4 Marine data collection |
36. One of the key issues that was raised in our
discussions on Marine Conservation Zones was the lack of information
currently available about the marine environment around the UK,
both in coastal and offshore areas. The UK's marine area covers
almost 3.5 times its terrestrial equivalent, but there is a shortage
of reliable habitat data to facilitate policy development. Only
between 10% and 20% of the UK continental shelf is said to have
been mapped in detail by survey and observations.
This lack of understanding will only become more significant as
the Government tries to develop marine plans, select Marine Conservation
Zones, and implement the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive,
since these need to be underpinned with scientific evidence.
Such evidence requires significant data collection. We were interested
to hear about work at the British Oceanographic Data Centre in
Liverpool, which provides a national centre for storing and sharing
marine data. However,
despite extensive commercial activity, systematic collection of
such data appears to be confined to the public sector. In this
chapter we consider two issues that were raised during our inquiry:
the use of data collected in commercial operations and the difficulties
establishing long-term monitoring programmes. We then turn to
an important emerging possibility: the potential for autonomous
vehicles to contribute to more extensive data collection in the
37. Publicly-funded scientists are not the only group
researching the marine environmentmarine industries carry
out considerable activity in UK waters which requires them to
collect environmental data. Indeed, the Minister told us that
industry collects "enormous" amounts of data around
the UK. In a
relatively recent development, some of this, in the form of environmental
statements, is made publically available by the Marine Management
Organisation. We were pleased to hear James Cross, CEO of the
Marine Management Organisation, report that industry had been
happy to cooperate with it in this initiative.
38. Despite these steps, many of our witnesses argued
that industry could go further with regards to sharing its data.
We heard that the development of policies to make more data publicly
available would be "good for the future of governance of
the UK marine environment".
This is because data collected when, for example, laying cables
at sea or installing offshore wind turbines, could be "highly
relevant to much more than just the developments themselves".
As Professor Hill, NERC, explained:
There are some areas where data that are collected
for industryfor example, as an obligation as part of licensing
for baseline surveys and so forthwould be of much greater
value to the industry collectively, to the public good, the regulators,
and to scientists if they were somehow pooled and put together.
For example, you can imagine how seabed and habitat maps might
be stitched together into a more coherent picture of the UK seas
as a public good. There is a case to be made as to the condition
of some of the licences for those activities in relation to that
kind of data, which probably is ultimately not of great commercial
value and the public good value is much greater, including the
good to the industry sector as a whole.
39. However, representatives from marine industries
were more cautious. Phil Durrant, North Sea Marine Cluster, urged
"we have to be mindful of who is paying for that data collection"
and highlighted the commercial sensitivity of some data sets.
The issue of sensitivity may be particularly important to developing
Professor Rayner, IMarEST, put it:
If you look at the example of the oil and gas
industry, that started with exactly the same view. Everything
they collected they regarded as proprietary and were very reluctant
to put into the public domain. That view has changed profoundly
in the last decade, because there has been a recognition of the
benefit of pooling it for all sorts of reasons, and a recognition
that it is not core to the business of the oil and gas industry.
The marine renewables sector is a little more difficult. The measurements
they make of wind are very core to their competitive position
and that is part of what drives their reluctance, but it is also
an issue of maturity. I think that as that industry matures it
will see the benefit of sharing.
40. The Minister told us "there is an enormous
amount of data that is not commercially sensitive, and we have
got to be better about harvesting that for the greater good".
Indeed, Professor Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser, stated:
For example, there are many ships from the marine
industry passing through our waters running multi-beam sonar systems.
The data are very often not collected. It would be relatively
straightforward to collect those data. In fact, if you look at
Scotland's marine atlas, [...] on the front of it is a compendium
of Scotland's seas that is produced from the fishing industry,
because fishing boats are running with echo sounders almost all
the time. Some of those data are recorded, and if you pull all
that together you can get a very high-resolution map of the coastal
waters. We have to be a lot cleverer about how we obtain and use
data, and then verify that those data are correct. There is a
major job to be done there in terms of data processing and management
as much as anything else, and engaging with the stakeholders who
are potentially collecting those data.
James Cross told us that this was something the Marine
Management Organisation intended to pursue,
but he was unsure whether he had the remit to enforce further
support the Marine Management Organisation in their efforts to
encourage data sharing from industry. We agree with Professor
Boyd's assessment that "we have to be a lot cleverer"
about using the data that is out there already to improve our
understanding of our marine environment. Whilst we recognise there
is work underway to address this issue, we consider that this
could go further. We recommend that the Government works with
the Marine Management Organisation to bring forward proposals
that would make sharing of more data collected at sea, particularly
seabed and habitat maps, as well as wind data, a licensing condition
on commercial activity in UK waters. We recognise that this may
have to contain caveats relating to genuinely commercially sensitive
Long term monitoring
41. Our discussions about the effect of climate change
on the marine environment highlighted the importance of data sets
that can document environmental change over a long-term period.
