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Evaluation of Earth Sciences

Earth Science research in Norway is generally in a state of good health, according to an evaluation committee(EC) comprised of leading international experts in a range of Earth Science disciplines.

Very few truly weak research areas were observed and in a number of fields, e.g. climate science, meteorology and atmospheric science, marine science, hydrology, physics of geological processes, and sedimentary basin development in the context of petroleum systems, Norway can be considered to be internationally leading. Norway can be proud of its many strengths in the field of Earth Sciences which have been built from a strong physical and natural science base and are of critical national importance. Maintaining these strengths is likely to serve Norway very well in the future.

For a country with a small population, such as Norway, it might be argued that there are simply too many different research organisations competing for a relatively small amount of research funding. Some rationalisation took place after the 1998 review of Earth Science research in Norwegian universities and colleges and the EC has not identified any particular need for further rationalisation, with the exception of some very small research groups which are simply not viable.
Research infrastructure is of variable quality and it is clear that some significant scientific investment in infrastructure and laboratory facilities needs to be made to ensure that Norwegian Earth Scientists continue to have access to state-of-the-art facilities in key research areas. A network of national facilities needs to be established, supported by an appropriate funding mechanism to facilitate their use.

A consistent theme in discussions with the research groups was the lack of sufficient funding to support the research base and the very low success rates in national competitions for RCN research grants. Some research groups do, however, receive significant funding from the hydrocarbon industry, which also provides access to large industry data sets. Publication outputs are very good in a national context, but with considerable variability between different research groups. Some groups routinely publish in high-profile international journals, whereas the contributions of other groups are more modest. Publication rates in highly applied research fields are, in general, lower.

The training of Doctoral students seems to be of a high standard. There are concerns that recruitment of good Norwegian students into PhD programmes is becoming more difficult. A significant number of the Doctoral students were internationally recruited.

The management of fixed-term contracts for researchers in the university sector is highlighted as an issue of some concern.

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