18 June 2014
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.
9 June 2014
3 June 2014
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:
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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.
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.".
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.
12 February 2014
Flood experts insist difficult decisions will have to be made if the weather continues to deteriorate: Daily Telegraph 12 February 2014.
30 January 2014
Back-to-nature flood schemes which use the land's natural defences to slow river flow and reduce flooding could be a cost-effective way of tackling one of the biggest problems facing the UK today. The schemes - which include capturing flow upstream to prevent floods downstream where they are likely to have a greater impact on infrastructure and homes - have been trialled as part of a five-year research project by experts from Newcastle University in partnership with the Environment Agency.
Using Belford Burn in Northumberland as a demonstration, the team have shown that by changing and hindering the natural flow pathways within a small catchment system, it is possible to manage the amount of run-off from the land. This reduces the risk of flooding in low-lying areas and also cuts down on pollution by preventing phosphorous and nitrates from being washed off the land.
Published this month in the academic journal Science of the Total Environment, the findings were presented last week at the House of Commons Office of Science and Technology to inform the Government's Environment White Paper.
Research lead Dr Mark Wilkinson, who carried out the work while at Newcastle University and is now based at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, said: "Climate projections for the UK suggest that total rainfall during winter months will continue to rise and with it the risk of flooding.
"By employing so-called 'soft engineering solutions' to restrict the progress of water through a catchment, we have been able to reduce the risk of flooding in the lower areas and, most importantly, in the town.
Strategies for Natural Flood Management (NFM): Natural Flood Management aims to reduce the downstream maximum water height of a flood - the peak - or delay the arrival of the flood peak downstream, increasing the time available to prepare.
Costing around £200,000, the Belford scheme was installed after a study of the area suggested the cost of a full conventional flood defence scheme for the town would cost in the region of £2.5m.
"The situation in Belford is typical of many rural towns around the UK that are at risk of flooding," explains Dr Paul Quinn, based in the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences at Newcastle University.
It is a town with a long history of flooding but the floods tend to be short-lived - albeit severe - and only tend to affect a small number of properties. A feasibility study concluded that traditional flood defences were not suitable because of the high-cost, lack of space for flood walls and banks and the relatively small number of properties involved.
"One of the main reasons why the Belford scheme has been such a success is because we've had the support of the community and local landowners behind us," explains Dr Quinn, who has since carried out a second Catchment Management Scheme at Netherton Burn, Northumberland."There is no single solution to flooding - no 'silver bullet' - but what the Belford scheme has shown us is what can be achieved with local support and a thorough understanding of the land and the local environment."
Source information: "A framework for managing runoff and pollution in the rural landscape using a catchment systems engineering approach." M Wilkinson, P Quinn, N Barber, J Jonczyk. Science of the Total Environment January 2014. Volumes 468-469, 15 January 2014, Pages 1245-1254
25 October 2013
Giants of the car industry Nissan, Renault, BMW and Volkswagen have called on the expertise of Newcastle University to take forward a major European project to drive forward the electric vehicle revolution.
The Rapid Charge Network Project, which is being led by Nissan and co-ordinated by Gateshead-based Zero Carbon Futures, aims to establish a network of rapid chargers for electric vehicles running the full length and breadth of the United Kingdom and Ireland. When complete, a total of 74 rapid chargers - capable of charging an electric vehicle in just 30 minutes - will have been installed, covering more than 1,100kms of major trunk routes and providing EV-friendly links to five seaports and five international airports.
Part-funded by the European Union through the Trans European Transport Network, the Newcastle University research team will be responsible for analysing the data around driver behaviour and charging patterns to inform future transport infrastructure and best practice for the rest of Europe.
"This project could be the game changer that encourages more manufacturers to develop EVs and more of us to make the switch to electric cars," explains Phil Blythe, Professor of Transport at Newcastle University and academic lead on the project.
"We have already seen the important role EVs could play in addressing the issue of urban sustainability - reducing emissions in city centres.
"This takes us beyond the urban boundaries, addressing one of the main barriers to electric transport which is distance. With rapid charging networks, EVs become a serious contender as a future mode of transport and our research will inform how best these networks can be implemented across Europe."
The project was officially announced at a launch event in Tallinn, Estonia, hosted by European Commission Vice President Siim Kallas. The consortium members include Nissan, Renault, BMW and Volkswagen, ESB Ireland's Electricity Supply Board, Zero Carbon Futures and Newcastle University.
