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Indoor air pollution: The 'killer in the kitchen'

Approximately 3 billion people around the world rely on biomass fuels such as wood, charcoal and animal dung which they burn on open fires and using inefficient stoves to meet their daily cooking needs.

Relying on these types of fuels and cooking technologies is a major contributor to indoor air pollution and has serious negative health impacts, including acute respiratory illnesses, pneumonia, strokes, cataracts, heart disease and cancer.

The World Health Organization estimates that indoor air pollution causes nearly 4 million premature deaths annually worldwide – more than the deaths caused by malaria and tuberculosis combined. This led the World Health Organization to label household air pollution “The Killer in the Kitchen”.

As illustrated on the map below, most deaths from indoor air pollution occur in low- and middle-income countries across Africa and Asia. Women and children are disproportionately exposed to the risks of indoor air pollution as they typically spend the most ti…

Science in action: Air pollution in Bangkok

I was given the opportunity to spend a significant part of 2018 in Bangkok, Thailand, to work with the Chulabhorn Research Institute (CRI) Laboratory of Environmental Toxicology working on a project funded by the Newton Fund on air-quality. Bangkok is a large city with over 14 million inhabitants, which suffer high levels of traffic and congestion resulting in consequent high exposure to traffic-related pollution. It is a UN Sustainable development goal to reduce the number of deaths caused by pollution by 2030. Air pollution is a global problem – a major threat to health throughout the world – but particularly so in low and medium income countries, which account for 92% of pollution related deaths (1). The poor and the marginalised often live in areas of high pollution, and children have a disproportionate exposure to pollutants at a vulnerable stage of development.

The Chulabhorn Research Institute is an independent research institute in Bangkok whose mission includes the applicati…

How we traced 'mystery emissions' of CFCs back to eastern China

Since being universally ratified in the 1980s, the Montreal Protocol – the treaty charged with healing the ozone layer – has been wildly successful in causing large reductions in emissions of ozone depleting substances. Along the way, it has also averted a sizeable amount of global warming, as those same substances are also potent greenhouse gases. No wonder the ozone process is often held up as a model of how the international community could work together to tackle climate change.

However, new research we have published with colleagues in Nature shows that global emissions of the second most abundant ozone-depleting gas, CFC-11, have increased globally since 2013, primarily because of increases in emissions from eastern China. Our results strongly suggest a violation of the Montreal Protocol.

A global ban on the production of CFCs has been in force since 2010, due to their central role in depleting the stratospheric ozone layer, which protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation…

Climate change: sea level rise could displace millions of people within two generations

Antarctica is further from civilisation than any other place on Earth. The Greenland ice sheet is closer to home but around one tenth the size of its southern sibling. Together, these two ice masses hold enough frozen water to raise global mean sea level by 65 metres if they were to suddenly melt. But how likely is this to happen?

The Antarctic ice sheet is around one and half times larger than Australia. What’s happening in one part of Antarctica may not be the same as what’s happening in another – just like the east and west coasts of the US can experience very different responses to, for example, a change in the El Niño weather pattern. These are periodic climate events that result in wetter conditions across the southern US, warmer conditions in the north and drier weather on the north-eastern seaboard.

The ice in Antarctica is nearly 5km thick in places and we have very little idea what the conditions are like at the base, even though those conditions play a key role in determi…

The future of sustainable ocean science

May 9th ushered in the 9th National Oceanography Centre (NOC) Association meeting, held among the crowds, statues, flags, and banners, at Central Hall in an unseasonably chilly and rainy Westminster. But it was the first such meeting where the University of Bristol was represented, and I was honoured to fly our own flag, for both University of Bristol and the Cabot Institute for the Environment.

NOC is – currently – a part of the Natural Environment Research Council (one of the UK Research Councils, under the umbrella of UKRI), but is undergoing a transformation in the very near future to an independent entity, and a charitable organisation in its own right aimed at the advancement of science. If you’ve heard of NOC, you’re likely aware of the NOC buildings in Southampton (and the sister institute in Liverpool). However, the NOC Association is a wider group of UK universities and research institutes with interests in marine science, and with a wider aim: to promote a two-way conversa…

Global warming 'hiatus' is the climate change myth that refuses to die

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The record-breaking, El Niño-driven global temperatures of 2016 have given climate change deniers a new trope. Why, they ask, hasn’t it since got even hotter?

In response to a recent US government report on the impact of climate change, a spokesperson for the science-denying American Enterprise Institute think-tank claimed that “we just had […] the biggest drop in global temperatures that we have had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years.”

These claims are blatantly false: the past two years were two of the three hottest on record, and the drop in temperature from 2016 to 2018 was less than, say, the drop from 1998 (a previous record hot year) to 2000. But, more importantly, these claims use the same kind of misdirection as was used a few years ago about a supposed “pause” in warming lasting from roughly 1998 to 2013.

At the time, the alleged pause was cited by many people sceptical about the science of climate change as a reason not to act to redu…

Should we engineer the climate? A social scientist and natural scientist discuss

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This is an article from The Conversation's Head to Head, a series in which academics from different disciplines chew over current debates. Let us know what else you’d like covered – all questions welcome. Details of how to contact us are at the end of the article.

Rob Bellamy: 2018 has been a year of unprecedented weather extremes around the world. From the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Japan to the largest wildfire in the history of California, the frequency and intensity of such events have been made much more likely by human-induced climate change. They form part of a longer-term trend – observed in the past and projected into the future – that may soon make nations desperate enough to consider engineering the world’s climate deliberately in order to counteract the risks of climate change.

Indeed, the spectre of climate engineering hung heavily over the recent United Nations climate conference in Katowice, COP24, having featured in s…

Quality through Equality – tackling gender issues in hydrology

Results of a 1-day workshop organised by the Bristol University’s Water Engineering Group  A professor asked our group of PhD students last year, “Who here thinks of staying in academia after finishing their PhD?” Of the 10 male students present, 4 or 5 said they could imagine continuing in academia. None of the 5 female students raised their hand. When asked for their reasons for not wanting to stay in academia, some of the things mentioned were the challenge of combining family and academia, a lack of role models or different career aspirations.

This experience started the idea of organising a workshop on gender issues in hydrology, with the aim of raising awareness of unconscious biases, offer role models and discuss ideas on how to make the hydrologic community more diverse. Although the focus of the workshop was on gender diversity, most things we learned apply as well to issues related to misrepresentation of ethnic minorities or disabled scientists.

To achieve the aims mention…