Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 6

Submission from the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL)


  Global warming is creating changes in the Arctic that are likely to have a global impact. The UK has a number of small research groups with a strong track record in Arctic research and POL recommends that they are coordinated to address the impact of Arctic climate change on the climate of Northwestern Europe.

  POL welcomes the modest real terms increase in funding for strategic marine research announced by the NERC at the launch of Oceans 2025.

  Although Oceans 2025 is a five-year programme, the NERC is only committing funding for the first two years due to the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the comprehensive spending review. A real-term cut in years three to five of the programme would seriously undermine basic research aimed at improving the predictability of climate models and assessing the impact of climate change on the UK.

  POL continues to be concerned about barriers preventing cross-council funding of marine research. Collaboration between NERC research and collaborative centres has been hampered by their mode of funding and POL welcomes moves to address this through the NERC Funding, Allocation and Budgeting project. Collaboration between CEFAS and NERC is also lacking and this is holding back research progress in the areas of marine bio-resources and marine spatial planning.

  POL is concerned that recent budget cuts at Defra and the EA could reduce investment in the UK tide gauge network which underpins the storm and flood forecasting at the Met Office.

  Long-term ocean monitoring ranging from remote sensing to ARGO floats is funded by a number of organizations and the situation is unnecessarily complicated. Funding for long-term monitoring of the oceans is also insecure.

  Similarly, the current divided responsibilities between several organizations for Earth Observation have an adverse impact on global environmental monitoring capability in the UK. POL struggles to recruit well-qualified physicists and mathematicians trained in the UK and we frequently recruit from overseas.

  What can be done to make a career in marine science more attractive to scientists trained in these fields?

  POL is concerned that there are no funded programmes to protect the health of marine SSSIs. Data collected by Crown Estates on marine SSSIs should be deposited in the British Oceanographic Data Centre to facilitate its wide dissemination in the marine science community.


  POL welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to this enquiry.

Organisation and funding of UK marine science in the polar and non-polar regions

  1.  An increase in funding and better organisation for polar marine research is needed. In recent years it is apparent that the Arctic is a barometer for the rapid climate change we are experiencing. Feedback mechanisms operating between the atmosphere, cryosphere and ocean and are responsible for the dramatic year on year decrease in Arctic summer sea ice that we are witnessing. The consequences of global warming are most starkly revealed in the Arctic, where warming is greater than elsewhere on the planet. One likely consequence of Arctic warming will be to impact on the strength of the global thermohaline circulation due to an increase in freshwater run-off from glacial melt. Thus, climate change in the Arctic can be viewed as the "engine room" for driving global climate change. In view of the extreme climate sensitivity of the Arctic, the likely global impact that it will create and the sensitivity of UK climate thereto via the thermohaline circulation, we believe that the UK should be at the forefront of research aimed at developing regional (including Arctic) climate prediction models.

  2.  The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) provides the leadership for UK research in the Antarctic. However, BAS is not in a position to provide similar leadership for Arctic research. The ships that BAS uses are ice strengthened and have only modest ice breaking capability. To reach the interesting regions in the Arctic basin during periods when sea ice is forming requires an ice breaker. The science programmes that BAS conducts in the Antarctic leaves very little time to deploy their ships and planes in the Arctic; usually 4 months at most during the Northern Hemisphere summer. We require data from the Arctic throughout the year and it is unlikely that BAS will be able to deliver it.

  3.  Other UK institutions with a track record of running Arctic field programmes are the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS). In recent years SPRI has reduced activity in the physical sciences. SAMS does not have a research vessel capable of operating in the Arctic. However, SAMS has a long track record of collaborating with Arctic nations, in particular the Norwegians. Collaboration provides SAMS with access to the Arctic.

  4.  The picture in the UK for developing regional Arctic climate prediction models is somewhat brighter, with the Hadley Centre, BAS, the National Centre for Atmospheric Sciences (NCAS), the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM), the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL) all having capability in this field. There is an urgent requirement to coordinate the modelling capabilities of these centres under the umbrella of a new UK initiative, the Arctic Climate Prediction Programme, say.

