Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: TWINE demonstrators: digital twins for environmental science

Apply for funding to deliver a digital twin pilot project which demonstrates how research using Earth Observation (EO) data and emerging digital twinning technologies can transform environmental science in the following priority areas:

  • climate change, mitigations and adaptation
  • biodiversity and ecosystems
  • natural hazards, including weather, and their mitigation

You can apply for projects up to £700,000. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost (FEC). The grant must start in January 2024 for 15 months.

Who can apply

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has introduced new role types for funding opportunities being run on the new UKRI Funding Service. For full details, visit Eligibility as an individual.

Before applying for funding, check the following:

Who is eligible to apply

We welcome applications from individuals at any career stage, subject to NERC eligibility criteria.

Applications are encouraged from multidisciplinary research groups in collaboration with a range of stakeholders in the EO community, for example, collaborations with programmes such as those funded via the Earth Observation Investment Package (EOIP), the Turing Research and Innovation Cluster in Digital Twins (TRIC: DT) and the Digital Twin Network Plus.

Individuals involved in the activities highlighted above are eligible to apply to this funding opportunity or be involved in applications.

Who is not eligible to apply

Individuals from the Met Office are not eligible to apply for funding through this funding opportunity due to the conflict of interest.

International applicants

We do not fund overseas organisations, except for specific costs for project co-leads (previously co-investigator) from Norway and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). Read more about this in the NERC eligibility guidance for applicants.

You should include all other international collaborators (or UK partners not based at approved organisations) as project partners. This includes organisations from the business or financial sectors.

Project partners fund their own involvement. We will only fund minor incidental expenses, such as some travel costs, if needed for project partners.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

We are committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all funding applicants. We encourage applications from a diverse range of researchers.

We support people to work in a way that suits their personal circumstances. This includes:

  • career breaks
  • support for people with caring responsibilities
  • flexible working
  • alternative working patterns

Find out more about equality, diversity and inclusion at UKRI and NERC’s diversity and inclusion action plan.

What we're looking for

Aim

This funding opportunity is being delivered by NERC, in partnership with the Met Office, as part of the Twinning Capability for the Natural Environment (TWINE) programme. For more information about the TWINE programme please see the Additional information section.

The aims of the TWINE programme, and the projects that are successful through this funding opportunity, are to:

  • harness the UK’s leading position at the nexus of environmental, observational and computational sciences, and bring together multidisciplinary teams to realise the value of digital twinning technology to address environmental challenges
  • improve the understanding, modelling and prediction of events, inform future decision-making, and test the impacts of different scenarios and interventions to help make better decisions on improving our environment
  • build the foundations of a coherent and lasting landscape of digital twins for environmental science, with a high level of cross-fertilisation of learning and a focus on design for interoperability with current and future activities

All applications must be developed to address all three of the aims of the TWINE programme.

Scope

Applications are invited for pilot projects which demonstrate the potential for using EO data and digital twinning technology to transform environmental research in the following priority areas:

  • climate change, mitigations and adaptation
  • biodiversity and ecosystems
  • natural hazards, including weather, and their mitigation

All applications must address at least one of these three priority areas.

You are encouraged to review the priorities set out in NERC’s Digital Strategy when developing your application.

All applications should be developed in consideration of the recommendations from the 2022 report, ‘An Information Management Framework for Environmental Digital Twins’ (PDF, 1.2MB) in the development of your application. Plans for how the recommendations will be built into your project should be outlined in your application.

The TWINE demonstrators will strive to contribute towards and adhere to well-defined standards around any public interfaces with appropriate documentation, in order to make federation with other digital twins possible in the future.

Objectives

  • deliver a digital twin pilot demonstrator project which uses EO data and addresses the aims outlined above
  • form part of the wider TWINE programme and contribute to developing a federated cyber-physical infrastructure ecosystem
  • compile a report documenting learning from the project about the data, tools and methods used, the skills required throughout the process, the challenges encountered and how they were addressed, and how the learning from the project can be utilised by the wider community
  • produce evidence pieces which will be used in the communication and dissemination of the project findings

Other outputs may be requested, these will be agreed at the start of the award.

