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Congratulations to Jumpei Fukumasu for winning the 2015 BSSS MSc Dissertation Award for his dissertation on ‘Is there a stronger relationship between N-acquiring extracellular enzyme activity and nitrogen mineralization in disaggregated soils than in aggregated soils?’, supervised by Dr Liz Shaw (presenting the award).

Excellent work, Jumpei!  Competition this year was particularly tough, with many excellent nominations from students who achieved a distinction in their dissertation module.  Well done to all our students for their fantastic research.  We wish all of them the best of luck with their future career and thank them for their hard work and dedicated whilst at Reading.

BSSS-dissprize-2015

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Congratulations to the winners of the annual Soil Research Centre Photo Competition! We had a fantastic range of entries this year, which you can view at the album here.

First Prize

Jackie Stroud: Earthworm in action!  Earthworm feeding at night on surface organic matter (crop residues)

First Prize - Jackie Stroud

First Prize – Jackie Stroud

Second Prize

Ian Davenport: In arid and semi-arid regions, cyanobacteria use light and water to grow filaments that bind soil particles together, forming a crust that helps to prevent erosion.  Photo from Diamantina, Australia.

Ian Davenport, Second Prize

Ian Davenport, Second Prize

Highly Commended

Rob Jackson: Banana plantation: Reading, Medellin and UMass Dartmouth student team sampling soil along a transect in a Colombian banana plantation to discover novel biocontrol bacteria

Rob Jackson, Highly Commended

Rob Jackson, Highly Commended

Erika Degani: Sampling earthworms at UoR Sonning Farm as part of a PhD project assessing the relationships between crop rotations, biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services

Erika Degani, Highly Commended

Erika Degani, Highly Commended

Well done to all!

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#iwill Ambassador Blog

Abrey5On the 24th November 2015, I travelled to the Wayra Academy in Central London for the #iwill announcement event – where my new role as an ambassador officially began.

So, what is the #iwill campaign?

“#iwill is a national campaign that aims to make social action part of life for as many 10 to 20 year-olds as possible by the year 2020. Through collaboration and partnership it is spreading the word about the benefits of youth social action, working to embed it in the journey of young people and create fresh opportunities for participation.” –Step Up To Serve

The campaign is all about harnessing the energy and talents of the UK’s young people and using that energy to undertake positive social action, be it locally, nationally or internationally. It recognises the dual benefit of social action: you help others and in doing so, you help yourself! Be it personal satisfaction, skills development, employability etc. social action truly is a dual benefit activity. I believe EVERYONE should get involved from helping to break the wholly unacceptable stigma surrounding mental health (especially in young people), fighting for clean water and sanitation globally, to reducing social isolation in those living with Dementia – the opportunities and possibilities are endless. Find your cause and get cracking!

Abrey3

During the event I had the honour to meet and chat social action with none other than HRH The Prince of Wales (a patron of the campaign). He is a true believer in the power of young people and has invested hugely in ensuring our media image improves – we’re not all ‘yobs’ despite being referred to as such 591 times in national newspapers in 2011.

Change affects our generation in a big way. But we’re going to be the generation that affects change in an even bigger way.

#iwill, will you?!

 

Jack Abrey, Geography (Human and Physical) 1st Year

If you want to read more about why I’m an ambassador you can follow this link to my Ambassador profile.

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Somerset Field Class

Students happy to see some autumn sunshine!

Students happy to see some autumn sunshine!

145 Geography & Environmental Science students visited Somerset during Enhancement Week for their first field class! Dr Steve Musson gives the details below…

Students often tell us that field classes are one of the most memorable and enjoyable parts of their University experience. At the University of Reading, we are always looking for ways to get beyond the lecture theatre, where we can put research skills into practice. Our first year students have just come back from Somerset, on a brand new three-night field class that developed new skills and left plenty of time for students to get to know one another – and our teaching staff – better.

We travelled to Kilve Court Field Centre, near Bridgewater in Somerset, during the mid-term Enhancement Week, in which students take a break from their normal teaching routine and develop new skills. Somerset is an ideal place to encounter a wide range of geographical and environmental processes and our research activities covered cultural and social geography, biogeography and quaternary science.

Reaching the top of Glastonbury Tor

Reaching the top of Glastonbury Tor

We arrived at Kilve Court in dramatic fog, which made it difficult to get a sense of the surrounding landscape that included the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. After dropping off our bags and checking in to the accommodation, we made the short climb up to Quantock Common and were delighted when the fog cleared above 180 metres. We emerged onto warm, sunny heath land, while the fog remained in the valleys below us. Students discussed the vegetation change we had seen during the short climb and the cultural significance of this special place.

