Friday, 26 April 2013

Building environmental research links in Beijing

The first visit of research scientists to discuss opportunities for collaboration following the recent Memorandum of agreement signed between environmental researchers in China and the UK took place earlier this month. One of the CEH participants, Dr Bryan Spears, tells us more...

The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Research Centre for Eco-Environmental Sciences (RCEES) signed the MoU with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and the James Hutton Institute (JHI) in March 2013 [news story], initially to target research on topics including recovery of polluted environments, water management, food security, soil contamination and the development of eco-toxicology tools for environmental monitoring.

Researchers from all four institutes met in Beijing between 14-18 April. One of the areas of discussion was the remediation and restoration of polluted environments, and a team including Professor Gang Pan (CAS), Professor Stephen Maberly (CEH), Dr Bryan Spears (CEH) and Dr Andrew Vinten (JHI) participated in four days of dialogue and field trips which focused on the restoration and management of lakes and their catchments. These discussions were extremely productive and were used to produce both short-term and long-term research objectives.

Figure 1: Researchers from the four groups outside CAS

Day 1 was allocated to joint presentations (Pan, Maberly, Spears and Vinten) with Professor Pan’s colleagues and students in attendance, to outline current areas of expertise, facilities and collaborative opportunities.
  • Professor Pan outlined a range of geo-engineering techniques developed for the rapid control of cyanobacteria in freshwater lakes and presented some novel techniques for encouraging macrophyte recovery and controlling redox conditions in surface sediments.
  • Professor Maberly introduced research conducted by the Lake Ecology Group at Lancaster including studies on the ecological and physical responses of lakes to climate change, nutrient enrichment and the ingress of invasive species and highlighted the potential for lakes to feedback to climate systems through carbon processing pathways.
  • Dr Spears presented work on lake restoration including data screening approaches being used to combine large spatial scale and long-term lake monitoring data sets to aid the selection and application of appropriate lake management measures. Dr Spears also presented an update on whole lake experiments using geo-engineering approaches for the control of legacy phosphorus sources in bed sediments.
  • Dr Vinten highlighted the need to learn from local communities, especially with regards to how the management of water resources can be fitted to local community needs – whether in Scotland or China. This need was demonstrated using stakeholder-led catchment management case studies including Rescobie Loch on the Lunan Water in Angus and in the Pantanal, Brazil.

Day 2 and 3 included an overnight visit to Datong to see the recently built large experimental ponds where a trial of Modified Local Soils had been conducted to rapidly remove harmful cyanobacterial from treatment ponds (Figure 2 and 3). This experimental facility was funded by the Datong City Water Supply and Drainage Group Ltd and will be used to develop novel management strategies for the improvement of water quality in the nearby Cetian Reservoir, as well as being developed to support international research collaborations.

Figure 2: Experimental treatment ponds

Figure 3: Professor Pan holding treated and untreated water

The visit was hosted by the water company who also participated in a discussion on local issues of water management and economic costs of treatment (Figure 4). The importance of the newly constructed experimental facility for the development of novel management measures with which treatment costs can be reduced was discussed, as was the importance of international collaboration to meet these objectives. 

Figure 4: Prof Stephen Maberly discussing the importance of the facility with
Dr Zengguang Zhang of the Datong City Water Supply and Drainage Group Ltd,
and other stakeholders.

On Day 4 the group discussed collaborative research opportunities and structured these into a research strategy. This strategy has at its core the collection of joint data sets and exchange of expertise to fill knowledge gaps in each collaborating institute.

After a busy few days, the trip ended on the evening of 18 April with just enough time for a social event involving Karaoke, one of the (dubious) highlights of which was a painful rendition of Robbie Williams’ “Angels”, led by CEH pair Professor Maberly and Dr Spears!

Over the coming days the team will develop a report outlining the research objectives to be submitted to institute directors for consideration. Watch this space for further updates.

Additional information

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Communicating CEH Lake Restoration research – we’re speaking the same language!

In the UK we take it for granted that our work will be presented in English. However, presenting our work in English does not always allow us to reach the widest possible audience. This was all too apparent to two PhD students based at CEH’s Edinburgh site who realised that they could increase the exposure of their work by attending conferences in their home countries (Germany and Poland) and presenting their work in their native languages. As the students highlight to us below, this has been an enlightening and rewarding process.

The workshop “Lake remediation – Experiences and new challenges (Seentherapie - Erfahrungen und neue Herausforderungen) organized by the IGB Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (Germany) in March 2013 offered the opportunity to exchange and discuss experiences in the expanding field of lake remediation measures between experts from consultancies, agencies and scientists. Sebastian Meis presented the findings of his PhD study on the use of a phosphorus (P) binding and P-capping agent for sediment P-release management in shallow lakes in the session “Eutrophication control measures” (“Technische Ma├čnahmen zur Verminderung der Eutrophierung”).

Delegates at the Lake remediation workshop organised by the IGB Leibniz-
Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Germany in March 2013

Sebastian said, “This was a great opportunity to present my work in my native language, and to increase the exposure of CEH research more widely. The feedback on our work was very positive and I learned that similar projects are being conducted at a relatively large scale in Germany as part of the EU Water Framework Directive.”   

