Events archive


Energy Security and the low-carbon transition: the future of natural gas in the UK - Michael Bradshaw, Professor of Global Energy, Warwick Business School, The University of Warwick

  • 9 January 2019, 1.00pm-2.00pm, F75a Bennett Building (Geography)

This presentation reports on recent work conducted by Warwick Business School and the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) into future gas security in the UK. By way of introduction, the role of natural gas in the UK’s low carbon energy transition is considered. A supply chain approach is then used to assess that current situation and future challenges to gas security, including the impact of Brexit. The presentation concludes by exploring the key uncertainties around the future role of gas and their implications for UK energy security. The findings have wider implications for the relationship between climate change and the role of gas in Europe’s energy mix.

Michael Bradshaw is Professor of Global Energy in the Strategy and International Business Group at Warwick Business School, University of Warwick. He previously held academic posts in Geography at the University of Birmingham and the University of Leicester. He works at the interface between geography, international relations and business and management. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with the IBG) and a member of Council, and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. He holds an MA from the University of Calgary and a PhD from the University of British Columbia, Canada. He is the author of Global Energy Dilemmas (2014, Polity Press), co-editor of Global Energy: Issues, Potentials and Policy Implications (2015, Oxford University Press), and co-author of Energy and Society: A Critical Perspective (2018, Routledge). He led the social science elements of the EU’s H2020 M4 Shale Gas project, is currently involved in a programme of research on the global impacts of unconventional oil and gas for the UK Energy Research Centre and is monitoring and assessing the UK shale gas landscape as part of a 4-year NERC/ESRC research programme on Unconventional Hydrocarbons in the UK Energy System. He has recently published papers in Economic Geography, Global Environmental Change, Energy Policy, International Affairs and Extractive Industries and Society.


The birth, demise and reincarnation of Snowball Earth - Ian Fairchild, University of Birmingham and Trustee, Hertfordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust

  • 6 December 2018, 1.00pm-2.00pm, G72 (TA2) Bennett Building (Geology)

Snowball Earth constitutes a theoretical framework for extreme glaciation at times in Earth history when glaciers extended to sea level in the tropics. A rich array of hypotheses have been generated and tested. Tested propositions include the storyline that ice ages were discrete, long-lasting episodes during which atmospheric carbon dioxide builds up to a level that ultimately leads to their demise.

Physical evidence exists, within geological successions located in the tropics, of extreme cold arid environments like those of modern Antarctica (and sometimes used as Mars analogues). Variations in ice cover related to Milankovitch forcing was also a feature of the later stages of a Snowball event and may also be influential in the build-up phase in those rare cases where sedimentary deposition continues during major sea level fall at the onset of glaciation. Snowball Earth continues to provide an extreme testing ground for our theories of Earth system behaviour and organic evolution.

The volatile planet: Carbon, water and the deep Earth - Olly Lord, University of Bristol

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

Life on Earth is made possible by its volatile rich surface. These volatiles (mainly H2O and CO2) are cycled between the oceans, atmosphere and biosphere on geologically short timescales. While exchange between these surface reservoirs and the deep Earth (the mantle and core) through subduction and volcanism is slower, the deep Earth has the potential to dwarf the volatile capacity of the surface. The form and location of these volatiles within the deep Earth is likely to have a significant effect on the geochemical and geodynamic evolution of our planet and indeed the long-term maintenance of clement surface conditions. In this talk I will focus on our recent experimental efforts to understand the fate of subducted carbon and water as well as the new techniques we are developing to help us understand its geochemical and geodynamic implications.

Bearspace: geographies of fat stigma in a gay/bisexual men’s subculture - Nick McGlynn, University of Brighton

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

The UK is said to be grappling with an ‘obesity epidemic’ – an explosive and dangerous build-up of fat bodies framed as inherently unhealthy, irresponsible, unproductive, and sexually repulsive. Unsurprisingly fatness is highly stigmatised, with resultant serious mental/physical health impacts. Men are increasingly affected by fat stigma and it is known to be intensified in gay/bisexual men’s spaces. Yet the impacts of fat stigma on men’s health or sexuality have received little academic attention – particularly within geography. My research aims to uncover the role of geography in the marginalisation and/or empowerment of fat gay/bisexual men in the UK.

I bring together space, fatness and sexuality through work in the ‘Bear’ community - a large global subculture of large-bodied gay/bisexual men. ‘Bear spaces’ such as bars, clubs, and events are often experienced as ‘safe spaces’ for men excluded from both ‘mainstream’ (due to sexuality) and gay/bisexual men’s spaces (due to fatness). In this seminar I will discuss the Bearspace Project which tackles these issues. First, I explain the project’s intellectual origins in historical writing on the Bear subculture, and in research on fat geographies. Second, I outline the project’s progress to date and the programme for future work.