For example, Professor Rodger, British Antarctic Survey, told
us "we are still miles away from understanding the ocean
itself. We are under-sampling the ocean, in my view, in a significant
way, given that it moves 90% of the heat round the planet".
To effectively monitor the effects of climate change on the oceans,
"the core issue is sustainability in terms of regular data
An example of such a project is the international Argo programme
(see Box 4). However,
there appear to be a number of difficulties collecting and maintaining
such data as well as concerns that long-term monitoring programmes
"are in danger of being ignored".
We consider here both NERC and Government support for long term
|Box 4: The Argo Programme
Argo is an array of floating devices that provide observations from the oceans. The floats measure temperature, salt content and pressure between the ocean surface and 2000 metres depth. The array is made up of over 3500 floats with an average spacing of around three degrees in latitude and longitude (approximately 300km). This programme aims to provide data describing conditions in the upper ocean, which can be used to improve satellite monitoring of the oceans, measure the effects of climate change on the ocean over seasons or decades, and improve ocean-atmosphere coupling or forecast models. The UK currently provides approximately 4-5% of the array.
Floats are deployed from a ship. After deployment they remain at the surface for six hours to collect 'house-keeping' data before sinking to a 'drifting' depth of 1000 metres. They remain at 1000 metres depth for nine days before descending to 2000 metres. Thereafter the float ascends back to the surface, recording temperature, salinity and pressure as it does so. The information collected is transmitted to a satellite, which determines its position. This cycle is repeated approximately every ten days.
The UK's contribution to Argo is funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Ministry of Defence and NERC. It is carried out by the Met Office, National Oceanography Centre, British Oceanographic Data Centre and UK Hydrographic Office. All the information collected by Argo is freely available in real-time.
Argo is a significant source of data for improving our understanding of the effect of climate change on the oceans. Despite its importance, we heard that funding for the programme from the UK is "rather piecemeal",1 "not a sustained guaranteed input"2 and "below the proportion that you would expect in relation to UK GDP."3 A lack of sustained support caused problems retaining the skills to maintain such data sets. Difficulties securing sustained funding arose partly from a lack of coordination, as "it is not clear where that responsibility should lie. It lies across more than one Department, and there is a tendency for it to be passed from pillar to post."4 It seems clear "there is an issue with sustained observations".5
1 Q 102 [Professor Rayner]
2 Q 102 [Professor Rayner]
3 Q 102 [Professor Rayner]
4 Q 103 [Professor Rayner]
5 Q 122 [Professor Sharples]
42. NERC provides funding for long-term monitoring programmes
through its national capability funding stream.
Professor Hill, NERC, insisted that "long-term observing
is crucial to what we do",
yet he also told us that NERC is "thinning out the frequency
of observing in some of our programmes".
In contrast, we heard from others that NERC "is not really
in the business of long-term operational measurements", unless
they are a by-product of other interesting science.
In particular, the changeable nature of NERC funding programmes
was reported to be problematic as "programmes tend to get
funded for two, three maybe five years at a time, so you keep
hitting these cliff edges".
As a result, developing expertise in the field "is very difficult
to do if you cannot constantly look ahead and plan, if you are
constantly wondering what funding model is going to be used now
and whether they going to scrap this whole programme".
We are concerned that such difficulties could be made worse by
NERC's increasing emphasis on competitively won funding modes.
43. The Minister recognised that "clearly there
should be a fully coordinated programme of marine monitoring".
The Marine Science Coordination Committee has made efforts to
address the issue of long-term monitoring through its working
group on the subject. For example, the UK Integrated Marine Observing
Network was described to us as an "embryonic capability to
coordinate" long-term data streams.
However, a former member of this working group told us that it
"had incredibly ambitious targets that could not be met with
the resources" available.
So despite "good intentions", the problems associated
with funding long-term monitoring proved "just too insurmountable".
Governments, and agencies such as NERC, appear to struggle to
make long-term commitments to these programmes, treating them
as research projects rather than viewing such data as "fundamental
core infrastructure". 
We were pleased to hear that Professor Sir John Beddington, Government
Chief Scientific Adviser, is "looking at the national infrastructure
required in order to sustain long-term monitoring of things like
ocean pH, ocean temperature and ocean salinity."
