Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 200)

WEDNESDAY 16 MAY 2007

DR JOE HORWOOD, DR ROBIN HENSLEY AND DR MIKE BELL

  Q180  Chris Mole: That is 34 ongoing. I think you hinted earlier there might be some missing. What else should you be monitoring on a long-term basis?

  Dr Horwood: If you look at the review that UKMMAS did, they reckon to fulfil the aspirations of that UK monitoring strategy. They would be looking for an extra £22 million a year and they have identified those areas where they would seek to do more, possibly adding to that number.

  Q181  Chris Mole: Briefly, could you?

  Dr Horwood: I do feel that we do not know enough about the basic state of marine biodiversity and, more importantly, how that is responding to natural variation. The sea is used to seeing very large changes, both cyclic shifts and variability, and until we have that baseline in it will be very difficult to detect changes that we want to attribute to climate change.

  Q182  Chris Mole: Dr Bell?

  Dr Bell: One aspect of monitoring, which I agree fully with what Joe has just said, one other aspect which has not been mentioned so far is satellite monitoring and the UK contribution to that, which could be significantly stronger than it is.

  Q183  Chris Mole: Who should be leading the demand for that?

  Dr Bell: Defra have taken on the responsibility for global monitoring for environments and security.

  Q184  Chris Mole: GMES.

  Dr Bell: GMES, and so that is certainly one of the departments that has taken on responsibility. But there are other departments involved across British National Space Centre that would have some responsibility.

  Q185  Chris Mole: We have talked about some of the sharing issues. Some of the data your produce is commercially consumed but beyond that how can the Met Office and UKHO share your scientific data with the wider research community and are there any barriers to preventing people having access to that information?

  Dr Hensley: I think from our perspective, other than the barriers which would be where we hold third party data, which we are not at liberty to release from international partners, or if there are defence constraints, for reasons which will be self-evident, there are not the barriers for us releasing data as long as it is consistent with our trading fund status.

  Q186  Chris Mole: Have you had a dialogue with the research community about whether there is anything that they think they might take from you that they are not currently doing?

  Dr Hensley: We have spoken over some time about some issues, such as observations of the marine mammals and so on and so forth, and we have some work in progress—and I will have to clarify that—with St. Andrew's University on that, where we have put in risk mitigation work for marine mammals, for example; and on the physical side, as I say, we release data out through BODC.

  Q187  Chris Mole: Dr Bell?

  Dr Bell: It is quite a complex issue that you have raised about access to data and it is a very important one because we rely on data being openly exchanged in real time to do our monitoring and forecasting, so it is actually something that we do want to see progress. For research and development and for making our data available for research and development purposes we would seek to make that data available at cost basis. For other government departments' use our policy is that the data that is produced for our public task should be available to other government departments for their public task, again at an at cost basis. I think those are the principles but you have to bear in mind that there are also issues of funding in making data available; there is also a certain amount of history that things are organised in certain ways and it takes time to move towards more modern methods for data exchange. As Rob has mentioned, there are security issues as well. One of the security issues, for example, from the Met Office's point of view, is that we have to be very careful not to open up our system to hackers because if our system goes down it has very serious repercussions for the country. And that does constrain the way in which we can make data available to others. So there are constraints, apart from the principles which have become clearer recently.

  Q188  Chris Mole: Dr Bell, how does the Met Office work with academic institutions in developing forecasting models? I am very much aware that those models have become increasingly complex and need bigger and bigger super computers to cope with each model.

  Dr Bell: Yes.

  Q189  Chris Mole: As the understanding about the interface between the sea and the sky to those models becomes increasingly important do we have the funding in place to ensure that we have the computing power to crunch those models for the next generation of modelling and forecasting?

  Dr Bell: You have asked two questions.

  Q190  Chris Mole: I am sorry; yes, I have.

  Dr Bell: It is very important to us to take the research that is done in institutions like Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory and Plymouth Marine Laboratory and to pull those through into our system. So, for example, there is an ecosystem model which was developed by Plymouth, which we brought into our operational systems this year and there are other examples of that, and this is why this National Centre for Ocean forecasting was set up, to really recognise that there has been this collaboration going on over the last ten years, and to formalise it and to help to strengthen it. To come on to your other question about whether the computing resources are available, the computing resources to which we have access, to which the Met Office has access are not as large as the resources that are available in some other countries, for example the USA, Japan and, in our case, also France. So that is an issue; that is really quite an important issue.

  Q191  Chris Mole: Who is addressing that issue?

  Dr Bell: That issue is certainly being addressed by the Hadley Centre in discussions with Defra and MOD. There are also discussions with NERC as to whether we can share computer resources in the future and get better computer resources.

  Q192  Chairman: That should be an issue for us really.

  Dr Bell: Yes, I think that is an important issue.

  Q193  Graham Stringer: Do you ever worry that as your computers get bigger and your models get more sophisticated that you are drawing more and more resources into modelling that actually does reflect as accurately as it could do what is going to happen in 10 years' time, but everybody is very happy with the model because the model is self-consistent? Is that question clear?

