water@leeds blog

An interdisciplinary approach to tackling major water issues


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Upland Hydrology Group at the CLA Game Fair!

Post by Viki Hirst, Upland Hydrology Group/water@leeds

All the planning paid off! We had a great weekend at the CLA’s Game Fair last weekend (31st July-2nd August 2015) at Harewood House.

Game Fair (Viki Hirst)

The Upland Hydrology Group stand

The Upland Hydrology Group wanted a stall at this year’s game fair to engage with landowners, farmers, gamekeepers and the general public to raise awareness of the importance of our uplands and the careful management needed to achieve the many benefits they provide us.

Game Fair (Viki Hirst)

Inside the Upland Hydrology Group stand

Over the three days we estimate we had over 500 visitors, interested in talking about management of the uplands. The rewards of beer, Allendale’s Old Sphagnum, for completing the quiz went down well as did our displays, which included a 1m core of peat dating back to AD800.

Game Fair (Viki Hirst)

One of the displays on the stand

We had different species of Sphagnum moss and a turf of heather on display, along with upland plants and Beadamoss (http://www.beadamoss.co.uk/page8.html) used in restoration projects kindly supplied by Micro Propagation Services (http://micropropagation-services.co.uk/page2.html). Also invertebrates from peatland pools included impressive dragon-fly larvae.

Quotes from visitors over the weekend :-
• When eyeing up the heather turf one small girl, probably aged around 4 said “ is that heather”, “yes” I replied. “ooh good, have you got a lighter so I can set fire to it?”…………..!
• Another happy customer told us we had the best and most informative stand on the whole show, with the loveliest of people. (She had just spent the last hour looking at guns with her husband……).

The stall was expertly manned by our members from the Environment Agency, Moors For the Future, University of Leeds, Countryside Training, and North Pennine Moors AONB – all of whom have gained many contacts.

Now we need to plan for our conference in January! So watch this space…

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Parasite turns shrimp into voracious cannibals

Interview and article by Chris Bunting, Senior Press Officer, University of Leeds

Parasites can play an important role in driving cannibalism among freshwater shrimp, according to a new study involving researchers from the University of Leeds, Queen’s University Belfast and Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

The study found that the parasite, Pleistophora mulleri, not only significantly increased cannibalism among the indigenous shrimp Gammarus duebeni celticus but made infected shrimp more voracious, taking much less time to consume their victims.

Dr Alison Dunn, Reader in Evolutionary Biology in the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: “Cannibalism is actually fairly common in nature. Our work is the first study to ask if cannibalism is affected by being parasitised.”

The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, reports that although consumption of juveniles by adults is a normal feature of the shrimp’s feeding patterns, shrimp infected with the parasite ate twice as much of their own kind as uninfected animals.

They attacked juvenile shrimp more often and consumed them more quickly than did uninfected shrimp.

Mandy Bunke, a PhD student at the University of Leeds who was the key researcher on the study, said: “Although the parasite is tiny—similar in size to a human red blood cell—there are millions of them in the host muscle and they all rely on the host for food. This increased demand for food by the parasites may drive the host to be more cannibalistic.”

Dr Dunn added: “The parasite is quite debilitating. It takes over huge areas of the muscle, so instead of a nice transparent shrimp you get quite a chalky appearance because of muscles packed with the parasite. Interestingly, our group has also found previously that infected shrimp may be able to catch and eat less prey of other animal species. Perhaps cannibalism of smaller shrimp is the only way these sick animals can survive.”

gammarus pair (Alison Dunn)

gammarus pair (Alison Dunn)

The latest study also found that uninfected adult shrimp were less likely to cannibalize infected juvenile shrimp than uninfected juveniles.

The study is important to understanding the extent of parasites’ influence on biological systems. The Gammarus duebeni celticus, the subject of the study, is being replaced in Irish waterways by the invasive species Gammarus pulex, which is native to Great Britain. The Open Science study suggests that the parasite Pleistophora mulleri may be playing a role in weakening Gammarus duebeni’s resistance.

Gammarus duebeni pair  (Rob Weedall)

Gammarus duebeni pair (Rob Weedall)

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

The full paper: Mandy Bunke et al., ‘Eaten alive: cannibalism enhanced by parasites,’ is published in Royal Society Open Science (2015) and is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.140369 (DOI: 10.1098/rsos.140369 ).


