Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220
WEDNESDAY 16 MAY 2007
J WILLMOTT, PROFESSOR
Q220 Mr Newmark: Do you think that
you get adequate funding from government for marine science?
Professor Liss: Maybe one of the
directors might answer that; they are spending a lot of money,
so perhaps they should answer!
Professor Hill: Are we getting
enough? Certainly the science budget has increased.
Q221 Mr Newmark: Is it adequate?
Professor Hill: If you want me
to put my neck on the line I would say no. What I would like to
see is a times two increase in marine science funding.
Q222 Mr Newmark: Any higher bids?
Professor Willmott: We will not
go into the stratosphere with any higher factors. We cannot get
heavily involved with things like observatories and perhaps it
is appropriate that, say, cabled observatories should be coordinated
and funded at a European level rather than the national level;
but I do think it is important that we are aware of these large
projects, like the observatories pay. I would like a European
icebreaker and I would like to see that the UK has some buy-in
on those sorts of projects.
Professor Liss: Can I just comment
on that because the universities are always bidding it up even
higher than the institutes, for whatever reasons? I think a factor
of two is about right. Why do I use that as a marker? Because
I think the present success rate for responsive mode funding in
NERC is less than 20%I do not know the exact figure but
it is below 20%so only a fifth or less of the proposals,
which take a lot of time to write and prepare, are actually successfully
funded through the NERC. I think that is too low a number, it
should be more like 40%; so that is where I get my factor of times
Q223 Mr Newmark: What you are saying
is that NERC is not doing enough to give support?
Professor Liss: There is not enough
resource. I am not saying they are not doing enough; I am just
saying that the amount of money they have had means that the funding
is only going to a fifth of the proposals which are put forward.
The other element of that is that it is very difficult to mount
a directed programme through the NERC because they require a lot
of money for the UK to contribute for international programmes
and of course climate science and ocean science are done internationally
these days. It is very difficult to put those large sums of money,
£10 million or £20 million required for a UK reasonable
contribution to one of these international programmesthat
is very difficult to do with the present NERC budget.
Q224 Chairman: There is not much
left after that?
Professor Liss: There is not;
so I think a factor of two would be extremely helpful.
Q225 Mr Newmark: Are there barriers
to obtaining funding for interdisciplinary research projects from
the research councils? If so, how could these be overcome?
Professor Liss: I think that is
always going to be an issue; it has been for years, things fall
between the divisions between research councils. It has probably
got somewhat better in the NERC because the subject specific committees
have been abolished and there is now a college which picks review
bodies from within a larger body of people and that should make
it easier to fund interdisciplinary studiesI think there
is some evidence for that, but it is not very strong.
Q226 Mr Newmark: So going in the
Professor Liss: Yes.
Q227 Chairman: If we had a single
research council would it be easier?
Professor Liss: Possibly. No doubt
there would be divisions within that single research council as
with the National Science Foundation. I do not know if you are
Q228 Chairman: We were there.
Professor Liss: They have twothey
have one for medical research as well. For science and engineering
they have one research council, but there are divisions within
it and no doubt you can ask questions about how it works across
the divisions. I suspect it would not be a lot different. There
might be some economies of scale but I do not know.
Professor Hill: If I could comment
on that? I think there are pros and cons for a single research
council; there are probably some very significant benefits, I
would have to say. The issue with marine sciences and marine affairs
generally, though, is one word used about them is fragmentation,
but there is another word which you can use which puts a different
interpretation on it, and that is that marine science is pervasiveyou
find marine affairs and marine science everywhere. So it is never
going to be possible just to find a neat corral of it into one
single entity. So the science theme of climate have marine in
it. Many issues have marine themes in them. So that is the benefit
of marine science, that it is everywhere but it is also its problem,
in that it loses its visibility. Within the Framework Programmes
in the European Union, for example, in the early days of the Framework
Programmes there was a specific marine science programme. But
probably rightly the Commission went away from that into much
more thematic-based science, in which case marine is in everything
and its visibility is lost. One of the benefits of the Natural
Environment Research Council, because it is explicitly environment,
marine does have a profile in it. Whenever you create a larger
entity the risk for us, I think, would be that marine would be
more lost in a more general science council than it is in NERC.
On the other hand, technologies are very, very important in marine
science and the ability for NERC to increase its funding in technology
and for us to access EPSRC funding for marine technologies is
a very important issue.
Q229 Mr Newmark: Are the UK national
facilities, such as our research vessel fleet adequate?
