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Showing posts from March, 2014

2nd Generation biofuels: a transdisciplinary dialogue

“Globally, there are politically important evidence gaps, but nationally, those evidence gaps are just not important enough for policy-makers to take account of them”.  
This was one comment summing up the discussion I had at a workshop on the development of 2nd generation, or cellulosic, biofuels (biofuels produced from crops or waste, that is not otherwise used as food).  The workshop’s aim was to produce ‘A transdisciplinary dialogue on the opportunities and challenges of cellulosic ethanol in the UK’, and was run by Dr. Kate Millar, the Director of the Centre for Applied Bioethics.  It was part of a number of events convened for the EU Framework 7 project, “Integrated EST-Framework” (EST-Frame).  Bringing together 12 scientists, engineers, environmental scientists and social scientists is not an easy feat, but the 24 hours’ of the workshop produced some extremely interesting discussions.
My own research considers endeavours to overcome some of the sustainability problems commonly as…

Crisis in Ukraine: The energy implications

Energy security- a primarily theoretical concept in recent years that has been made startlingly real by the recent developments in Ukraine. But what could the possible repercussions of this crisis be on European energy policies and our fuel bills?

I had a chance to ask this question during a recent event at the House of Commons, hosted by the APPCCG and Sandbag. The answer surprised me.

According to Baroness Worthington, director of Sandbag and member of the House of Lords, two outcomes are broadly possible.


The first scenario is of a stabilisation of the diplomatic situation and the emergence of a westward-leaning Ukraine. In this situation, it is likely that Ukraine might choose to exploit its own natural gas reserves, estimated to be in the region of 1.1 trillion cubic metres. Ukraine possesses the 26th largest natural gas reserve in the world, which is estimated to be more than half the size of the combined reserves of the EU.
If Ukraine `turns on the taps’, this would solve their…

Setting-up new collaborations with geoscientists from Kazakhstan

Landlocked in central Asia, Kazakhstan is the world 9th largest country, larger than Western Europe. It is host to one of largest amounts of accessible minerals and fossil fuel. Even though, Kazakhstan is relatively unknown to the general public and geoscientists. In order to encourage international research collaboration between ambitious young researchers from the UK and Kazakhstan, in March 2014 the British Council Researcher Links organized a workshop in Ust-Kamenogorsk in Kazakhstan.

I was selected to attend this meeting and as a result I found myself on a Monday afternoon boarding a plane to Kazakhstan together with 12 other UK scientists. My main reason to attend the workshop was that palaeoclimatic reconstructions from this part of the world are almost non-existant. This while in the geological past (Mesozoic and Paleogene) Kazakhstan was on the bottom of a large epicontinental ocean that connected the Tethys Ocean with the Arctic. Any palaeoclimatic records from this region o…

The controversy of the Greenland ice sheet

I was expecting a dusty road, a saloon door swinging, two geologists standing facing each other in spurrs and cowboy hats with their hands twitching at their sides, both ready to whip out their data and take down their opponent with one well-argued conclusion.

Sadly (for me), things were much more friendly at Professor Pete Nienow's seminar in Bristol's Geographical Sciences department last week. Twelve years ago he visited the University with a controversial hypothesis, causing considerable debate with members of the department. Now he was back, Powerpoint at the ready, to revisit the theory.

Professor Nienow is a glaciologist at the University of Edinburgh. He is currently researching glacial movement and mass in Greenland, but I'll let him tell you more.


Pete Nienow - GeoScience from Research in a Nutshell on Vimeo.

The Greenland ice sheet covers almost 80% of the country, enclosed by mountains around its edges. The ice sheet is dynamic; glaciers are constantly moving do…

Do not make policy during the middle of a flood crisis

Across the country, we have seen our neighbours’ homes and farms devastated by the floods.  We understand their anger and frustration.  We understand their demands for swift action.

What they have been given is political gamesmanship.  Blame shifting from party to party, minister to minister, late responses, dramatic reversals of opinion.  It reached its well-publicised nadir this past weekend, with Eric Pickles’ appearance on the Andrew Marr show:
‘I apologise unreservedly and I'm really sorry that we took the advice; we thought we were dealing with experts.’   Throwing your own government experts to the wolves is not an apology.

This political vitriol, at least with respect to the Somerset Levels, all appears to come down to a relatively simple question – should we have been dredging?

This is not a simple question.  

It is an incredibly complex question, in the Somerset Levels and elsewhere, and this simplistic discussion does the people of those communities a great disservice.

‘New’ man-made gases: Ozone crisis or hoax?

You may have noticed a story reported on widely recently on the discovery of 4 ‘new’ man-made ozone-depleting gases. This follows the publication of a study in the journal Nature Geoscience on the first measurements of these gases, their abundances in the atmosphere and estimated global emission rates. Responses to the reporting of this publication have ranged from the Daily Mail’s “Ozone Crisis” to the inevitable internet-based diatribe of “any research from UEA is clearly made up” in various comment sections. So just how concerned should we be about the emissions of these four gases?
Chlorofluorcarbons (CFCs)
The reason we care about CFCs is because they deplete ozone high up in the atmosphere, potentially exposing humans to harmful UV rays. Oh, they also happen to be extremely potent greenhouse gases, with each molecule of a CFC being equivalent to 1000s of molecules of CO2, and they sit around in the atmosphere for 10s or 100s of years before being removed. Basically they’re prett…