Collaboration

This is an open funding opportunity with collaborative and multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary applications welcomed from across the environmental science, environment-focused informatics and wider data science communities.

The TWINE pilot demonstrators will be expected to work closely and in a coordinated way with the EO community and other related EO investments.

Your application should identify opportunities for collaboration with programmes of activity being delivered by other investments in this space including but not limited to:

  • Turing Research and Innovation Cluster in Digital Twins (TRIC:DT)
  • UK EO Climate Information Service (UKEO-CIS)
  • Earth Observation (EO) Data Hub

Your application should include plans for how you will work with the proposed stakeholders throughout the project. For example, in the development of tools, addressing shared challenges and opportunities, sharing learning, and maximising the collective impacts of your projects and collaboration.

If you or any of your team are involved in any other programmes in the wider EO landscape, any activity proposed in your application must not directly duplicate any activity has already been funded.

You can find the details of how NERC and the Met Office will support collaborations for the successful projects in the Additional Information section.

For more information on the background of this funding opportunity, go to the Additional information section.

Duration

The duration of this award is a maximum of 15 months.

Projects must start by 2 January 2024.

This funding opportunity has a fixed profile therefore extensions will not be considered.

Funding available

The FEC of your project can be up to £700,000.

We will fund 80% of the FEC with the following exceptions:

  • eligible costs for international project co-lead (previously co-investigator) involvement would be funded at 100%

What we will fund

  • facilities costs

What we will not fund

  • PhD studentship costs
  • cruise costs
  • ship and marine equipment
  • requests for equipment of £10,000 and over are not part of this funding opportunity. You should request smaller items of equipment (under £10,000 individually) under ‘Consumables (other directly incurred costs)’ in your application

Services and facilities

You can apply to use a facility or resource in your funding application.

You should discuss your application with the facility or service before the opportunity’s closing date to:

  • discuss the proposed work in detail
  • receive confirmation that they can provide the services required within the timeframe of the funding

The facility will provide a technical assessment that includes the calculated cost of providing the service. NERC services and facilities must be costed within the limits of the funding.

You should not submit the technical assessment with the application, but you must confirm you have received it.

For more information, go to the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook.

Read the full list of NERC facilities that require a technical assessment.

High Performance Computing (HPC) and the large research facilities at Harwell have their own policies for access and costing.

Supporting skills and talent

We encourage you to follow the principles of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers and the Technician Commitment.

Data management

You must adhere to UKRI open research policy and NERC data policy and include an outline data management plan under the data management and sharing section (see NERC data management planning guidance).

For details of data centres, see the NERC Environmental Data Service.

We will pay the data centre directly for archival and curation services, but you should ensure that you request sufficient resource to cover preparation of data for archiving by your research team.

Additional services from the data centres, such as database development or a specialist in project data management during your project, will need to be discussed with the relevant data centre prior to submission and the costs included in your grant application.

Responsible research

Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment. This is not just through research outputs and outcomes but through the way in which research is conducted and facilities managed.

All NERC grant holders are to adopt responsible research practices as set out in the NERC responsible business statement.

Responsible research is defined as reducing harm or enhancing benefit on the environment and society through effective management of research activities and facilities. Specifically, this covers:

  • the natural environment
  • the local community
  • equality, diversity and inclusion

You should consider the responsible research context of your project, not the host institution as a whole. You should take action to enhance your responsible research approach where practical and reasonable.

Research disruption due to COVID-19

We recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities. We are committed to ensuring that you and your wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to your career, such as:

  • breaks and delays
  • disruptive working patterns and conditions
  • the loss of ongoing work
  • role changes that may have been caused by the pandemic

Reviewers and panel members will be advised to consider the unequal impacts that COVID-19-related disruption might have had on the capability to deliver and career development of those individuals included in the application. They will be asked to consider your capability, and that of your wider team, to deliver the research you are proposing.

