Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The European dimension

BGS is involved in Europe in a number of ways, the most lucrative being through EC funded projects, but also through multi-lateral and bi-lateral collaboration that have developed over the years.

Our current funding from Europe is about £1 million and is down on recent highs which approached £2 million. As with many competitive funding sources there are phases of funding and from time to time the phases coincide thus creating a dip or artificial high. We are currently in a dip with respect to EC funding that we had managed to build to about 5% of our total income.

Prognoses for the future indicate that we may be able to increase this income, but it is doubtful that the total will exceed ~10% of our funding. This is about the amount for funding that the EC puts into research as national governments fund the rest.

Should we put such an effort into this funding source as the overheads to win the funding is high and the EC funders do not pay anywhere near the full cost of the research? I have spent a lot of time recently trying to shore up our longer term funding from Europe and ask myself this very question.

I feel that the answer is “yes”, as this work establishes us as international experts and we can then use this credibility to win more lucrative contracts. Nonetheless, the work we do for Europe must be work we would normally do internally. Thus developing new data infrastructure that can also be used in BGS projects in general, getting the EC to fund the construction of laboratories that serve additional purposes or funding data products that we can integrate into national or international data bases that add value to BGS as a whole are the sorts of endeavours we need to undertake. In general these fall in the infrastructure development domain.

I think we are positioning ourselves as leaders in European data delivery for the geosciences and this should be our major goal with Europe. Our partners are not necessarily the other national surveys and as some of you know I am somewhat cynical about an approach that includes all the surveys as partners. Our preferred partners are institutes and entities that we may not intuitively work with, but that need our resources in data processing and also from whom we can learn to build new data products. Why not reposition and reskill to achieve the “the Ultimate Earth model” that is something of the scale of the “human brain project”.  

Understanding the shallow and deep Earth will bring benefits in understanding how we use it for Energy and storage, but also how we remain resilient to geological hazards, like earthquakes, landslides and volcanoes. For the first time computing technology brings this understanding within our grasp but it will involve a joint effort to collect and process data across Europe and the globe.