Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 36

Submission from the British Embassy in Tokyo



  With more than 1,000 islands comprising the archipelago, 34,390 kms of coastline, and the world's sixth largest economic exclusion zone, Japan is a major international player in ocean related research and development. Research strengths include marine biology, deep-sea exploration and mapping and advanced computer modeling of the effect of the ocean on climate change and vice versa. World leading research facilities, including the development of advanced submersibles, provides the underpinning infrastructure for much of the research being undertaken.

1.  Organisation, Structure and Funding

  Six Government Ministries are involved in Ocean related research and development. The most important ministry is the Education, Culture, Sports Science and Technology Ministry (MEXT) which has a coordination role across Government for ocean development and provides the secretariat for regular cross ministry meetings. MEXT is also responsible for the Japan's largest marine research institute, the Japan Agency for Marine Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC).

  Since 1990 the overall budget for marine science and technology has gradually increased year on year. Total spend on marine science and technology across Government is around £500 million, with MEXT (mainly JAMSTEC) accounting for £200 million or 40% of the total (2006 figures).

  In addition to MEXT, but of lesser importance for ocean research in terms of funding and staff, is the Ministry of Land Infrastructure and Transport (MLIT). MLIT is responsible for the Japan Meteorological Agency which carries out general oceanographic research and meteorology, and the Japan Coast Guard which is mainly responsible for hydrographical observations and navigational charts.

  There are also important centres of expertise at Tokyo University's Ocean Research Institute, the Tokyo University for Marine Science and Technology, and regionally at Tohoku, Kyoto and Hokkaido universities.

2.  Ocean Policy and Research

  National strategic planning of science and technology is carried out by the Council for Science and Technology (CSTP), part of the Cabinet Office. CSTP is responsible for drawing up successive five year plans for S&T, agreed at Cabinet level. This current third basic five year plan, published in March 2006, sets a target of 1% of GDP for S&T spend over the next five year period.

  Ocean research and development is a key policy area for the Japanese Government. It makes significant contributions to three of the eight priority areas in the 3rd basic plan, Environment, Infrastructure and Frontiers. For example, two of the four major themes in the Frontiers research priority area are focused on deep ocean drilling and offshore platform construction research.

  Japan's long-term ocean policy for the 21st century was set out by the Council for Science and Technology Subdivision on Ocean Development within MEXT in August 2002. The policy stresses the sustainable use of the oceans for conservation, research and resources, together with three research goals:

    —    Applying new knowledge to ocean conservation and use of marine resources.

    —    Elucidating the mechanisms of global warming and climate change.

    —    Contributing to the expansion of the intellectual assets of mankind.

3.  Research Priorities

  Research priorities include exploration of the deep sea and sub seafloor, addressing global environmental problems such as global warming, prevention of natural disasters (for example high tides, tsunamis and sub floor landslides), conservation and exploitation of marine resources, developing fundamental technologies for supporting research and observation (for example, autonomous underwater vehicles), and maintaining the necessary organisation and infrastructure for research and development.

  A key project, which is seen as critical to national security, is the "Earth Observation and Ocean Exploration System", a joint project between MEXT, JAXA (the national space exploration agency), JAMSTEC and the University of Tokyo. The project aims to fully integrate satellite earth observation and ocean exploration data to improve Japan's ability to understand, analyse and mitigate global environmental problems (for example, global warming) and large-scale natural disasters. Within this project. JAMSTEC leads on the development of advanced ocean exploration technology.


  JAMSTEC is the largest marine-earth science research institute in Japan with over 1,100 staff, 30% of whom are contract researchers. JAMSTEC undertakes fundamental research and development on the oceans. It's main research centre (Institute for Earth Sciences) and administrative headquarters are based in Yokohama but it has regional offices and research institutes in northern Japan (Mutsu Institute for Oceanography), Shikoku (Kochi Institute for Core Sample research) and Okinawa (Global Oceanic Data Centre). It also has four offices in the US, including two research centres in Hawaii and Alaska which it operates jointly with the US National Science Foundation.

  JAMSTEC is organized into seven research centres reflecting the key themes of research:

    —    global change (observation and modeling of climate, ocean circulation, atmosphere, hydrological cycle and their interactions);

    —    earth evolution (mantle-core, tectonic plate dynamics, paleoenvironment);

    —    extreme biosphere (marine biology and ecology, extremophiles);

    —    earth simulator centre (advanced computational and simulation using one of the world's fastest supercomputers);

    —    marine technology (ocean and sub sea research vessels); and

    —    deep sea drilling,

  A selection of the most important research activities is given below. More detail can be found in a report of a recent JAMSTEC seminar, see Annex 1.

4.1  Marine Technology

  JAMSTEC has developed some of the most advanced marine technology in the world. It operates eight research vessels, including the deep sea drilling ship "Chikyu", which was launched in 2005 with the capability of drilling in 2,500 metres of water. "Chikyu" will be used to attempt to drill down through the seabed to the earth's mantle.

  JAMSTEC also holds world depth records for manned and remotely operated submersibles. The autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) "Urashima" is the largest AUV of its kind in the world. It is capable of diving to a maximum depth of 3,500 metres and is powered by a closed system fuel cell, with an energy efficiency of 54% (the highest yet achieved in the world). Operations are mainly aimed at detailed seafloor mapping and sub sea floor profiling. The manned submersible "Shinkai" can operate at depths of 6,500 metres and the remotely operated submersible "Kaiko" has a maximum operational depth of 7,000 metres.

4.2  Climate Change

  JAMSTEC hosts the Earth Simulator, a 40 Tflops supercomputer, ranked as the word's fastest supercomputer in 2004. The UK-Japan Climate Change Modelling Collaboration is based at the Earth Simulator in Yokohama, see below. Although not used exclusively for ocean research, the Earth Simulator has enabled Japanese scientists to better understand the significant role the ocean plays in global warming and other climate studies and to more accurately model future long term climate change scenarios. Output from the Erath Simulator is being used to inform the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment reports.

4.3  Marine Resources

  The advanced marine technology developed by JAMSTEC, see above, has led to significant research strengths in investigating the potential of the oceans for bio and mineral resources. JAMSTEC has built up a strong research capability in marine genetics, through the collection and analysis of new species of deep sea bacteria and extremophiles. JAMSTEC's deep sea drilling capability will also be used in the future to explore the feasibility of exploiting the considerable reserves of methane hydrate in the sea bed around Japan as a future energy source. It is estimated that there is sufficient methane hydrate reserves to meet domestic consumption of natural gas for 100 years.

5.  International Co-operation on Ocean Research and Development

  The US is the single most important partner in ocean research and development but JAMSTEC also has research collaboration agreements with Korea, Indonesia, Australia and India.

  There is no formal agreement with the UK on ocean research, but collaboration does take place on an individual project basis, the best example of which is the UK-Japan Climate Change Modelling Collaboration (UJCC). This three year collaboration facilitated by the British Embassy in Tokyo, started in 2005 and brings together top UK climate modellers from the Met Office Hadley Centre, NERC's National Centre for Atmospheric Science at Reading University and Japanese researchers based at the Earth Simulator. The collaboration has enabled UK climate models to be developed with higher resolution. The collaboration has significantly advanced scientific knowledge of the role of the oceans in climate change.

6.  Education and Training

  Recently the number of doctorate and post doc marine scientists in Japan has increased resulting in a steady stream of new talent. The Frontier Research Group at JAMSTEC which undertakes fundamental and blue sky research on the oceans recruits internationally for post docs in an open competition to attract the best researchers. In some groups the proportion of international researchers is higher than Japanese researchers.

February 2007

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