Research Excellence

Storms lashing a coastal railway line

Changing Environments and Infrastructure Global Challenge

Against a backdrop of population growth, migration and urbanisation our work tackles the challenges to global economies and ecosystems presented by climate, land use and hydrological change.

We have joined to together our understanding and expertise of environmental processes and their impacts on land, water and the atmosphere to provide the scientific evidence base, practical skills and experience needed to identify and implement sustainable solutions.

The global reach of our research means that we work closely with a range of policy-makers, including national and international government agencies and NGOs, such as the World Bank, the United Nations and the Environment Agency, as well as a broad spectrum of industry partners.

Our research priorities

Understanding environmental processes and change

We are investigating the environmental processes and changes related to natural forcing and anthropogenic disturbance of atmospheric, terrestrial, freshwater and oceanic systems at a range of spatial and temporal scales across the globe. Our research uses a contemporary to palaeo-environmental and palae-ecological perspective of environmental processes and change with a strong tradition of inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary collaborations internationally including: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Greenland, Ireland, Namibia, Norway, Sweden and Uganda.

Our research is addressing these challenges by:

  • Exploring smarter approaches to climate risk assessment and decision making given uncertainty about the future climate.
  • Undertaking fundamental scientific research on environmental processes within freshwater (lakes and rivers), marine, glacial, drylands/deserts and terrestrial systems and addressing how these are influence by anthropogenic activates and environmental change.
  • Utilising field and state of the art laboratory experimentation to examine environmental processes and how they are affected by anthropogenic activity, environmental change and invasive species.
  • Combining expertise and knowledge from hydrometeorology, palaeoecology, biogeochemistry, geophysics, geomorphology and glaciology to understand the effects of climate forcing, human disruption and other drivers on environmental system functioning and interactions and sediment source to sink processes in polar and alpine regions.

Resilience of infrastructure to environmental change

Much of the critical infrastructure on which society depends is surprisingly vulnerable to environmental hazards such as floods, droughts and storms. For example, a recent UK Government report estimated that over 500 assets are currently inadequately or undefended against floods. These locally and nationally significant infrastructures provide energy, water, transport, telecommunications and health services. Measures to improve their resilience include physically protecting the assets, relocating critical equipment, increasing the connectedness of systems, or making provision for back-up.

Our research is addressing these challenges by:

  • Improving understanding of the changing nature of the environmental threats. For example, we are reconstructing long records of extreme UK weather events to better understand the present. We are also looking at very severe phenomena such as ‘superfloods’ and ‘mega droughts’ that can affect large areas of Europe and overwhelm key infrastructure.
  • Strengthening the design and operation of critical infrastructure such as power stations, hospitals and water supply networks. We are working closely with partners in the energy and water sectors in the UK, North America and Central Asia. Some designs need to be resilient to more than a century of environmental change – such as nuclear power plants on the coast.
  • Supporting decision-makers who have to manage equipment and sites before, during and after extreme events. This work includes helping authorities to cope with urban water supply and sanitation challenges in East Africa, or creating tools to guide emergency responders through flooded road networks in UK cities.
  • Providing advice to government agencies about how critical infrastructure could be impacted by future environmental change. Previous projects have contributed to the development of strategies for upgrading the Thames barrier, or guided investments made by the Department for International Development in climate-resilient, low-carbon energy and water supply systems.

Global water and resource management

Water is a primary requirement for life and securing access to a clean supply of drinking water, sanitation and hygiene are essential to reduce the risk on disease. Whilst this is taken for granted in most developed economies many people living in low and middle income countries face a daily challenge secure the clean water they require and basic sanitation.

Our research promotes the integration of social, technical, economic, institutional and environmental activities as foundations for sustainable development. We work collectively with many development sector partners around the world to develop the underlying analysis of evidence to influence policy and practice, and enhance our collective impact. We are committed to the provision of effective, evidence-based and appropriate solutions for the improvement of basic infrastructure and essential services for people across the globe including Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Uganda, Kenya and Ghana:

Our research is addressing these challenges by:

  • Developing a methodology for the Rapid Assessment of Drinking-Water Quality (RADWQ) for those living in low and middle-income countries .This involved intensive field work to collect one-off water quality and sanitary inspection data from representative water supplies. This information can then be utilised to improve the knowledge and understanding of which technologies deliver safe drinking-water. 
  • Designing, developing and deploying technology to produce clean drinking water. This includes the development of application of portable water purification systems for use in low and middle income countries and for emergency relief.
  • The development and engineering of nano and micro-materials for use in the treatment of water, especially through the use of membrane technology. This research also involves the simulation and modelling of filtration processes through porous media to determine the behaviour of fluids and potential pollutants. 

Natural Hazards in Human Landscapes

FloodMap, a two-dimensional flood modelling tool, developed at Loughborough FloodMap, a two-dimensional flood modelling tool, developed at Loughborough

Flooding is globally one of the most significant environmental hazards faced by contemporary societies.

Recent high magnitude floods during the winter of 2014-15 and 2015-16 have highlighted the effects on our towns and cities across the UK. However, urban flooding occurs widely and our application of urban flood modelling techniques at a broad scale seeks to address this global challenge internationally for cities including Bangkok, Kampala, Kisumu, Shanghai and New York to improve our understanding of local flood risks in a changing and uncertain climate and environment.

Our research is addressing these challenges by:

  • Leading developments in the field of high-resolution urban flood now-casting at the city-scale, a technology of flood forecasting into short time horizons (less than 48 hours), based on numerical weather forecast of precipitation and numerical flood modelling.
  • Modelling the effects of flooding on urban infrastructure by combining high-performance computational servers, live precipitation forecast and a high-resolution flood modelling package.
  • Providing strategic and operational support during flooding for urban planners, emergency responders, utility owners and infrastructure managers. Recent research has focused on modelling the impacts of infrastructure failures during flooding on emergency responders. Our research has been demonstrated in Leicester City, coordinated by the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Resilience Forum and we work closely with local partners and emergency services.

Further information