Environment

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By Dr Claire Ryder, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading

Some of the headlines about Monday’s orange sky

Monday’s red sun and the yellowy-orange sky produced an eerie atmosphere, and some beautiful photos, but what was the cause?

We’re used to seeing red skies at sunset, or even at dawn if we’re up early enough, but a red sun throughout the day is an extremely unusual event over the UK. A few unusual events combined this week to give us a blood-red sun for much of the day.

Firstly, we were under the effect of southerly air flow, associated with ex-hurricane Ophelia. While the centre of the storm was out to the west, central and southern England had relatively cloud-free skies allowing the sun to be seen.

Secondly, this southerly airflow brought both Saharan dust, whipped up by strong winds over desert surfaces, and smoke particles from wildfires over Portugal and Spain, lofted to high altitudes and transported our way. The combination of these two types of particles in the atmosphere then led to the red sun and orange skies.

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By Professor Paul D. Williams and Luke N. Storer, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading

The study makes turbulence projections for multiple global regions

Our new study calculating that climate change will strengthen aviation turbulence has caused a stir on social media. Most of the online comments about the article have been positive – albeit expressing a little anxiety at the prospect of experiencing double the amount of severe turbulence later this century.

The new paper, as well as our previous study on this topic in Nature Climate Change, was peer-reviewed by international experts in aviation turbulence and found to be scientifically correct. However, as is commonplace in the public discussion about climate science today – at a time when opinions seem to count more than evidence and facts – a small number of non-expert commentators have misunderstood the scientific details and attempted to discredit the findings.

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Kate Green, Partnerships Manager, Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health (IFNH)

One of the farms managed by the University’s Centre for Dairy Research

The shocking fact that 1 in 4 adults in the UK are obese is quite something. This figure has trebled in the last 30 years and is expected to increase to an astounding 1 in 2 by 2050. Do we, as a nation, know what we’re eating when it comes to fat?

This was the question posed by ITV’s Tonight programme (Fat: The Healthy Option?) which asked us to consider what we know about fat and to question the widely held belief that fat is a key opponent in our struggle against weight gain and the health risks that come with this. Professor Ian Givens kicked off the show by challenging the belief that dairy consumption makes you fat, as the evidence from innovative research undertaken by the University of Reading suggests that this is not in fact the case and that in some cases diary consumption can actually enhance weight loss.

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By Professor Donal O’Sullivan, Professor of Crop Science in the School of Agriculture, University of Reading

Unfavourable weather patterns and their impact on crop production have again been a major talking point in farming circles. Bizarrely, whilst the total amount of rainfall in 2017 to date is very close to the historic average, it has been distributed in a very unhelpful way (as data from the University’s Meteorology Department weather station helpfully plotted out in an up-to-the-minute annual graph shows).

Weather data from the University of Reading shows the drought in April and summer deluge

First and foremost, there was almost no meaningful rainfall for a six-week period spanning the calendar month of April, when crops were going through their most rapid phase of growth. But to compound matters, there was an unusual deluge in the second half of July, when dry conditions would have been more conducive to straightforward ripening and harvest.

Assessing the impact of this latest extreme weather episode was the subject of a BBC South Today news piece I contributed to on Tuesday evening. The research team I am leading in the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development may have some answers. We designed a large field experiment designed both to quantify yield losses due to drought and to detect varieties with drought-beating characteristics.

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By Dr Martin Lukac, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading

Europe’s forests make a very important contribution to current efforts to decrease EU carbon emissions, as it seeks to satisfy its commitments to the Paris agreement.

Under a new proposal, all carbon lost from forests as a result of harvesting will count towards overall emissions. Some of the most forested EU countries argue that forest harvesting operations should not be included, because the total amount of carbon stored in forests will not change much.

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By Dr Rob Thompson, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading

Whitley Wood Lane, South Reading, during heavy rain on 18 July 2017

Last night Reading experienced an immense thunderstorm, like something I’d previously only experienced in the tropics.

Driving conditions were horrendous, with incredibly reduced visibility and water simply unable to clear the roads quickly enough – I had the misfortune to be out in it.

To me, the rain was the impressive thing, but then my research is on rain, so I’m very aware of it. But to others the real experience was the lightning. There was a lot of lightning, both sheet and fork lightning. More than 100,000 strikes over the UK, you can see the strikes on the map below.

But, as I’ve said, the really impressive thing for me was the rain rate, and how sustained it was. Very high rainfall rates are not that uncommon, but lasting more than a few minutes is very unusual.

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A project to explore how growing more trees on farmland could regulate the climate is one of those that was secured during May.

A total of £2,173,327 was confirmed during the month, with funds awarded by research councils, businesses, government departments and agencies, charities, and learned societies. The awards will be distributed across 20 new research projects.

Professor Steve Mithen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, said: “Once again, well done to everyone who has been involved in securing this latest batch of research awards.

“The list of funders this month highlights how our researchers are engaging with a diverse range of organisations outside academia, including in business and policy areas.”

Among those winning funding are:

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More than £2 million of new funding was confirmed for University of Reading research during April.

A total of 19 research projects received awards ranging in size from less than £1,000 up to nearly £500,000. The total value is £2,033,172.

Professor Steve Mithen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, said: “Congratulations to all those who have been awarded research funds.

“I am pleased that we are attracting funding for both applied and pure research. It is vital that we continue both to research topics that show immediate benefits to society, as well as projects aiming more generally to advance our understanding.”

Funders during the month include UK research councils and trusts, charities, and international government agencies in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Among those winning grants are:

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By Phil Newton, Research Dean for Environment, University of Reading

Science is a global business. Very few truly great advances in science happen these days without some level of international collaboration. A quick look at the list of recent Nobel Laureates for Physics tells that story.

But the organisation of science, like many other things, is influenced by politics. Which is how we should view the offer of French President Emmanuel Macron to recruit foreign climate scientists to French institutions.

Macron is riding the wave of populist politics that also helped sweep Donald Trump to victory in the United States. But Macron’s popularity is based on very different foundations to Trump’s. He has wasted little time in opposing the US administration’s policy on pulling America out of the Paris climate change agreement.

What’s really going on here?

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By Stephen Burt, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading

There is much febrile comment in the media concerning the current heatwave. A common statement is ‘this is the greatest heatwave since the hot summer of 1976’.

Always a shame to spoil a good story with the truth, but that’s simply not true, and by a long way.

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