Where disruptions have occurred, you can highlight this within your application if you wish, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

How to apply

Expressions of interest

All applicants to this funding opportunity must submit an expression of interest by Friday 8 September 2023 4:00pm UK time via email to the Digital Environment team at DigitalEnvironment@nerc.ukri.org

Please use ‘Expression of Interest – TWINE Demonstrators’ in the email subject heading and include the following information:

  • working project title
  • approximate cost (if known)
  • which of the three priority areas the project will address
  • one paragraph summarising the project
  • a list of provisional team members, project partners and collaborators

This information will be used to help form the panel to assess your application and to identify any potential conflicts of interest.

UKRI Funding Service

We are running this funding opportunity on the new Funding Service. You cannot apply on the Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) system.

The project lead is responsible for completing the application process on the Funding Service, but we expect all team members and project partners to contribute to the application.

Only the lead research organisation can submit an application to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Watch our recording on how to apply for an opportunity in the Funding Service on YouTube.

To apply:

Select ‘Start application’ near the beginning of this Funding finder page.

  1. Confirm you are the project lead.
  2. Sign in or create a UKRI Funding Service account. To create an account, select your organisation, verify your email address, and set a password. If your organisation is not listed, email support@funding-service.ukri.org
  3. Answer questions directly in the text boxes. You can save your answers and come back to complete them or work offline and return to copy and paste your answers. If we need you to upload a document, follow the upload instructions in the Funding Service. All questions and assessment criteria are listed in the How to apply section on this Funding finder page.
  4. Send the completed application to your research office for checking. They will return it to you if it needs editing.
  5. Your research office will submit the completed and checked application to UKRI.

Watch our research office webinars about the new Funding Service.

Deadline

We must receive your application by 3 October 2023 at 4:00pm UK time.

You will not be able to apply after this time. Make sure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines.

Personal data

NERC, as part of UKRI, will need to collect some personal information to manage your UKRI funding service account and the registration of your funding applications.

We will handle personal data in line with UK data protection legislation and manage it securely. For more information, including how to exercise your rights, read our privacy notice.

NERC, as part of UKRI, will need to share the application and any personal information that it contains with the Met Office so that they can participate in the assessment process. For more information on how the Met Office uses personal information, visit Privacy policy – Met Office.

Publication of outcomes

NERC, as part of UKRI, will publish the outcomes of this funding opportunity on What NERC has funded.

If your application is successful, we will publish some personal information on the UKRI Gateway to Research.

Summary

Word count: 550

In plain English, provide a summary that we can use to identify the most suitable experts to assess your application.

We may make this summary publicly available on external-facing websites, so make it suitable for a variety of readers, for example:

  • opinion-formers
  • policymakers
  • the public
  • the wider research community
Guidance for writing a summary

Clearly describe your proposed work in terms of:

  • context
  • the challenge the project addresses
  • aims and objectives
  • potential applications and benefits

Core team

List the key members of your team and assign them roles from the following:

  • project lead (PL)
  • project co-lead (UK) (PcL)
  • project co-lead (international) (PcL (I))
  • researcher co-lead (RcL)
  • specialist
  • grant manager
  • professional enabling staff
  • research and innovation associate
  • technician
  • visiting researcher

Only list one individual as project lead.

The PcL (I) role should only be used for applications making use of the UKRI-RCN Money Follows Cooperation agreement or the UKRI-IIASA agreement. NERC does not otherwise accept project co-lead (international) applicants.

Find out more about UKRI’s new grant roles.