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Traditional water sources in Dhofar

The Arabian Desert is one of the most arid areas of land on Earth, a place in which Bedouins have experienced tremendous hardship in accessing water, particularly in the pre-oil era. In this short blog, I will shed some light on the Bedouin lifestyle in Dhofar and how they have coped with water shortage. The work draws on data collected during a three-year project to document the endangered Modern South Arabian Languages spoken in Oman and Yemen. The project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and hosted at the University of Leeds. Further information about the project can be found under: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/info/125219/modern_south_arabian_languages/ 

The amount of water available in the desert has never been sufficient to meet the demands of Bedouins. The Bedouin describe water in terms of two types: water fed by groundwater source and water fed by rain. The former type is a permanent source and the latter is temporary. However, desert dwellers cannot spend the whole year in the vicinity of groundwater sources as they sometimes have to migrate from one place to another in search of better grazing areas as rearing animals is imperative for Bedouin life.

In the Najd of Dhofar, the wadis of Andur and Habrut are the arteries of life in the steppe, as described by Bertram Thomas in Arabia Felix. Andur lies behind Jabel Samhan (approximately north of Mirbat) while Habrut lies in the western mountainous area of Dhofar. These permanent water-holes are surrounded by natural oasis palms and continue to be used for tribal meetings held between sheikhs and tribesmen when required. The two water-holes provide abundant water, food (palm dates) and shade.
The Bedouin move with their herds within the desert in search of rainwater to be found in water-pools (in Mehri maḥlīḳ) and puddles (in Mehri śtrīr). Rain provides them with the opportunity to return to the desert. Drought and the fear of being attacked by raiders compelled them to resort to mountain water sources despite their fondness for the desert. In the desert, rain clouds and lightning are the Bedouins’ compass. They usually dispatch scouting men ahead to check if the rainfall has been adequate for grazing and water.

The pressing need for water forced Bedouin ancestors to invent techniques for the purposes of collecting and prospecting for water. Water would be carried in waterskins made from the complete hide of a goat (in Mehri nīd), shown here.

Goat-leather waterskin

Goat-leather waterskin

Prospecting for water involves the creation of waterscrapes (in Mehri maḥsāt) which were widely used by Najd inhabitants in the desert. To determine whether a place had sufficient water to warrant digging, they would lift a heavy stone and drop it down on the ground and listen for an underground echo that might gauge the depth of groundwater. If water was deemed to be present, a waterscrape would then be dug with simple digging tools whilst milk bowls (in Mehri ḳālīw) were used as shovels. The depth of waterscrape holes could be as much as the height of a man and required the use of milk bowls and goatskin water bags to draw the water up for use.

Waterscrape being covered to prevent livestock falling in

Waterscrape being covered to prevent livestock falling in

Traditional milk bowl

Traditional milk bowl

These approaches to water discovery and collection have changed in the post-oil era sodocumenting and disseminating traditional techniques and traditional views of water to present to future generations is extremely important, and in this project we hope to be able to produce audio and audio-visual documentation of many such practices.

Author: Saeed al-Mahri, School of Languages
Photos by Janet C.E. Watson and Domenyk Eades


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University Academic Fellowships at the University of Leeds

Are you one of the 250 Great Minds we are looking for?250 Great Minds

The University of Leeds is seeking to recruit up to 250 exceptional early career academics to tenure track equivalent Academic Fellowships over the next three years. There are 250 in total all with a closing date of 16th November 2014.

We are delighted to announce that 7 of these exciting opportunities fall into the theme of water!

The world’s most pressing water issues demand innovative water research, management and policy. The University of Leeds is rising to the challenge through water@leeds, the largest interdisciplinary water research centre of its kind in the world.

Examining the impact of growing global populations, increased water consumption, and shifting climate, rainfall and land use patterns, water@leeds has an internationally recognised track record of knowledge transfer and collaborative research and development. With high-profile and well-established partnerships with charities, industry and government, it delivers world-class intelligence and is inspiring industry and commerce to be more innovative in tackling these global water challenges.

