Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Annex 5


  NERC provides the UK's subscription (~£34 million per annum) to the European Space Agency's (ESA) environmental sciences programmes, namely the Earth Observation Envelope Programme (EOEP) and Envisat/ERS operations, and a share of the UK's subscription to the general budget, covering more cross-cutting functions (administration, technology development, archiving, at around £7 million per annum). NERC also contributes, with Defra, DTI and the MoD, to phase one of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security Space Component Programme (GMES SCP, £2.2 million over three years).

  ESA's EOEP represents NERC's primary means of procuring new satellite missions. EOEP mainly funds the development and operation of innovative Earth Explorer science missions, providing EO data in support of environmental science covering a broad range of scientific subjects.[65] The scientific objectives of EOEP, as identified in the ESA's Strategy for EO,[66] are substantially similar to those of NERC. NERC also supports the operations of ERS-2 and Envisat, both carrying a wide range of instruments monitoring various components of the Earth's environment.

  The Envisat and ERS satellites carry a number of instruments which provide oceanographic data, such as the radar altimeter profiling the sea surface, an advanced along-track scanning radiometer measuring sea-surface temperatures, and the medium resolution imaging spectrometer capturing data about biological activity of the oceans.

  Scientists in NERC's Earth Observation Centres of Excellence have extensively used these data. The Centre for Observation of Air-Sea Interactions and Fluxes (CASIX) focuses on improving our understanding of how air and sea interact and measures the transport of carbon dioxide between sea and air on a global scale. This will improve our knowledge of ocean circulation models and the ocean carbon cycle in general. The Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) focuses on investigating processes of the Earth's polar climate in the atmosphere, cryosphere and oceans, combining models and satellite and in-situ data.

  Approved (but not yet launched) ESA Earth Explorer missions of particular relevance to the oceans are the Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) focussing on measuring the Earth's gravity field and modelling the geoid; the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission designed to observe soil moisture over the Earth's landmasses and salinity over the oceans; and CryoSat, investigating the extent to which global climate change is causing the polar ice caps to shrink, with potentially significant impacts on ocean circulation.

65   See and for further details on the approved and candidate Explorer missions respectively. Back

66   See for ESA's Strategy for EO. A follow-up document-"The Changing Earth-New Scientific Challenges for ESA's Living Planet Programme"-is available at Back

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