  5.  April 2007 marks the launch of the International Polar Year (IPY).The recent NERC IPY funding initiative was very small (order £5 million) for polar research. A project that plans to collect and analyse data from the Polar Regions will typically cost £2 million upwards. Thus, the NERC IPY funding initiative supported two major projects only. Although the UK has not committed a great deal of ring fenced money to the IPY, UK based scientists are involved in a large number of IPY-approved projects led by scientists based overseas.

  6.  Recently the NERC approved funding for a new strategic marine science programme called Ocean 2025. Seven marine laboratories in the UK will be collaborating on this programme and the Executive Board of this programme will be submitting evidence to this inquiry. The overall five-year funding envelope for Oceans 2025 exceeds the current NERC strategic funding to the seven participating marine laboratories by approximately 4%. POL welcomes the planned increase in NERC strategic marine funding, and is one of the laboratories that can look forward to a real-term funding increase.

  7.  Until recently the funding for NERC centres and surveys inhibited research collaboration between the laboratories. In fact, the centres and surveys were competing against each other for strategic funding. NERC's Funding Allocation and Budgeting (FAB) review promises to create a funding environment that enables centres/surveys to collaborate; POL welcomes this.

  8.  There are also unhelpful barriers for funding marine science between research councils. For example, offshore engineering is mainly funded by EPSRC which POL is prevented from bidding for.

  9.  Looking beyond the NERC the issue of funding for marine science is of concern. Defra funding cuts are a major problem for UK marine sciences. Persuading Defra to fund long-term monitoring is always an uphill struggle, and the situation is likely to become more challenging with Defra's funding cuts. POL is also concerned about the longer term funding of the UK tide gauge network by the Environment Agency (EA). Defra funding cuts filter through to the EA. POL has run the tide gauge (sea-level) network for many years supported by Defra. About two years ago the funding of the tide gauge network was transferred to the EA, and now their funding constraints may well jeopardise the future funding and development of the network. We must stress that long-term monitoring of environmental fields (eg temperature and salinity of our coastal seas) provides a vital benchmark for assessing the impact of climate change. Long time series provide an invaluable method for assessing the predictive capability of climate prediction models. There is a generic issue that as observing and predicting systems progress from research to ongoing operational status, beneficiaries should be identified and assume corresponding shares of the funding responsibility.

  10.  Funding constraints at Defra have also inhibited collaboration between the NERC and CEFAS. There is the potential for a major advance in marine ecosystem management through closer collaboration between CEFAS and the laboratories participating in Oceans 2025.

The role of UK internationally, and international collaboration in marine science

  11.  The UK takes the lead in RAPID and is a big player in WOCE. Although ring fenced funding for IPY has not been large, UK scientists are involved with almost half of the IPY-approved projects. UK sea level science is excellent and its profile should be raised further on the international stage. POL hosts GLOSS (The Global Sea Level Observing System), an IOC/UNESCO funded programme. The UK also has a high participation rate in EU framework proposals. We believe the UK should be taking a stronger lead in many international (eg IOC) programmes and not leave it all to the US (as most countries do!). There should be a clear line of responsibility for funding global programmes like CLIVAR, GOOS etc. and not leave it to the fate of individual science proposals like Oceans 2025. There is a lack of scientific administrative support in the UK which prohibits our scientists in getting involved in the leadership of international programmes. The leadership of large international programmes carries a significant administrative overhead that most UK laboratories cannot easily accommodate.

  12.  Without large ships the UK cannot participate in international marine science. POL welcomes the imminent arrival of the RRS James Cook and the planned funding to replace the RRS Discovery. However, the cost of building new ships continues to rise rapidly and we are concerned that there will be insufficient funds to build a vessel with capability similar, if not greater, than the RRS Discovery. The UK enters into a barter arrangement with countries that run ocean going research vessels. This arrangement is only possible if the UK can continue to offer berths to international scientists on its own ocean going research vessels. The challenge for the UK Government, and in particular the NERC, is to develop a long-term funding model to support large-scale infrastructure such as aircraft and ships. To conduct cutting-edge environmental science it is vital to have access to these types of facilities.

