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NERC commissions ambitious multi-centre research programmes

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has commissioned five highly ambitious research programmes, worth £34m, that will see its research centres working closely together to tackle major scientific and societal challenges.

This is the first result of a new way of allocating national capability funding designed to enable more ambitious science than any single research organisation could provide.

The new approach to allocating national capability funding does not use new money, but realigns and refocuses the capabilities of the centres to drive more ambitious science through collaboration. It’s also intended to maximise the value of these investments by providing the foundation for other NERC-funded activities.

NERC’s chief executive, Duncan Wingham, said: ‘I’m pleased that our new way of allocating national capability funding has resulted in ambitious proposals which have the potential to achieve far more scientific impact that any single centre could have alone.

‘Particularly welcome is the first joint programme between NERC and one of the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council’s institutes, Rothamsted Research, in the ASSIST programme.’

NERC’s national capability funding supports science that is vital for UK environmental science in the long term, but whose scale and complexity means it cannot be delivered in an openly competitive way. For example, capability may only exist in one place, such as in NERC’s six research centres, British Antarctic Survey’s six polar bases, or through NERC’s four research ships.

NERC’s science board approved the following five-year programmes, which will deliver excellent, world-leading science to answer key scientific questions and address major societal needs.

  1. The ACSIS (North Atlantic Climate System: Integrated Study) programme will improve the UK’s capability to detect, explain and predict changes in the North Atlantic Climate System. Led by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, in partnership with National Oceanography Centre (NOC), British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO).
  2. The ASSIST (Achieving Sustainable Agricultural Systems) programme will examine the environmental effects of sustainable intensification of agriculture, and develop farming systems that contribute towards environmental sustainability. Led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), in partnership with Rothamsted Research, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC, and the British Geological Survey (BGS).
  3. The LOCATE (Land Ocean Carbon Transfer) programme will establish how much carbon from soils is getting into our rivers and estuaries, determine what happens to it, and so answer questions about the long-term fate of the organic carbon held in the soil over the next 50 to 100 years. This is important, because scientists have estimated that soil is a major source of carbon that, if unlocked, could enter the atmosphere and contribute to climate change. Led by NOC, in partnership with CEH, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) and BGS.
  4. The ORCHESTRA (Ocean Regulation of Climate through Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transports) programme will use a combination of data collection, analyses and computer simulations to radically improve our ability to measure, understand and predict the circulation of the Southern Ocean and its role in the global climate. Led by BAS, in partnership with NOC, BGS, PML, the Centre for Polar Observation & Modelling (CPOM) and the Sea Mammal Research Unit.
  5. The UKESM (UK Earth System Modelling Project) programme will develop the first UK Earth system model (ESM), based on a core Global Climate Model, HadGEM3 developed at the Met Office. The new ESM model will maintain the world-leading status of UK Earth system modelling and science, while also providing robust and detailed scientific support to the UK government through the 6th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report (AR6). Led by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, in partnership with NOC, CEH, NCEO, BAS and BGS.
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