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Showing posts from September, 2015

Is nuclear green?

It may not be surprising to you that printing the question “Is nuclear green?” on two large banners at the Bristol Harbour Festival in July caused a bit of a stir, but this is exactly what Dr Tom Scott (reader in Nuclear Materials and member of the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol) and his group of volunteers wanted to do.  I joined the group at their stall next to the MShed to listen to their conversations with the public ignited by this thought provoking question.

The volunteers largely comprised of Bristol members of the South West Nuclear Hub (a joint research partnership - which Dr Scott co-directs - with Oxford University), University of Bristol physics undergraduates and some employees of Magnox Ltd a nuclear company in the South West. Together, they rolled out a wide range of activities at their marquee that invited everyone to join in and voice their opinions without judgement.

A live opinion poll with green and red plastic tokens (to vote “yes” and “no” respecti…

Good Mooring!

Since the late 1990s, scientists at the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) have conducted annual cruises across the Fram Strait: the widest, deepest and most important exit point for sea ice in the Arctic. One of the main aims of the Fram Strait cruise (FS2015) is to recover, service and redeploy a sprinkling of oceanographic moorings- current profiling instruments and buoys tethered to hundreds of meters of cable, anchored to the seafloor. These have been continuously measuring the velocities of water masses within the East Greenland Current at preset depths. With continuous data over decadal timescales, the NPI are hoping to understand how the nature of the Arctic freshwater budget changes in an increasingly warming climate, how this will impact biological processes, and how it will affect other water masses on a broader scale as they interact in new ways.

I was lucky enough to lend a helping hand this September; my second cruise with the NPI after having had a blast working on the Nor…

Uncertain World: Understanding past and future sea level rise

A recent study published in Science Advances suggests that if we burn all attainable fossil fuels (up to 12,000 gigatonnes of carbon), the Antarctic ice sheet is likely to become almost ice-free within 10,000 years. However, what does this mean in terms of sea level rise? To illustrate this we have designed an infographic which shows the likely extent of sea level rise under a range of different scenarios. We have chosen to use the Wills Memorial Building as an example and assume, for the purpose of this exercise, that it resides at sea level (Figure 1).
1) Sea level rise over the next century:
The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR5) indicates that if we continue emitting greenhouse gases under business-as-usual scenarios (i.e. no reduction in emissions), it is likely that global mean sea level will rise between 0.52 and 0.98 m by the year 2100. If we are more optimistic, and we allow greenhouse gas emissions to peak in 2040 and decline there…

Delivering the ‘Future City’: collaborating with or colluding in austerity?

In Bristol’s European Green Capital year, the University of Bristol and its Cabot Institute have been working with the Bristol Green Capital Partnership and its members to convene a series of four conversations between Bristol academics and city ‘thinkers’ from across public, private and civil society exploring how Bristol delivers the ‘future city’ –  what capacities it needs to be resilient, sustainable and successful and how it can start to develop these in times of changing governance and tightened finances. The conversations will be reflected in a series of four blogs (the second below) and then brought together as a policy report for the Festival of the Future City in November.  You can read other blogs from this series at the bottom of this blog.

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The University of Bristol and the Green Capital Partnership have convened a series of conversations between Bristol academics and city ‘thinkers’ to discuss Bristol’s capacities as a future c…

A shower of change with gusts of discontent

“This is 2LO calling, the London station of the British Broadcasting Company calling. This is 2LO calling” Such was the first broadcast ever issued by the BBC on 14th November 1922 from the organisation’s 2LO Office in London. The message was received by any radio within a 30 mile radius and was the inaugeration of the British Broadcasting Corporation.  Integrated in the announcement was a weather bulletin prepared by the Met Office which marked the beginning of a partnership which has supplied the British public’s appetite for weather-related conversation for 93 years.