  13.  Earth observations play a fundamental role in monitoring our planet, but there is insufficient funding for processing and archiving remote sensing data. The NERC subscribes to ESA for science but not for monitoring. The UK needs to get its act together regarding all aspects of space research. Present divided responsibilities have an adverse impact on global environmental monitoring capability in the UK. There are a number of organisations with responsibility for space research such as the BNSC, EPSRC and Defra. It is unclear to us what the roles and responsibilities of each of these organisations are in space research. A proper strategy for space research, including who is responsible for funding the processing and archiving of remotely-sensed data is urgently required.

Support for marine science, including provision and development of technology and engineering

  14.  Oceans 2025 has made a significant step forward in funding marine technology. In POL our proposal for marine technology has been fully funded, enabling us to further develop the Liverpool Bay Observatory and to develop state-of-the-art telemetry systems for sea level data. There is however a caveat to this good news. Oceans 2025 funding has been confirmed for the first two years of the five-year programme only. Funding for years three to five is dependent on the outcome of the CSR 2007. Technology development is, by its very nature, long-term and costly. If funding for years three to five of Oceans 2025 is reduced in real terms then this will have a disproportionately large adverse impact on the technology theme. Marine technology development also provides opportunities for commercialisation. The time-scale for developing a new instrument and then conducting the trials required to reach the stage where commercialisation is a real prospect is typically five to 10 years. Until recently strategic marine science funding from the NERC was five years at most. The FAB review proposes that "national capability" within NERC centres and surveys (such as marine technology) be funded on a longer time-scale, such as 10 years. POL welcomes this proposal.

  15.  Apart form the NERC there are few bodies willing to fund marine technology. Better collaboration with EPSRC may benefit technology funding. At present the UK is weak in developing and deploying "big in situ technology" such as robots, deep sea submersibles and autonomous under water vehicles. Sea floor observatories, particularly of the cabled type, are talked about, but nothing happens. We believe that the UK is missing out by not getting involved with "big technology".

  16.  Attracting skilled engineers into careers in marine technology is a major challenge. The UK does not train a large number of engineers, and the most able tend to pursue more lucrative careers than we can offer in the marine laboratories. At POL we have had modest success in running an apprentice scheme where we train technicians "in house". However, leadership for marine technology development requires physicists, material scientists and engineers trained up to postgraduate level and at POL we struggle to appoint such people, mainly due to non-competitive salaries.

State of UK research and skills base underpinning of marine science

  17.  The UK skill base for marine science is not healthy, particularly in the area of marine physics which is at the heart of the research conducted at POL. POL requires highly numerate scientists and engineers, usually trained to postgraduate level. POL always seeks to recruit the best person for a given post and in a many cases this results in recruiting from abroad. The question is what will happen to UK (marine) science if the supply of skilled scientists from overseas dries up? POL believes it is strongly in the interests of the UK economy to train and retain scientists and engineers. The status of scientists and engineers in the UK is not high and the salaries they command are significantly less than in many other professions. We have a shortage of role models in science and engineering that young people can be inspired by. High schools struggle to attract teaching staff trained to degree level in science and engineering. Mathematics and physics graduates are desperately required in the teaching profession. The Research Councils are aware of these problems but the debate is to what degree they should become involved with addressing the problems at high school level. Universities are perhaps better placed to address the problems with attracting well qualified scientists in the teaching profession. Information for young people about the skills required for a career in marine science is often inaccurate. For example, it is not made clear that certain fields in marine science require graduates in mathematics and/or physics.

Use of marine sites of special scientific interest

  18.  There are a number of marine SSSIs which have already been identified. Unfortunately, there is very little funding available to monitor such sites with the goal of determining whether they are under threat. Further, there is a lack of a single point of contact for data obtained through monitoring. We would like Crown Estates to make data they collect available via the BODC.

January 2007

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