  Dr Bell: Yes, I think I see what you are driving at. It would be very serious if that were the case but a lot of the science that is done at the Met Office is on the validation of the models and particularly for climate change because it is like a one-shot problem, that you make predictions, say, for 50 years ahead and you do not know until 50 years' time whether they are going to be right. So this issue of validation of the models and ensuring that the science is adequately captured is really at the heart of what we do. One of the ways in which we try to tackle that is that we do forecasting on an every day basis which does test the models, at least in short range, every day. Actually a lot of the errors in the climate models do show up on these sorts of short timescales so that testing of the models is very relevant and the Met Office does seek to work together with the NERC partners because we recognise that we do not have the funding on our own to do all of the necessary validation, and validation and understanding of the models is very expensive.

  Chairman: Linda Gilroy.

  Q194  Linda Gilroy: These are the concluding questions of the session on marine policy and a few questions to Dr Horwood before turning to the other two. What discussions has Cefas had with Defra regarding the Marine Bill White Paper and how do you expect Cefas to be affected by the proposed Marine Management Organisation?

  Dr Horwood: I have a few words on this. We would not comment on our Minister's policy but from our involvement in the activities we are pleased with the Bill. We do see that it seeks to make more coherent the current fragmented management of marine activities at a time when coastal pressures are high and increasing and there is real competition for space. We think the key roles of marine planning, licensing, nature conservation and inshore fisheries are suitably and well aligned; the marine conservation zones will be a very useful new tool. The conclusion was that Cefas should not be a part of the MMO because we would be too big a tail wagging the dog but we do see in whatever form it takes that we would expect to have a very strong relationship with the MMO. At the same time it is very healthy that science is separated from policy and is transparent, so if we were in the MMO or out of the MMO I think people would clearly want to see a separation between a report, advice and subsequent action by the MMO. We are still in discussions about whether particular licensing teams should move from Cefas to an MMO.

  Q195  Linda Gilroy: So licensing in relation to fisheries, in relation to ...

  Dr Horwood: No licensing very much in relation to construction and dumping and dredging activities under FEPA, the Food and Environmental Protection Act, and the Coastal Protection Act.

  Q196  Linda Gilroy: Presumably that is the response you would be making to the Marine Bill consultation, which closes in early June?

  Dr Horwood: As part of Defra we have not gone through the consultation, we are speaking to them directly.

  Q197  Linda Gilroy: I think you have given us some indication towards how you would see Cefas' statutory functions changing in response to changing pressures on the UK marine environment, but do you want to say a few more words about that?

  Dr Horwood: I think the key thing is the massive changes that are happening at the European level. Previously OSPAR Commission on the marine environment was the big organisation that we, the UK, was serving and looking after. Now we see DG Environment becoming much more interested. We have had the Water Framework Directive come in; the Marine Strategy Directive is now at a pretty advanced stage; we have the Marine Green Paper from the Commission. There will be a much greater European involvement in marine activities, so I guess we will still be serving this core activity but there will be a much greater European dimension to it.

  Q198  Linda Gilroy: And the Cefas research in support of policy proposals in the Marine Bill White Paper, such as the Marine Protected Areas, do you see Cefas research and experience thus far feeding into that; and, if so, how does that fit with the position you stated just now, that it should remain outside of the Marine Management Organisation? Would that be an activity that would transfer in?

  Dr Horwood: I am not sure how some of these things will pan out but at some point somebody has to decide that area X should go ahead—probably Ministers—and it may be that the MMO then has the job of implementing it. But there will be a body of advice going in to the people who make the decision in the first stage, which I guess would probably not only come from us but a larger range of views would go into any evaluation of a protected area—some scientific, some economic. We have had a strong engagement with advising on Marine Protected Areas over the last several decades, both for fisheries purposes and, for instance, in the marine Natura sites and in protecting specific sensitive habitats.

  Q199  Linda Gilroy: Dr Hensley, how does UKHO support evidence-based policy making? For example, what assistance are you giving to Defra to support their marine policy making?

  Dr Hensley: We have had input to Defra; we consult; they consulted with us on the Marine Bill. We are a centre of expertise for hydrographic/bathymetric data, so therefore our role would be to provide the definitive picture and what the definitive of the UK shelf would be. We are currently piloting what a data assessment centre underpinning this would be. It was a model that was proposed some time ago and we are now working through the implementation to see how it stands up. We have input into the Data Standards, for example, so we have been providing underpinning information on the quality of seabed and its structure.

  Q200  Linda Gilroy: Might that make the data that you collect and the potential for collecting data more widely known to the marine science community?

  Dr Hensley: We do not collect data, but we database, analyse and so on and so forth. The data that we have is either available through our website, and for non-commercial academic use it is free; or goes in a GIS framework way through Sea Zone Hyperspatial, so the data is available to the academic community certainly.

  Chairman: I am going to have to finish there. I am sorry, we have run over as well, but Dr Horwood, Dr Hensley and Dr Bell thank you very much indeed for giving your evidence before us this morning.





 
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