water@leeds blog

An interdisciplinary approach to tackling major water issues


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Latest job vacancies with water@leeds

We currently have two great opportunities to work with water@leeds.

Water@leeds Doctoral Research and Training Centre Manager

Closing date 9th October 2014

We are looking for an enthusiastic and motivated water expert to help lead and co-ordinate exciting new initiatives in water@leeds. water@leeds is already recognised as one of the largest interdisciplinary centres for water-related research, innovation, and training in the world. We seek to generate world-leading research and innovation which has major impacts on society, environment and the economy, to maximise the effectiveness of research and impact funding in the water sector by becoming the focus for interdisciplinary water research and to train new innovative, excellent and interdisciplinary water experts to work at the cutting edge of water research, management and policy.

Your primary role will be to: (i) identify and coordinate large, strategic water-focused framework and other tenders and funding applications, and (ii) establish and manage a new water@leeds Research and Doctoral Training Centre (DRTC) for water-related training, research and innovation. Both aspects of the role will involve significant engagement with external, traditional and non-traditional funding providers, research users, and working collegiately across the breadth of water@leeds. This is primarily a leadership role, however there will be opportunity for the successful candidate to supervise PhD students within the DRTC.

We expect you to have a Ph.D. and significant postdoctoral experience in a research and innovation focused environment, including successful submission of funding proposals to commercial and/or end-user bodies in a relevant water-related field or sector.

For further details and to apply please visit the University of Leeds jobs website

Lecturer / Associate Professor in Ecological Economics

Closing date 30th September 2014

We are looking for an enthusiastic and self-motivated ecological economist with relevant water-related research interests to develop and enhance links across water@leeds and to key stakeholders. You will be able to apply socio-economic analysis, valuation and/or modelling techniques to understand water and other environmental issues from an interdisciplinary perspective. You should have a PhD, research experience and publication track record relevant to the area and grade of the appointment.

We particularly welcome candidates with the ability to bridge analysis and policy, and build research with relevant business and public sector stakeholders.The Economics and Policy Research Group within the Sustainability Research Institute at Leeds has a strong track record in applying a range of economic approaches to understand energy and climate change, water and other environmental issues, as well as exploring the wider relationships between environmental limits, human well-being and the economy. The Group consists of 20 academic and research staff and over 25 PhD students. This is an opportunity to join a team that directly influences international and national policy, and bring new approaches to analyse the economy, water and environment. The team participates in a number of large interdisciplinary national research centres (CCCEP, UKERC, iBUILD, UK INDEMAND), leading to excellent opportunities for developing collaborative research.

Further details of the post and an application form can be found here on the University of Leeds website.

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‘Clean Water For All’ (CWFA) research initiative – Dr Sangaralingam Ahilan

As part of the ‘Clean Water For All’ (CWFA) research initiative, Dr Sangaralingam Ahilan  travelled to the U.S. on 3rd May for two weeks for co-location research work with U.S. academics at Portland State University (PSU) in Portland, Oregon. This post describes Sangaralingam Ahilan’s personal and research experiences of his first visit to Portland, Oregon.

Portland – The City of Roses

Portland – The City of Roses

Research Experiences

Portland is a Blue Green city in which people and nature can co-exist in the highly developed urban environment.  The city actively promotes storm water management through onsite infiltration and flow control measures to reduce storm water runoff into the street and sewer.  In most parts of Portland, separate storm sewer systems are being implemented to overcome the risk of Combined Sewer Overflows during prolonged rain storms.  This will help protect water courses from microbial pollution and greatly benefit human health, fish and wildlife habitat.

Lake

The UK team research work in Portland is mostly centred on the Johnson Creek (JC) which is one of the highly urbanised streams known for frequent flooding and does not meet water quality standards under the Federal Clean Water Act.  The Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) carries out extensive restoration work along the JC reaches to return its floodplain to natural condition in order to provide more space for river flow and storage, which will enhance flood mitigation, water quality, and fish and wildlife habitat.  Ahilan’s research is focused on the JC reach (East Lents) and JC sub watershed (Errol Heights).

Fish ladder in the Crystal spring

Fish ladder in the Crystal spring

The East Lents reach is one of the reconfigured banks of Johnson Creek and reconnects the reach to a restored floodplain on a 70-acre site with native forest.  The Errol Heights sub watershed is mostly with unimproved streets, this causes substantial erosion and sediment yield from the unimproved street network into the urban drainage, resulting in blockages.  The objective of this study is to integrate flood and sediment dynamics of these sites through detailed hydrodynamic and morphodynamic modelling.  Utilising these models allows researchers to understand the existing sediment dynamics and explore potential blue green interventions to minimise the sediment movement into the urban drainage system and into the river.

Ahilan with Zac Perry at Crystal Spring

Ahilan with Zac Perry at Crystal Spring

Summary

In summary Ahilan was really convinced by the progress of the City of Portland through ‘grey to green’ initiative over the last decade.  He strongly believes that this is the only way to cope with rapid urbanisation resulting from socio economic development and uncertain climate change in the developed and developing world during our lifetime and for future generations.

Let Knowledge Serve the City ……– Portland State University motto


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Killer shrimps are out there – so watch out…

By Lucy Anderson (Faculty of Biological Sciences)

The critter in my hand certainly looks harmless enough. At a mere 2cm long, it’s incredible to think it has the potential to wipe out native fish and invertebrate populations thanks to its voracious appetite. But this isn’t any old shrimp. This is the killer shrimp (Dikerogammarus villosus) and over the past ten years it’s made its way from the Caspian Sea to Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire as I’ve just explained to a BBC film crew.

