Submission from the Natural Environment
Research Council (NERC)
1. The Natural Environment Research Council
(NERC) is one of the UK's eight Research Councils. It funds and
carries out impartial scientific research in the sciences of the
environment. NERC trains the next generation of independent environmental
scientists. Its three strategic research priority areas are: Earth's
life-support systems, climate change, and sustainable economies.
2. NERC's research and collaborative centres
are listed in Annex 1. Details can be found at www.nerc.ac.uk.
Annex 1 also defines the term "the marine centres" as
used in this memorandum.
3. NERC's comments are based on input from
the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the British Geological Survey
(BGS), the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), the National
Oceanography Centre Southampton (NOCS), the Plymouth Marine Laboratory
(PML), the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL), the Sir Alister
Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS), the Scottish Association
for Marine Science (SAMS), the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU)
and Swindon Office staff.
4. Marine science makes a major contribution
to meeting NERC's strategic aims, and comprises a significant
proportion of NERC's responsive research. Following a review of
the marine research sector in 2005, NERC Council invited the marine
to develop a single coordinated strategic marine research programme.
The centres' proposal, "Oceans 2025", has recently
been approved, and the new programme will particularly strengthen
collaboration with other bodies and support for long-term monitoring.
NERC invests heavily in providing facilities (including infrastructure
such as ships) for marine research, and in supporting research
studentships in marine science. It participates directly and/or
through its research centres in a range of national, European
and international marine research and monitoring coordination
initiatives and programmes, including ship sharing. NERC expects
marine science to have a high profile in its new strategy, and
will continue to engage stakeholders in its strategic marine research
planning , not least to ensure the relevance and uptake of its
research outputs. Several examples are given of the contribution
being made by NERC marine science to our understanding of the
interaction between climate change and the marine environment.
5. NERC welcomes the Committee's decision
to hold an inquiry into marine science in the polar and non-polar
oceans, and the Committee's implicit recognition of the importance
of marine science in improving our understanding of climate change.
6. Marine science makes major contributions
in all three of NERC's current strategic priority areas, and will
retain its importance when NERC's new strategy is adopted. It
is also the basis of a significant proportion of NERC's responsive
research projects. Many of NERC's marine science outputs find
application in regulatory activities and policy making, for example
in fisheries, flood-control and environmental protection. NERC
also encourages commercialisation or other industrial application
of its marine research and associated technologysee for
example the Blue Microbe Knowledge Transfer Network.
OF UK MARINE
NERC research funding
7. NERC and its research and collaborative
centres and associated marine research organisations have played
a central role over several decades in, respectively, the funding
and execution of marine science.
NERC also funds marine (and related) research in universities
additional to those which host the collaborative centres; and
in its Earth Observation (EO) Centres of Excellence.
8. Scientific research funding falls into
Responsive research is funded
through grant schemes for scientists who propose ideas for projects
independent of a directed call from NERC. Marine investment though
these schemes averaged approximately £6.8 million per annum
from 2000 to 2004, amounting to 16-22% of NERC's total responsive-mode
budget over this period. The investment was higher in the second
half of the period because of the introduction of consortium awards
(multi-institute grants over £1 million), of which a further
four have been awarded in the past year (Annex 2).
Directed programmes (approximately
£5-10 million per programme, generally over five years see
Annex 3) address NERC's strategic priorities; they are theme-based
and often link universities and NERC centres; some are co-funded
by other organisations. NERC has run up to 12 programmes with
a marine component since 2000. These include RAPID, a £20
million investment over seven years that aims to improve our ability
to quantify the probability and magnitude of future climate change.
Centre programmes: NERC funds
strategic research programmes at its research and collaborative
centres. Some funding information is available in NERC's Annual
9. The strategic programmes of the marine
centres are discussed in detail below (see Oceans 2025).
Some information about the marine science in BGS and CEH is given
at Annex 4, and BAS Southern Ocean science is discussed in BAS's
separate submission. Annex 5 provides details of the relevance
to NERC's marine science of the EO centres (especially the Centre
for Observation of Air-Sea Interactions and Fluxes), and of the
programmes of the European Space Agency (ESA).
