Research

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In the latter part of November 2015, one of the SAGES doctoral researchers, Saeed Abdul-Razak, had the immense privilege to deliver a presentation to kids of the Fulham Preparatory School in London. The presentation was on the ethical dimensions of climate change and sustainable development with over 120 students in attendance. The talk employed interactive approaches including videos (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRLJscAlk1M), pictures and questions to the audience.

Harvey Glover presents fair trade chocolates to Saaed

Harvey Glover presents fair trade chocolates to Saaed

The kids were introduced to the causes of climate change, development problems around the globe, the new 2015 -2030 sustainable development goals and the role of climate change in achieving these goals. There were case studies from Ghana on climate change mitigation (precisely REDD+) and climate change adaptation (for coastal communities) to explain the ethical implications of climate action.

 

The ethical dimensions aspect of the topic was treated in light of decision making and processes between developed and developing countries at the international level; elites/authorities and citizens at national level; and for the community level, it focused on the vulnerable such as women, children, the poor, etcetera. The presentation concluded on a positive note by encouraging the students to go green, to think globally but act locally as the earth’s resources are finite and human action/inaction are important factors that impact everyone.

Letters from kids of FPS

Letters from kids of FPS

In appreciation for the talk, the school’s current head boy, Harvey Glover, presented Saeed with a jug of fair trade chocolates. A couple of weeks after the talk, the kids wrote lovely letters appreciating the talk and Saeed’s time; some expressed their new inspiration to be green; others had follow-up questions and the remaining expressed how informative the presentation was and how they shared the new knowledge on sustainable actions with their parents, families and friends in order to ‘save the future’.

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Professor Danny Dorling

Professor Danny Dorling

Our first speaker is Professor Danny Dorling who is a social geographer well known for his popular social science texts on injustice, inequality and population. He is currently the Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford and has previously worked in Newcastle, Bristol, Leeds, Sheffield and New Zealand. With a group of colleagues he helped create the website www.worldmapper.org, which shows who has most and least in the world. Much of Danny’s work, which concerns issues of housing, health, employment, education and poverty, is available open access (see www.dannydorling.org), and his recent books include “Population Ten Billion”, “The Social Atlas of Europe” (with Dimitris Ballas and Ben Hennig), and, in 2015, “Injustice: why social inequality still persists”.

His talk – “Cohesion, sustainability, equality and education… is geography the missing link?” – is about ideas inspired by pictures, graphs and world maps. Through trying to answer the question – what is it in the differing nature of the economy of cities and regions which results in different outcomes? – he explores why social cohesion and trust is higher in Japan than in the UK and questions how we can make cities more sustainable in general.
His presentation will look at some summary statistics for 25 affluent countries and thus for the largely urbanized populations within them. The UK and Japan are very different states in that household income inequality is very low in Japan and very high in the UK. An updated version of these statistics are presented and then the relationships between economic inequality and over consumption of goods, of meat, of food in general, of water, of clothes, or air flights and of gasoline is considered.

Finally, he compares the education outcomes of countries and argues that it is hard not to conclude that, at least statistically, the UK comes out of any comparison poorly when it comes to cohesion, sustainability, regional inequalities, and city planning, and general educational ability. Japan (again as a comparator) appears similar to other more efficient and more equitable countries. However, even in Japan people consume too much and do not trust each other enough. If everyone in the world behaved like an average citizen of Tokyo we would still need two planets to live on. If they behaved like an average citizen in London we would need nearer four planets.

He will be speaking in the Sorby Room, Wager Building from 13.00-14.00 on Thursday 21 January.

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studentsBSc Environmental Science students Valentin Meneveau and Jennifer Lam present posters at the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) conference.

Jennifer’s research worked to improve the resistance and resilience of soils to extreme flooding events. She discovered that by diversifying farming practices, soils could resist disturbances to a greater extent.

Valentin’s project investigated the genetic basis for arsenic accumulation in the leaves of vegetable plants and was able to identify specific genes that allowed the vegetables to resist elevated levels of arsenic in the soil.

