Science themes and organisational goals
NERC science is delivered through seven strategic science themes, supported by research programme funding, and through unrestricted responsive mode funding.
Below is a summary of the strategic science themes and goals within the NERC strategy. This summary is based on the seven Theme Reports, which set out the overarching, high-priority scientific challenges and approach within each theme. The theme reports were developed in consultation with the environmental research community and other stakeholders, including users, and are working documents. The research programme investment needed to deliver these strategic (theme) priorities are reviewed and approved through NERC's theme action plans.
In the global context, NERC will play a leading role, in collaboration with the Met Office, in developing risk-based predictions of the future state of the climate - on regional and local scales, spanning days to decades. The predictions will become the foundations on which society can build future mitigation and adaptation strategies.
The huge variety of life provides a multitude of services from providing food and fuel, purifying water, regulating climate, disposing of waste, to less tangible benefits that inspire people. This theme is aimed at understanding the role of biodiversity in key ecosystem processes. Environmental change makes this research more pressing because it can lead to loss of biodiversity that plays a key role in the resilience of ecosystems.
Sustainable use of natural resources
The global demand for natural resources continues to grow. Society needs better knowledge of how non-renewable (eg minerals, fossil fuels) and renewable resources can contribute to a sustainable economy whilst managing the use of resources within the Earth's environmental limits.
Earth system science
Planet Earth is a complex, interconnected system. To build an understanding of the whole system requires an increase in our knowledge of its component parts and the ways these interact.
Since 1990 over 1 million people have died in natural disasters and over $1 trillion of economic losses have been reported. NERC has a central role to play in the science of forecasting and mitigating natural hazards in the geophysical environment, such as earthquakes, volcanoes, flooding, storms, tsunamis, coastal erosion and landslides. Scientific advances will lead to tangible economic and humanitarian benefits.
Environment, pollution and human health
As the climate changes, so the behaviour of pollutants and pathogens and their movement and reactions within the environment change in different and complex ways. NERC science will provide new approaches to predicting the future behaviour of pathogens and pollutants and provide solutions to issues such as the spread of disease, drinking water contamination and air pollution.
Technology will play an essential role in enabling solutions to this century's most pressing environmental challenges. Technologies are used to observe and monitor the environment, provide sophisticated models of environmental processes to predict the future state of the environment and develop mitigation solutions such as carbon capture and storage. The NERC technology management plan is provided in place of the technologies theme report.
Theme action plans
NERC will deliver the science themes through annual theme action plans. These plans identify the strategic research we need to invest in to deliver the challenges set out in the strategy.
NERC has identified responsive research as a core component of its strategy. It supports original investigation in any area of science relevant to NERC's remit and strengthens the health of science disciplines, and helps identify future scientific priorities.
How NERC will deliver this science is described by four organisational goals, each of which is sponsored internally by a NERC director. The four organisational goals are:
NERC has a responsibility to ensure that its research outcomes make a real contribution to building a sustainable economy and improving quality of life. We will encourage the flow of knowledge between universities, NERC centres and users of NERC research via a range of mechanisms. These include delivering objective scientific evidence in a readily usable form to help policy-makers, businesses and citizens understand and respond to environmental change and developing solutions for environmental challenges and user requirements. We will also improve our understanding of the knowledge needs of our key stakeholders.
Environmental scientists, and supporting professionals in fields such as engineering, computing and administration, are essential to the UK science base. NERC directly employs around 2,800 staff, but NERC's grants support many more academics and support staff. The future health of the environmental science base relies on attracting the next generation of talent into the core science disciplines. NERC will contribute to this challenge by continuing support of Masters, PhD and Fellowship schemes and targeting areas of critical national shortage in partnership with other research funders.
Research facilities and equipment
Environmental research places heavy demands on facilities and equipment, such as the need to work in inhospitable places, collect measurements over long periods and to store and use vast quantities of data. NERC will align research facilities and equipment more closely with NERC's science challenges and build flexible and responsive infrastructure that can adapt to changing science priorities.
International & Partnerships
NERC plays a major international role in global environmental research and leads international programmes and initiatives. NERC's International Plan supports the delivery of our Strategy.
Delivering the strategy
An important development in Next Generation Science for Planet Earth is the focus on how NERC is going to implement and deliver the strategy. It is a rolling, living strategy with built-in flexibility to move with changing scientific priorities.
The main features are:
- A change in how research is funded. There will be three types of NERC funding, each of which includes training:
- Changes to the way NERC manages performance.
- The introduction in 2007 of theme leaders to lead the development of strategic theme action plans.