NERC outlines strategy to harness digital technology

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has published its plan to ensure the sector can capitalise on technology and data advances over the coming decade.

NERC invests £330 million in research, training and innovation every year, tackling questions about:

  • climate change
  • population growth
  • urbanisation
  • biodiversity
  • oceans
  • the atmosphere.  

NERC’s funded science creates and uses increasingly large quantities of valuable data from measurements to modelling and simulation.

Capitalising on technological advances

Advances in data storage capacity and compute power, alongside the growth in technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), enable us to make sense of and use large quantities of data.

This creates huge potential, to spark new scientific breakthroughs and insights.

NERC’s first digital strategy sets out a vision for digitally enabled environmental science for the next decade.

It aims to empower the environmental research sector to seize this opportunity, and to support research that is:

  • ambitious
  • adventurous
  • highly collaborative.

Investing in computational capabilities

The strategy includes seven themes spanning NERC’s work:

  • next generation environmental sensing systems: supporting systems-based development of new environmental sensing technologies, integrating thinking about data use into new sensor deployment
  • enhancing our data services: ensuring NERC data can effectively be accessed and used in a secure, accessible and user-friendly format
  • computational resources for environmental science: ensuring that environmental scientists have the computational resources needed to advance their research
  • pioneering computational science: working in partnership to develop the modelling and computing of the future for the benefit of environmental science
  • data science tools and techniques: harnessing the potential of technologies such as AI and digital twinning for the benefit of environmental science
  • developing people and skills: supporting the skills needed to use digital technologies, for researchers at all levels, as well as technical professionals such as software engineers and data scientists
  • facilitating confidence and trust in data research: facilitating confidence and trust in data, modelling, and digital research across environmental science.

Supporting environmental scientists

Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of NERC, said:

Environmental science seeks to address hugely complex environmental challenges, from biodiversity to climate change, and our ability to do so will increasingly depend on our ability to use data and digital technologies effectively.

NERC’s new digital strategy seeks to build on the UK’s rich and ever-growing environmental datasets, and our strengths in using in using this data to improve our understanding of the natural environment.

Our vision is to place data and digital technologies at the heart of current and future environmental science, maximising the opportunity that new tools such as artificial intelligence and digital twins present to help us to address the pressing environmental challenges of the day.

Read NERC’s digital strategy.

Further information

Examples of NERC investment in digital technologies.


JASMIN is a globally unique data analysis facility that provides storage and compute to enable data-intensive environmental science.

The facility currently supports over 2000 researchers, exploring topics including:

  • climate change
  • oceanography
  • air pollution
  • earthquake deformation.

The NERC Environmental Data Service

The Environmental Data Service (EDS) provides a focal point for scientific data and information spanning all environmental science domains:

  • atmosphere
  • climate
  • earth observation
  • polar
  • cryosphere
  • marine
  • terrestrial
  • freshwater
  • geoscience
  • solar
  • space physics.

The data are available, accessible and reusable to multisector and multidisciplinary users, ensuring that the data are trustworthy for users is a foundational principle of the service.


Flooding can pose a huge risk to our homes and infrastructures. Dynamic real-time prediction of flood risk, poses huge challenges due to the sheer scale of datasets and models which need to be brought together.

The Integrating Data Sources for Flood Risk Prediction (PYRAMID) project is led by Newcastle University.

They have worked with key stakeholders from the Environment Agency to the local community, to develop a near-real-time tool for flood-risk prediction.

Top image:  Credit: AndreyPopov, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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