UROP provides exciting opportunities for undergraduates to work with staff on research projects across the University, contributing directly to the creation of knowledge, building new skills and strengthening the link between teaching and research.

The UROP scheme gives undergraduate students in the middle years of their degree* the chance to work on real research projects alongside academic researchers, contributing to the creation of knowledge. UROP placements last six weeks over the summer break and are paid- students receive a bursary of £1,320.

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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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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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Sarah Duddigan poses with tea bags-smThis week University of Reading and Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) PhD student Sarah Duddigan has been filmed for an Austrian children’s science TV programme, talking about her contribution to a decomposition rate citizen science project, known as the Tea Bag Index – UK.

The Tea Bag Index is a novel method to measure decomposition rate in soil. Decomposition (the breakdown of organic material into its smaller constituents) is an important process for the release of nutrients into soil for plants to use. Therefore gaining a better understanding of decomposition in soil will be of great value to gardeners in the UK. The method is simple, UK participants are recruited through the RHS and posted some tea bags to bury in their garden. After three months they dig them up and send them back, along with a soil sample.

Decomposition of organic matter (i.e. dead plant and animal remains) in soils is an important process in any ecosystem.

Decomposer microorganisms feed on the organic matter and break it down into its simplest components. As organic matter is decomposed, water, carbon dioxide and nutrients are released. Meaning that, any excess nutrients are released and are available for plants to use to grow.

Maintaining a healthy and vibrant garden is the aspiration of most gardeners and healthy fertile soil is a key component of this. Therefore, a better understanding of decomposition rates in garden soils will be of great value to gardeners across the UK.

While having an active microbial population decomposing organic matter is important for soil health, they are not without their problems. While organic matter is decomposing, it releases the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. A fast decay leads to more CO2 in the atmosphere and slow decay could lead to a greater proportion of carbon remaining in the soil. It is estimated that soils store a gigantic 2,300 billion tons of carbon worldwide; triple the amount than all the worlds plants. Therefore in order to gain a better understanding of global CO2 emissions from soils it is vital to know more about the rate of decomposition.

The data from the UK therefore can also be combined with data being collected across Europe (or across the world in fact) in order to gain a better understanding on the role of decomposition in global carbon emissions and the contribution to climate change.

This seems to be a contradiction, on the one hand decomposition is good for plant health, but on the other has the potential to contribute to climate change. This is why projects such as this, which aim to gain a better understanding of decomposition rates in soil, are so important.

For more information, and updates on the progress of the project, see the links below:
Website: www.teabagindexuk.wordpress.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/teabagindexuk

Twitter: www.twitter.com/TeaBagIndexUK

@TeaBagIndexUK

#TeaBagIndexUK

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BSSSdissprizeCongratulations to Rosie Everett, winner of the 2015 BSc BSSS Dissertation Prize for her project on ‘Reconstructing Late Würm Late-Glacial and Early Holocene environmental changes in the Corsican uplands and evaluating the response of human groups to climate change and vegetation succession’ supervised by Dr Nick Branch (presenting the award).

 

Rosie’s project used the sedimentary records from Lake Creno, Corsica as an archive for past environmental conditions.  She analysed the pollen stored in the sediment to reconstruct past conditions to see if there was a relationship between past climate during ate Wurm Late Glacial and Early Holocene period and human settlement on Corsica.

 

She has been putting her paleoecological skills to practice as a Forensic Researcher Intern at the James Hutton Institute, looking at rates of recovery of diatoms, taken from lake samples from pig liver tissues, as an analogue from human drowning cases.  Rosie graduated this summer with a BA in Archaelogy, and is currently working with a forensics company, assisting with field work.  Her ambition is to build on this experience and skills base to pursue post-graduate study in ecology.

 

We’re extremely proud of Rosie and all our students’ fantastic achievements this year.  Competition for the prize this year was tough with many strong entries.  We wish everyone from the Class of 2015 the best of luck with their future endeavours.

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Dr Giuseppe Feola attended the 11th International Conference of the European Society for Ecological Economics (ESEE), which was hosted by the University of Leeds on 30 June – 3 July 2015. The European Society for Ecological Economics brought together scientists across traditional disciplines, and explored solutions for the transformation to a sustainable society.

