Science and Technology CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Research Centre for Marine Sciences and Climate Change, Liverpool University

1. Since 2007 has there been improved strategic oversight and coordination of marine science?

1.1 There probably has been an improved strategy for Marine Sciences with the formation of the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), merging the NERC funded laboratories at Southampton and Liverpool together.

However, that strategic overview is in danger of being lost. There was a recent cut of marine scientists at NOC with losses of 24% out of a total of 155 scientists. This cut was driven by a metric assessment of individual staff (based on grant income and paper outputs) and ignored any strategic context of their work. The staff that have been lost were disproportionally made up of junior staff and part-time staff. Given the criteria used to make the cuts, the ability of NOC to perform in a strategic manner has been hampered. The message to junior NOC staff from the metric-based assessment is that it will damage your career to spend time on work that does not produce immediate scientific outputs, even though that work may be of strategic importance.

2. What progress has been made in delivering the 2010 Marine Science Strategy?

3. How effective have the Marine Science Co-ordination Committee (MSCC) and Marine Management Organisation been, and what improvements could be made?

4. Has the selection of proposed Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) been based on robust scientific evidence? How well has the scientific evidence been balanced with socio-economic considerations and communicated to affected coastal communities?

5. How effectively does the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) support marine science in polar and non-polar regions?

5.1 At present, there is an artificial divide between how marine sciences is supported between the Antarctic sector and the rest of the globe. The proposed merger of the National Oceanography Centre and British Antarctic Survey makes sense from a purely scientific perspective in removing an artificial divide in terms of remit and scope of activity.

What is unclear though is whether the proposed merger is being driven by a cost saving exercise, which might then disguise a run down of the activity of polar and non-polar marine research.

There needs to be some care that the partnerships between any new National Centre and the outside community, involving Universities and other research centres, is maintained in an inclusive and constructive manner. There is a risk of losing intellectual diversity when a research area is dominated by one Centre.

6. How well are the current and potential impacts of global warming on the oceans (for example temperature changes and acidification) being monitored and addressed by Government and others?

6.1 We have world class expertise in the climate modeling based at the Hadley Centre, but there is an organization gap in terms of sustaining ocean monitoring.

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is good at supporting responsive mode or thematic grants addressing aspects of climate change. However, the monitoring is in danger of being ignored. For example, for global warming, the most important integrated measure is ocean heat storage, which is only reliably being monitored with autonomous floats called ARGO. This international programme involves 30 countries and supports over 3,000 profiling floats at any one time. This data is crucial in constraining the initialization of Hadley Centre climate model forecasts. However, the UK only currently provides typically 110 to 140 of those floats in the water, only making up 4–5% of the monitoring array. The UK contribution to ARGO is being funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and is undertaken by a partnership involving the Met Office, the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS), the British Oceanographic Data Centre (BODC) and the UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO).

In addition, longterm funding for time-series programmes need to be secured, such as the Atlantic Meridional Transect Programme; this is currently supported under NERC through National Capability.

Part of the danger is that government initiatives and priorities organized through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) usually focus on the coastal zone and have not taken on board a global perspective.

The UK is missing having a body directed with the task of monitoring climate change, analogous to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the USA.

Similarly, while the UK has hosted the international centre for sea level data from tide gauges (the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level) since 1933 and is a world leader in sea level science, its ability to maintain even a small number of strategically-important tide gauges outside the UK is under great pressure in the present environment.

September 2012

Prepared 9th April 2013