Despite the longevity of this relationship, it was not immune to the BBC’s ever-tightening pockets and last month it was announced the Met Office is to become the latest casualty of the corporation’s modernisation. The BBC blames the split on the Met Office’s uncompetitive price, while rumours suggest that the problem runs deeper with a difference of opinion over the way the forecast should be communicated to the publi…

Resilience: The power of being bored...together

Louise and Eva belong to a London-based arts programme called Fourthland, which they describe as “A movement. An idea. A place. The handheld. A way of working. A history of projects”.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with them since Tessa Fitzjohn, a local curator, and Aldo Rinaldi, the Senior Arts Officer at Bristol City Council offered us the opportunity to host Fourthland as artists in residence. Together, Aldo and Tessa launched the ‘Resilience Laboratory’ in light of Bristol’s ‘Green Capital’ award – a project that aimed to explore the meaning of resilience from multiple disciplines and create a space to share learning.

Whenever I meet with Louise and Eva it feels like something profound has just happened, and is about to happen again, if I can only grasp the thoughts for long enough. They have provided a place and a time for us to stop. Think. And dwell on what it means to be resilient. The next few paragraphs are an attempt to capture just one of the many themes I found surpri…

Change Agents UK: Empowering people to have a positive impact on the world

One of our more exciting and inspirational collaborations this year has been with a fantastic charity called Change Agents UK.  This group works on developing a network of change agents; people empowered to live and work in a way that makes a positive impact on the world around them.  During the European Green Capital year, the University of Bristol's Cabot Institute has collaborated with Change Agents UK to support an EU programme called the Green Capital European Voluntary Service.

Change Agents UK coordinated the programme to host 30 young volunteers from across Europe to volunteer on activities related to Bristol European Green Capital 2015 for two months in the summer of 2015.  Cabot Institute Manager Hayley Shaw helped to form the programme around their visit during which we connected volunteers to:

Naomi Oreskes, a prominent climate change scientist. The Change Agents went to see her film ‘Merchants of Doubt’ and met with her beforehand.Andrew Garrad, Chair of Bristol 2015 a…

If we burned all fossil fuels, would any of Antarctica's ice survive?

Andy Ridgwell, University of California, Riverside Here is a great “what-if”: if we (the human race) were to burn all available fossil fuels, could we melt the largest and most stable ice sheet on the planet – Antarctica? Could our collective industrial impacts on the planet possibly have that far a reach?

The spoiler is: “yes,” although in our recent computer modeling-based study, we find that it would require all of our fossil fuel resources to do it, and to see the very last of the ice melt, we might have to wait as long as 10,000 years.

Before we get any further, let’s consider this as a thought experiment in ice sheet dynamics and the global carbon cycle response to CO2 emissions to test our understanding of the long-term effects that extreme perturbations could have on the Earth system.

What I have in mind is a socioeconomic carbon use scenario that I hope personally would never come to fruition, but equally one that is not intended to be an implausible scare story or a “sky is-…

Delivering the ‘Future City’: does Bristol have the governance capacities it needs?

In Bristol’s European Green Capital year, the University of Bristol and its Cabot Institute have been working with the Bristol Green Capital Partnership and its members to convene a series of four conversations between Bristol academics and city ‘thinkers’ from across public, private and civil society exploring how Bristol delivers the ‘future city’ –  what capacities it needs to be resilient, sustainable and successful and how it can start to develop these in times of changing governance and tightened finances. The conversations will be reflected in a series of four blogs (the first below) and then brought together as a policy report for the Festival of the Future City in November. You can read other blogs from this series at the bottom of this blog.

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In Bristol’s European Green Capital year, the University of Bristol and its Cabot Institute have been exploring new ways of engaging more widely with the city and the range of organisations tha…

What skills will we need to live in future smart cities?

Today, the idea that data can play a key role in the design and management of cities is widely recognised. Architects, planners and engineers are already considering how data can improve the planning and operational aspects of cities. However, we believe it’s now time to consider the skills that people will need to live in these smart cities.


The increasing digitisation of information, coupled with the impact of innovations such as the Internet of Things, will have a profound effect on all aspects of city life. This will include anything, from transport planning and energy use reduction, to care provision and assisted living. But it will also include new ways of social innovation, new ways of organising communities, and increased access to political processes. So, familiarity, if not proficiency, in 'digital era' skills will be an essential part of future citizenship.

This doesn't only mean people should have the necessary digital consumption skills to help them make full…