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Giuseppe made two presentations. In the first one, he reported results from a research project on institutional change and continuity of peasant communities in the Colombian Andes (project description here). This study increases our knowledge of peasant communities in this particular region, and adds to the body of scholarship that is refining our understanding of how institutions adapt and how culture changes in response to compounded climatic and economic disturbances. In the second contribution, Giuseppe presented a critical analysis of emerging concepts of societal transformation toward sustainability. This analysis provides structure to the scientific debate on transformation toward sustainability, and identifies two priorities for future research, namely to foster dialogue around the complementarities of different concepts, and to test different concepts empirically (full paper available here).

Giuseppe-FEOLA_1594_w

You can read more about Giuseppe at his staff profile.

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Image from: Cheli Cresswell ‏@chelicresswell   “Kicking off Day 2 of #BESCitSci. Today's focus: #citizenscience participants.  #citscipeople @DrHG @AlisonDyke_SEI”

Image from: Cheli Cresswell ‏@chelicresswell
“Kicking off Day 2 of #BESCitSci. Today’s focus: #citizenscience participants. #citscipeople @DrHG @AlisonDyke_SEI”

On 12th May, one of our lecturer’s Dr Hilary Geoghegan hosted a citizen science conference at the British Ecological Society in London. Working with colleagues from the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, Hilary welcomed participants for a one-day event to discuss the ‘human’ element of citizen science – specifically the volunteers, professional scientists, practitioners and policymakers that make up this ever-growing field.

The event attracted over 40 researchers and practitioners interested in the social dimensions of citizen science. A widely accepted definition of citizen science is the participation of non-professionals in professional science projects. However, more work needs to be done to reflect on participation in citizen science – a research approach that is developing at a breakneck pace. Dr Geoghegan said: “My research area of enthusiasm, namely the emotional affiliation we have towards things and activities we care about, is of significant interest to professional scientists, research councils and policymakers as they establish the ways in which they will engage with citizen science in the future. Without an understanding of why people do and do not participate, citizen science projects may fail.” You can find tweets on the subject via the hashtags #BESCitSci and #CitSciPeople

Dr Geoghegan holds an ESRC Future Research Leader award and has used the time and resources offered by the grant to examine the social aspects of tree health citizen science. She has been interested in the place of ‘citizen science’ within emerging tree health policy and the enthusiasm of scientists, policymakers, press officers, web editors and database managers for citizen science. Her next step is to interview volunteers in tree health citizen science projects to understand why they survey and monitor trees.

In 2013 Dr Geoghegan joined the Department of Geography and Environmental Science and since then she has travelled to Australia to discuss enthusiasm for trees in Melbourne and Sydney. She has also spent time building networks with colleagues in Biological Sciences on tree health. She is a founder of the UK’s Tree Health Citizen Science Network.

 

If you’re interested in this area and would like further information please contact Hilary: h.geoghegan@reading.ac.uk or follow her on Twitter: @DrHG. She also hosts a blog www.hilarygeoghegan.wordpress.com focussing on life as an academic and her research interests.

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A new book on “Biodiversity in Ecosystems – Linking Structure and Function” coedited by Dr Shovonlal Roy has just been published. All the chapters of the book can be accessed freely from the following link:

http://www.intechopen.com/books/biodiversity-in-ecosystems-linking-structure-and-function

shovondalbook

“The term biodiversity has become a mainstream concept that can be found in any newspaper at any given time. Concerns on biodiversity protection are usually linked to species protection and extinction risks for iconic species, such as whales, pandas and so on. However, conserving biodiversity has much deeper implications than preserving a few (although important) species. Biodiversity in ecosystems is tightly linked to ecosystem functions such as biomass production, organic matter decomposition, ecosystem resilience, and others. Many of these ecological processes are also directly implied in services that the humankind obtains from ecosystems. The first part of this book will introduce different concepts and theories important to understand the links between ecosystem function and ecosystem biodiversity. The second part of the book provides a wide range of different studies showcasing the evidence and practical implications of such relationships.”

You can read more about Shovonlal at his staff profile.

 

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