Killer shrimp in the UK (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)

Killer shrimp in the UK (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)

Invasive alien species like the killer shrimp, American signal crayfish and zebra mussel pose a major threat to biodiversity across the globe. They can out-compete native species for food and habitat, introduce new diseases and damage infrastructure costing the UK alone £1.7 billion per year to manage. Seven out of ten of the Environment Agency’s “most wanted” invasive species are found in freshwater environments. That’s because rivers and lakes are exposed to a lot of pathways by which new invaders can be introduced. They can be transported in the ballast water of ships, be released from ponds or aquaria, or hitchhike on the equipment used by recreational water users, to name but a few.

Invasive species have been making the headlines in recent weeks because of a pioneering piece of legislation which has recently been approved by MEPs in Brussels. At the moment, the management of invasive species is rather disparate across Europe. It’s currently up to each EU member state to manage the invasive species within its boundaries, so all the work done in one country to prevent invaders could be undermined by a neighbouring country which does far less, or focuses its management on different species.

Invasive species hit the headlines (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)

Invasive species hit the headlines (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)

The new legislation aims to change that. For the first time, member states will have to abide by a consistent set of laws to prevent and control invasive species. Preventing the introduction of invasive species in the first place is particularly important, because once these species arrive and establish, they’re almost impossible to eradicate. By improving surveillance at borders, transport and trade routes, the risk of invasive species accidentally entering EU countries can be reduced and the likelihood of detecting and managing new species before they have an opportunity to cause damage can be improved.

We’ve been investigating one such pathway for the spread of invasive species here at the University of Leeds. A survey we conducted with 1500 anglers and canoeists across the UK revealed that around 50% of respondents did not clean their kit before moving to a new catchment. The results (described in this paper) are rather alarming because invasive species like the killer shrimp can survive for up to a fortnight in the damp fold of a wader or crevice of a boat so they could potentially survive in the journey from one site to another.

Thankfully, biosecurity actions are improving among these groups. A lot of environmental NGOs are backing the Check Clean Dry campaign which aims to raise awareness of invasive species and improve biosecurity among water sports enthusiasts.

So next time you take a trip down to the river, remember to check, clean and dry your boots and any equipment that you use in the water. That wriggling shrimp on your welly might look harmless enough but – as we’ve learned from the killer shrimp — looks can be deceiving.

Check, clean and dry your boots and equipment (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)

Check, clean and dry your boots and equipment (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)


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Some initial thoughts on climate change and January 2014 UK floods

By John Marsham (water@leeds Academic Research Fellow)

I had thought that the UK flooding this winter was so extreme that the small percentage increase in rainfall expected from a warmer atmosphere could not explain the rain and floods. The floods have been caused by a persistent track of Atlantic storms. I assumed this storm track was itself unprecedented, but the figures below have made me reconsider this.

The warming of Earth’s atmosphere with climate change increases its ability to hold water, and this is expected to increase maximum rainfall rates. The ability to hold water increases by roughly 7%/°C, but the effect on rain rates is more uncertain, with research suggesting that this effect may well be significantly larger (e.g. 14%/°C).

We cannot attribute any particular event to climate change, but climate change alters the likelihood of events. It’s a bit like throwing a loaded dice: you’re more likely to get a six, but that doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t have got a six with an unloaded dice. Therefore you cannot say if any particular six was caused by the dice being loaded.

 

January Rainfall in UK 1910 to 2014

January Rainfall in UK 1910 to 2014

In the plot above you can see decadal variability throughout the record above, but the recent peaks are higher. The previous peak was 158.2mm (1988). In 1940s it was more like 146 mm. This means January 2014 was about 11% wetter than 1988 and 20% wetter than the peak in the 1940s. Global air temperatures have risen by about 1°C since 1910 (IPCC). Changes of up to 20% in rainfall peaks may therefore in the main part be broadly consistent with man-made warming increasing the atmosphere’s ability to hold water and therefore increasing rain rates.

The two plots below, which show the anomaly from the long-term mean of the storm track from January 1988 (top, the previous record) and January 2014 (bottom, new record).

Storm track 1988

Storm track 1988

Storm track 2014

Storm track 2014

The anomalies in the upper level winds are similar in the two years, with both having very strong gradients west of the UK and minima almost over the UK. In fact the gradients in January 1988 are stronger than January 2014. This suggests that the January 2014 storm track may not be unprecedented, but the southern England rainfall is, with the increased rainfall of a magnitude broadly consistent with the expected effects of warming.

These are very simple “back-of-the-envelope” arguments. In depth analysis and comprehensive modelling are certainly needed.  We should bear in mind that there are large random variations in rainfall extremes over small land areas. The current flooding has been caused by a persistent track of storms not just in January, but from December through January and February. Climate change is expected to change the storm track itself.

One thing is apparent however: even small changes in extremes can have very large impacts on livelihoods and infrastructure, which have evolved, or been developed, to deal with an expected level of variability. With a few degrees of man-made global warming looking very likely to me, you have to wonder how bad UK floods might be in the coming decades.


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Leeds Architecture Award

The sustainable garden near the Roger Steven Building, on the University of Leeds campus, recently won the Landscape category at the recent Leeds Architecture Awards. The garden, which was designed to re-create the urban ecosystem message behind the University of Leeds’ gold medal winning RHS Chelsea Flower Show exhibit and informed by water@leeds staff, has water sensitive features and provides an edible growing space for staff and students.