Professor Boyd, Defra's Chief Scientific Adviser, summarised the
issue as follows:
We have to get the balance of the investments
right on this. With respect to marine, the costs of doing this
are very large indeed. We also have legacy issues to deal with,
which involve some very long and excellent datasets. We have to
make decisions about whether those long and excellent datasets
are the sorts of things we need in the future. Do we need new
parameters to be measured and where do we get the resources for
that? There are some quite difficult strategic decisions to be
made. I think the MSCC is an appropriate forum in which to make
He suggested the MSCC should "challenge our
marine scientists with the question, Are we measuring the right
parameters in the right way and are we doing that in a technologically
developed and modern manner?"
We welcome Sir John Beddington's work on the issue of long-term
monitoring programmes, which are of particular importance to understanding
long-term environmental change in the marine environment. We encourage
Sir Mark Walport to continue to be involved in these efforts.
We consider that there are shortcomings in both the Government's
and NERC's support for long-term monitoring and we are concerned
that the UK's capability in this field appears to be being cut
back. The Marine Science Coordination Committee should meet
with Sir Mark Walport within his first six months in office
as Government Chief Scientific Adviser to discuss long-term monitoring.
We recommend that the Committee produce an action plan to address
this issue and answer the strategic questions posed by Professor
Boyd about how we measure the right parameters in a technologically
Autonomous underwater vehicles
44. We were interested to hear about the developing
technologies that were enabling data collection at sea, particularly
autonomous underwater vehicles. These are robotic vehicles carrying
a range of sensors, which can be controlled remotely as they travel
underwater. Fifty four such vehicles are currently in operation
around Antarctica and are "a fantastic way to begin to resolve
some of the simple things, like understanding seasonal variations".
NERC has been "investing quite heavily" in these technologies
"in the hope that this could make observing systems cheaper
or more efficient".
45. Professor Boyd, Defra's Chief Scientific Adviser,
suggested that "in the UK, we have a lot of the components
to turn robotics into a marine success story for us".
He suggested that working with the Technology Strategy Board,
which advises Government on removing barriers to innovation,
could help achieve this success.
Despite this investment, and the technologies that are being developed
at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, we were concerned
by suggestions that the UK was currently "weakly positioned"
and at risk of losing its position in the global market for these
is partly a result of the difficulty establishing "effective
conduits" between the research community driving innovation
and industry commercialising that innovation.
46. We agree with Professor Boyd that priority
should be given to harnessing the potential of autonomous underwater
vehicle technologies. We were particularly interested in this
issue in light of our recent work on the commercialisation of
research. This area of innovation should be a focus of attention
within the Technology Strategy Board. It could also be used to
provide a forum for the Marine Science Coordination Committee
to begin to improve its engagement with industry. We recommend
that the Marine Science Coordination Committee engages with the
Technology Strategy Board on the issue of developing autonomous
and Q 149 [Dr Williamson] Back
Q 86 [Phil Durrant] Back
Q 316 [Richard Benyon] Back
Q 301 [James Cross] Back
Q 7 [Dr Solandt] Back
Q 7 [Alec Taylor] Back
Q 167 [Professor Hill] Back
Q 77 [Phil Durrant] Back
Q 78 [Phil Durrant] Back
Q 77 [Professor Rayner] Back
Q 316 [Richard Benyon] Back
Q 341 [Professor Boyd] Back
Q 301 [James Cross] Back
Q 306 [James Cross] Back
Q 196 [Professor Rodger] Back
Q 96 [Professor Rayner], Q 122 [Professor Sharples] Back
See, for example, Q 102 [Professor Rayner], Q 103 [Professor Rayner],
Q 122 [all] and Ev 105 Back
Ev 106 para 6 Back
Q 166 [Professor Hill] Back
Q 173 [Professor Hill] Back
Q 154 [Professor Hill] Back
Q 122 [Dr Williamson] Back
Q 115 [Professor Sharples] Back
Q 226 [Dr Frost] Back
Q 314 [Richard Benyon] Back
Q 92 [Professor Rayner] Back
Q 207 [Dr Frost] Back
Q 239 [Dr Frost] Back
Q 98 [Professor Rayner] Back
Q 346 [Professor Boyd] Back
Q 346 [Professor Boyd] Back
Q 347 [Professor Boyd] Back
Q 201 [Professor Rodger] Back
Q 166 [Professor Hill] Back
Q 352 [Professor Boyd] Back
Q 352 [Professor Boyd] Back
Q 55 [Professor Rayner] Back
Q 53 [Professor Rayner] Back