Using data loggers, the Newcastle University team will look at how often people re-charge, how far they travel between charging points, total distance travelled and other indicators of driver behaviour and efficiency.
The project builds on the three-year SwitchEV project investigating the impact of electric vehicles and the role they could play in our urban transport systems of the future. Since its launch in November 2010, the SwitchEV project has involved almost 200 drivers from across the region making over 71,600 trips. The 44 EVs involved in the trial have travelled a total of 403,000 miles - equivalent to driving around the world 16 times - have been charged 19,900 times and have saved 76,000kg CO2 being released into the atmosphere.
There are now more electric vehicles per head of population in the North East than anywhere else in the country and the region has the UK's most extensive charging network with over 500 public charging points, including a 12 rapid charge points.
Professor Blythe adds: "SwitchEV helped us build up the first true picture of what a low carbon urban transport system might look like in the future.
"This project will take us beyond the city boundaries and look at inter-urban travel and how we might establish low carbon networks that stretch not just between cities, but across countries."
Running on two priority road axes on the mainland, the network will link major ports and cities including Stranraer, Liverpool, Holyhead, Birmingham, Felixstowe, Leeds and Kingston upon Hull with connections to existing networks in Dublin and Belfast in Eire and Northern Ireland.
The rapid chargers being deployed will be the first state-of-the-art multi-standard units in public operation in Europe. This will ensure that every EV owner in the country can undertake long journeys secure in the knowledge that they will never be far from a rapid charger no matter what brand of car they drive. The units are compatible with cars using 44kW DC CCS, 44 kW DC Chademo or 43 kW AC systems. Installation of the rapid chargers is due to be completed by the end of 2014.
By providing a network of chargers for EV drivers, the RCN project is designed to encourage further take up of electric vehicles in a bid to further decarbonise road transport. The network will also be used to gather strategic information from users, including customer charging behaviour and changes in mobility patterns, to help plan the roll-out future rapid charging infrastructure in member states across Europe.
The RCN project is one of 30 priority transport projects across Europe identified by TEN-T. The Projects were chosen according to the added value they offer to the European community and their contribution to the sustainable development of transport systems. They include rail, mixed rail-road, road and inland waterway projects, as well as a 'motorways of the sea' scheme.
10 October 2013
Professor Richard Dawson has been named a key member of an international effort by top climate scientists to help cities around the world address the causes and consequences of climate change. The Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN) includes a group of approximately 500 researchers in cities located throughout the world.
Richard Dawson is a member of the expert team that will produce an assessment on the impacts and vulnerabilities in cities and their infrastructure, but also the mechanisms available to reduce these risks and their greenhouse gas emissions. The work is part of a larger effort by UCCRN to produce a resource for guiding cities in their response to climate change. The Second UCCRN Assessment Report on Climate Change and Cities (ARC3-2) will be published in 2015 and will cover a range of issues, from urban health to food to water and energy systems, transportation, economics and private finance, and governance. This will be the second major Assessment Report. City mayors praised the first, published in 2011, as a practical, action-oriented resource.
10 October 2013
A new £1m scheme to clean-up metal pollution being discharged into our rivers from old mine workings is being piloted in the heart of the Lake District National Park. The 'vertical flow pond', designed by experts at Newcastle University on behalf of The Coal Authority, is the first of its kind in the UK and uses compost and limestone to treat metal-rich mine water. Work has begun at the site of the former lagoons at Force Crag mine outside Keswick, with the aim of removing the three tonnes of zinc, cadmium and lead which is being discharged every year into Bassenthwaite Lake.
Funded by Defra, the project has four partners - The Coal Authority, Environment Agency, The National Trust and Newcastle University.
The Coal Authority starts construction this month and aims to have the two ponds up and running by early next year. If successful, this technology could be implemented at other mine sites across the country. "Currently, three tonnes of metal is discharged from the mine every year and pollutes not only the nearby becks, but is also being transported downstream and polluting the lake," explains Dr Adam Jarvis, a Reader in Environmental Engineering at Newcastle University.
"What we have developed is a passive treatment method which removes the metal from the water without the need for energy or chemicals. The aim of the pilot is to test the effectiveness of this new technology on a large scale."
Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: "This cutting edge pilot is a great way to reduce water pollution from the mine without the need for chemicals. It is also a good example of different organisations working together to improve local water quality."
The project is supported by a £1 million government fund set up to combat water pollution caused by metal mines across England. Reducing water pollution from Force Crag mine will bring real benefits to the environment and local economy. Ultimately, the aim is to treat the pollution of more than 4,000km of rivers in England.
Dr Hugh Potter, the Environment Agency's national lead for abandoned mines, adds: "This large pilot scheme is the culmination of many years work to identify cost-effective solutions to this longstanding pollution issue. We need to clean up hundreds of abandoned metal mines across England, and hope that the partnership at Force Crag will pave the way for other schemes."
"Water discharges from abandoned mines such as Force Crag are environmental legacies of our past and need to be addressed if we are to improve failing water quality in the UK," explains John Malley, Water Advisor for the National Trust in the North West. "DEFRA are to be applauded for their initiative in backing this, as are English Heritage, for accommodating a treatment system on the site of an ancient monument. Improving the Bassenthwaite catchment area will ultimately support the conservation of our natural diversity, as well as providing clear, clean water."
Steve Hill, Principal Technical Adviser of the Coal Authority, said: "I believe this large scale pilot scheme will bring environmental benefits to the watercourse in the area and will lead to other metal mine sites throughout Britain being remediated in the future."
10 October 2013
The aim is to discover what's causing the recent rapid ice loss from Pine Island Glacier on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and whether this loss will continue to increase or slow down. The research is important for understanding the likely impact on future sea-level rise.
Involving 35 scientists from around the world, the project team includes Professor Peter Clarke, Professor of Geophysical Geodesy at Newcastle University.
Dr Andy Smith, of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), said: "We used to think that the volume of water flowing from Antarctica's melting glaciers and icebergs into the ocean was equal to the amount of water falling as snow onto the ice sheet; and that this process was keeping the whole system in balance.But Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) are losing ice at a faster rate than they are being replenished. This affects sea level all over the world. The speed of changes to this region has taken scientists by surprise and we need to find out what's going on."
Professor Clarke adds: "By carrying out careful measurements of ice elevation and velocity, and changes in the shape of the solid Earth, we will be able to constrain much more accurately how this rapidly-changing part of Antarctica could be contributing to sea level changes worldwide."
Starting in November this year the iSTAR science programme will mount four projects focused on finding out what's causing the rapid changes observed in the Amundsen Sea region of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Using state-of-the-art technologies, science teams will measure changes to the flow and thickness of glaciers and investigate the role that the ocean plays in transporting warm water beneath ice shelves.
The research will include the use of radar and seismic technologies to map the glacier bed, satellite remote sensing to measure areas of the glacier that are inaccessible from the ground and a fleet of ocean robots known as seagliders to measure temperature, saltiness and water depth.
12 September 2013
Experts have been explaining how they have harnessed the energy locked up in sewage to power our waste water treatment at the British Science Festival.
Sewage plants have the ability to produce the power to run themselves and also clean energy for the future, Newcastle University researchers have found. Experts from Northumbrian Water Ltd and Newcastle University reveal how they have carried out the first trial of a hydrogen Microbial Electrolysis Cell (MEC) on raw sewage at a waste water treatment works on Tyneside.
Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the team are now preparing to install the next generation of MEC at a waste water treatment works in Sedgefield, County Durham.
The new system, led by Tom Curtis, Professor of Biological Engineering, Keith Scott, Professor of Electrochemical Engineering and Dr Elizabeth Heidrich, all of Newcastle University, takes this to the next level. Using raw, untreated waste water at normal temperatures, the entire process is fuelled using the energy from bugs.
Professor Curtis explains: "We spend a lot of electricity treating sewage and it's totally unnecessary. Waste water contains two to three times more energy than we use to treat it so if we can harness that energy we can not only close the loop on sewage treatment to create a totally self-treating system, we will also have spare energy to use elsewhere.
"What we have developed is a system that feeds on the waste as it arrives at the plant - the whole lot goes in and the microbes do all the hard work."
Around 2% of all electricity used in the UK is used to treat wastewater while the energy stored in UK wastewater is equivalent to five billion barrels of oil a year. Northumbrian Water is already leading the water industry with its award-winning £70 million 'power from poo' advanced anaerobic digestion (AAD) plants at Howdon on Tyneside and at Bran Sands on Teesside.