The Oceans 2025 research programme
10. Until recently, the marine centres developed
separate research programme proposals. However, following a review
of the marine research sector in 2005, NERC Council invited them
to develop a single coordinated strategic marine research programme.
In response, the seven centres submitted a proposal for "Oceans
2025" in 2006 (see Annex 6). This programme reflects
the national need for a more coordinated and cost-effective response
to the challenges of a changing marine environment, and for greater
support for long-term monitoring.
11. In late 2006, NERC awarded approximately
£120 million to Oceans 2025 over five years,
which represents a modest uplift in total spend in this area.
The strategic nature of the programme will enhance the research
capabilities and facilities available for marine science, and
Oceans 2025's new Strategic Ocean Funding Initiative (SOFI)
opens up funds for universities and other partners to bid for,
where the skills required are not available within the Oceans
12. Reaching agreement on a coordinated,
cooperative and cross-disciplinary research programme of the scale
and complexity of Oceans 2025 is an important step. The
coordinated approach from the marine centres, with cooperation
and input from other government agencies and departments, should
allow the UK to further strengthen its record in national and
international collaboration in marine science. Oceans 2025
will be critical to developing sustainable solutions for the management
of marine resources, including food and energy, not least in the
face of climate change.
13. The Oceans 2025 programme complements
and integrates with the BAS research programme, and BGS's 2005-10
research programme, which contains a key marine element (focused
on the seabed and subsurface).
Other marine research coordination in the UK
14. Beyond Oceans 2025, NERC's directed
programmes also provide significant opportunities for national
research coordination. Most are managed by a Steering Committee,
of scientists and research users, and involve a full-time or part-time
Science Coordinator. Responsive consortium projects are smaller
but involve "internal" management to achieve coordination
between participating research groups.
15. NERC works with the other research councils
(especially the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research
Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research
Council (EPSRC)) to ensure coordination of research funding, including
in interdisciplinary areas. Examples relevant to marine science
include research into renewable energy technology, which is being
addressed by the UK Energy Research Centre under the cross-Council
"Torwards a Sustainable Energy Economy" programme; research
into socio-economic aspects of climate change by the cross-Council
Tyndall Centre, eg examining the contribution of marine transport
to carbon dioxide emissions and the management of coasts in response
to sea-level rise; joint funding of the Flood Risk Management
Research Consortium (FRMRC);
and interaction between BBSRC's Institute for Grassland and Environmental
Research and CEH regarding the impact of agricultural run-off
on the marine environment.
16. NERC has bilateral discussions with
relevant (including devolved) government departments and agencies
and is making broad stakeholder engagement a priority in developing
its new strategy. NERC engagement with other national bodies with
marine research interests is also facilitated through the Environment
Research Funders' Forum (ERFF) and the Inter-Agency Committee
on Marine Science and Technology (IACMST).
17. NERC is also involved, through NOCS,
PML, POL and the Environmental Systems Science Centre (another
NERC collaborative centre) in the National Centre for Ocean Forecasting
a partnership with the Met Office.
18. NERC and Oceans 2025 are represented
on the Government's Marine Assessment Policy Committee, which
is leading the development of the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment
Strategy (UKMMAS). The Committee is supported by the Marine Assessment
and Reporting Group (MARG) and three evidence groups involving
NERC's marine centres.
19. The BODC is a member of the Marine Data
and Information Partnership (MDIP), a partnership of public and
private sector organisations working to provide harmonised stewardship
and access to marine data and information, and so facilitate improved
management of the seas around the UK.
UK INTERNATIONALLY, AND
20. NERC participates, directly and through
its research and collaborative centres, in European and international
marine research activities in a number of ways. Further details
are provided in Annex 7, but some activities are mentioned below.
21. NERC takes the UK lead in the main United
Nations body for marine science, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic
Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, and participates in many IOC activities,
including the Global Ocean Observing System and the International
Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange Committee. The UK
is also involved in international coordination of marine science
via bodies such as the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research
(SCOR)eg SAHFOS is representedand the international
Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR)where
BAS is a member.
