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Providing a health check on Planet Earth - the UK's first national centre for Earth observation – University of Reading

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Providing a health check on Planet Earth - the UK's first national centre for Earth observation

Release Date 01 August 2006

Environmental science and climate change research get a boost today with the announcement of a new National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO). The new centre, proposed and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), will have overall responsibility for NERC's suite of Earth observation centres of excellence. These centres use data from Earth observation satellites to monitor both global and regional changes in the environment, and to develop a detailed understanding of these changes so that future environmental conditions can be predicted. The centres have already highlighted significant environmental changes – for instance ozone depletion, atmospheric pollution, and melting sea ice. The national centre will build on NERC's considerable expertise in this area: NERC is already responsible for the UK's subscription to a number of European Space Agency programmes, including the Earth Observation Envelope Programme - worth around £47 million annually. The NCEO will be led by a newly appointed Science Director, Professor Alan O'Neill, currently at the University of Reading. Professor O'Neill said: "Accurately predicting what's going to happen to the environment on Earth this century is the big scientific challenge. It isn't enough to look at, say, the atmosphere on its own to find out how the environment is going to change. What we need is a comprehensive picture of all the interactive elements. We want to give planet Earth a real health check, to diagnose its state of health and give a prognosis for the future. Earth observation satellites can be likened to body scanners in this respect." He went on to explain his vision for the centre. "Europe and the UK in particular already play a leading role in this field. I believe that building a foundation of strong, cohesive communities is a critically important social dimension for effective science. My new role presents a great opportunity to have a positive influence on the wide spectrum of science and applications involving Earth observation. I am very much looking forward to working with colleagues across that spectrum." NERC's Chief Executive, Professor Alan Thorpe, said: "Earth observation is vital to NERC in delivering our science strategy. Alan O'Neill has the expertise, the drive and the determination to lead the successful development of a strong National Centre for EarthObservation. I am very pleased to welcome him in his new role." Professor O'Neill takes up his post as Science Director of the NCEO on 1 September 2006. His primary task will be to identify strategic science priorities for NERC's national Earth observation programme and develop a programme to deliver them when the NCEO, which will be based at the University of Reading, is launched in 2008. end Notes for editors • Professor Alan O'Neill is currently director of NERC's Data Assimilation Research Centre and Professor of Meteorology at the University of Reading. His research expertise lies in the areas of data assimilation and Earth observation, atmospheric dynamics and transport, and climate modelling. He gained his PhD in Meteorology from the University of Reading in 1979. He has won a number of awards, most notably the LF Richardson Prize of Royal Meteorological Society in 1982, the Buchan Prize of Royal Meteorological Society in 1990 and was a joint recipient of the Norbert-Gerbier Mumm Award of World Meteorological Organisation in 2003. He is a Fellow of the Academia Europea, Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society and a Member of the Royal Institution of Great Britain. • NERC currently has seven Earth observation centres of excellence based in universities throughout the UK: o The Centre for Air-Sea Interactions and Fluxes (CASIX) o The Climate and Land-Surface Interaction Centre (CLASSIC) o The Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) o The Centre fro Terrestrial Carbon Dynamics (CTCD) o The Centre for the Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes and Tectonics (COMET) o The Data Assimilation Research Centre (DARC) o Environmental Systems Science Centre (ESSC) • NERC is one of the UK's eight Research Councils. It uses a budget of about £370m a year to fund and carry out impartial scientific research in the sciences of the environment. It is addressing some of the key questions facing mankind, such as global warming, renewable energy and sustainable economic development. • The University of Reading is one of the top 20 research intensive universities in the UK, and internationally recognised for the excellence of its teaching on a broad range of Arts, Humanities and Sciences programmes. In the last Research Assessment Exercise, 15 departments were awarded the grade of 5, with five designated the top rating of 5* (Archaeology, English, Italian, Meteorology and Psychology). More information: Marion O'Sullivan, NERC press office tel. 01793 411727 or email University of Reading press office tel. 0118 378 7388 or email

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