The CPR Survey science mission is to provide the 'big picture' on global ocean change from genes to ecosystems

Our science focus

The CPR Survey is of global importance in progressing our understanding of natural variability and human-induced changes in our oceans. It is used by scientists, policy makers and environmental managers across the world. Over the last eight decades the purpose of the survey has co-evolved with changing environmental policy, from purely monitoring plankton distributions to addressing and providing indicators for major marine management issues, ranging from fisheries, harmful algal blooms, biodiversity, pollution, eutrophication, ocean acidification and climate warming.

Many scientific firsts and insights have developed from examining and interrogating the CPR Survey's extensive time series:

  • The Survey was one of the first to identify large scale shifts in plankton species assemblages in the North Sea attributed to ocean warming.
  • The first to identify changes in plankton due to ice melt in the Arctic.
  • The first to identify the extent of microplastics in the ocean, including the first record of marine litter. 
  • The Survey has provided primary evidence of changes in global ocean biology for the last two IPCC reports and the UN’s first World Ocean Assessment. The results have included the first documented studies of large-scale ecological regime shifts, biogeographic, phenological and trans-arctic migrations in the marine environment in response to climate change.

Science themes

The CPR Survey science includes both operational and innovative, blue skies research.

We look for answers to emerging scientific questions, marine policy requirements and the main societal concerns on the marine environment, such as:

  • Are marine habitats changing?
  • Is species diversity changing?
  • Are food webs changing?
  • Are human pressures changing?


Climate change is one of the greatest societal changes of the 21st Century.  The continued collection and interpretation of CPR data provides unique insights into how the marine environment is responding and the potential for future change.


Biodiversity is fundamental for the functioning of the marine ecosystem.  The taxonomic richness of the CPR data is a major resource enabling marine researchers to gain insights into the form and function of the ecosystem and how it is changing.


Marine bio-resources are increasingly used to support human population growth.  The blue-economy is underpinned by bio-resources.  CPR Survey science provides valuable insights for effective management strategies.


The health of people and marine sources of food can be compromised by some marine organisms. Harmful algae and bacterial infections appear to be on the increase. New molecular tools and techniques will allow the CPR Survey to contribute to this growth area.


The CPR Survey recorded the first ever scientific recording of marine litter (in 1957), and through monthly surveys have shown there has been a rise in open ocean plastic abundance since the 1050's. Samples are kept in our International Sample Archive.

Check out our publications for our latest research

Some of of our key findings are summarised below.