The Oman Drilling Project: why and how to drill oceanic lithosphere in an Arabian Desert - Jude Coggon, University of Southampton

  • 22 November 2018, 1.00pm-2.00pm, G72 Bennett Building (Geology)

Mid-ocean ridge spreading re-paves two-thirds of the Earth's surface every ~200 Ma, however, we have never sampled an intact section through the lower crust and into the mantle. Ophiolites provide an opportunity to recover continuous cores across these critical boundaries avoiding many of the technical difficulties of drilling at sea. The Oman Drilling Project (OmanDP) is an international scientific drilling project with the overarching aim of investigating the processes of formation and evolution of the lower oceanic crust and lithospheric mantle from the ridge, via hydrothermal alteration and obduction to modern day chemical and and microbial weathering. Fifteen boreholes (nine fully cored and six rotary) were successfully drilled in the Samail Ophiolite during two operational phases in order to sample a section through the lower crust, across the basal thrust of the ophiolite and into the metamorphic sole. More than 3200 m of core was recovered and logged to IODP standard on-board the DV Chikyu, in Japan. Hydrological testing and microbiological sampling will continue at a multi-borehole test site in partially serpentinised peridotite. I will present an overview of the drilling operations and a first look at these unique samples.

Proximal sensing from the Nephosphere: drones, kites and fine-grained geospatial data for monitoring environmental change - Karen Anderson, University of Exeter

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

Karen Anderson is a physical geographer and remote sensing scientist at the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute. Her research addresses questions about the relationships between spatial pattern, volumetric structure and ecosystem function in vegetated systems using remote and proximal sensing observations. Karen founded, and leads the DroneLab research group at Exeter. Together with her research group, and wider collaborators, Karen’s work has developed new ways of measuring biomass variations in drylands, hydrological functioning in wetlands and spatial distribution of urban ecosystem services, using spatial data captured by satellites, aircraft and drones.

Data captured from lightweight drone platforms have been a major feature within Karen’s recent research, and to an extent, this mirrors a reshaping of the way that spatial data are captured for physical geography research generally. Karen’s seminar will discuss this shift from ‘remote’ to ‘proximal’ sensing and the opportunities and challenges this poses for geographers and environmental scientists.  Calling on examples from research in drylands (South Western USA), tropical plantations (Malaysia), peatlands (Exmoor, UK), sand dune systems (Cornwall, UK), and rock glaciers (Khumbu Himal, Nepal), the seminar will show the various ways in which the proximal sensing viewpoint can deliver new insights into fine-grained environmental processes. Alongside, issues of spatial uncertainty and the detailed aspects of methodological work involved in extracting information from drone- and kite-derived photogrammetric point clouds, will be discussed.  

The seminar should be of interest to physical and human geographers alike. Drones transform the ‘remote sensing’ workflow from one where data are delivered by third party organisations to researchers, to one in which the researcher becomes the data provider. This shift carries with it great potential, and great responsibility (both operationally, and from a data quality perspective). Drones of course, have long been part of the geographic imagination: whilst “human geography suddenly seems afloat with airs and winds, fogs and aerial fluids, with volumes, verticals and objects in the air” (Adey 2015), physical geography is entering a new proximal sensing era with widespread use of drones and kites. The Nephosphere (see Garrett and Anderson (2018)) defines the (often contested) near-surface airspace within which drones can operate. From the Greek, nepho (cloud), and sphere (round geometrical three‚Äźdimensional [3D] object), the term engenders a volumetric perspective that is, generally, above rooftops and below piloted airplanes, an area of the sky previously looked at but rarely from, and the habitat for the drone.  As geographers expand their drone operations within the Nephosphere, there is a growing need for interdisciplinary conversations about the ethical, social and political ramifications of these praxes, which is something that the combined philosophy of human and physical geography has the potential to deliver.

Taking the pulse of the tropical oceans through the coral’s lens - Jens Zinke, University of Leicester

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

The tropical ocean is also a key player in regional and global climate dynamics – especially in terms of seasonal, interannual and decadal climate variability – the time scales most relevant to human societies. Current warming of the global Tropics with anthropogenic climate change continues unabated and has already forced regional-scale climatic variables beyond the range of historical experience. Valuable ecosystems, such as coral reefs, are already adversely affected by climate change and are predicted to continue to do so in coming decades even when large reductions in carbon emissions to limit warming to 2°C by 2100 were successful. However, due to the lack of long instrumental climate records from the tropical oceans we are left with rather large uncertainties in model-based climate change process studies of past and future responses of tropical ecosystems to climate change on a variety of time scales.

Therefore, it is my goal to take the pulse of the tropical ocean with the help of stony corals, the iconic sentinels of the Tropics, as natural sensors of past and current tropical climate and environmental change and variability over their long, multi-century life span. In my presentation I will provide examples of geochemical reconstructions of tropical climate from corals. I will outline some key research areas where I aim to develop new reconstructions of tropical climate change as part of newly funded research projects and a Royal Society Wolfson award.

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.