Vision and Approach

Word count: 10

What are you hoping to achieve with and how will you deliver your proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

For the Vision, explain how your proposed work:

  • is of excellent quality and importance within or beyond the field(s) or area(s)
  • has the potential to advance current understanding, generates new knowledge, thinking or discovery within or beyond the field or area
  • is timely, given current trends, context and needs
  • impacts world-leading research, society, the economy or the environment

For the Approach, explain how you have designed your work so that it:

  • is effective and appropriate to achieve your objectives
  • is feasible, and comprehensively identifies any risks to delivery and how they will be managed
  • if applicable, uses a clear and transparent methodology
  • if applicable, summarises the previous work and describes how this will be built upon and progressed
  • will maximise translation of outputs into outcomes and impacts
  • describes how your, and if applicable your team’s, research environment (in terms of the place, and relevance to the project) will contribute to the success of the work

Within the Approach section we also expect you to:

  • demonstrate access to the appropriate services, facilities, infrastructure, or equipment to deliver the proposed work
  • provide a project plan including milestones and timelines in the form of a Gantt chart or diagrammatic workplan
Upload guidance

Create a document that includes your responses to all criteria. The document should not be more than seven sides of A4 in total, single line spacing in 11-point Arial (or equivalent sans serif font) with margins of at least 2cm. You may include images, graphs, tables.

For the file name, use the unique UKRI funding service number the system gives you when you create an application, followed by the words ‘Vision and Approach’.

Save this document as a single PDF file, no bigger than 8MB. Unless specifically requested, please do not include any personal data within the attachment.

If the attachment does not meet these requirements, the application will be rejected.

Once you have uploaded, mark this section as complete and move to the next one.

Applicant and team capability to deliver

Word count: 1,500

Why are you the right individual or team to successfully deliver the proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Evidence of how you, and if relevant your team, have:

  • the relevant experience (appropriate to career stage) to deliver the proposed work
  • the right balance of skills and expertise to cover the proposed work
  • the appropriate leadership and management skills to deliver the work and your approach to develop others
  • contributed to developing a positive research environment and wider community

The word count for this section is 1,500 words, 1,000 words to be used for R4RI modules and, if necessary, a further 500 words for Additions.

Use the Résumé for Research and Innovation (R4RI) format to showcase the range of relevant skills you and your team, including project partners, have and how this will help deliver the proposed work. You can include individuals’ specific achievements but only choose past contributions that best evidence their ability to deliver this work.

Complete this section using the R4RI module headings listed. Use each heading once and include a response for the whole team, see the UKRI guidance on R4RI. You should consider how to balance your answer, and emphasise where appropriate the key skills each team member brings:

  • contributions to the generation of new ideas, tools, methodologies, or knowledge
  • the development of others and maintenance of effective working relationships
  • contributions to the wider research and innovation community
  • contributions to broader research or innovation users and audiences and towards wider societal benefit
Additions

Provide any further details relevant to your application. This section is optional and can be up to 500 words. You should not use it to describe additional skills, experiences, or outputs, but you can use it to describe any factors that provide context for the rest of your R4RI (for example, details of career breaks if you wish to disclose them).

Complete this as a narrative. Do not format it like a CV.

UKRI has introduced new role types for funding opportunities being run on the new Funding Service.

For full details, see Eligibility as an individual.

Data management and sharing

Word count: 500

How will you manage and share data collected or acquired through the proposed research?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Provide an outline data management plan which should clearly detail how you will comply with NERC’s published data sharing policy, which includes detailed guidance notes.

Indicate:

  • which NERC data centre is required to archive the data
  • whether the total volume of data is likely to be larger than 1TB
  • any other detail on how you will comply with NERC data policy

Ethics and responsible research and innovation (RRI)

Word count: 1,000

What are the ethical or RRI implications and issues relating to the proposed work?  If you do not think that the proposed work raises any ethical or RRI issues, explain why.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Demonstrate that you have identified and evaluated:

  • the relevant ethical or responsible research and innovation considerations
  • how you will manage these considerations

If you are collecting or using data, identify:

  • any legal and ethical considerations of collecting, releasing or storing the data including consent, confidentiality, anonymisation, security and other ethical considerations and, in particular, strategies to not preclude further reuse of data
  • formal information standards with which your study will comply

Resources and cost justification

Word count: 1,000

What will you need to deliver your proposed work and how much will it cost?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Justify the application’s more costly resources, in particular:

  • project staff
  • significant travel for field work or collaboration (but not regular travel between collaborating organisations or to conferences)
  • any equipment that will cost more than £10,000
  • any consumables beyond typical requirements, or that are required in exceptional quantities
  • all facilities and infrastructure costs
  • all resources that have been costed as ‘exceptions’

Assessors are not looking for detailed costs or a line-by-line breakdown of all project resources.

