New funded highlight topic projects announced

15 April 2016

NERC is pleased to announce the second set of projects funded under the highlight topics route - one of our ways of funding strategic research.

The projects align with NERC's strategic vision of putting environmental science at the heart of sustainable management of the planet. They will help address some of the key challenges facing society, shedding light on subjects such as coastal change and recovery, global levels of methane and methane emissions, the risks of sub-surface storage of carbon dioxide, and how far communities of species can adapt to environmental change.

Professor Tim Wheeler, NERC's director of science & innovation, said:

"I am delighted to announce these new projects in my first few weeks at NERC. It is great to see how the community is responding to the challenges and opportunities identified in the highlight topics and proposing excellent science in these important areas. With these projects, there is a high chance of increasing the resilience of coastal communities to storms and providing crucial evidence to inform the greenhouse gas policy debate."

The eight successful projects are:

Highlight topic - Evolutionary biotic response to environmental change: limits to adaptation

  • The velocity of evolutionary responses of species to ecological change; testing adaptive limits in time and space - £1·3 million, Professor Jane Hill, University of York
  • Cracking the code of adaptive evolution (deCODE) - £1·3 million, Professor John Colbourne, University of Birmingham
  • Limits to adaptation: causes and consequences for ecology and ecosystem function - £1·2 million, Dr Stewart Plaistow, University of Liverpool
  • The predictability and limits of evolution in response to increased temperature: insights from a natural 'experiment' - £1·3 million, Dr Kevin Parsons, University of Glasgow

Highlight topic - Coastal morphology: coastal sediment budgets and their role in coastal recovery

  • Physical and biological dynamic coastal processes and their role in coastal recovery (BLUE-coast) - £4 million, Professor Alejandro Souza, National Oceanography Centre

Highlight topic - Closing the global methane budget

  • The global methane budget - £3·8 million, Professor Euan Nisbet, Royal Hollaway, University of London

Highlight topic - Reducing uncertainty in the integrity of potential carbon capture and storage sites

  • Characterisation of major overburden leakage pathways above sub-seafloor CO2 storage reservoirs in the North Sea (CHIMNEY) - £1·5 million, Professor Jonathan Bull, University of Southampton
  • Migration of CO2 through North Sea geological carbon storage sites: impacts of faults, geological heterogeneities and dissolution - £1·8 million, Dr Jerome Neufeld, University of Cambridge

Figures are 80% of full economic cost.

Professor Graham Underwood, chairman of NERC's Strategic Programme Advisory Group (SPAG), said:

"This second round of highlight topic projects will deliver real cutting-edge science, which is a great outcome. SPAG relies on the innovative and strategic ideas from the environmental sciences community to generate highlight topics and we're enthused about how the community is engaging with this process."

Projects were selected by peer review from a high-quality field with a success rate of 20%. The design of the scheme, with competition within and between highlight topics, meant that a project addressing the 'quantifying climate risk for adaptation and resilience planning' topic could not be supported in this round.

The announcement of opportunity for the third highlight topic call is expected to be released in May 2016. The cut-off for ideas for the fourth round of highlight topics is 9 May 2016.