Researchers Widen Response to World’s Environmental Problems

University researchers in the UK are devising practical ways for people to change their lives in response to environmental change and natural catastrophes such as the floods in Pakistan and Australia, and rapid environmental change events such as volcanic eruptions, landslides and tsunamis.

A new centre, Adapting to Changing Environments, at the University of Leicester will form the nucleus for academics in a range of subjects to develop practical technologies and policy initiatives that aim to make a real impact on people’s lives. The philosophical focus of the centre is to encourage multi- and inter-disciplinary research in an attempt to understand, monitor and model complex systems and issues. Then generate innovative, practical solutions to assist adaptation in a world of changing environments and climates, increasing population, and resource competition.

The centre’s director Mike Petterson, Professor of Applied and Environmental Geology at Leicester, expects the impact of the research will reach far beyond producing rigorous academic papers. “This sort of research has got to go way beyond that. It’s got to make a difference in the real world, affecting policy, the way we do things, and assisting industry and the knowledge economy. Decision makers increasingly are looking to researchers for practical solutions. For example new technologies developed at the University of Leicester are assisting cities in monitoring air pollution on a real-time basis and using these data to assist with traffic flow management and carbon footprint estimates. Other research focuses upon ‘greening cities’ in the UK in an effort to adapt to warming temperatures and increasing droughts.

“Recent widespread UK national forest fires and depleted reservoir levels may be a sign of new challenges countries face with the more frequent occurrence of extreme weather events. Researchers at the University of Leicester have developed experience in forest fires in Africa, their causes, impacts and footprints, which may be applicable to different environmental settings. Holistic and multi-disciplinary studies of natural hazards and community resilience in the South West Pacific are assisting policy and decision makers and local communities with respect to living with vulnerable environments and reducing risk and danger to life and property.”

To provide a ‘critical mass’ of core expertise the Adapting to Changing Environments centre, within the University of Leicester’s College of Science and Engineering, will benefit from having three ‘New Blood’ lecturers. The University’s New Blood Lectureships are aimed at individuals with outstanding research potential, these individuals receive reduced teaching loads, guaranteed study leave and start-up funding for travel.

The three New Blood researchers for the centre are:

* Dr Michael Barkley: with particular expertise in rainforests and their interactions with the atmosphere;

* Dr Claire Smith: with a focus on adapting the urban environment to climate change;

* Dr Roland Leigh: concentrating on developing technologies for measuring a range of changing environmental indicators.

A key feature of the new centre is that it will draw on the expertise of academics from various fields in a flexible way, building teams as required. The rationale is that many of the greatest advances in science occur when teams of scientists work together in new and unconventional ways across traditional discipline boundaries.

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