Overall, they want you to demonstrate how the resources you anticipate needing for your proposed work:

  • are comprehensive, appropriate, and justified
  • represent the optimal use of resources to achieve the intended outcomes
  • maximise potential outcomes and impacts

References

Word count: 1,000

List the references you have used to support your application.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Include all references in this section, not in the rest of the application questions.

You should not include any other information in this section.

We advise you not to include hyperlinks, as assessors are not obliged to access the information they lead to or consider it in their assessment of your application.

If linking to web resources, to maintain the information’s integrity, include persistent identifiers (such as digital object identifiers) where possible.

You must not include links to web resources to extend your application.

Project partners

Word count: 1,000

Provide details about any project partners’ contributions.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If you do have project partners, download and complete the project partner contributions template (DOCX, 52KB) then copy and paste the table within it into the text box.

Ensure you have obtained prior agreement from project partners that, should you be offered funding, they will support your project as indicated in the template.

A project partner is a collaborating organisation that is contributing to the application and will have an integral role in the proposed research. Project partners cannot normally receive funding directly from the grant. Two exceptions to this are:

  • where a project partner is providing services or equipment that will go through a formal procurement process audited by the host research organisation
  • the project partner can receive small amounts of funding from the grant, such as for travel and subsistence to attend project meetings. These will need to be requested and fully justified in the application

If you do not have any project partners, simply add ‘N/A’ into the text box, mark this section as complete and move to the next section.

Facilities

Word count: 250

Does your proposed research require the support and use of a facility?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If you will need to use a facility, follow your proposed facility’s normal access request procedures. Ensure you have prior agreement so that if you are offered funding, they will support the use of their facility on your project.

For each requested facility you will need to provide the:

  • name of facility, copied and pasted from the facility information list (DOCX, 35KB)
  • proposed usage or costs, or costs per unit where indicated on the facility information list
  • confirmation you have their agreement where required

If you have to attach a facility form, for example NERC ship-time and marine equipment or Antarctic logistics, then upload it as a PDF. If you need to upload multiple forms, then combine them into a single PDF.

If you do not need to use a facility, simply add ‘N/A’ into the text box, mark this section as complete and move to the next section.

Upload guidance

Upload a single PDF containing facility forms ensuring it is no larger than 8MB, if applicable.

For the file name, use the unique UKRI Funding Service number the system gives to your proposal when you create an application, immediately followed by the words ‘facility forms’. Then use the ‘Upload’ button.

Unless specifically requested, please do not include any personal data within the attachment.

Once you have uploaded, mark this section as complete and move to the next one.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

We will assess your application using the following process.

Panel

We will invite experts to use the evidence provided by in your application to assess the quality of your application and rank it alongside other applications after which the panel will make a funding recommendation.

Principles of assessment

We support the San Francisco declaration on research assessment (DORA) and recognise the relationship between research assessment and research integrity.

Find out about the UKRI principles of assessment and decision making.

We reserve the right to modify the assessment process as needed.

Sharing data with co-funders

We will need to share the application, including any personal information that it contains, with the Met Office so that they can participate in the assessment process.

For more information on how the Met Office uses personal information, visit Privacy policy – Met Office.

Assessment criteria

The criteria against which your application will be assessed are:

  • Vision
  • Approach
  • Applicant and team capability to deliver
  • Ethics and responsible research and innovation (RRI)

Resources and cost justification are not core assessment criterion but will be considered by the panel.

