Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 20

Submission from Professor Alan Rodger, Head of Science Programmes, British Antarctic Survey


  The STFC Delivery Plan Contains two critical statements that Combined, I believe, will lead to the rapid demise of STP. These are:

    (a)  All ground based STP facilities are to close.

    (b)  Grants will only be used to exploit facilities being operated by STFC.

  The consequence will be that the UK will lose a critical national carability that has direct and indirect economic value. Hence the proposed cuts at STFC are fundamentally different from the others proposed in the recent delivery STFC plan.

  STP provides the basic knowledge of the space environment—an environment upon which we rely to an ever-greater extent in the 21st century. Changes in the space environment, known as space weather events, pose natural hazards for satellite operations. One space weather event can cause the complete loss of satellites at -300 million each and there are now 300 satellites in space, the majority of which are used for commerce in some form or other. Many are also insured through the City of London insurance market.

  The accuracy of global positioning systems including the European Galileo depends upon space weather. STP provides the expertise to design, protect and exploit the system.

  Even aircraft and their passengers are affected by additional radiation dose during space weather events, and for which STP provides the underpinning knowledge.

  Space weather events are frequent and occur with varying severity, their prediction is the ultimate goal of STP research.

  There is a second and completely different dimension to STP research—namely Sun-climate links. It is critical that we quantify now the solar induced effects on climate change so we can predict more accurately the anthropogenic ones. Even IPCC 2007 and Sir Keith O'Nions[41] in recent evidence to the Public Accounts committee agree this is important.

  STP research is essentially an environmental science. It needs measurements distributed in space and time, including long-term measurements of the secular changes of the Earth and the Sun. To be highly effective, one needs to combine measurements from the ground and from space—together; these provide much more than the sum of the parts. This is why the proposed closure of all ground-based STP facilities effectively leads to a loss of national capability in SIP as a whole. Essentially the approach is akin to that of the UK Met Office -just a few hundred kilometres higher up in the atmosphere.

  The independent report for the Institute of Physics report concluded in 2005 that the UK is a world leader both in Sun-climate science and space weather.

As we take to space and the skies even more, where is the knowledge base and the supply of bright young minds going to come from to maintain this critical national capability in SIP if the current plans of STFC are carried through? I see another nuclear industry situation arising—we will have to import all the skills in the future if we cut off the supply now.

  In conclusion I urge you to examine the potential loss of UK National Capability in solar terrestrial physics (SIP) with particular care during the forthcoming review Science Budget Allocations. SIP directly underpins commercial interests and Government policy.

January 2008

41   Sir Keith said "physics of the upper atmosphere there will be a very key part of climate change"-Big Science: Public Investment in Large Scientific Facilities, Question 65, 9 May 2007, HC 153-i. Back

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