University Academic Fellow in Aquatic Ecology

Water is increasing in value and declining in availability across much of the world, while hydrological processes are undergoing rapid change under a fluctuating climate.  Central to the increased efficiency of exploitation and preservation of the world’s freshwater is an understanding of the abiotic and biotic processes that underlie water-related ecosystem services. A new Aquatic Ecology Research Group (AERG) has formed as part of water@leeds, with a core of internationally excellent ecologists from the Schools of Biology, Geography and the Faculty of Engineering.  AERG’s 5 year aim is to be recognised as one of the strongest aquatic ecology groups in Europe. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

University Academic Fellow in Biogeochemical Modelling

The Palaeo@Leeds and Cohen Geochemistry research groups are both peaks of excellence within the School of Earth and Environment (SEE) with successful track records of both 4 star output and winning grant income.  You will build on these key areas of strength with your expertise in biogeochemical modelling.  You will bridge the divide between laboratory-based and numerical modelling-based science and will provide rigorous quantified deep-time scenario testing, and a link between our modelling efforts in recent time periods with those in much more ancient geological Epochs. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

University Academic Fellow in Environmental and/or Medical Humanities

The growth fields of medical and environmental humanities are ones in which the School and Faculty are developing significant reputations. Both areas have seen major successes in grant capture through HERA, AHRC and WUN initiatives in recent years, involving colleagues from across the School working in different historical periods and drawing on cross-Faculty and Interdisciplinary work in the Leeds Environmental Humanities Initiative, the Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies and the Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities. The School aims to build on these successes by appointing a Fellow working in or across these two subject areas. Read more here on the water@leeds website. 

lab image

University Academic Fellow in Freshwater Ecology

The School of Geography and water@leeds have expertise in land management, soils, hydrology, freshwater quality, water treatment processes and human use of water.  A new Aquatic Ecology Research Group (AERG) has formed as part of water@leeds, with a core of internationally excellent invertebrate, parasite and algal ecologists from the Schools of Geography, Biology and the Faculty of Engineering.  AERG’s 5 year aim is to be recognised as one of the strongest aquatic ecology groups in Europe.  We seek to build further capacity in this area by appointing a Fellow who can bring complementary high-quality expertise in freshwater ecology. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

University Academic Fellow in the History of Health, Family and the Everyday

You will be an outstanding participant in the lively research area of the social and cultural history of health, making a distinctive contribution to knowledge by shedding light on how personal experiences have changed over time; and engaging with, and contributing to, important current debates on historical methodologies and scales of historical analysis. You will work to strengthen existing internal and external collaborations on perceptions and experiences of health, illness and the family in the past, and into the present day, in order to develop a new impact case study in collaboration with other members of the School of History’s Health, Medicine and Society research group. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

University Academic Fellow in Public Health

As a UAF in Public Health Engineering you will bring expertise in measuring health outcomes and/or economic impacts of engineering measures that are designed to improve public health. You will embed this expertise within the School and you will develop collaborations with researchers at Leeds and other institutes to link the technical engineering perspective with other relevant disciplines. You will lead the development of research studies that bring together technical and economic and/or health impact analysis, with a focus on infrastructure-based interventions. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

University Academic Fellow in Water-Related Hazards

Water-related risks from natural hazards such as flooding, debris/mud flows, landslides, etc. pose increasing threats due to urbanisation, economic growth and climate change. Long-term and short-term impacts on well-being and economic growth pose a global and local threat and the risk is inter-related due to any increasing globalised economy and society. The responses available to individuals, communities, businesses and government agencies are diverse: physical protection, natural processes, behaviour change, stakeholder engagement, emergency & spatial planning, insurance. Read more here on the water@leeds website.


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Summer studentship reveals potential for solar cooking

By John Marsham (water@leeds Research Fellow) and the research team

A recent studentship project used meteorological data to assess the potential for use of solar cookers in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa. Whilst this research might not seem to have any water associations, it assesses direct sunlight which is affected by cloud cover. And clouds are water after all!

Using solar cookers in Chad. Photo: Derk Rijks

Using solar cookers in Chad. Photo: Derk Rijks

According to recent estimates, there are more than 140,000 users of solar cookers in the refugee camps of Chad and the low-cost, low-tech and easy to manufacture cookers have the potential to help many of the world’s poorest communities, but their successful operation is dependent on sufficient direct surface insolation. Although ground-based measurements of direct sunshine with a better than hourly time resolution do exist, the network over North and West Africa is very sparse. This project made use of multi-year satellite observations of airborne dust and cloud to derive a spatially complete climatology of conditions suitable for solar cooking in North and West Africa. This climatology will inform future distribution of the technology across the region. Results from the study will be appearing soon in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society .

The work was a Leeds Climate and Geohazard Services (CGS) project, led by researchers at the University of Leeds, working in collaboration with colleagues at Imperial College London and Agrometeorological Applications Associates/TchadSolaire (AAA/TS). This text has previously been published on the Africa College website.