Find details of assessment questions and criteria under the ‘Application questions’ heading in the How to apply section.

Contact details

Get help with your application

For help on costings and writing your application, contact your research office. Allow enough time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

Email: support@funding-service.ukri.org

Phone: 01793 547490

Our phone lines are open:

  • Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 5:00pm
  • Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm

Sensitive information

If you or a core team member need to tell us something you wish to remain confidential, email the UKRI Funding Service helpdesk on support@funding-service.ukri.org

Include in the subject line: TWINE Demonstrators; sensitive information; your UKRI Funding Service application number.

Typical examples of confidential information include:

  • individual is unavailable until a certain date (for example due to parental leave)
  • declaration of interest
  • additional information about eligibility to apply that would not be appropriately shared in the Applicant and team capability section
  • conflict of interest for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to consider in reviewer or panel participant selection

For information about how UKRI handles personal data, read UKRI’s privacy notice.

Additional info

Background

TWINE is part of a £200 million portfolio of 17 Earth Observation Investment Package (EOIP) projects which were announced in November 2022. Earth Observation (EO) is a vital science for benefiting our planet, achieving net zero ambitions and growing our economy. The UK currently has a vibrant landscape of world leading EO academic and industrial organisations and the aim of the EOIP is to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of EO science.

TWINE sits alongside other awards made to the European Space Agency, UK Space Agency, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Met Office. These include the development of a UK EO Climate Information Service (UKEO-CIS), which will produce new climate data, provide more accurate insights into national and international impacts of the climate crisis and help guide the UK towards greater resilience to the effects of climate change.

The EOIP also includes an EO Data Hub, a next generation data platform to give the UK a single portal for accessing and processing satellite data to develop new applications and environmental insights. The EO Data Hub is a joint project between National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO), Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) Space and National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and the Satellite Applications Catapult who will deliver it, with inputs from industry and government. It represents a new UK capability enabling access to diverse satellite data sets for the benefit of UK industry, academia and government, particularly for applications in climate, finance, carbon services and agriculture.

TWINE also sits within a landscape of digital twin related investments and initiatives. These include the new Turing Research and Innovation Cluster in Digital Twins (TRIC: DT), which aims to democratise access to digital twin technology by providing open and reproducible computational and social tools freely accessible to the UK research and innovation communities.

This vision will be achieved by establishing knowledge exchange between a central Turing hub and a network of collaborators across the academic and private sectors. It also includes a UKRI funding opportunity for a NetworkPlus to support the development of a UK digital twinning research community, which will complement the existing industry-led multisector digital twins community.

Other activity in the landscape includes but is not limited to:

Support for collaboration

NERC and the Met Office will support collaborations in this funding opportunity through the following:

  • an initiation meeting between the funded TWINE pilot demonstrator projects and key stakeholders from other programmes to establish a ‘collaborations and ways of working charter’
  • facilitation of additional opportunities for engagement between the funded projects and other programmes
  • an end of award event bringing together the TWINE pilot demonstrator projects, the other programmes, and key stakeholders from across the academic, business and policy communities to communicate outputs and share learning
  • information management framework for environmental digital twins

Webinar for potential applicants

We held a webinar for potential applicants on 25 August 2023 to provide information about this opportunity and answer questions.

Watch a recording of the webinar.

Programme management and reporting

The TWINE programme is being led by the Met Office, in partnership with NERC. The programme is managed and overseen by a management and leadership group, which is advised by a stakeholder group. Successful applicants will be required to work closely with both the NERC Digital Environment, Infrastructure and Data (DEID) team and the Met Office Informatics Lab.

In addition to standard UKRI and NERC reporting requirements, you may be asked to provide updates for the TWINE management and leadership group and the stakeholder group by correspondence or in person. It is anticipated these meetings will be in NERC Head Office, Swindon and you should include costs to attend these meetings in your application.

Updates

  • 8 August 2023
    Webinar date amended to 25 August 2023 at 10:00am UK time. Webinar registration link added to the 'Additional info' section.

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