James borrell is a conservation scientist and science communicator, with a particular interest in how species adapt to changing climate.

Fieldwork: Science in the Arctic


PROFILE: Dr. Ceri Lewis

SPECIES: Copepods



Joining the Catlin Arctic Survey was completely by accident.  I was interested in the biology of the oceans, one day I had a call out of the blue asking if I wanted to come. Perhaps they found me on Google since I am an active researcher in the area that Catlin were interested in, Ocean Acidification!

I’ve wanted to be a marine biologist since I was 14 and it has all lead on from that. I worked in Belize with Coral Cay doing dive survey work, and then in South Africa, Plymouth and now at the University of Exeter. I certainly didn’t have any polar experience before the Catlin Arctic Survey but was very excited by the opportunity to work in this amazing environment.


Talking to a lot of the explorers on the Arctic Survey last year, they really enjoyed supporting and helping the scientists and working for a greater good rather than just their own enjoyment. Knowing that our work is helping understand huge issues like climate change and ocean acidification makes the trip more rewarding on a personal level too.

The Future:

The arctic is in big trouble, there’s no doubt scientifically that it is the most vulnerable place to climate change impacts, especially those associated with ocean acidification.  So it’s never been more important to understand what is happening there and how fast. We’re not going to try and stop people burning carbon, we would like to see a behaviour change of course, but that’s not our main reason. Our aim is to collect the right scientifically robust data, without preconceptions of what we might find, to help the policy makers make decisions and inform people of the facts.

Climate change and Ocean acidification is important globally. All of the climate models we have are based on CO2 flux estimates, so going to the arctic to do this research is fundamentally important to provide the data for those predictions. The knock on effects of the changes in the arctic are a big unknown, and we can’t look after something we know nothing about.


Find out more about Joshua’s continuing research..



I’m interested in the current state of carbon chemistry in the Arctic Ocean. This means that we’re trying to understand how CO2 is taken up and released, which is called carbon flux. I’ll be studying the effects of different CO2 levels on zooplankton such as copepods, which are tiny but very important crustaceans that live under the sea ice.  Research can be really challenging in arctic conditions. One experiment I’ll run is taking copepods into the future, by simulating higher levels of ocean CO2 that we expect for the end of the century due to climate change, and studying what effects this has on their biology.

The arctic is a compelling example of an incredibly powerful environment, that could kill you in a minute, but we have to remember how vulnerable it is at the same time.

The arctic is a really harsh and unforgiving environment. Even simple tasks like collecting sea water were difficult. I needed fresh sea water every 24 hours for my copepods, so we had to keep a hole in the ice open. Water at the surface was almost like fresh water because of the run-off from melting ice. So we had to devise crazy systems to bring up water from 25 meters down.

Another major problem was that whenever we brought up a piece of equipment from under the ice it immediately froze. So we had to set up a tent around our experiments, all the time mindful that we mustn’t contaminate the samples with co2 from our breath or heaters.

One of the biggest challenges was getting the Eddy Covariance system to work. It’s a piece of equipment that takes incredibly precise measurements of co2 flux. It’s very complex, and doesn’t like -40°C. It had to run for 24hour periods to get good results so every two hours we would have to pack it with Nalgene hot water bottles to keep it warm.

Even when all that was working, sometimes our diesel generator would just stop, or a storm would come in taking the wind-chill temperature down to -70°C. That’s the reality of working in the Arctic, but it’s definitely worth it, that’s why I’m going back!

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