Science and Technology CommitteeSupplementary written evidence submitted by the Research Centre for Marine Science and Climate Change, University of Liverpool

Following the select committee session on 5 December 2012 we would like to submit a few points of additional information arising from the questions. These points largely arise as a result of those questions addressed to the witnesses representing marine science industries during the first evidence session, but not revisited later.

1. Question concerning the impact of marine science on economic growth (Q51)

The tenor of this question was focused on how marine science can deliver short-term economic benefit, particular through the marine survey and marine instrument industries. There are 3 points we would like to add to this:

(i)As pointed out by Mr. Richard Burt, the marine science instrument industry to a significant extent relies on the marine research community to provide new challenges for instrument development. We regularly suggest new ideas to the industry to help us make the measurements we need, and the rigorous field-testing that is inherent in our work at sea often provides the industry with development and testing opportunities that would otherwise be financially precluded. This kind of activity has reduced considerably in the past two or three years, due to the increasingly restricted capital budgets available through NERC research projects, and provided to the NERC research centres.

(ii)The National Oceanography Centre has considerable expertise in, and expends National Capability funds on, the development of novel measurement technologies. A continuing problem often faced by the development engineers is one of how to take a newly developed instrument forward to the stage of becoming commercially viable. The details of this stumbling block are perhaps worth pursuing (related to Q56).

(iii)Marine science is a fairly small, niche market. While much effort is ongoing in the development of new measurement techniques, there will never be a large economic impact. The real strength of marine, indeed environmental, science lies in what it prevents us from having to spend money on. As a timely example, fundamental strategic research into sea level over the past 50 or more years has led to a coastal flood forecasting service that hugely reduces loss of life and damage to coastal infrastructure around the UK. Protecting the city of London, the Thames Barrage represents a major engineering achievement that rests on this strategic research, in its original design, in the decisions made on when to close the barrage, and in the ongoing work to design the next barrage. This strategic investment continues to support collaboration between the National Oceanography Centre, the Met Office, the Environment Agency and civil engineering that is vital to the UK economy. It is always difficult to quantify how much spend has been avoided, but the recent damage caused by hurricane Sandy in New York clearly indicates the value of this particular area of marine research.

2. Days spent at sea per year by NERC research vessels compared to commercial vessels (Q89)

A metric of days spent at sea per year is far too simple to be used in determining the relative efficiencies of NERC and commercial vessel operations. NERC vessels have to service an enormous range of types of marine research, with cruises invariably requiring very different sets of equipment installed on the vessel. The NERC vessels are designed for this flexibility, but demobilising one cruise and mobilising the next is often very complex. Commercial vessels are usually tasked to do a more limited range of work, and often carry out the same sorts of work on many cruises so that most of the required equipment is left onboard. This significantly reduces the time required in port. Our own experience of working from NERC vessels has never indicated that the ship takes an unreasonable amount of time to prepare for a cruise; the staff of the National Marine Facilities are highly efficient.

3. Use of AUVs in place of research vessels (Q89)

Ralph Raynor was keen to extol the virtues of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), suggesting that 10 years from now we should see reductions in the need to use expensive research vessels. At best this is very optimistic. At the moment there are perhaps four to six parameters that can be measured from an AUV reliably. The issue is both one of the availability of a technology to make a particular measurement, the power requirements of the sensor and the stability of the sensor over the few months of, say, a two to four months glider mission. Temperature and current speed are robust measurements we can carry out from AUVs. Salt and dissolved oxygen are fairly robust, but calibrations degrade after a few weeks. Chlorophyll is possible, but probably not reliable beyond two to three weeks because of biological fouling of the sensor. The NOC is currently developing nutrient sensors which should be able to operate on AUVs for three to six weeks. By contrast, the record for the number of individual parameters measured from a single bottle of water collected by a research vessel currently stands at about 850. AUVs have great potential for some basic monitoring. The marine science research community views them as complementary to research vessels rather than a replacement.

December 2012

Prepared 9th April 2013