Events archive


Water Security and multi-functionality of the water supply chain - Louise Bracken, Durham University

  • 14 November 2018, 1.00pm-2.00pm, F75a Bennett Building (Geography)

Water security and sustainability is a major global concern (socially, economically and environmentally) with approximately 80% of the world’s population facing a high-level of water security. However, water security lacks a clearly agreed definition and multiple approaches to understanding and estimating the term exist. Issues exist around reconciling the interests of different views to be able to maintain acceptable levels of water-related risks while balancing support for livelihood, human well-being, socioeconomic development and ecosystem functioning. In this seminar I will examine the different definitions of water security, explore existing conceptual frameworks and outline the current operational models for analysis of water security. I will then discuss the relationship between managing water resources and water security through two examples; inter basin water transfer in India and catchment management for drinking water supply in the UK. I will end the seminar by proposing a new conceptual model, the water mix, for examining water availability and consumption at a range of scales.

Can models simulate climates of the past? - Alan Haywood, University of Leeds

  • 1 November 2018, 1.00pm-2.00pm, G72 (TA2) Bennett (Geology)

Our best understanding of the physics of the atmosphere, ocean and land systems have been incorporated into numerical models of climate. These models represent the vanguard of our effort to predict the impacts associated with the anthropogenic modification of our climate system. Accurate prediction is vital for climate mitigation and adaptation pathway to be accurate, meaningful and trustworthy. The stakes have never been higher.

However, the unique opportunity afforded by palaeo data/model comparison comes with the challenging of adequately identifying and quantifying sources of uncertainty that are unique to this science. These uncertainties are of course partly model related, but they are also linked to inherent limitations in providing climate models with accurate boundary conditions for deep time, as well as within quantitative palaeothermometry techniques themselves.

Here I re-evaluate the patterns of data/model disagreement in the context of known uncertainties in model performance, the specification of accurate boundary conditions, and the interpretation of proxy data. The outcome of this reanalysis is a conclusion that is in many respects surprising, and at minimum suggests a more balanced evaluation of model performance than has been provided before. It indicates that great care and caution is needed in using the outcomes of deep time data/model comparisons to justify the modification of process representation within climate models used for future climate change prediction.

Co-producing a research agenda for sustainable palm oil - Rory Padfield, Oxford Brookes University

  • 31 October 2018, 1.00pm-2.00pm, F75a Bennett Building (Geography)

Co-design of research processes and co-production of knowledge are key elements of transdisciplinarity, a way of conducting research that integrates different disciplinary perspectives whilst incorporating stakeholder views into the research design. Focusing on the topic of palm oil – a much-maligned yet generally misunderstood vegetable oil – this paper presents the findings of a global multi-stakeholder engagement exercise in order to identify priority research questions for the study of palm oil sustainability. In addition to an analysis of the highest priority research themes that emerged, the papers explores the similarities and differences towards the questions between different stakeholder groups. The paper concludes with a number of recommendations to help re-align current research efforts towards those deemed to be the most urgent.

A 3.77 (or possibly 4.28) billion year history of microbial communities associated with marine hydrothermal vents - Crispin Little, University of Leeds

  • 25 October 2018, 1.00pm-2.00pm, G72 (TA2) Bennett (Geology)

Modern hydrothermal vents provide diverse environments for microorganisms. Here there is a large phylogenetic and physiological diversity of bacteria and archaea, occurring in a wide range habitats. An assumption is that similar communities of microorganisms have been present on Earth for an extremely long time, given that there is direct evidence of marine hydrothermal activity going back to the Archaean eon (which began 4 billion years ago), and the hypothesis that life may have originated in these environments. In this presentation I will review the fossil record of microorganisms at hydrothermal vents, which comes from two different rock types: volcanogenic massive sulfides (VMS), which formed at high temperature vents, and jaspers (iron-silica rocks), which formed at low-temperature, sulfide-poor vents. Occurrences of microorganisms in VMS go back to the Paleo-archaean era (3.235 billion years ago) and in jaspers to the Eo-archaean (3.770, or possibly 4.280, billion years ago), with the latter being the oldest organisms yet discovered on Earth. These very dates suggest that life may have been possible on Mars during its equivalent aged warmer period, and that life may be found at putative hydrothermal sites on the icy moons with liquid oceans (e.g. Europa and Enceladus).

