Institute for Sustainability

Water

Water

Water is key to global sustainability. It is a vital requirement for all forms of life, and a resource which is increasingly compromised due to intensifying global environmental change, population pressure and climate change.

Research expertise in water at Newcastle University focuses on securing sufficient water quantity and quality for all as well as developing sustainable water management and infrastructure. Areas of research expertise in water include:

  • forecasting heavy rainfall induced by climate change.
  • developing solutions to water pollution, water shortage and wastewater treatment.
  • good governance practices to manage water resources and sanitation for all.
  • flood risk management in cities and rural areas creating ‘natural buffers’ using the landscape and storing water above ground.
  • reducing water scarcity by improving water harvesting technologies.

How are we meeting the environmental and societal challenges of today?

Researchers in sustainability at Newcastle University examine the multiple facets of water and how we interact with it. This means developing engineering approaches to improve water infrastructure such as waste water treatment and designing cities to better cope with floods. As governance is also key to providing access to safe water and sanitation, policies are needed to ensure that water is managed and used in a sustainable way. 

Climate change adaptation and extreme weather

The UKCP09 weather generator was developed at Newcastle University for DEFRA. It is widely used by both government agencies and researchers throughout the UK to model extreme weather as a result of climate change. Extreme weather events such as heavy rain fall and drought are expected to increase in the UK and the weather generator is an important tool for preparing urban and rural areas for climate change. In addition Newcastle University researchers have developed regional climate models through the CONVEX project to inform future adaptation strategies for flood risk management.

A flood action team funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) is tracking intense rainfall throughout the UK and visiting areas where flash flooding is likely to occur. This will help to better predict floods and understand their severity to reduce damaging impacts on communities. 

Natural engineering

Flooding is a universal problem experienced in countries throughout the world. Newcastle University researchers are pioneering ways to engineer the landscape in both rural and urban settings to mitigate flooding. In managing the landscape to reduce flooding they are also benefitting the ecosystem. This is known as ‘natural engineering’ and includes placing ‘leaky ponds’ to manage run-off, which fill up during a storm and gradually drain out over time, or planting trees in locations where they will soak up the most water.

Read our policy note Holding Water: Working with Nature to Ease Floods and Droughts (PDF: 2.2MB)

For cities it means dealing with water above ground instead of forcing it into drainage systems below which may easily reach capacity during heavy rainfall. This includes installing swales on the sides of roads to prevent surface flooding or making surfaces permeable for the water to seep through.  

Waste water treatment

Access to clean water and sanitation is at the foundation of sustainable development. The environmental and societal pressures endanger both not to mention risk contaminating nearby rivers, lakes or oceans. New techniques are needed for treating waste water to make it more manageable and less energy intensive as well as reducing threats to human health and ecology. The BE:WISE project is an international centre of research excellence and demonstration for wastewater management technology, developing sustainable wastewater treatment innovation at scale.

Newcastle University researchers are testing innovative techniques for treating wastewater using anaerobic digestion, which is also used to generate energy in the form of biogas. Research in this area includes using cold-adapted microorganisms to treat wastewater at low temperatures in an anaerobic digester, and computer modelling of microbial communities to better understand how the microbes interact.  

Justice and governance

Millions of people living today do not have access to adequate water and sanitation, which is necessary to maintaining a healthy and sustainable society. Many others do not have the resources available or knowledge to defend against flood events. Newcastle University researchers in the physical, natural and social sciences and humanities are working with governments, NGOs and communities to ensure that access to safe water and sanitation, and nature-based solutions to flood protection, is a reality for present and future generations. This includes research at the level of international policy to democratise water governance and management.  

Read about how creating universal access to water and sanitation is about democracy and human rights.  

Work with us

Sustainability researchers in water work with a range of partners in industry, government and academia. They are always interested in forming new collaborations with interested stakeholders. For further information contact the Institute for Sustainability.