Environment and society
Human activities are changing the world and environment we live in. Our research directly addresses the issues societies are currently facing and those they are likely to face in the future.
We use innovative research approaches, which we develop in the Williamson Research Centre and Centre for Atmospheric Science.
At no other time in history has a deeper functional understanding of the Earth's resources and the complexities of interactions between our planet and human activity been so imperative to the quality of life of future generations.
Pollution and climate change are creating unprecedented challenges for humans and society around the world. If human activities are to be sustainable, a huge amount of research is required into how we can mitigate the difficulties that we, and future generations, will face. These include reducing the pollution we cause, using resources more efficiently, and minimising our impact on the Earth system, as well as the impact that these systems have on us - be they climate, oceans or land environments.
Our researchers, in collaboration with a variety of academic, industry, government and NGO partners, are undertaking world-class research on the processes underpinning the sustainable use of key Earth resources. This research not only leads to academic advances but also has a genuine positive impact on people's lives. For example, we have gained a better understanding of processes that may to lead to the control of toxic arsenic in groundwater-derived drinking water, and we have developed 3D models of petroleum reservoirs for more efficient and less wasteful recovery of oil and gas.
The issues our research tackles are also strongly reflected in our undergraduate and postgraduate teaching.
The nuclear power industry faces a conundrum - the uranium it's mining won't last forever, and growing scarcity equals growing prices. We take a look at a few of the potential solutions to this problem. Where does the future of nuclear power lie? A question such as this requires long-term planning and a clear understanding of a complex situation with lots of conflicting factors. A key consideration, though, is Uranian, the main source of power for most nuclear fission reactors. What happens as Uranium becomes harder to come by? This issue is addressed in a paper from our researchers, which asks whether it is time to consider a different, more efficient type of nuclear power plant, or if society should focus on new ways of obtaining uranium.
Our researchers are closer to understanding how the darkness of atmospheric soot particles is controlled by transparent coatings - a breakthrough that will help inform global policymakers looking at the effects of pollution on climate. The team tested different soot types during Bonfire Night in 2014 which, due to the weather conditions, was particularly polluted and provided an ideal opportunity to study a high concentration of atmospheric wood smoke particles.
Areas of expertise
Our researchers focus their work in the following specialist areas:
Climate and weather impacts on society
Human activity changes the climate, and the climate and weather also present hazards and challenges to society. Our activities include investigating the response of weather phenomena, including severe storms, and components of the climate system to change, as well as subsequent potential impact on society - and even the impact of weather on disease.
Our research in this area is delivering knowledge and training for the next generation of geoscientists and engineers to successfully meet the climate change challenge of attaining net zero carbon emissions and delivering secure and sustainable energy for the 21st Century.
Molecular environmental science
Understanding the chemical interactions in environmental systems is key to showing how these systems function. Our research focuses on the characterisation of mineral-water-organic matter reactions in surface and subsurface environments. Using advanced techniques from the physical, chemical and biological sciences, coupled with modelling, our researchers identify molecular-scale mechanisms of environmental processes that have global implications.
Plants, soils and ecosystems
Plants and the complex biological communities that inhabit soils interact with each other and respond to environmental changes. Researchers on plants, soils and ecosystems study these interactions and their consequences in natural and managed ecosystems, as well as how plants and algae respond to environmental stresses.
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