A critical physical geography of peat fire within socio-biophysical landscapes in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia - Jenny Goldstein, Department of Development Sociology, Cornell University

  • 24 October 2018, 1.00pm-2.00pm, LT5 Bennett Building (Geography)

Widespread drainage of Indonesia’s peatlands used for plantation agriculture has resulted in near-annual landscape-scale fires, causing severe air pollution, economic losses, and health impacts for millions of Southeast Asia residents. Yet not all fire in peatlands transition from a surface fire to a sub-surface peat fire, the latter of which is the source of the most dangerous air pollution. While draining peatlands creates the biophysical conditions that enable peat fires, specific fire occurrence depends on the interaction of biophysical and socio-political factors that create and respond to those conditions. Based on cross-disciplinary field research with collaborators in a degraded peatland ecosystem in Central Kalimantan province, I take a Critical Physical Geography approach to argue that sub-surface peat fire behavior is dependent on a range of site-specific socio-political and biophysical dynamics that extend beyond peatland drainage and human-led fire ignition.

Assessing human exposure to air pollution - do we have the correct tools for the job? - John Gulliver, University of Leicester

  • 18 October 2018, 1.00pm-2.00pm, G72 (TA2) Bennett (Geology)

In May 2018 the EU Commission referred France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania and the United Kingdom to the Court of Justice of the EU for failing to respect agreed air quality limit values. This decision is based on data from a network of air pollution monitoring stations that are geographically distributed across Europe.

Most people, however, spend most of their time indoors at home, and the remainder of their time travelling, at school/work, or elsewhere, where air quality is not necessarily the same as measured at the monitoring stations. Do we therefore need more appropriate methods to inform EU law on air quality and to better understand human exposure and health effects of air pollution?

Earth Observation: Is the UK public sector analysis ready? - Paul Robinson, Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)

  • 17 October 2018, 1.00pm-2.00pm, F75a Bennett Building (Geography)

The EU’s Copernicus Programme is now generating unprecedented quantities of data from a suite of satellites that is released under an open data policy. This session provided a background of work being done to enable access to pre-processed, analysis-ready forms of that data, as well as details of the ongoing research programme aiming to utilise that data to meet policy requirements across the UK environment sector.

The rise of eukaryotes: Environmental controls on the early fossil record - Ross Anderson, University of Oxford

  • 11 October 2018, 1.00pm-2.00pm, G72 (TA2) Bennett Building (Geology)

The Neoproterozoic-earliest Palaeozoic emergence and diversification of complex eukaryotic life is one of the most fundamental transitions in the history of life on Earth. Fossils provide the only direct way to test hypotheses for the sequence of evolutionary events, yet the early fossil record is compromised.

Before organisms with biomineralised parts like shells or skeletons were common, we are reliant on environmental circumstances in which decay-prone organisms can be preserved. The rarity of these circumstances means fossils are similarly rare; and our limited understanding of the preservation processes mean we unable to know whether the ecological and temporal ranges of fossil organisms are real or artefacts of changing preservation potential.

Here I investigate the role clay minerals, both in the surrounding sediment and when attached to organic remains, in Burgess Shale-type (BST) fossilisation, one of the most common pathways for the preservation of decay-prone organisms. An improved understanding of BST fossilization will enable vital new fossils to be found and will enhance our palaeobiological understanding of these important assemblages.

The politics of food qualities: Fresh perspectives on sustainable food systems - David Evans, University of Sheffield

  • 10 October 2018, 1.00pm-2.00pm, F75a Bennett Building (Geography)

This presentation explores the industrial production of ‘freshness’ (cf. Freidberg 2009) as a quality of food in the UK and Portugal. Freshness is a paradoxical concept when applied to food insofar as the availability of produce that is thought to be ‘fresh’ (and by extension safe, healthy, wholesome and so on) relies on processes that are often anything but ‘natural’ (relying as they do on technological innovation and organisational interference).

Drawing on a range of empirical materials - including key informant interviews with retailers and technical experts, archival sources, and observations with supply chain actors and households - I address the multiple and mutable meanings and uses to which the term ‘freshness’ is put. Rather than seeing these differences as contrasting perspectives on essentially the same thing, or as social constructions, I approach ‘freshness’ as a matter of enactment. The analysis considers the ontological politics of food qualities by exploring how different enactments of ‘freshness’ - temporal, technological, statistical, sensory - clash with but also collaborate with and rely on one another.

Focusing on the development and application of Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP), and on competing sources of fresh food provisioning (supermarkets, greengrocers and so on), attention is paid to the enrolment of consumers in particular enactments of freshness; the distribution of responsibilities for health and sustainability outcomes, and the (moral and political) economic realities that are modulated through these performances of qualities. Crucially I suggest that the articulation of value permits the alignment of different ontologies and thus interpret the paradox of industrial freshness as a matter of convention and public secrecy.

To conclude I return to the environmental consequences of this stabilization and argue that the slipperiness of qualities combined with the stickiness of conventions poses a particular challenge (and calls forth new responses) to the sustainability of food systems.

David Evans is a Professorial Research Fellow in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Sheffield. His work is located in the geographies and sociology of consumption and material culture, with particular interests in food and sustainability.