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Showing posts from February, 2016

Why is the UK interested in volcanoes? We don’t have any of our own!

The University of Bristol’s volcanology group has been awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its contribution to research excellenceThe Queens Anniversary Prize is the most prestigious form of national recognition an institution can receive. When I tell members of the public that, not only am I a volcanologist, but that I am part of the one of the largest and most successful volcanology groups in the world, the first reaction is always surprise: ‘Why is the UK interested in volcanoes? We don’t have any of our own!’
They are right of course, the Bristol volcanology group spends its time travelling all over the world to address volcanic risk in many countries, from the first to the third world. When one looks back on volcanic eruptions in recent history, especially the big, memorable ones like Mount St Helens, Eyjafjallajokull and Montserrat one realises that Bristol volcanologists were there at every stage.
There are, of course, many layers to handling a volcanic crisis. First …

Why is there a difficult absence of water demand forecasting in the UK?

From August 2015 to January 2016, I was lucky enough to enjoy an ESRC-funded placement at the Environment Agency. Located within the Water Resources Team, my time here was spent writing a number of independent reports on the behalf of the agency. This blog is a short personal reflection of one of these reports, which you can find here. All views within this work are my own and do not represent any views, plans or policies of the Environment Agency.
In a world away from Melanie Phillips and David Bellamy, it is widely accepted that the twinned-spectres of climate change and population growth will likely affect levels of water availability in England and Wales, whilst also exposing the geographic imbalance of water supply-demand dynamics within the country. The Environment Agency has utilised a number of socioeconomic scenarios to predict total demand to change at some point between 15% decrease (if the nation undergoes a transition towards sustainability) to a 35% increase (in a scenari…

From Paris to Parliament: Is there a climate for action?

The Paris Agreement reached at the COP21 late last year was a big success, and the UK played an important, constructive role in that. But the UK is going backwards in policy terms with respect to greenhouse gas emissions.

That was the general message I took away from an event I attended last week in Parliament on behalf of the University of Bristol's Cabot Institute. In truth, this wasn't a big surprise to me. But what did strike me was the unanimity of the panellists who spoke: an MP, a scientist, an economist, a financial advisor, and an activist.* They were all more or less in agreement about the following:

Paris was a big deal. There are certainly all kinds of things to be worried and dissatisfied about, and it would have been better to have had an agreement like this 20 years ago. (If you add up all the commitments national governments have made, we're nowhere near keeping climate change under 2˚.) But it really does give us a much better shot than we had beforehand. …

New challenges to the UK fruit supply chain

I was lucky to write my dissertation for the MSc degree in Environmental Policy and Management on a topic that is crucial, needs thorough examination, and is of uttermost interest to me. The project explored the impact of extreme weather events on resilience of the fruit supply chain in the UK with a case study of the UK apple supply chain. This project was done under the dissertation partnership scheme and was proposed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

This project drew on several other studies conducted in this field, indicating the need to assess the vulnerability of the UK food supply to climate change, and extreme weather in particular. The most recent project was performed by the Cranfield University on behalf of DEFRA and estimated the resilience of the UK wheat and potato supply chains towards extreme weather. Therefore, it was agreed that I would focus on another supply chain to contribute to the knowledge necessary for the development of ada…

How the great phosphorus shortage could leave us short of food

You know that greenhouse gases are changing the climate. You probably know drinking water is becoming increasingly scarce, and that we’re living through a mass extinction.

But when did you last worry about phosphorus?

It’s not as well-known as the other issues, but phosphorus depletion is no less significant. After all, we could live without cars or unusual species, but if phosphorus ran out we’d have to live without food.

Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for all forms of life. It is a key element in our DNA and all living organisms require daily phosphorus intake to produce energy. It cannot be replaced and there is no synthetic substitute: without phosphorus, there is no life.

Our dependence began in the mid-19th century, after farmers noticed spreading phosphorus-rich guano (bird excrement) on their fields led to impressive improvements in crop yields. Soon after, mines opened up in the US and China to extract phosphate ore – rocks which contain the useful mineral. This triggere…

What happens when you cross a venture capitalist with a major national scientific research organisation?

I’m not sure if there’s a punchline, instead just a rather alarming answer. A couple of days ago, over on the other side of the world, Larry Marshall, the chief executive of Australia’s government agency for scientific research, made a disturbing announcement. Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO (the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) is to face a further 350 job losses (over 5% of its workforce) over the next two years. Primarily these losses look to be from the Oceans and Atmosphere division, affecting ongoing work on monitoring and predicting the Earth’s climate.

The job losses themselves are a huge blow for Australian and global climate research, and give the impression that the current Australian regime are perhaps not totally committed to upholding their end of the Paris agreement. This doesn’t say much, given that the Australian commitments were widely derided for being pretty weak in the first place.

So why is CSIRO’s current work important? …

Natural Systems and Processes Poster Session

The Natural Systems and Processes Poster Session (NSPPS) is, it appears, now quite an establishment in Bristol: 2016 will be the event’s ninth year. What is it, and what has secured its place in the University of Bristol calendar for all these years?

Well, as the name suggests, it is an academic poster session welcoming pretty much anything relating to the science of the natural world. It turns out this description covers a lot of science, with representatives from Earth Sciences, Geographical Sciences, Physics, Life Sciences, Engineering, Chemistry and Mathematics. It’s a fascinating melting pot of ideas with some quirky and abstract topics on show, but each being a tiny, crucial cogwheel in the Earth’s system. The range of topics can show off the University’s diverse scientific community, spark collaborations and simply baffle all at the same time.

Besides the ‘boring’ scientific part of the event, NSPPS is a great occasion. Set in the Wills Memorial Building Great Hall, there is a…