News from the Professional Development Unit

International Year of Soils

16 January 2015

Professor David Manning suggests that minerals could be added to urban soils to help them capture CO2 from the air: Inside Science, BBC Radio 4. David's contribution starts at around 20:58.

Prof David Manning

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GIS NERC Advanced Training Course

14 January 2015

During the week 5 - 9 January 2015, the GIS group in Civil Engineering (Laura Hanson, Stuart Barr and Phil James) delivered a very successful NERC Advanced Training Course in Advanced Environmental Data Analysis using GIS.

Twenty NERC PhD students from across the UK from a wide range of disciplines (e.g., Meteorology, Marine Science, Earth Sciences, Ecology, Biosciences and Geography) spent five days developing their analytical skills in GIS.

In 2012 Spatial Analysis and Modelling was prioritised by NERC as one the "most wanted" core skills for environmental science postgraduates. Our course was the only specialised GIS course funded by NERC in 2014/15 acknowledging the team's experience in delivering GIS teaching and CPD.

As well as a packed curriculum looking at spatial statistics, terrain analysis, landscape metrics, 3D visualisation, spatial data management, spatial data modelling and scripting the students were shown the delights of Newcastle both culinary and liquid at a number of social events, and were accommodated luxuriously in the Sandman Hotel.

Laura Hanson, our GIS Teaching Associate, developed and delivered the majority of the course building on her experience from over 20 successful CPD courses. This comes on the back of a packed-out faculty sponsored GIS training course that she developed due to the high demand for GIS skills across the SAGE faculty's PhD students.

We are looking to secure funding to run both courses again next year.

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Six ways city landscapes can be more flood resilient - in pictures

12 January 2015

Guardian Online: A new exhibition argues that a 'landscape first' approach to urban development, via innovative water management, could make our cities more resilient to flooding. Examples include King's Walk at Newcastle University.

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REF 2014: Second in the UK

18 December 2014

The results of the 2014 UK Research Excellence Framework (REF) were announced on 18 December 2014. The influential Research Fortnight power league table ranked our Civil Engineering research second in the UK (comprising our environmental engineering, geomatics, geotechnical and structural engineering, transport, and water resources groups). In Earth Systems and Environmental Science, our geoscience group was ranked second in the UK for research impact. Almost all of our research was officially classified as world-leading or internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour.

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Traffic pollution could be up to 60% worse than thought

15 December 2014

A Newcastle University team has perfected what they say is a more accurate way to measure true emission levels. See Newcastle Chronicle.

Dr Anil Namdeo

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Driverless cars could be hacked

21 November 2014

An article in the Daily Telegraph warns that driverless cars are vulnerable to hackers.

However, driverless cars can also bring many benefits:

Phil Blythe, professor of Intelligent Transport Systems (CHECK) at Newcastle University, said: "I think it's an exciting opportunity for the UK. Automation is already here. There is radar to warn you that you are too close to the car in front, various parking assistance and cruise control. What we don't have is them all joined up together.

Major cities have optimised road management to the nth degree. They really can't do much more to improve the road network. This is the next step."

Prof Phil Blythe

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Part Time MSc Courses in Water Resources

17 November 2014

Almost all MSc Programmes offered by the School can be studied part time, making them ideal for those in full time employment. Many of the Modules on these Programmes are also offered as CPD.

Staff and students have produced short videos providing an overview of our Water Resources MSc Courses:

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TORG website goes live

18 June 2014

Transport Operations Research Group: School website and direct link

The aim of the site is to provide information on TORG research, projects, publications and teaching and will be regularly updated with news, events and seminar updates.

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Holy sites 'may offer clues to antibiotic resistance'

9 June 2014

On BBC News Health

Prof David Graham

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Pumping the polluted water from mines

3 June 2014

On BBC News England

Dr Adam Jarvis

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Heavier summer downpours with climate change

2 June 2014

Extreme summer rainfall may become more frequent in the UK due to climate change, according to new research led by Newcastle University and the Met Office.

The new study, from the joint Met Office and NERC funded CONVEX project which is led by Newcastle University's Professor Hayley Fowler, uses a state-of-the-art climate model providing the first evidence that hourly summer rainfall rates could increase.

While summers are expected to become drier overall by 2100, intense rainfall indicative of serious flash flooding could become several times more frequent.

Prof Hayley Fowler, from Newcastle University's School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, said: "We need to understand about possible changes to summer and winter rainfall so we can make informed decisions about how to manage these very different flooding risks in the future.

"The changes we have found are consistent with increases we would expect in extreme rainfall with increasing temperatures and will mean more flash floods".

As the atmosphere warms it can hold more moisture and this is expected to intensify rainfall. However, research is needed to understand what this might mean for extremes and how this might affect the UK.

In winter it is the daily or multi-day rainfall totals that are important, because we tend to get steady, long-lasting periods of rain from large scale weather systems - similar to those seen during the winter floods of 2013/14.

Climate models, which generally work at coarse resolutions, have been able to accurately simulate winter rainfall and have suggested generally wetter winters with the potential for higher daily rainfall rates in the future.

