Examination of Witnesses (Questions 130
WEDNESDAY 16 MAY 2007
Q130 Chairman: Good morning to our
special witnesses this morning: Dr Joe Horwood from the Centre
for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Cefas; Dr
Robin Hensley, from the International Partnering Programme, the
Team Leader for the UK Hydrographic Office; and Dr Mike Bell,
Head from the National Centre for Ocean Forecasting, the Met Office.
Gentlemen, you are very welcome to this evidence session of our
inquiry investigating the oceans. Could I ask you, Dr Hensley,
to be the chair of your panel and please bring in your colleagues.
How do you see the roles of organisations like Cefas, the UKHO
and the Met Office in marine science and technology research?
What is their principal role at the moment?
Dr Hensley: I will speak about
the Hydrographic Office and then I will defer to my colleagues.
The UKHO itself does not conduct research. However, we collate
data that are gathered and we turn those into products and services,
either for the military or for the civilian user. We are not a
research organisation but we are a user, a consumer of data. We
could have a role in requesting or requiring research to be done
where there are gaps within the research, but primarily we are
not a research organisation. We just have a database that we manage
and use to service our community.
Dr Horwood: We have a fairly clear
role. It is very much as a supporter of government and other departments,
particularly Defra from which we receive over 70 per cent of our
funding, from the Marine and Fisheries Divisions of Defra with
its national and international responsibilities. We are engaged
in support of obligations, monitoring, research and advice. We
have emergency response capabilities which fit in with that. Our
research does tend to be very applied to support the needs of
the government policy divisions; it tends to be more short term
than programmes managed by, for instance, NERC.
Q131 Chairman: It is basically the
Government that sets your work programme?
Dr Horwood: All our work, apart
from a very small amount which we ourselves do, is done through
particular contractual commitments, mainly through Defra. Then
about another 25 per cent of that funding is won in competition
but it is work that is aligned to the core. We do significant
work for the Food Standard Agency in monitoring radio activity,
including in the environment, and in looking at the toxins in
marine foods. We have a significant portfolio of EU research programmes,
which again support the core Defra marine and fisheries programme.
Q132 Chairman: It is virtually all
public sector funded?
Dr Horwood: It is but it need
not necessarily be. About 5 to 10% of our work is overseas and
for other governments.
Q133 Chairman: What is the overall
Dr Horwood: It is presently £43
Q134 Chairman: You say that roughly
5 to 10% comes from the private sector?
Dr Horwood: Having looked at my
notes, the figure is at present 4%, with another 4% from the EU,
and about 25% is won in competition with other organisations nationally
Dr Bell: The primary role of the
Met Office with respect to marine science is to use up-to-date
marine science and technology to make predictions. There are three
timescales for which we make predictions. There are climate predictions,
predicting how the climate is going to vary and change over the
next 50 to 100 years. There are seasonal forecasts that we make;
for example, the cold winter forecast that we made not for last
winter but the preceding winter. We also make forecasts of the
surface waves, coastal flooding, storm surges, surface temperature
currents in the ocean on a short timescale, so just a few days
ahead. Obviously to do all of those things, monitoring of the
oceans is very important to us. We ourselves play a small role
Q135 Graham Stringer: What is the
balance of resources into those three areas of forecasting, as
Dr Bell: As percentages, the climate
prediction with seasonal forecasting together is just over 50%
of those and we spend of the order of £1.8 million per annum
on those activities; that is, the marine aspects of those. For
short-range forecasting, we spend, as we stated in our evidence,
£1.3 million; I think it is slightly more than that at £1.5
million per year on short-range forecasting, which is primarily
funded by the Ministry of Defence.
Q136 Chairman: Obviously the whole
marine space is used significantly. When I was growing up, it
was seen as a major source of food and that was it. It is now
used in all sorts of different ways. How is your work changing?
How is your workload changing? How would you say the emphasis
of your budget changes to meet the changes in the marine environment
and the uses of it for things like energy? I would like a comment
from each of you.
Dr Bell: Obviously the climate
change agenda has increased in importance dramatically over the
last ten years. That work is jointly funded by Defra and MoD.
It is of course up to Defra and MoD to decide how much money to
spend in that area. The seasonal forecasting area has also gone
up the agenda recently because it has become more plausible; we
can make seasonal forecasts with a useful level of skill. I think
that has become clearer over the last five years than it was ten
years ago, particularly for forecasting in north-west Europe;
for seasonal forecasting in the tropical regions, it has been
understood that that has been possible for some time. Operational
forecasting has gone up the agenda a lot in the last ten years
as well because it is only in the last ten years that it has been
seen to be feasible. Surface wave forecasting has been going on
for quite a long time. That is well established, and so is storm
surge prediction, so the coastal predictions on the basis of which
the Environment Agency issues warnings of coastal flooding. That
is well established but in some of the other areas, in particular
forecasting of currents in the ocean, the technology has only
just got to the point in the last ten years where that is coming
through as a viable and reasonable thing to do.
Dr Hensley: From the UKHO perspective,
it is not as direct as the forecasting function from the Met Office.
We support the Maritime and Coastguard Agency discharging the
Government's Safety of Lives at Sea regulations, and we do that
through the provision of navigational products and services. In
order to achieve that, the bathometric survey programme needs
to be geared to respond to environmental changes in shipping areas,
for example, and areas that have not been particularly well surveyed.
One could argue that our role follows environmental change in
that respect. It is responding really to the requirements of the
needs for safe navigation. In our defence area, again we are responding
to the requirements for environmental information and data. There
is not as clear a driver as for the Met Office looking at forecasting
of, say, storm surges. We respond in that respect. It is not as
Q137 Chairman: Have the technologies
Dr Hensley: Yes.
Q138 Chairman: Give me an example
of where five years ago something you are doing now is totally
different from the way in which you were operating five years
ago using technology.
Dr Bell: There is one rather good
example of that, I think, which is the ARGO system, which is a
system of floats which are about the size of a man. They spend
most of their time at about 1,000 metres depth within the deep
ocean and once every ten days or so they come up to the surface.
They go down to 2,000 metres and come up measuring temperature
and salinity, then they signal that via satellite to shore. There
are nearly 3,000 of these of those floats distributed globally
in the water now. This programme was first considered in 1997.
I remember very vividly thinking how marvellous it would be if
we could really have such a system monitoring the oceans with
3,000 floats with a very good geographical distribution. That
data is freely available over the worldwide web. We use it to
keep our forecasts on track and close to reality. I think that
is one of several examples.
Q139 Dr Spink: Could I ask how that
actually works with predictions of temperatures and salinity?
What does that enable you to predict?
Dr Bell: Knowing the temperature
and salinity of the oceans is important because the temperature
and salinity structure drives the currents, together with the
surface winds. It is that thermal and density structure which
drives the currents. If you want to do things like monitor the
thermohaline circulations, this is the circulation that does a
lot of the transport of heat from the Equator to the Poles and
it is very important in the earth's climate.