Written Evidence Submitted by the Centre for the Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tectonics (COMET)

(SPA0082)

 

The UK’s Centre for the Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes Volcanoes and Tectonics (COMET) delivers National Capability Science using satellite measurements alongside ground-based observations and geophysical models to study earthquakes and volcanoes, helping us to understand the hazards they pose. COMET is now a national-scale community with considerable size and impact, which brings together world-leading scientists across the BGS and 10 UK universities: Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford, Reading and UCL.

The long-term underpinning Earth Observation science and geohazards research that we undertake alongside BGS also benefits the wider community of environmental scientists and provides a flexible platform to respond to natural disasters. By combining data from this service with COMET and BGS expertise, we are able to provide reliable, rapid advice to governments, the scientific community, and local partner organisations during a seismic or volcanic crisis.

COMET’s access to satellite data is vital to ensure its continued exploitation of earth observation data for environmental science. It is also essential to maintain and increase investment in the downstream end of satellite data, which includes infrastructure to store the data, computation to process satellite data, and people infrastructure. This is a current strength of the UK research and innovation base that needs maintaining and adding to.

Although there have been some investments, such as the SENSE CDT, there is need for further long-term funding for PhDs to grow the sector. Lack of EO PhD funding is a significant problem in the current UK space sector training.  This has been caused by one of the principle funders – the Natural Environment Research Council – moving to a doctoral training scheme method for funding PhD students. The entrance to these competitive courses is based not just on student grades but also on presentations of the student’s intended environmental research.  Physics and maths students with excellent grades have failed to gain entry because of their lack of environmental knowledge and their relatively inarticulate approach.  In the past these deficits have been overcome during a PhD and are more than compensated for by excellent scientific skills.  Currently, students who would be an asset to the EO sector are losing out to undergraduates in broader environmental disciplines. As an example, the EO group one of our COMET Scientists manages had 15 NERC funded students start between 2001-11.  From 2012-2021 they only trained 1 NERC funded student.

 

Any UK Space Strategy should take an end-to-end approach to ensure the successful and productive exploitation of data acquired from space. It should maintain a strong emphasis on the downstream use of Earth Observation data. It should also focus on doctoral training and increasing diversity across the sector. 

 

 

 

Further investment in PhD students to ensure the continuation of skills training in this area and that we increase diversity in the sector.

Further investment in infrastructure to work with big data sets, such as JASMIN and CEDA computational facilities, is required to maintain and grow the sector.

Continued investment in collaborative programmes like Copernicus is essential. The UK also needs to continue to be a major, long-term strategic investor in ESA and its science programmes.

(July 2021)