Researchers widen response to the world's environmental problems

Posted by pt91 at May 12, 2011 11:00 AM |
Search steps-up for practical solutions to real-world problems
Researchers widen response to the world's environmental problems

Leicester scientists are combining their expertise to examine the world's changing environments.

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 12 May 2011

Launch event Thursday June 2, 1pm-5.30pm at University of Leicester: Poster and Schedule

University researchers are devising practical ways for people to change their lives in response to environmental change and natural catastrophes such as the floods in Pakistan and Australia, and rapid environmental change events such as volcanic eruptions, landslides and tsunamis.

A new centre, Adapting to Changing Environments, at the University of Leicester will form the nucleus for academics in a range of subjects to develop practical technologies and policy initiatives that aim to make a real impact on people’s lives. The philosophical focus of the centre is to encourage multi- and inter-disciplinary research in an attempt to understand, monitor and model complex systems and issues. Then generate innovative, practical solutions to assist adaptation in a world of changing environments and climates, increasing population, and resource competition.

The centre’s Director Mike Petterson, Professor of Applied and Environmental Geology at Leicester, expects the impact of the research will reach far beyond producing rigorous academic papers. “This sort of research has got to go way beyond that. It’s got to make a difference in the real world, affecting policy, the way we do things, and assisting industry and the knowledge economy. Decision makers increasingly are looking to researchers for practical solutions. For example new technologies developed at the University of Leicester are assisting cities in monitoring air pollution on a real-time basis and using these data to assist with traffic flow management and carbon footprint estimates. Other research focuses upon ‘greening cities’ in the UK in an effort to adapt to warming temperatures and increasing droughts.

“Recent widespread UK national forest fires and depleted reservoir levels may be a sign of new challenges countries face with the more frequent occurrence of extreme weather events. Researchers at the University of Leicester have developed experience in forest fires in Africa, their causes, impacts and footprints, which may be applicable to different environmental settings. Holistic and multi-disciplinary studies of natural hazards and community resilience in the South West Pacific are assisting policy and decision makers and local communities with respect to living with vulnerable environments and reducing risk and danger to life and property.

“Current thinking with respect to generating improved resilience (ability to prepare, respond and adapt to imminent threats and risks) suggests that science still has a long way to go with respect to being embedded within policy, community awareness and risk reduction. This Centre will attempt to generate world class science and social science, and bring together teams with diverse but complementary skills across a range of disciplines that have the potential to break new ground and stimulate novel ways of thinking.”

To provide a ‘critical mass’ of core expertise the Adapting to Changing Environments centre, within the University of Leicester’s College of Science and Engineering, will benefit from having three ‘New Blood’ lecturers. The University’s New Blood Lectureships are aimed at individuals with outstanding research potential, these individuals receive reduced teaching loads, guaranteed study leave and start-up funding for travel.

The three New Blood researchers for the centre are:

  • Dr Michael Barkley: with particular expertise in rainforests and their interactions with the atmosphere
  • Dr Claire Smith: with a focus on adapting the urban environment to climate change
  • Dr Roland Leigh: concentrating on developing technologies for measuring a range of changing environmental indicators

A key feature of the new centre is that it will draw on the expertise of academics from various fields in a flexible way, building teams as required. The rationale is that many of the greatest advances in science occur when teams of scientists work together in new and unconventional ways across traditional discipline boundaries.

“We are trying to develop a platform that brings in engineers, natural scientists, mathematicians – and also, because it affects people, we need social scientists, economists and so on,” Professor Petterson said. The Adapting to Changing Environments centre will hold a launch event on Thursday, 2 June. Please visit the centre’s website to view the list of speakers, schedule details, and booking information.

For more information, please contact:

Professor Mike Petterson

Tel: +44 (0) 116 252 3611 (Direct)

Tel: +44 (0) 116 252 3921 (Secretary)


Ather Mirza

Press Office

University of Leicester

Tel: 0116 252 3335


Notes to editors

The centre has three newly appointed staff. The Head of Leicester’s College of Science and Engineering, Professor Martin Barstow, and three other senior professors, will meet occasionally as a steering or management group as required.

More on the centre's three newly appointed New Blood Lecturers:

Dr Michael Barkley returns to Leicester - where he studied for his PhD - from the University of Edinburgh . CASIX: Centre for observations of Air-Sea Interactions and fluXes (NERC) is one of his current projects. His focus is on the global mapping of trace gas carbon species from space, to quantify the interactions between the biosphere and the atmosphere and to understand how these affect air quality and climate. His major focus in the next few years will be to investigate how biogenic emissions from tropical vegetation (primarily the Amazon Basin ) affect global atmospheric chemistry. He wants to develop ways to map air quality over tropical South America from space, using satellite trace gas and aerosol data and high resolution modelling of the way chemicals move in the atmosphere.

Dr Claire Smith was previously at the University of Manchester , where she was a lecturer in Geographical Information Science and prior to that a post doc on the EPSRC-funded SCORCHIO project (see: ). Her particular interests are the adaptation of urban environments to extreme climate events (floods, heat waves, storm events, etc). She also works with relevant stakeholders and policy makers and has been involved in developing GIS-based decision support tools to communicate the science of climate change and to allow users to evaluate adaptation options.

Dr Roland Leigh is an internal promotion: he was previously a research fellow in visible remote sensing at Leicester . He leads the CityScan “Pollution Radar” technology development project - an air quality measuring device ( ) and will have a particular emphasis on strengthening links with regulatory agencies and industrial partners in the areas of urban emission measurement and management. ITRAQ - a system for integrated traffic and air quality management in urban environments. (ESA Integrated Application Programme, with Leicester City Council, Astrium and De Montfort University) He will also remain a NERC Knowledge Exchange fellow and an associate member of the Enterprise and Business Development team, supporting the exploitation of scientific advances within NERC-funded research across the university to benefit society and the economy. His  research interests will be pursued within the wider context of climate change adaptation commencing with novel instruments, data products and information services from the various fields of earth observation.

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