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UK agrees research deal with Denmark and partnership with New Zealand to improve tsunami and earthquake detection

A ground-breaking project that could transform ocean monitoring, giving coastal communities vital extra time to prepare for tsunamis is being unveiled today.

  • Plans to use quantum for early warnings of earthquakes and tsunamis unveiled as the UK agrees workplan with New Zealand to work together on this critical technology 
  • UK and New Zealand researchers to jointly trial technology pioneered by the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL)
  • UK Science Minister announces agreement with New Zealand and will sign an MoU with Denmark at landmark meeting of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) science and tech ministers in Paris

A ground-breaking project that could transform ocean monitoring, giving coastal communities vital extra time to prepare for tsunamis is being unveiled today (Tuesday 23 April), alongside agreements that will boost the UK’s science and research links with both New Zealand and Denmark.  

UK Science Minister Andrew Griffith will announce the agreements as he meets New Zealand Minister of Science, Innovation and Technology Judith Collins, and Danish Minister for Higher Education and Science, Christina Egelund, in Paris as part of a milestone meeting on science between Ministers from many of the world’s most advanced nations, the first of its kind since 2015. 

Science and technology ministers from across the world’s leading economies are gathered in the French capital for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy Ministerial. The Ministerial is a key moment for like-minded nations to discuss opportunities for future partnerships and shape the future of co-operation on science and technology. It is a vital route for conversations on the development of new technologies and their risks.  

The £750,000 joint project agreed today will see researchers from the UK and New Zealand build on technology that has been pioneered at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) from previous work on quantum systems. The technique uses telecommunication fibre optic cables that are already in place on the seabed, to detect earthquakes and ocean currents. The tech will be trialled in the Pacific Ocean – a region where earthquakes and tsunamis are common – with a view to investigate the use of seafloor cables to give coastal communities earlier warnings when tremors occur, which could potentially save thousands of lives. 

The UK is investing £750,000 through the International Science Partnerships Fund, to allow UK researchers to work with New Zealand’s brightest minds and carry out the tests on the floor of the ocean between New Zealand and Australia. This project showcases the enormous potential of quantum that is being further built on with the workplan between the UK and New Zealand. The agreement sets out how the UK will elevate its ties with New Zealand to jointly tackle the most pressing challenges facing humanity, like natural disasters. 

Experts from the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL), responsible for developing and maintaining measurement standards in the UK, will work with researchers from the Measurement Standards Laboratory of New Zealand to prove the feasibility of using seafloor cables for earthquake detection – applying a technique called ‘optical interferometry’ that has already been successfully trialled in the Atlantic Ocean, using a fibre optic cable running almost 6,000 kilometres from the UK to Canada. 

UK Science Minister Andrew Griffith said: 

Global issues require global collaboration, which is why we need to build more and stronger partnerships on science and research with like-minded nations, just like the ones I am delighted to announce with New Zealand and Denmark today. That shared endeavour is precisely what we will focus on with colleagues from across the OECD, to ensure we can all benefit from the improvements to health and wealth that science and innovation promise to deliver.

“Bringing the UK and New Zealand’s brightest minds together, to overhaul how we give crucial advance warning of tsunamis, could save thousands of lives. This work proves the value of breakthrough technologies like quantum, and the international teamwork is crucial to harnessing them. The UK’s plans for closer work together on quantum with Denmark reinforces this, even further.” 

Denmark Minister of Higher Education and Science, Christina Egelund said: 

The UK is a very attractive partner in the quantum field, with world class research environments and great investments. With the new MoU, we are bringing Denmark’s quantum strategy to a higher international level. Quantum technology holds enormous potential to provide us with solutions in virtually every imaginable area, but it requires large investments and strong collaboration. For a small open economy such as Denmark, it is crucial to cooperate with the world’s leading countries. Both when it comes to talent exchange, research, innovation, commercialization, security and defense. Therefore, I am very pleased that Denmark and the UK will now initiate an even closer collaboration on quantum technology.  

The announcement of the research and innovation workplan with New Zealand will be made by the ministers as they attend the OECD Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy Ministerial in Paris. The UK will further expand its international links on quantum research in Paris as it signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Denmark. Denmark is an ideal partner to the UK as a key player in the quantum research sector and boosting our partnership will provide researchers in both countries with the best opportunities to work on transformative projects in areas such as transportation and life sciences. 

The OECD brings together the world’s leading democratic economies, and the Ministerial is an important opportunity for like-minded countries, including the UK, Denmark, and New Zealand to promote the values-driven and open development of science and technology, cementing relationships and create exciting opportunities for future partnerships with overseas neighbours who share our values. 

Today’s event is the first time since 2015 that the OECD’s Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy has met at the ministerial level, which shows the growing importance that all the world’s leading nations are placing on science and technology to boost their economies and deliver a better quality of life for all their citizens. Minister Griffith and other world leaders at the committee meeting will sign a declaration amplifying their shared aim to work together on science and technology for outcomes that will benefit us all.


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