Third round of funded highlight topic projects announced

14 March 2017

NERC is pleased to announce the third 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 like the impact of space weather on electricity conducting infrastructures, modelling magmatic mineral deposits, understanding the Earth's radiation belts and applications of big data to hydrological and meteorological risks.

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

"It gives me huge pleasure to announce these projects. I am especially excited to see the range of topics that have real potential to advance knowledge and to deliver benefits to users of environmental science; from increasing our understanding of deep Earth processes and natural mineral resources, to solar terrestrial physics and space weather hazards."

The five successful projects are:

Highlight topic - New insights into space weather impact on UK national grounded infrastructure

  • Space weather impacts on ground-based systems (SWIGS) - £3 million, Dr Alan Thomson, British Geological Survey

Highlight topic - Genesis of magmatic-hosted ore deposits: A systems approach

  • From arc magmas to ores (FAMOS): A mineral systems approach -£3 million, Dr Jamie Wilkinson, The Natural History Museum

Highlight topic - Modelling and forecasting the Earth's radiation belts

  • Modelling the acceleration, transport and loss of radiation belt electrons to protect satellites from space weather (Rad-Sat) - £3 million, Professor Richard Horne, British Antarctic Survey

Highlight topic - Innovative applications of big data techniques to natural hazard prediction and risk mitigation

  • Big data methods for improving windstorm footprint prediction (BigFoot) - £1·5 million, Professor Peter Challenor, University of Exeter
  • Flood-prepared: Predicting rainfall events by physical analytics of realtime data - £1·5 million, Dr Stuart Barr, Newcastle University

Figures are 80% of full economic cost.

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

"SPAG is delighted with the outcome of the third round of highlight topics. Each of the five projects address critical environmental issues. SPAG is encouraged by the engagement of the community in the ideas process and look forward to expanding the highlight topic portfolio in future rounds."

Projects were selected by peer review from a high-quality field with a success rate of 42%. The design of the scheme, with competition within and between highlight topics, meant that a project addressing the 'Quantifying blue carbon ecosystem services and assessing human impacts on coastal carbon assimilation, transfer and storage' topic could not be supported in this round.

The cut-off for ideas for the next round of highlight topics is 16 May 2017. An announcement of opportunity is expected to be released in winter 2017.