News from the Professional Development Unit

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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Villages could be sacrificed to save towns from floods

12 February 2014

Flood experts insist difficult decisions will have to be made if the weather continues to deteriorate: Daily Telegraph 12 February 2014.

Professor Richard Dawson

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'Natural' engineering offers solution against future flooding

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."

See the full University press release

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
www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969713008231

Dr Paul Quinn

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Rapid Charge Network Project

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."

About the RCN

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.

Professor Phil Blythe

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