Over the next two days, we divided into smaller groups, with each rotating through four half-day fieldwork activities. In Glastonbury, Dr Steve Musson led a climb up the famous Tor and students spoke to local people about the myth and legend associated with the area. Professor Hannah Cloke shared her expertise in hydrology to explain the recent flooding of the Somerset Levels and the special role water plays in the local culture of the Isle of Avalon.

At nearby Shapwick Heath, Dr Nick Branch and Dr Hazel McGoff gave students their first experience of sediment core sampling. Analysis has continued back in our labs at Reading, to reconstruct the environmental history of the area over tens of thousands of years. Dr Geoff Griffiths introduced students to landscape ecology, modelling the impacts of woodland planting on flooding. Again, we are using sophisticated spatial analysis software to interpret our results back in Reading.

The Somerset Field Class is the first part of the Research Training Pathway that runs through our degrees in Geography and Environmental Science. There are more field class opportunities in the Second and Third Years, to places like Berlin, Crete, Naples and Almeria. These develop advanced-level skills that build on the work we did in Somerset and allow students to plan and carry out their own fieldwork as part of their Third Year dissertation.

 

Check out the Storify of the trip for the best tweets & photos!

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Frank getting excited over Amazon mud

Frank getting excited over Amazon mud

Frank Mayle spent much of his summer 2015 doing fieldwork in tropical South America.  Late June to late July was spent in the Bolivian Amazon, accompanied by his two PhD students (Richard Smith and Heather Plumpton), postdoctoral researcher (John Carson) and Bolivian botanist Daniel Soto.  This involved collecting sediment cores from lakes and bogs and digging soil pits.  These samples are then shipped back to Reading where they are analysed for their microfossils – pollen, charcoal and phytoliths – using light microscopy, to understand the impact of climate change and indigenous human land use upon Amazonian forests over the past several millennia.

After a few weeks back home, Frank was then off to Brazil for a month (mid August to mid September), where he is a visiting scientist at the University of Sao Paulo – funded by Brazil’s CNPq Science Without Borders programme.  After 2 days on the road, the UK-Brazil research team reached the field area of northern Espirito Santo and southern Bahia – in the core of the Atlantic rainforest, or what’s left of it.  As with Bolivia, the fieldwork involved using coring equipment to collect sediment cores from bogs in order to analyse the DSC00146preserved fossil pollen to reconstruct the long-term history of rainforest dynamics in response to environmental change, in this case dating back to the last ice age.

This research will improve understanding of the response of South America’s tropical rainforest ecosystems to drier climate conditions of the distant past, and thereby provide important insights into the likely response of these globally important ecosystems to future increased drought predicted by most climate models.

 

You can read more about Frank at his staff profile.

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‘Are we looking after our soils?’

Chris presents to the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee

Chris presents to the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee

As soon as you enter the House of Commons you get a buzz. There are lots of people engaged in conversation and the sense of being at the centre of government is palpable. The further you enter into the myriad of rooms you can understand the huge expense that will be involved in any refurbishment.

We are in committee room 19, but there are many other meetings indicated on the display boards and you realise the difficulty any campaign will have making an impact.   The presentations go down really well; I focus on the biological variability of soils and the problems of establishing robust soil health indicators as well as introducing the Soil Security Programme. Jack Hennan from Cranfield University describes the physical variability of soils and the limitations of national monitoring. The final speaker is Helen Browning from the Soil Association who presents seven ways we can improve soils.

After drinks about twenty of us have a sit down dinner and Stephen Metcalfe MP the Chairman of the Parliamentary and Science Committee opens the debate ‘Are we looking after our soil’. After 30 minutes of vigorous conversation where a number of soil threats are highlighted (e.g. growing unsuitable crops such as maize, the problems of sustainable management associated with short term tenancies), we search for a single action to recommend.  A commitment to increase organic matter in arable fields by 20% is proposed by Helen Browning. While we can all see pitfalls in this we recognise it as a clear ambition that will have a beneficial outcome.

 

See Professor Chris Collins’ staff profile

Visit the Soil Security Programme website

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We’re looking for a Research Fellow in Soil Biodiversity to join our team – check out the link for more information on the role and details on how to apply!

http://bit.ly/1XvVTsr

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The Climate and Development Knowledge Network has a new report on research co-authored by Dr Emily Boyd on an experimental project in Maputo, Mozambique on participation and planning for climate change.

“Giving each citizen a voice is essential to developing the potential of local communities to both engage with climate change information and to catalyse action for climate change.”

maputo-market-jamesstapley-freeimagesMozambique is highly vulnerable to natural disasters, in particular those of hydro-meteorological origin such as floods, drought and cyclones. Since 1970, Mozambique has been hit by 34 cyclones or tropical depressions and five major flood events, which have had dramatic social and economic consequences.

