NERC National Capability Science awards: CPOM and COMET

29 May 2019

NERC has provided funding to two centres to enable major research programmes into the observation of earthquakes and volcanic activity, and build understanding of changes at the Earth's poles. The awards have been made through NERC's national capability funding.

NERC has awarded £2 million in total to the Centre for Polar Observation & Modelling (CPOM) and the Centre for Observation & Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes & Tectonics (COMET) via its national capability funding, to deliver two major programmes of research. The awards will enable ambitious, large-scale science that helps to understand global change and natural disasters. The programmes will run for two years from 2019.

NERC national capability lets the UK deliver world-leading environmental science, support national strategic needs, and respond to emergencies. It includes major research infrastructure and facilities, large-scale, long-term research programmes, and the provision of expert advice and services for public and national good.

NERC Director of Research & Innovation Phil Heads said:

CPOM's and COMET's observation and modelling help to explain and predict how the Earth system will evolve, contributing to the ability to plan and prepare, and building resilience to future change. These two awards support excellent long-term scientific research that contributes valuable understanding to support environmental resilience planning and decision-making at the highest levels.

CPOM logoCPOM has been awarded £1,050,000 to address key knowledge gaps in quantifying and predicting changes in Earth's land and sea ice cover. These issues are of high societal importance because they reflect and drive high-impact changes in the global climate system.

CPOM's work concentrates on developing satellite observations of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and of sea ice in the Arctic and Southern oceans, and combining this data with theoretical understanding to form new and improved numerical models which explain how the Earth's ice, oceans and atmosphere interact and to predict how they will change.

Graph of satellite observations of ice losses from Antarctica

According to satellite observations, ice losses from Antarctica are currently tracking the upper range of the IPCC's sea level predictions

The centre leads international efforts to measure the sea level contribution due to melting of the polar ice sheets and to predict their future contributions, notably through the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE). It partners with space agencies to provide scientific leadership for polar satellite missions, produce and distribute unique and widely-used records of Earth's sea ice and ice sheet thickness change, and to support the land ice and sea ice elements of the UK Earth System Model. These activities are internationally outstanding and decadal in scale.

CPOM partners with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), and the CPOM National Capability Science programme aligns with BAS research priorities.

COMET logoCOMET has been awarded £950,000 to deliver cutting-edge research on earthquakes and volcanoes and to continue the development of hazard monitoring services.

COMET uses satellite measurements alongside ground-based observations and geophysical models to help understand the hazards posed by earthquakes and volcanoes. COMET are also developing monitoring capabilities that underpin world-leading research by COMET scientists and and the wider community.

Scan data showing ground uplift on the flank of Agung volcano

Sentinel-1 InSAR data showing ground uplift on the flank of Agung volcano

COMET is producing near real-time data following earthquakes and during volcanic crises. The results enable COMET scientists and partners to provide reliable, rapid advice to decision makers. COMET also provides open access to data and information on tectonic and volcanic events, including measurements of ground movement from the EU Copernicus Sentinel-1 constellation.

In 2018, COMET was awarded the Royal Astronomical Society's Group Achievement Award in recognition of its unique and long-term contributions to tectonic and volcanic research.

COMET partners with the British Geological Survey (BGS), and the COMET National Capability Science programme aligns with BGS research priorities.

Further information

Josie Rylands
Press & Communications Officer
01793 411787


1. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major environmental issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is part of UK Research & Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

2. CPOM is a NERC Centre of Excellence that studies processes in the Earth's polar latitudes that can affect the Earth's albedo, polar atmosphere and ocean circulation, and global sea level. CPOM uses theoretical and laboratory-derived information to form new models of interactions between the ice, ocean and atmosphere, and uses ground and satellite observations to test these and other climate models. The CPOM Directorate is based at the University of Leeds, with researchers at the universities of Bristol, Reading, Lancaster, Swansea, and at University College London. CPOM works in strategic partnership with BAS, and also works closely with the National Oceanography Centre, National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) and European Space Agency (ESA).

3. COMET is a NERC Centre of Excellence that uses satellite measurements alongside ground-based observations and geophysical models to study earthquakes and volcanoes, and help understand the hazards they pose. The COMET Directorate is based at the University of Leads, with researchers at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Bristol, Reading, Liverpool, Durham, Newcastle, and University College London. COMET works in strategic partnership with BGS to deliver cutting-edge research on earthquakes and volcanoes as well as hazard monitoring services, and also works closely with NCEO and ESA as well as many other national and international partners.