22. NERC hosts several international project
offices (IPOs), eg those of the International Geosphere-Biosphere
Programme's Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC) and Surface-Ocean
Lower-Atmosphere Study (SOLAS) programmes; and the International
Polar Year (IPY). Through hosting these IPOs, and the involvement
of researchers in international planning and coordination, the
UK is able to help determine the agenda of these international
projects, greatly enhancing their national value.
23. NERC also leads, coordinates or is a
partner in various European Union networks of excellence and projects.
Among them is MarinERA, a project funded by the EU Framework Programme
6 that brings together the leading Marine RTD funding organisations
in 13 European Member States to improve the coordination of national
and regional RTD activities. NERC is also a partner in the international
Global Sea Level Observing System (GLOSS), and the Partnership
for Observation of the Global Ocean (POGO).
24. Through its directed programmes (Annex
3) NERC attracts international interest and collaboration. For
example (i) US funding agencies are supporting the RAPID programme's
observing system with matching funding of approximately £5
million; and (ii) the UK SOLAS programme has obtained German co-support
for an international ocean-atmosphere observatory on the Cape
25. NERC also funds the UK's subscription
to ESA's environmental science programmes and missions (see Annex
5). Within the current suite of existing and planned satellites,
there are a number of instruments designed to provide important
oceanographic data which scientists at NERC's Earth Observation
Centres of Excellence (soon to become the National Centre for
Earth Observation) are well placed to exploit.
26. NERC's marine facilities (see below)
make a significant contribution to international collaboration.
Over the past five years, 50% of NERC's research cruises have
involved collaboration with international scientists, from 49
institutions and 17 countries. NERC is also heavily involved in
which has grown markedly since 2000 to a point where NERC now
exchanges approximately 200 barter days per year.
International Polar Year (IPY)
27. Marine science in both polar regions
will get a big boost during the International Polar Year, which
is a global science programme focusing on the Arctic and Antarctic
from March 2007 to March 2009. It comprises over 200 projects,
with thousands of scientists from over 60 countries examining
a wide range of physical, biological and social research topics.
Total expenditure will exceed $2 billion. The UK is contributing
to 40% of these projects, and British marine scientists from NERC
and elsewhere are participating in 33 international marine projects
as part of this IPY effort. They include polar ocean monitoring,
circumpolar studies of marine ecosystems, and polar gateways.
28. NERC invests considerable funding in
developing and providing platforms and technology for marine science,
as well as in the infrastructure of its centres. In particular,
it provides funds for: the maintenance and replacement of three
research ships, the National Marine Facilities Division (NMF)
at NOCS, the National Facility for Scientific Diving, High-Performance
Computing (HPC), airborne research facilities, Arctic and Antarctic
bases, the new Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation (jointly
with DTI), ESA's environmental science missions, and several marine-related
research programmes with a technology-development component. NERC
also owns and provides the majority of funding for the BODC, hosted
29. Details of some of these are provided
below; information on satellite-based research capabilities is
provided in Annex 5. There is also further information about the
research facilities available to scientists on NERC's website.
30. NERC has two dedicated research ships,
which are operated by the NMF. In June 2000, NERC changed its
policy on the access procedures to these ships, resulting in a
significant increase in ship-time usage. In turn, NERC significantly
increased the operational funding from 2004-05 to allow both ships
to be operated at full capacity. NERC schedules on average ca
550 science days at sea per annum to meet the requirements of
highly graded responsive and directed-programme research, and
demand for ship-time is expected to remain at current levels.
31. One of the ships, the RRS James Cook,
will enter into scientific operation at the end of February 2007
to replace the RRS Charles Darwin. The RRS James Cook
was built at a cost of £40 million, funded by NERC and the
DTI/OST Large Facilities Capital Fund.
The procurement process followed consultation with the UK marine
science community and thorough consideration of research requirements.
The other dedicated research vessel, the RRS Discovery,
was originally built in 1962 and underwent major conversion in
1992 to maximise its operational flexibility. The ship will be
at the end of its scientifically useful life in 2011, and a joint
NERC/Large Facilities Capital Fund funding bid of £60 million
for a replacement was approved in 2006.
