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Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

researchers silhouetted against a sunset

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.

Our facilities

We use innovative research approaches, which we develop in the Williamson Research Centre and Centre for Atmospheric Science.

Uranium mine
Our research into the Earth's uranium resources is helping to plan the future of nuclear energy.

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.

Research highlights

Addressing the future of nuclear power

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.

Understanding the effects of pollution on climate

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: