Environment

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Are you an Open Researcher? Do you support or promote Open Research? Did the conference convert you? If you’ve got an Open Research story to tell and would like to write a post for our blog, please drop me a line. We would love to hear your stories.

On 30th March we hosted the conference Open in Practice: Inspirations, Strategies and Methods for Open Research here at the University of Reading. Our aim was to stimulate conversation about Open Research, to showcase the benefits of an Open Research approach, and to enthuse researchers to adopt open methods in their own research practice.

The conference featured a number of guest speakers, including academics, publishers and data specialists, who came to talk about their experience of Open Research and what it means in practice. The audience included a broad representation of University researchers and research students, members of the University’s research support services, and academics from beyond Reading. Altogether 90 people, over two-thirds of them research-active, attended the conference, and took part in a day of stimulating discussions.

Slides from speakers’ presentations and a record of the concluding panel discussion can be found here, and you can relive all the drama of the day at our Storify timeline. In short video clips Marcus Munafo and Simon Tanner summarise the key messages of their plenary talks, and several of our delegates tell us about their Open Resolutions.

Why a conference on Open Research?

This is the first time the University has organised an event of this nature. Why did we do it? For two reasons.

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An important new skills gap survey highlighting the urgent need for in-career training in state-of-the-art data analytics was presented at this week’s European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly in Austria on Thursday [April 27].

The key findings are:

  • 53% of respondents said the research habit that needed most improvement was reluctance to share data or models.
  • 52% identified the most vital skill for global change research as data processing and analysis.
  • 42% said the digital skills needing most improvement were computational and numerical analysis.
  • The biggest data challenge was data complexity and the lack of data standards and exchange standards.

The survey was commissioned by the Belmont Forum, a highly influential global group of science funders dedicated to speeding up high quality environmental research around the world.

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Three University of Reading scientists in the Department of Meteorology have been honoured with awards and prizes from the Royal Meteorological Society.

The awards, which will be presented on 17th May, celebrate excellence in meteorology are well regarded among weather and climate scientists across the world.

The prizewinners from Reading are

  • The Buchan Prize has been won by Professor Suzanne Gray
  • The Climate Science Communications Award goes to Dr Ed Hawkins
  • The Quarterly Journal Prize will be awarded to Prof Anthony Illingworth

Professor Dame Julia Slingo, and Professor Stephen Belcher – the former and current Chief Scientist of the Met Office respectively, both of whom previously worked full time at the Department of Meteorology,  are also honoured in the awards.

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By Professor Hannah Cloke, hydrologist, Water@Reading

If you knew there was a strong chance that your local river was about to burst its banks and sweep away your house, you’d get yourself, and your family, out of harm’s way.

Yet tragically, despite major advances in flood forecasting, hundreds of people every year still die in floods. Either warnings are not getting through, or people and authorities are failing to take appropriate action.

Severe flooding brought on by a strong coastal El Nino has left more than 90 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless in Northern Peru [photo: Maria-Helena Ramos]

This month has again seen severe flooding in many parts of the world, including Peru and Australia, leading to loss of life and destruction of homes and livelihoods.

We will never be able to stop such awful floods. But there are some vital steps that we can take to reduce the risk from these events and to save lives.

In recent years we have been taking great strides in our capability to provide early flood warnings, so that people can prepare for upcoming floods – often before it even starts to rain.

The Water@Reading research group at the University of Reading works alongside flood forecasters to develop better forecasts and warnings, such as those of the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) and the Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS), part of the EU’s Copernicus Emergency Management Service.

But how do we know if we’re doing a good job? How can we convince people that the warnings are accurate, and worth acting on?

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By Dr Manabu Sakamoto, palaeontologist, University of Reading

Think of a palaeontologist. What comes to mind? You might be thinking of Sam Neill in the film ‘Jurassic Park’, Ross from the sitcom ‘Friends’, or some white-gloved employee of the Natural History Museum.

Now think of them ‘doing’ palaeontology. You will probably imagine them digging up fossilized bones, extracting ancient DNA from amber, or piecing together a skeleton like some kind of Jurassic jigsaw.

What about doing maths, or poring over a spreadsheet? Probably not. Yet some of the most exciting dinosaur discoveries in our field come not from fieldwork, but from detailed analysis and reanalysis of the data.

Why is that? Well, understanding how and why biodiversity waxes and wanes through Earth history over hundreds of millions of years is a fundamental goal of paleontology and evolutionary biology alike.

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Dinosaurs, chickens and the Russian revolution were among the topics that won University of Reading academics prizes for their research last week.

The prize winners with Prof Steve Mithen, Lord Waldegrave, and Sir David Bell

The five academics, one from each research theme, were honoured with a Research Output Prize for Early Career Researchers at University Court, the showcase annual event for the University community, on 20 March.

Professor Steve Mithen, Deputy Vice Chancellor, said: “Congratulations to all five winners. They were selected by peer-review from a strong field of outputs by our Early Career Researchers in each of our five research themes.

“Whether having produced single or multi-authored works, the success of these award winners represents not only their own outstanding achievement , but the support and hard work of many more people at the University and further afield.”

The winners from each theme were:

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By Rebecca Emerton, Water@Reading research group

When an El Niño is declared, or even forecast, we think back to memorable past El Niños (such as 1997/98), and begin to ask whether we will see the same impacts. Will California receive a lot of rainfall? Will we see droughts in tropical Asia and Australia? Will Peru experience the same devastating floods as in 1997/98, and 1982/83?

El Niño and La Niña, which see changes in the ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific, are well known to affect weather, and indeed river flow and flooding, around the globe. But how well can we estimate the potential impacts of El Niño and La Niña, and how likely flooding is to occur?

This question is what some of us in the Water@Reading research group at the University of Reading have been looking to answer in our recent publication in Nature Communications.

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University of Reading coat of arms

Researchers at the University of Reading secured more than £3.3 million in research grants and awards in January.

A total of 25 research projects were confirmed in the first month of 2017, with a total value of £3,329,759 – an average of more than £130,000 per project.

Steve Mithen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for research, said: “Another strong month for research grants shows that funders share our belief that Reading researchers are among the best in the world.

“Congratulations to everyone who is beginning work on new research projects. I look forward to hearing more about their work, and seeing how their research changes people’s lives for the better.”

Among those winning funding in January were…

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By Hannah Parker, Walker Institute, University of Reading

During the wet season of 2012 heavy rainfall across West Africa led to flooding with devastating impacts. More than 3 million people were affected, with hundreds of thousands made homeless (Figure 1). When extreme events such as this occur, it is important to question whether climate change had a role to play. At the Walker Institute we have investigated the impact of climate change on this event, by assessing whether the probability of such high precipitation in the 2012 rainy season was affected by anthropogenic emissions.

Impacts of heavy rainfall-induced flooding across West Africa in 2012

Observations show that there was anomalously high rainfall across much of West Africa during the 2012 rainy season. To look at changes in the probability of such high precipitation, we used hundreds of climate model simulations of the year 2012. By comparing simulations with and without anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, we were able to assess whether the probability of the event had been changed.

We found that the probability of such high precipitation in West Africa had been decreased by climate change. This was the case under both general climate conditions (using simulations with the atmosphere coupled to the ocean, therefore including all climate variability), and with conditions specific to 2012 (using atmosphere-only simulations with observed sea surface temperatures (SSTs)). Using different model ensembles, the decrease in probability was found to between a factor of 0 and 16.

However we also found some disagreement between the climate model ensembles. When considering the world without anthropogenic emissions, in the atmosphere-only simulations the effect of anthropogenic emissions had to be removed from the SSTs as well as the atmosphere. We estimated the effect on SSTs using coupled climate model simulations, which showed a decrease in the probability of high precipitation in 2012. However we also used an estimate based on the observed trend in SSTs, and in this case the probability of high precipitation was shown to have been decreased by anthropogenic emissions. Further analysis showed that this discrepancy was likely due to the climate models having much greater warming trends than observations did in the Niño3.4 region in the Pacific Ocean.

Understanding how individual events such as this have been affected by climate change is relevant for policymakers to better understand climate change impacts on extremes. In particular, comparing results from different climate model ensembles is important if we are to better understand such attribution results and their uncertainties, to characterise whether or not they are robust. Few event attribution studies have done this to date, but this will be key if results are be used appropriately in climate policy to address the impacts of such events.

 

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