Professor Hill: I can comment
as to the person who is responsible for a slice of that research
vessel fleet, managing two of the NERC ships. There has been very
important investment in research vessels; the Royal Research Ship,
James Cook, has just completed her first cruise and embarked on
her second cruise, and that was a £40m investment in a state
of the art research vessel. There is funding now earmarked for
the replacement of Discovery, a 40-year old vessel
Q230 Mr Newmark: But that is not
due to happen until 2011.
Professor Hill: 2011, in fact
early 2012 before she comes on stream. The fact that the ship
is 40 years' old tells you something about the level of capital
investment that has been going on to support these ships. Meanwhile,
the research vessel fleet has decreased over the last 20 years
from something like five ships down to twomulti-purpose
vessels, I am excluding vessels with Antarctic capability from
thisand that is the bare minimum. What is also significantly
missing though is the research vessel capacity for working shelf
seas and coastal seas, where you do not need quite such big teams
and you operate on much shorter timescales. It is very difficult
to provide evidence for this but I do think that a lot of marine
science is partly platform driven. If there is a ship capable
of doing it you will find proposals coming in in that area, and
because of the lack of capacity of ships for coastal research
I think we have seen proposals for coastal science tend to dry
Q231 Mr Newmark: You still have not
given me a solution, so what other approaches could NERC take
to actually increase fieldwork capacity?
Professor Hill: It is difficult
in its existing budgets but one option certainly would be to see
if one could secure additional funding.
Q232 Mr Newmark: It comes down to
money not re-shifting existing funds?
Professor Hill: It is two things.
Part of my times two would include increasing the research vessel
capacity in shelf seas. We do operate our vessels, I believe at
maximum capacity, through things like international ship bartering
arrangements, which is very, very effective.
Q233 Chairman: We have heard about
Professor Hill: We do less ship
bartering within the UK where there are coastal vessels, but there
are reasons for that in that the coastal vessels that Cefas and
FRS have are pretty much fulltime on statutory responsibilities,
and so there is not the spare capacity. So I think there is ultimately
an issue about capacity here, and I suspect what could be achieved
by bartering in some internal flexibility is rather marginal.
Q234 Chairman: Andrew, did you want
to comment on that?
Professor Willmott: Yes. As a
coastal seas research lab a great deal of our work is carried
out in the Irish Sea and the UK continental shelf. We have access
to a vessel called the Prince Madog, based at Menai Bridge. She
is 33 metres long and she is okay as long as you do not operate
off northwest Europe or the Scottish shelf or in the Celtic Sea
where, quite frankly, she is not capable of operating in the inclement
weather conditions there. I wondered whether there was capacity
to perhaps get access to the Cefas ships, I think that would be
a way forward. We are certainly missing a vessel of the size of
the Challenger, which was retired in 2002a 60 metre vessel,
which can operate anywhere on the European continental shelf.
We have plans with our partners in Ireland to extend our coastal
observatory to become an Irish Sea observatory and that will put
even greater pressure on us to find a suitable vessel to operate
in that larger domain.
Q235 Dr Turner: Do you think the
Navy could make any contribution through its residual fleet towards
providing platforms for observation?
Professor Hill: The Navy actually
does some provide some ship capacity. For example, the first survey
of the Sumatran Plate Boundary after the 2004 Boxing Day earthquake
was conducted by researchers at Southampton and British Geological
Survey from HMS Scott and very successful it was too, so that
has happened. HMS Endurance obviously works very closely with
work in the southern ocean for the British Antarctic Survey. It
is also the case that a lot of the ice thickness measurements
made in the Arctic by the Scott Polar Research Institute and others
has actually utilised Royal Navy submarines. So the scientists
are accessing and using Navy vessels. They are also used as ships
of opportunity; they deploy Argo floats, significantly the XBT
programmes, so there is a lot of data flowing back into the operational
agencies and into the scientific community that are sourced from
naval vessels. Is there more that could be done? There probably
is. One of the things that we have been doing, for example, is
instrumenting ferries with underway sampling systems; we have
also gone to container vessel operators who are really quite enthusiastic
about operating underway systems like this and also probably the
cruise liner business will get into this game as well. But the
naval vessels are not particularly operating that. There are some
security issues, of course, about giving away in near real time
the position of Royal Naval vessels, but I have no doubt some
of these could be overcome.
Q236 Chairman: What amazes meand
I think it was the point of Brooks' question herewe can
always say, "If you give us more money we can provide more
ships", but it is a matter of how do we work smarter, how
do we work more coordinated. I am in and out of Killybegs in Ireland
on the West Coast of Ireland very, very regularly, and all winter
I have seen the fishing fleet just sat there doing nothing because
they cannot fish. Yet there are all those ships available, and
I am sure that applies in British waters as well. So I throw that
into the pot as my idea to help you out! Do you agree?
Professor Hill: We do a lot of
that alsoalready doing it.