In summer, however, it is the hourly rates that are more important as rain tends to fall in short but intense bursts - as seen during the Boscastle flooding of 2004 and 'Toon Flood', otherwise known as Thunder Thursday, in Newcastle in 2012. Climate models have so far lacked the resolution to accurately simulate the smaller-scale convective storms which cause this type of rain.

To deal with this issue, this study uses a climate model with a higher resolution than ever used before to examine future rainfall change - using 1.5km grid boxes instead of the usual 12km or larger - the same as the Met Office weather forecast model. This model gives a realistic representation of hourly rainfall, allowing us to make future projections with some confidence.

It was so computer intensive that only the southern half of the UK could be studied and even then it took the Met Office supercomputer - one of the most powerful in the world - about nine months to run the simulations.

Professor Fowler adds: "The next steps are to see if these changes are consistent with observed trends in summer rainfall extremes and changes projected by climate models in other parts of the world. We will be looking at this over the next five years, jointly with the Met Office and other leading international scientists in the European Research Council funded INTENSE project."

Read the full article:

Also reported by:

Prof Hayley Fowler

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Stream researcher wins prize for the best presentation at Young Water Professionals conference

30 May 2014

Stream EngD researcher Matthew Holmes won the prize for the best presentation at this year's IWA UK Young Water Professionals conference.

The conference brought together researchers and practitioners to answer the question "What is smart" in the context of the modern water industry. The result was a wide diversity of responses including water treatment optimization, stakeholder engagement in the Thames Valley and the influence of company culture on water quality performance.

Matthew presented an analysis of the resilience of a wastewater network and used this to illustrate how future water industry professionals are going to need to be confident in the face of uncertainty.

Matthew's Research Area is Water and his supervisors are Dr Sean Wilkinson and Prof Jim Hall.

Dr Sean Wilkinson

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Ice-loss moves the Earth 250 miles beneath our feet

12 May 2014

At the surface, Antarctica is a motionless and frozen landscape. Yet hundreds of miles down the Earth is moving at a rapid rate, new research has shown. The study, led by Newcastle University, UK, and published this week in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, explains for the first time why the upward motion of the Earth's crust in the Northern Antarctic Peninsula is currently taking place so quickly.

Previous studies have shown the earth is 'rebounding' due to the overlying ice sheet shrinking in response to climate change. This movement of the land was understood to be due to an instantaneous, elastic response followed by a very slow uplift over thousands of years.

But GPS data collected by the international research team, involving experts from Newcastle University, UK; Durham University; DTU, Denmark; University of Tasmania, Australia; Hamilton College, New York; the University of Colorado and the University of Toulouse, France, has revealed that the land in this region is actually rising at a phenomenal rate of 15mm a year - much greater than can be accounted for by the present-day elastic response alone.

And they have shown for the first time how the mantle below the Earth's crust in the Antarctic Peninsula is flowing much faster than expected, probably due to subtle changes in temperature or chemical composition. This means it can flow more easily and so responds much more quickly to the lightening load hundreds of miles above it, changing the shape of the land.

Lead researcher, PhD student Grace Nield, based in the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences at Newcastle University, explains: "You would expect this rebound to happen over thousands of years and instead we have been able to measure it in just over a decade. You can almost see it happening which is just incredible.

"Because the mantle is 'runnier' below the Northern Antarctic Peninsula it responds much more quickly to what's happening on the surface. So as the glaciers thin and the load in that localised area reduces, the mantle pushes up the crust.

"At the moment we have only studied the vertical deformation so the next step is to look at horizontal motion caused by the ice unloading to get more of a 3-D picture of how the Earth is deforming, and to use other geophysical data to understand the mechanism of the flow."

Since 1995 several ice shelves in the Northern Antarctic Peninsula have collapsed and triggered ice-mass unloading, causing the solid Earth to 'bounce back'.

"Think of it a bit like a stretched piece of elastic," says Nield, whose project is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). "The ice is pressing down on the Earth and as this weight reduces the crust bounces back. But what we found when we compared the ice loss to the uplift was that they didn't tally - something else had to be happening to be pushing the solid Earth up at such a phenomenal rate."

Collating data from seven GPS stations situated across the Northern Peninsula, the team found the rebound was so fast that the upper mantle viscosity - or resistance to flow - had to be at least ten times lower than previously thought for the region and much lower than the rest of Antarctica.

Professor Peter Clarke, Professor of Geophysical Geodesy at Newcastle University and one of the authors of the paper, adds: "Seeing this sort of deformation of the earth at such a rate is unprecedented in Antarctica. What is particularly interesting here is that we can actually see the impact that glacier thinning is having on the rocks 250 miles down.".

University press release

Professor Peter Clarke

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Geoengineering the climate: the way forward?

9 May 2014

Over 600 people attended the Great Geoengineering Debate that took place at the 2014 European Geophysical Union meeting in Vienna on 29th April. A panel of experts, Prof. Ken Caldeira, Dr Krishna Kumar Kanikicharla, Prof. Mark Lawrence, Prof. Andreas Oschlies and Dr Paul Quinn, debated the implications of climate engineering and whether there is an appetite to start Geoengineering experiments now as part of the Geoscience community agenda. A number of concerns were raised by the panel but more importantly the sentiment of the audience was very much against the idea of starting Geoengineering experiments now.

View the full debate online: European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2014.

Dr Paul Quinn

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