New capital investments for NERC

January 24, 2013 - via NERC

In his speech at the Policy Exchange today, Science Minister David Willets gave details of the extra £600m allocation, mainly for capital investment in science and technology, which was announced in the Autumn Statement 2012.

These include investments through the research councils in Big Data and in robotics and autonomous systems. The NERC community will receive capital investments in both these areas.

Big Data
Delivering value from the enormous quantities of environmental data that are accumulating at ever increasing rates requires substantial investments in data analysis and management. NERC will receive £13m of capital investment to help develop the computational capability to run complex environmental models and capture real-time data from sensors embedded in the natural environment.

NERC is developing an environmental virtual observatory that will increase access, integration and exploitation of NERC's data and knowledge by the end-user communities through improved information sharing and technologies. This initiative will provide the tools to facilitate integrated analysis of data, greater access to added knowledge and expert analysis and visualisation of the results.

The benefits may be seen in, for instance, modelling in real-time the national water stocks and water demands, enabling better management of water supplies and providing resilience to the effects of drought and infrastructure failures.

It will improve forecasting of ecosystem responses to changing environmental and land-use conditions, and could provide more robust data on which the insurance industry can calculate their premiums. Through such advances, NERC will better support environmental management, decisions and policy.

Marine robotics
NERC will receive capital funding of £10m over the next two years for research and technology development of marine robotics. The UK has a strong track record in development of autonomous underwater vehicles. NERC, particularly through its National Oceanography Centre (NOC), has over several decades led the world in use of autonomous technologies in the exploration of our oceans, which poses significant technical challenges whilst offering enormous scientific opportunity.

The development of sophisticated marine robotic systems will build on this established expertise, enabling more cost-effective routine mapping and monitoring of the oceans and seas. This information is needed to support sustainable use of marine resources, to monitor the impacts of human activity - especially as activity moves into both deeper water and more extreme environments - and to develop reliable seasonal weather-forecasts, which are dependent on understanding ocean variability.

Autonomous robotic vehicles also pave the way for the development of new UK industries like offshore carbon capture and storage, where in situ monitoring of storage sites in the North Sea will need high levels of technical assurance and innovation. Additionally, underwater robotic vehicles provide an opportunity for enhanced monitoring of the environmental status of UK seas.

The future development of autonomous vehicles able to support a myriad of potential research, environmental and industry applications will require a step change in technology, particularly in battery/power systems, and data transmission to shore.

This £10m investment provides an excellent opportunity for the UK to reinforce its expertise in marine robotics, enabling NERC to engage with UK industry in the relevant technology development. The outcomes will potentially support the defence, space, oil and gas, environmental protection and emergency service sectors.

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