Q237 Chris Mole: I wanted to start
by asking about the university collaboration and data sharing
with Cefas and other government research agencies and how you
think that might be improved, and I know we got on to Oceans 2025
just now, but we will come back to that. Do any of you have a
view on that?
Professor Liss: I think the situation
is not bad for the universities. We tend to not be users of huge
amounts of data; we are more engaged in shorter-term process studies,
which may not use large amounts of data. I have not heard too
many complaints about availability of data from the British Oceanographic
Data Centre or Cefas Data Centre, et cetera. I think what the
MDIP is to do will make it easier not just for universities, but
everyone can get access to the data that presently exists and
this phrase "measure once, use many times" is clearly
an easy thing to say but rather hard to do but that is the objective.
Professor Willmott: As you know,
BODC has the mission of taking raw data, calibrating it and making
it freely available for a wide range of usersuniversity
based and wider than thatand I think that they have been
particularly successful over the last few years in increasing
the use of the data because that raw data is freely available.
I think that has been critical to the success and the take-up
of those data sets. I guess where we must be careful is about
proliferation of data centres. I am not totally familiar with
what types of data are held at Cefas; I would hope that there
is not duplication of data between Cefas and BODC.
Professor Hill: I think data is
an important issue. In the scientific community there is a fairly
good free flow of data and the data is reasonably accessible for
research and development purposes. I do think that there are some
fundamental issues around data accessibility, and this is a much
bigger picture internationally. Some countries operate a very
different philosophy from the UK in terms of data access, which
essentially all fundamental data sets generated by public funds
are free. The US has this kind of model. It is not as great as
it sounds because it actually does have quite serious implications
for data quality. In the UK I do think that there are some serious
barriers in the system about being able to fuse certain data sets,
not least because some important dataand it is not actually
the data as such but the added value information products that
are created from those dataare commercially tradable items.
Three important sources of those data are the Ordnance Survey,
the Hydrographic Office and the Met Office are trading funds and
so there is a trade in their added value data products. Other
bodies, such as Cefas and the British Geological Survey, whilst
not trading funds are operating under increasingly commercial
models whereby revenue generation is important. I am not saying
that this is a massive problem in terms of accessibility to data
for science, but in terms of bodies such as the MMO, who will
be critically reliant on key data sets in order, and not just
separate data sets, synthesised, fused, overlaid, multi-layered
sets, then they will need to be able to access these, and this
probably means, under the various models that we have, that there
will be a cost implication of that and that the MMO will need
to be suitably resources in order to purchase licences for access
to this data.
Q238 Chris Mole: There are precursors
for planning functions using ordnance survey, where I would imagine
there are similar issues. I think we got into the Oceans 2025
important way in which the academic sector had engaged within
that and it was whether any of the other two had not contributed
to that and wanted to add anything.
Professor Liss: No, I think you
have given a fair thrashing to the 2025 process.
Professor Hill: If I could briefly
comment on that? I think it has been given a good airing and I
think there have been full responses from NERC on the subject.
I would say that the only reason we are having this discussion
about Oceans 2025 in the Mother of Parliaments is that for the
first time a bunch of marine centres got their act together to
produce a coordinated programme of research in marine science
that somebody had actually heard of, and I think that is quite
important. So there are a lot of benefits of Oceans 2025. Are
we looking to engage the university community? Absolutely, it
is actually built into the programme. Do we want more people on
the bandwagon? Absolutely and I am sure that will be happening
over the years.
Chairman: You are a great advert for
Q239 Dr Iddon: Which countries do
you slightly envy, or who is ahead of us in the marine science
Professor Hill: We are always
envious of the United States; they have larger amounts of resources,
but they also have other things beyond resources. In Europe, though,
the other places that we envy are Japan, who seem to be able to
invest large amounts in marine technology. Their science is probably
not as strong but certainly the investments in technology and
some of the technological innovations that they are capable of
doing are truly phenomenal and we certainly envy their access
to technology. In Europe I am increasingly looking with envy at
Germany. It is investing heavily in marine sciences at the moment.
Their institutes seem to be recruiting very strongly and certainly
looking to my institute, amongst others, to find talented people,
and we find it very difficult to extract German professors from
Germany to come to the UK, not least because they are well resourced,
they find it easy to access ships and the funding regime does
not appear to be as competitive. Also, it appears that their governments
are coming to them almost trying to push money at them as opposed
to the other way around, and the Germans are really taking it
very seriously. I was at a meeting in Bremen just two weeks ago,
talking about the European Maritime Green Paper and the President
of the Commission turned up to speak about this, as did the German
Chancellor, and made a speech talking about the importance of
maritime affairs and marine science, so it is very, very high