001