The project ‘Public, Private, People Partnerships for Climate Compatible Development (4PCCD) in Maputo, Mozambique, developed participatory planning methods to foster partnerships between actors within different sectors in order to tackle climate change through actions in specific locations in Maputo. The objective of the project was the creation of partnerships that could integrate climate change concerns fully, while at the same time addressing directly the concerns of local residents.

You can read the report here.

The Authors

The authors of the paper are Vanesa Castán Broto, Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London, London, UK; Emily Boyd, University of Reading, Reading, UK; Jonathan Ensor, University of York, York, UK; Carlos Seventine, Fundo Nacional do Ambiente (FUNAB), Maputo, Mozambique; Domingos Augusto Macucule, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Maputo, Mozambique; and Charlotte Allen, Independent Consultant, UK. The team prepared the learning paper as part of a learning programme on subnational climate compatible development facilitated by CDKN and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability.

About Emily

You can read more about Dr Emily Boyd at her staff profile page.

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On 14th July, Human Geography PhD students convened a workshop themed “Governing the Anthropocene: actors, institutions and processes.”  As a first of its kind, the workshop brought together students from across the University of Reading whose research focuses on the environment, sustainability and development. The workshop was an excellent opportunity for discussions, sharing ideas and networking amongst PhD students who attended.  It also served as a friendly platform for constructive feedback on research works.

IMG_5646The term “anthropocene” has made its way into the diction of scientists, researchers and academics, to refer to the current geological era. An era of profoundly different futures created for the global society, and far from anything previously experienced. The workshop focused talks on changing global environmental governance considerations, needed to meet the critical challenges of climate change, poverty, land use change, water and sanitation and deforestation.

The full-day workshop, which took place at Reading International Solidarity Centre, brought together both conceptual and case study perspectives focusing on international to local scales.  Country case studies of research presented were across the board from UK, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Malaysia and Indonesia. The full workshop programme and presentation abstracts can be viewed here: GA workshop 2015.

From the workshop, it was evident that the University of Reading is engaged in very cross-disciplinary, intriguing and insightful research in the area of natural resources and environmental governance. Cross-cutting themes presented include:

  • The increasing significance given markets in pursuing development and sustainability, which seems to reinforce existing power structures though in some cases is faced with local resistance in practice;
  • How the state manifests itself and its changing role, or its absence in addressing current resource-use problems;
  • The importance of NGOs in the implementation of development projects, and in scrutinizing non-state actors in private regulation and;
  • The nature and forms of participation, and it’s varied conceptualization as a means to an end or as an end in itself.

The workshop culminated with a highly valuable and interesting discussion on ways forward.  It was obvious that progressive and transparent policies are required at multiple levels to bring about meaningful change, and that the public has a role in requesting change from policy makers.  This can only be achieved when the public is motivated and politically engaged on issues such as climate change that otherwise would be viewed by individuals of the public as huge and external to do anything about. In addition, it was noted that PhD students should strive to capitalize on avenues that bridge the gap between their academic research and policy/practice.

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A new paper published in Nature Climate Change (Harrison et al. Implications of evaluation of CMIP5 palaeosimulations for climate projections. Nature Climate Change 5: 735-743. August 2015) suggests that we need to exercise considerable caution about future projections of regional climate changes.

The paper looks at features of the climate that are characteristic of 21st century projections and then examines whether state-of-the-art climate models predict these features correctly in the geologic past. Lead author, Sandy Harrison says “This is necessary because future climate changes will be much larger than anything we have experienced in last hundred years or so when we have meteorological observations. But there is abundant geologic evidence for large climate changes in the past that can be used to see whether the models are working”.

The paper shows that climate models capture the large-scale patterns of temperature change, including the fact that warming over land is more than twice as much as over the ocean and that the biggest warming will occur in high latitudes. They also reproduced the observed global relationship between precipitation changes and temperature as temperature increases.

However, the paper shows that the models do not capture the scale of regional climate changes. The models predict an increase in monsoon rainfall both in the future projections and in the mid-Holocene, 6000 years ago, in response to enhanced land-sea temperature contrast. Abundant evidence shows that the Sahara desert was vegetated and supported abundant wildlife during the mid-Holocene, but models underestimate the observed change in precipitation in northern Africa by at least 50%.

Modelled changes can also be opposite to what actually occurred.  Models predict drying in the mid-continents in both the future and the mid-Holocene. The mid-Holocene predictions for central Eurasia are wrong – palaeoenvironmental data show that this region was in fact wetter and cooler than today – and this raises serious concerns about the future projections for the region.

Our evaluations give us confidence that the general trajectory of modelled global warming is correct and that means that model estimates of what we need to do to limit global warming, say to less than two degrees, are likely to be realistic – which is very good news indeed. However, many government agencies want to use the projections for planning purposes at a local scale and here I think we have to exercise considerable caution about what the models say”.

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