32. The NMF supports approximately 30 cruises
per year, 20 of which are on the NERC research vessels. The Division
also manages the National Marine Equipment Pool (NMEP), which
consists of a wide range of equipment available to the UK marine
science community, with an asset value of over £20 million.
NERC provides £0.8 million per year to maintain and enhance
33. NERC also supports the RRS James
Clark Ross operated by BAS, and uses the RV Prince Madog
operated by VT Ocean Sciences, and, as mentioned above, is involved
in ship-time bartering arrangements.
34. NERC operates two airborne facilities
that can contribute to marine research. The Airborne Research
and Survey Facility (ARSF) has a Dornier aircraft, leased
prior to 2006 but then purchased for approximately £1.4 million
to ensure the ongoing capability of the ARSF. The aircraft can
be used for remote sensing of, eg algal blooms, and will be involved
in campaigns in Iceland and Greenland during IPY. The BAE 146
of the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM)
can support research into ocean-atmosphere interactions.
35. NERC leases part of the Ny Ålesund
International Arctic Environmental Research and Monitoring Facility,
to house the NERC Arctic Research Station, which is managed by
Please see the separate submission from BAS regarding logistical
capability (research stations and ships) in the Southern Ocean.
Technology development and engineering
36. A key theme within Oceans 2025
is Technology Development. This has three main research units:
Enabling technology for ocean telescience, Development of instruments,
platforms and measurement systems, and Towards an optimal observing
network. The theme involves scientists from SAMS, POL and NOCS.
NOCS has the largest technology R&D team supporting UK marine
science in its Underwater Systems Laboratory, which was responsible
for developing Autosub, a long range, deep diving, autonomous
underwater vehicle, whose design was licensed in 2001 for use
in the oil, gas and undersea cable markets. The vehicle is now
in the NMEP for use by the marine science community.
37. Through BGS, NERC develops technology
for subsea drilling and sampling, and the BGS Marine Operations
team is recognised as a world leader in development and management
of marine drilling techniques. Its equipment is vital to many
international research projects studying offshore mineralisation,
marine geohazards, frontier exploration and evidence for past
38. NERC also supports technology development
through its directed programmes, for example: Autosub Under Ice
(in which NERC spent nearly £3 million on developing Autosub
and its associated monitoring technology) and the SeaSense LINK
programme, details of which are presented in Annex 3.
The British Oceanographic Data Centre (BODC)
39. The BODC
acts as a national facility for storing and sharing marine research
data, and puts the UK amongst the world leaders in marine data
management. NERC recognises the importance of long-term monitoring
and the maintenance of long-term data sets, not least in the context
of understanding the impacts of climate change on the marine environment.
40. Nearly 10,000 data variables are held
in the BODC database, containing biological, chemical, physical
and geophysical data that are used not only by NERC's research
and collaborative centres, but also by many other groups in the
UK in universities and stakeholder institutions, such as the Met
Office, Hadley Centre and Natural History Museum, and by groups
in many international institutions.
UK RESEARCH AND
41. Oceanography and earth science are two
of the seven strongest areas of UK research in the environmental
sciences. Bibliometrics analysis (using the ISI's Science Citation
Indices) shows that in the environmental disciplines the ocean
sciences make a major contribution; the UK is second only to the
USA, and closing the gap.
For example, for sea-going science the UK has eighteen research
groups in university departments graded 5 and 5* in the RAE, and
four NERC-funded world-class marine research institutes (as recently
judged by peer review).
42. NERC continues to support marine science
national capability through its funding of research and collaborative
centres, in particular through the Oceans 2025 programme.
