Science and TechnologyWritten evidence submitted by the Met Office


1. When the Met Office first began to commercialise its output in the late 1980s, there was no easily defined or accessible marketplace for weather and climate services and only one other UK company offering meteorological services. Breaking into the first markets for commercial weather services was a long process but once the way was open UK competitors quickly emerged and the normal, and healthy, supply and demand economics began to shape the market size and commercial services being offered.

2. The Met Office’s continued commitment to exploit and share its underpinning science with the wider UK research base and the marketplace drives a well-rehearsed cycle of market definition and innovative product breakthrough. The following memorandum is written against this background, and describes some of the success, and lessons learned, by the Met Office and private and public sector partners in commercialising breakthroughs within the Environmental Sciences arena.

The Science to Service Thread

3. In considering the difficulties in taking science through to direct application or service, it is important to first consider the scale of separation between the research and market communities. The thread between the fundamental or core research and its direct application in a commercial setting can be long, often with a large separation between users of potential applications and the research bodies.

4. Researchers and industry in the environmental science arena are increasingly realising that the translation of science to service cannot be best and quickly achieved by either community alone, or without the catalyst of an active delivery body.

5. In recognition of this, the Met Office and other public sector partners have for some time been working to create cross-organisational links along the entire thread to facilitate, integrate and operationally deliver innovative services from core and directed environmental science research.

Partnering at Operational Delivery Increases Visibility of Market Needs

6. The Met Office has an international reputation as a world class science institute working at the cutting edge of weather and climate science. A key strength of the organisation lies in the ability to pull science research through to direct application—quickly and to an identified market. This means the delay between scientific advance and the help it offers, through improved services or policy advice, is very short indeed.

7. The Met Office’s capacity to pull science through quickly, combined with its data assimilation1 and modelling expertise and robust operational capabilities, are increasingly being exploited as key factors in supporting the integration of science breakthroughs from a number of sources, and across a number of environmental disciplines, to provide services in policy formation, protection of lives and livelihoods, and to help enterprise maximise profits and minimise exposure to risk:

The Flood Forecasting Centre: a partnership with the Environment Agency combining expertise in hydrology and meteorology to provide a hydrometeorology service to provide longer lead time flood forecasts and more accurate, targeted information in flood emergencies.

Dispersal monitoring and prediction: modelling the spread and attribution of, for example, airborne pests and diseases, air quality and air-borne pollutants, radioactive incidents, volcanic ash.

Space weather prediction: translating science into warning services for industries including satellite communications, aviation, mining, electricity supply.

8. In many cases, these and other services demonstrate the importance of also having close ties with other service delivery bodies (eg Health Protection Agency, RIMNET) to provide truly joined up advice.

9. Success of operational application and delivery in these areas stems partly from the fact that, as well as carrying out directed research to fill specific knowledge gaps, the Met Office works closely with the end-user communities in many different industry sectors to understand market requirements, aspirations and issues. Visibility into the market is a vital factor in commercialising technology-ready science to enable speedy and targeted application.

Collaborative Research Improves Visibility Across the Science

10. This dialogue forms, however, only one link across the entire thread: a significant part lies some way before the point at which science breakthroughs are ready to take to the market; within the research community itself.

11. Researchers in the environmental science community are increasingly aware of the connections and, in some cases overlaps, between the various disciplines and are therefore much more open to partnering with others in related areas. Indeed, in some cases, furthering the science in one discipline (eg climate) can only be accomplished through collaboration.

12. The Met Office is actively developing and extending its established collaborative working within the environmental science domain: with academia where, for example, the Met Office Academic Partnership between Met Office and the universities of Exeter, Leeds and Reading was launched last year; with the Research Councils in, for example, the Joint Weather and Climate Research Programme between Met Office and NERC; and with private enterprises including initiatives such as the Exeter Science Park.

13. Collaboration and partnerships between environmental science institutes not only enable a quicker development in areas of immediate interest, but provide a vital advantage in that new relationships between the disciplines are uncovered. Meteorologists and crop scientists, for example, are now integrating modelling to provide services which range in application from humanitarian disaster relief to the futures and commodities markets.

14. Exploring these new links may certainly increase the potential benefits from collaborative activities but, if partnerships exist only within the research community there remains a lack of visibility within industry and other end-users of what research is being conducted and, importantly, a corresponding lack of visibility within the research community as to the potential value and scope for the application of emerging science.

Partnering Researchers, Industry and Delivery Drives a Complete Science to Service Thread

15. In environmental science, the Met Office increasingly acts as a hub for the integration of related branches as well as a platform from which to stimulate a dialogue between the research community and industry. This approach is also recognised within other initiatives, such as the International Space Innovation Centre (ISIC) at Harwell. This STFC-supported public-private partnership was formed to bring together Government, industry and the academic community with the express purpose of promoting greater and more efficient collaboration in the development of space related technologies and science. The Met Office’s involvement completes the collaborative requirement to ensure delivery of operational services developed from these and space weather research collaborations.

16. It is the bringing together of science, market and operations that enables truly innovative solutions to be developed and delivered. This is especially true when considering the potential from breakthroughs being made in “blue sky” or conceptual research which, when brought together with other research and influences, such as that found in partnership hubs, enable even greater innovation and growth in the longer term.

February 2012

1 Data Assimilation is a technique for a synthesis of information from a dynamic (numerical) model and observation data.

Prepared 11th March 2013