Water

Over two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean, while freshwater represents around 1% of the available water, it supports a significant proportion of global biodiversity.

Messy Rivers are Healthy Rivers: Professor Ellen Wohl, Warner College of Natural Resources

The movement of water through the landscape plays a vital role in shaping the Earth’s surface features and supporting floral and faunal communities. The supply, treatment and management of water is essential for the long-term sustainability of societies and ecosystem services globally (e.g., fisheries and renewable energy). However, water can pose serious risks and hazards to human health when it is contaminated or when it is present in excess (flood risk and associated hazards such as landslides) or deficit (drought). The relationships between society and water are complex and encompass literary representations of water and the biodiversity it supports, through to methods to ensure hydrological hazards can be modelled and managed effectively.

Key topics

Natural processes and change

Water at the Earth’s surface shapes the landscape and provides one of the primary inputs to all global ecosystems. Fundamental knowledge regarding the hydrological cycle and the physical processes, morphological features and biodiversity it supports provides the basis for understanding how anthropogenic activities have modified water dependant systems.

Extreme events and natural hazards

Evidence suggests that climate change will increase the frequency of extreme hydrological events such as intense rainfall storms, which may result in natural hazards such as floods, landslide and debris flows. Understanding, modelling and managing the complex catchment processes associated with extreme hydrological conditions is central to building resilience in the face of climate change.

Health and human performance

Water sustains human populations globally: access to clean water is essential for life but at the same time, water poses direct threats to human life through flood, drought and water-borne diseases. Water is also a vehicle for recreation from which we derive benefits to our health and wellbeing.

Science and technology

The treatment of water to ensure that it is safe to drink, that it is of an appropriate standard to be returned to the environment or its remediation where it poses a risk requires the development and application of a range of scientific and engineering technological approaches.

Biodiversity and culture

Recognising that almost half of marine life has disappeared over the past forty years and that for freshwater ecosystems biodiversity losses are higher. Although popular TV programmes such as ‘Blue Planet’ have raised public awareness regarding threatened aquatic populations new ways of relating to some of the more undervalued inhabitant of fresh and marine ecosystems are required.

Visiting fellows