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Research and innovation

Polar and ocean research

This page contains details of specific policies, partnerships and documents related to the ocean-climate nexus research and polar science.

Polar regions, climate change and the Ocean-climate nexus

To date, global warming has affected the two polar regions and the ocean in different ways.

Climate change is warming up the Arctic four times as fast as the rest of the world. Greenland glaciers are now releasing hundreds of gigatonnes of melted ice into the Ocean each year. Such changes will affect the EU - and the rest of the planet - through

  • rising sea levels
  • changing weather patterns
  • a higher incidence of extreme weather events
  • permafrost thawing and release of greenhouse gases and various pathogens

At the same time, what was formerly a vast and icy wilderness, home only to people who have adapted over centuries to this hostile environment, may soon become an area for thriving economic activities.

Melting sea ice and glaciers mean that oil, gas, rare earths and other raw materials are becoming easier to access, while the ice-free ocean offers new fishing grounds and a shorter shipping route between Europe and Asia. These new economic factors cannot be ignored.

While the Arctic is undergoing fundamental changes and is gradually losing its distinctive polar character, the observable changes in the Antarctic are primarily focused on two regions: West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula. East Antarctica, however, is also beginning to respond to the rising temperatures.

Importance of the Ocean with regard to climate

The Ocean represents over 70% of the Earth's surface and contains 97% of all water on Earth. Its physical and biological processes play a key role in the water cycle, the carbon cycle, and climate variability.

The Ocean is key to regulating the Earth's climate and is the reason why it is stable and life sustaining. The extent to which the climate changes largely depends on the capacity of the ocean to absorb heat and carbon emissions associated with human activities.

Its biological compartments carry the single greatest capacity on the planet with respect to carbon sequestration. Rates of climate change on decadal to centennial time scales ultimately depend on oceanic processes.

Ocean-based mitigation and adaptation solutions have the potential of contributing 21-25% of the annual greenhouse gases emissions reductions needed by 2050.

​The Ocean has absorbed a significant portion (some 30%) of the carbon dioxide pollution caused by human activities, and as a result is becoming more acidic. Ocean acidification affects the ability of some ocean organisms to create shells, and the potential impacts on the oceanic food web is enormous, from the Arctic to the tropics.

At the same time, Ocean warming has already resulted in deoxygenation, interrupted circulation and mixing, species shifts, marine heatwaves, coral bleaching, increased storm intensity and sea level rise.

The Ocean-climate nexus

The Ocean-climate nexus highlights the key role of the Ocean in climate regulation and climate change at the interconnection of the various elements that regulate our planetary climate, including physical factors (heat, water, carbon) and biological systems (biological carbon-pump).

Raising awareness of the crucial role of the ocean-climate nexus for climate change processes, as well as bringing the ocean health on a path to recovery is a priority for the EU.

Horizon Europe, the EU's main research and innovation funding programme will advance the ocean-climate nexus science in an endeavour to better understand the role of seas and ocean, including the Earth’s icecaps, in climate change and help secure the long-term provision of ecosystem services, such as climate change adaptation and mitigation and carbon sequestration (both on land and sea).

Contributing to the implementation of the European Green Deal, EU Adaptation Strategy, Atlantic Action Plan 2.0 and the EU Arctic Policy and Action Plan, the Atlantic and Arctic basin lighthouse that will be rolled out under the EU Mission Restore our Ocean and Waters will deliver transformative solutions for protecting and restoring marine habitats.

The Mission will help Atlantic and Arctic communities better understand, prepare for and manage climate risks and opportunities, in particular by adapting to extreme weather events in coastal areas and sea level rise and other climate change impacts.


Polar regions: a test bed for climate change impact and sustainable innovation

The EU has an important role to play in helping to meet the Polar regions' challenges. The EU is a major funder and supporter of Polar science through its research and innovation framework programmes, and through its polar research policy, initiatives and actions.

The funded scientific research reinforces the European and global scientific capacity to:

  • better understand drivers of change in the most vulnerable planetary ecosystems, the ocean and Polar regions
  • strengthen the scientific knowledge on global climate change and biosphere integrity
  • observe, model and predict impacts, tackle emerging threats, identify and bring forth innovative and sustainable solutions that are based on win-win strategies that are biodiversity positive with climate mitigation and adaptation co-benefits, including nature-based solutions that ensure integrity of the Polar Regions and of the ocean
  • support decision-making in climate change mitigation and adaptation policies, as well as in policies aimed at preserving a healthy and integer ocean and Polar regions

The research carried out supports the transformative European Green Deal agenda with transparent, comprehensive and balanced scientific evidence and innovative solutions. It promotes high-quality research that is essential for policy-making and it contributes significantly to global scientific assessments, supports key international processes under the UNFCCC, as well as leading in EU-science diplomacy.