43. NERC funds many PhD studentships in
marine science, and approximately 50 of these students are currently
conducting research projects involving active participation in
research cruises; in a typical year up to 350 scientists, engineers
and students gain research training and experience on NERC's research
44. NERC intends to work closely with ERFF's
planned review of the training needs that will be required to
support environmental science in the UK (to meet academia, policy
and commercial end-user needs). Without pre-judging the outcome
of this review, specific sub-discipline areas which have recently
been highlighted by NERC as areas of possible skills shortages
requiring investigation include: taxonomy; physical oceanography;
mathematical modelling; and deep-sea biology. In addition, NERC's
data on studentship applications suggest that there is a tendency
for below-average numbers to apply for studentships classified
as mathematics/modelling; earth science; engineering; and physics,
although biology, especially topics of research on birds, fish,
vertebrates and invertebrates, remains well subscribed, as does
45. Marine SSSIs extend only to the low
water mark, and are not a major feature of NERC's marine science,
except in CEH's work on seabirds (see Annex 4). NERC's marine
science is more connected with Marine Protected Areas (MPAs),
for example Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). The Joint Nature
Conservation Committee (JNCC) is responsible for defining offshore
SACs (more than 12 nautical miles offshore), whereas the Countryside
Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural England
and Northern Ireland Environment and Heritage Service are responsible
for nearshore areas. NERC research centres work closely with these
organisations to provide underpinning information and research.
provides the fundamental information used to define SACs for marine
mammals, and this is likely to move from coastal into offshore
regions that support particularly rich communities of marine organisms.
46. The absence of detailed national seabed
maps based on modern techniques such as multibeam, and marine-penetrating
LIDAR (for use in nearshore areas where there are restrictions
on access for ships) is a major hindrance to sustainable development
of our UK marine resources. Surveys funded by the conservation
bodies are a vital but small part of the overall UK effort in
marine mapping. In addition to NERC-funded research, other important
information is collected by the MCA (Maritime & Coastguard
Agency), the DTI (through the Strategic Environment Assessment
programme), port authorities, the oil industry, marine renewables
industry, marine aggregates industry and fisheries research organisations.
NERC research institutes are in an excellent position to bring
this vital information together to maximise its use for sustainable
development of our marine resources and underpin multi-disciplinary
research in the marine environment.
47. Many NERC research programmes, under
all three of NERC's strategic priorities (not just climate change)
contribute to our knowledge of the impact of climate change on
the oceans. However, NERC's overall portfolio reflects the fact
that the impact of the ocean on climate change is equally
important. Indeed, in considering system behaviour and future
conditions (both involving feedbacks), with implications for energy
policy and sustainable economic development, the two aspects are
48. Several examples of NERC-funded studies
relating climate change and the marine environment are provided
in Annex 8. They concern: sources, sinks and transport of carbon
within the Earth system; interactions between biodiversity, ecosystem
function and climate change (including links between plankton
survival and fisheries); adaptation of marine species to climate
change, and conservation options; the prediction of future climate
change; the role of the Atlantic's overturning circulation (and
the possibility of a weakening of the Gulf stream); the world's
ice sheets and potential sea-level rise; links between climate
change and ocean-related natural hazards and disasters; implications
for coastal-zone management and coastal defence; indirect impacts
through marine renewable-energy developments; the exploitation
of gas hydrates; and the potential for undersea carbon sequestration.
49. One of NERC's principal concerns is
to improve our ability to predict the probability and magnitude
of climate change and its effects, at the regional scale. Past
climate data are being used to test and improve climate models
to take account, for example, of climate feedbacks. Research is
covering all marine environments, from the deep ocean to the coastal
zones, and is bringing together observations made in situ
and by satellite. NERC's new strategy is expected to highlight,
among other things, the importance of research into ocean acidification,
improved climate models, and gas hydrates as a potential energy
source, and to emphasise an interdisciplinary Earth-system science
44 NOCS, PML, POL and SAMS are submitting detailed
individual responses to the inquiry, as is BAS to cover its Southern-Ocean
interests. The marine centres are also submitting an Oceans
2025 memorandum. Back
See Annex 1. Back
Annex 1 lists NERC's research and collaborative centres and the
marine research organisations in receipt of Grant-in-Aid. Back
The funding for the first two years at this level is assured;
the level for subsequent years is contingent on NERC's 2007 CSR
Source: UK environmental science review report for the Environment
Research Funders' Forum. Back
NERC has a statutory responsibility to monitor British seal populations
(as required under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970). It discharges
this through its sponsorship of SMRU. Back