Maxine Mayhew, Commercial Director for Northumbrian Water, said: "As industry pioneers of generating power from wastewater we now look to our work with Newcastle University to take this energy production to another level and develop production of hydrogen - the clean fuel of the future."
So will we be powering Britain with sewage in years to come?
"Unlikely," says Professor Curtis, "but it's a start. I think if there's one thing we all realise it's that there's no magic bullet - no single source of sustainable energy that is going to save the world.
"But if every University in the country could save 2% of the nation's electricity bill we would be a long way down the road to sustainability. Most importantly, wasting energy in wastewater treatment is increasingly a global problem. As the BRICS urbanise and adopt our energy intensive treatment technologies in a world of rising energy costs we are all going to be in the same boat."
Further information is available from the University's Press Office.
28 August 2013
A new map reveals how prepared UK cities are for climate change.
The ability of cities to combat the cause of climate change and to adapt to future weather patterns depends on where we live in the UK, new research suggests.
Scientists at Newcastle University have revealed a "postcode lottery of preparedness" across the country based on what each city is doing to not only reduce greenhouse emissions but also adapt to future climate change and extremes of weather such as flooding and drought.
Devising a new way of ranking cities - the 'Urban Climate Change Preparedness Scores' - the team scored 30 cities based on four levels of readiness: Assessment, Planning, Action and Monitoring.
Publishing their results today in the academic journal Climatic Change, they reveal huge variation across the UK with London and Leicester gaining the highest scores both for adaptation and mitigation and Wrexham and Derry the lowest.
Newcastle University's Dr Oliver Heidrich who led the research said it highlighted at a glance the "state of readiness" across the country and how prepared we are for the future.
"Of the 30 cities we assessed, all of them acknowledged that climate change was a threat and all except two had a strategy or policy in place to reduce emissions and also adapt to cope better with future weather patterns, in particular flooding," explains Dr Heidrich, a senior researcher in the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences.
"But a plan is only any good if you implement it and then assess it to see how effective it has been, this requires a long term investment in the strategies.
"We found that in many cities this wasn't happening. In some cases, plans were in place but nothing had been done about them. Many cities published plans and partially implemented associated schemes such as introducing electric vehicles or solar panels as well as making changes to the built environment to reduce the risk of flooding. But very often, no-one was monitoring to see whether it made a difference or had actually made things worse.
"The aim of this research is not to name and shame cities, but if we are to be prepared for the increased occurrences of floods and droughts then we do need to make sure that our climate change policies are in place, that they are working and that the consequences of implementing these strategies are being checked."
The 30 cities chosen for the study were those selected as part of the European Urban Audit database and are representative of urban areas across the UK.
The Newcastle team then applied the scoring methodology to assess the level of preparedness of each of the cities to climate change, rating from 0-3 against both adaption and mitigation.
London was found to have one of the most advanced strategies in place, mitigating the impact on climate change through, for example, energy efficiency and saving, increasing the use of renewables, waste management and the introduction of greener modes of transport. Leicester also scored highly, carrying out rigorous monitoring and providing regular reports on the city's carbon footprints.
Other cities, such as Newcastle, had advanced electric vehicle infrastructures in place while Sheffield and Coventry have established programmes to produce more energy from waste and reduce landfill.
Almost all cities had set targets for reducing CO2 emissions although quite a few would not commit to an actual target, figure or timescale, rendering them meaningless; reduction targets varied from just 10% to 80%. Edinburgh was one of those with a deadline, setting a target of reducing carbon emissions by 40% by 2020 and to achieve a zero carbon economy by 2050.
In most cities, adaptation policies lagged behind the mitigation plans. With flooding a key threat in many urban areas - both now and in the future - the team showed that many cities were still unprepared to cope with extremes of weather patterns. Although many had flood protection schemes in place, few had assessed whether they were actually effective.
Dr Heidrich adds: "What this research highlights more than anything is the huge variations in the state of readiness for climate change across the UK, and the method of assessing the preparedness of cities can easily be applied to cities in other countries.
"Although cities of all sizes across the UK acknowledge climate change is a threat, there is considerable spread of measures in place and huge inconsistency in policy between areas and against national and international targets.
"Local Authorities are pivotal to the implementation of global climate policy so it is essential that we embed adaptation and mitigation strategies within the urban planning framework."