Funding programmes and projects

The European research and innovation framework programmes (Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe) have so far contributed to Polar science with a wide portfolio of projects and programmes with the following regional breakdown:  

  • Arctic: 139 projects, €372 million (Horizon 2020 100 projects, €257 million; Horizon Europe 39 projects €115 million) 
  • Antarctic: 55 projects, €115 million (Horizon 2020 44 projects, €102 million; Horizon Europe 11 projects €14 million) 
  • Polar:  65 projects, €140 million (Horizon 2020 53 projects, €101 million; Horizon Europe 12 projects €37 million) 

The portfolio contributes to meeting the European and global climate and biodiversity objectives, as well as those of the new EU Arctic policy, which aims at ensuring a peaceful, sustainable and prosperous Arctic.

Research and innovation have a key role to play in protecting the Arctic, with science and technology supporting evidence-based policy making and offering viable solutions by:

  • ensuring better science-society interface, for green, digital, and innovative solutions, engaging indigenous knowledge
  • addressing the ecological, social, economic and political challenges arising as a consequence of climate change and take strong action to make the Arctic more resilient
  • supporting an inclusive and sustainable development of the Arctic regions to the benefit of its inhabitants, including future generations, with a particular focus on indigenous peoples, women and the young
  • promoting multilateralism, openness and reciprocity through science diplomacy
  • continuing its commitment to support Arctic research through Horizon Europe

International cooperation

Polar research needs expensive infrastructure and observation systems that call for international cooperation. Under the Horizon Europe Mission Restore our Ocean and Waters, the Atlantic and Arctic basin lighthouse aims at the restoration of marine and coastal ecosystems and increased climate resilience, while the Digital Twin Ocean will model the ocean's multiple components, provide knowledge and understanding of the past and present and create trustable predictions of its future behaviour.

The All-Atlantic Ocean Research and Innovation Alliance (AAORIA) is a shared commitment by the European Union, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Cabo Verde, Morocco, South Africa and the United States to advance marine and polar research and innovation, with a pole-to-pole dimension, on shared priorities, such as increasing our understanding of the relationship between the ocean and climate, and to develop outcome-oriented science for mitigating and adapting to its consequences.

The EU-funded EU-PolarNet is the world’s largest consortium of expertise and infrastructure for polar research. Seventeen countries are represented by 22 of Europe’s world-renowned multi-disciplinary research institutions.

The Arctic and Antarctic projects funded by the Commission have started a bottom-up collaboration initiative, the EU Polar Cluster, which merges a broad spectrum of research and coordination activities. They range from the most up-to-date findings on permafrost and sea ice, enhancing observation to improving predictions, networking research stations to coordinating access to icebreakers.

In February 2020, the European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation and the European Space Agency signed a cooperation agreement to jointly advance Earth System Science and its response to the global challenges that society is facing at the onset of this century. With this Joint RTD-EOP Earth System Science initiative, the Research and Innovation Directorate of the European Commission and the Earth Observation Programmes Directorate of the European Space Agency (EOP) aim to establish an effective alignment of selected scientific activities under their Horizon Europe and FutureEO programmes, in terms of goals, content, and planning in order to jointly advance Earth system science and its contribution to responding to the global challenges.

Under the initiative, joint flagship actions (Polar Regions and global impacts Flagship; Ocean Health Flagship; Biodiversity Flagship), colocations, conferences and workshops, flagged topics and projects contribute to maximise the collaboration across European research activities on the specific theme to exploit complementarities and synergies.

The European Commission is supporting international cooperation for Arctic research via the Arctic Science Ministerial Meetings. At the last Arctic Science Ministerial Meeting, ASM3, on 9 May 2021, Commissioner Maryia Gabriel signed the ASM3 Joint Statement on behalf of the EU.


New study on Blue Carbon in the EU - report



  • Report
  • Directorate-General for Research and Innovation

This report presents the results of the analysis of a portfolio of 841 EU projects - completed or ongoing - relevant to the EU Mission “Restore our Oceans and Waters by 2030”. These projects have been funded by 16 EU programmes in a period of 9 years between January 2014 and December 2022.

The Genesis and Evolution of European Union Framework Programmes on Climate Science

Ocean carbon from space: Current status and priorities for the next decade

Science for climate action

Ocean-climate nexus

All-Atlantic ocean research alliance


13 JULY 2022
All-Atlantic ocean research and innovation alliance declaration
8 JUNE 2020
Submission on behalf of the EU informing the dialogue on the ocean and climate change to consider how to strengthen mitigation and adaptation action
18 APRIL 2018
Administrative Arrangement between the European Commission and the Ministry of Science Technology and Productive Innovation of Argentina on marine research and cooperation
13 JULY 2017
Belem statement
24 MAY 2013
Galway statement on Atlantic ocean cooperation