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Obituary – Sani Haruna Abdullahi

By Barbara Evans, Miller Camargo-Valero, Andy Sleigh (School of Civil Engineering)

Sani Haruna Abdullahi, who has died, aged 52, will be remembered in this University and beyond as a student with boundless enthusiasm and a passion for solving the development challenges of his country, Nigeria.

Sani Haruna Abdullahi

Sani Haruna Abdullahi

Sani arrived in Leeds in 2012 and it was immediately clear that he was an exceptional person.  His commitment to development was evident from the earliest stages of his career; as a twenty-year old he served with the National Youth Service Corps of Nigeria at a government technical secondary school and this was followed by stints in the Ministry of Education (1984-88), the Jigawa State Transport Authority (1991-95) and the Jigawa Alternative Energy Fund (2001-6 and 2009). In between he gained experience with the private sector and was a lecturer in the State Polytechnic.  He also served as Caretaker Chairman of Kasuare Loval Government from 2007-2008, a post which gave him immense responsibility for the development of a region with manifold challenges.

Sani showed a lifelong commitment to learning; studying for his BSc in Mechanical Engineering at Indiana State University and for his MEng degree, also in Mechanical Engineering, from Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria.  It is testament to his continuing quest to learn and develop that he elected to come to Leeds to study for his PhD at the age of 49.

As a student Sani was an absolute pleasure to work with;  faced with new ideas and new challenges he always set off to find out more, to develop his thinking and to find new ways of solving problems.  From the first day, when it became evident that he had never had access to internet-based literature searching techniques, to the last, when he was still honing his field-research methods, he challenged himself to learn more, to do more and to complete more.  His PhD studies were inspired by the desire to find out why so many water supply systems in northern Nigeria fail.  Rapidly he came to see that this was more than a technical problem of pump design. He embarked on a process of examining what institutional and social factors can promote or hinder long-term success for rural water supply in remote African communities.  He studied hard and learned how to design and deliver mixed-method qualitative and quantitative research in the field, and he set out to forge relationships with government and external support agencies in Jigawa and Kano that would have enabled him to enhance our understanding of what really constitutes effective ’community-managed’ water supply.

Sani was killed in a road-traffic accident on his way home from carrying out fieldwork in one of his study communities.  He was nearing the end of his fieldwork period and it is certain that he already had a wealth of information and ideas ready to be shared.  What is also certain is that he was on his way home to his family; ever his focus.  He leaves behind his children, and his deceased brother’s children for whom he had taken on responsibility, and a family who will be forever bereft of their Husband, Father, Brother and Son.

Sani Haruna Abdullahi was an exceptional man and an excellent student.  In his honour we will continue to seek answers to his questions, and remember that he never stopped trying to solve his country’s problems.  He always addressed his emails to ‘My Dear Supervisors’ but in his memory we will dedicate our future work to ‘Our Dear Student’.


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Opportunities in water – here at Leeds

water@leeds currently has two opportunities advertised – both with closing dates next week – which would allow successful candidates to come and work with us. They are very different posts but also very exciting, so read on if you’re interested in water research….

The Cheney Fellowships (http://tinyurl.com/nezazpg) will allow successful candidates to come to water@leeds and work with our large and diverse team on any area of water research that interests them. They are open to academics and non-academics alike and are best viewed as a sabbatical – a time to step away from the day job and become immersed in research for up to 12 months. The timings of the sabbatical and duration are very flexible so can be built around current employment commitments. And once the sabbatical is over and the Fellows have returned to their day job, the aim is to keep collaborating and developing research.

Let your ideas fly...

Let your ideas fly…

The research topics for the Cheney Fellowships are also very flexible. Fellowships are offered in three broad areas – food and medical technologies as well as water – but are not restricted by discipline (at least for water!) provided there is at least one University of Leeds academic who could collaborate with a successful candidate. Please visit the website for more information but please note that the closing date for applications is 30th April 2014.

The second opportunity we’re advertising is a more traditional academic post – Lecturer / Associate Professor in Environmental / Ecological Economics (http://tinyurl.com/nx7znwl).  We are looking for an enthusiastic and self-motivated environmental economist with a focus on water-related research to develop and enhance links across water@leeds and to key stakeholders. Expertise in ecosystem service valuation, cost-benefit analysis and quantitative methods are particularly welcome. The closing date is 1st May 2014.

How can we better value water?

How can we better value water?

A third opportunity will be announced shortly – so please watch this space. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the Cheney Fellowships or the water@leeds Lectureship in Environmental or Ecological Economics, please contact water@leeds (water@leeds.ac.uk). We’d also like to hear from you if you have research ideas, funded or not, relevant to water!