Whilst in Gdansk, Poland, Justyna Olszewska was giving an invited lecture on CEH’s research on lake restoration to the Gdansk Water Foundation, in Polish. The Foundation organises seminars focusing on the "hot" topics in the field, and given 2013 was officially nominated “Lake Year" by the Marshal Office of Pomerania Region, this seminar was devoted to the subject of lake restoration.

Justyna said, “Introducing CEH’s lake restoration research in Polish was a very interesting experience. It allowed me to compare the results of restoration work conducted in the UK with the Polish experiences in this area. It was great to discuss management issues with Polish scientists and local authorities and we now have a much better appreciation of the problems shared by both countries.

"Being a native speaker was definitely helpful, both during the presentation and discussions, but also during the social events. What was evident was that literal translation of scientific terminology is not always possible, or clear, and that follow-up discussions are important for ensuring that the scientific content is properly communicated. In addition, gaining general knowledge of the environmental problems in my home country has helped me put my work in Scotland into the wider context.“

Dr Bryan Spears of CEH, supervisor of both Sebastian and Justyna, said, “I thought it was really impressive that Justyna and Seb wanted to present at these meetings in their own language. From the feedback we have had from both meetings it has clearly helped fuel debate and increase interest in our work.”

Copies of both presentations can be viewed at the following links:

Related CEH links

CEH 's UK Lake Restoration research

Staff page of Dr Bryan Spears

Thanks to Sebastian Meis and Justyna Olszewska

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Reflections on the science underpinning the EU Biodiversity Strategy

Science underpinning the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy
CEH is involved in a number of cross-European partnerships and initiatives – international collaboration is a major feature of our science. One such initiative is ALTER-Net (a Long-Term Biodiversity, Ecosystem and Awareness Research Network), which comprises 26 partner institutes from 18 European countries. ALTER-Net integrates research capacities across Europe: assessing changes in biodiversity, analysing the effect of those changes on ecosystem services and informing policy makers and the public about this at a European scale.
Together with the European Commission, ALTER-Net has organized a major conference which has been taking place in Ghent, Belgium this week, during which participants are discussing the implementation of the 2020 European Biodiversity Strategy. Specifically, conference members are looking for scientifically sound, evidence-based recommendations on how to implement and realize the strategy. More than 200 scientists from 66 research institutes and more than 25 countries are taking part – not only is CEH among those helping to organise the event, along with Belgian lead organisers INBO, we also have scientists speaking during the main programme, and have organised some of the side events.
The location for the conference is an Augustinian monastery, probably an ideal place to “retreat” to for focused thought and discussion (the whole conference lasts for four days).
The conference recommendations will be presented to EU policy makers and it is expected they will form a starting point for the European Platform on Biodiversity Research Strategy (EPBRS) meeting to be held under the Irish EU Presidency in Dublin in May.
Why an EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy?
After the overall failure of the previous European strategy to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010, the EU adopted a new strategy in 2011, with a 2050 vision and a 2020 headline target. This 2020 target was defined as:
"Halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020, and restoring them in so far as feasible, while stepping up the EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss."
The EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy includes six mutually supportive and interdependent targets that respond to the objectives of the 2020 headline target:
1. Conserving and restoring nature
2. Maintaining and enhancing ecosystems and their services
3. Ensuring the sustainability of agriculture, forestry and fisheries
4. Combating invasive alien species
5. Addressing the global biodiversity crisis
6. Contributions of other environmental policies and initiatives
In a series of workshops, groups of scientists and policy makers will discuss the targets, before presenting their recommendations during the final plenary session on Thursday afternoon (April 18 2013).
More about the conference can be found on the ALTER-Net website. Dr Terry Parr from CEH was one of the speakers during Tuesday morning's plenary session on  "Biodiversity, ecosystems and sustainability - how to maintain, enhance and convince in the future". Others taking part in the session included the Finnish research institute SYKE, IRSTEA of France, the European Commission's DG Environment, and the University of Paris-Sud. On Wednesday, Dr Helen Roy of CEH will take part in a session focused on invasive alien species, while on the same day Dr Andrew Sier of CEH leads a side event which will look at developing new initiatives for ALTER-Net to undertake.
Get updates from the event on Twitter using #ALTERNetConf. More information on CEH's international collaborative work can be found on our main website.

Related CEH links

Friday, 12 April 2013

Assessing the 2013 Atlantic Puffin wreck

Three weeks on from the first reports of a puffin ‘wreck’ in Eastern Scotland and NE England CEH’s seabird ecology team are beginning to assess the longer term impact on the overall population. With help from members of the public and organisations such as the RSPB, SNH and the Scottish Seabird Centre we’ve been able to put together a map of locations where dead birds have been reported. Other species have also been found dead on the beaches of the East Coast, including guillemots, razorbills, shags and kittiwakes.

Google Map showing locations of reported seabird 'wrecks'

View 2013 Puffin wreck in a larger map

There are now two key questions: why did it happen and what impact will it have on the populations?

Prof Mike Harris writes, “All the Puffins we have examined so far have been emaciated, had empty stomachs, atrophied breast muscles and lacking subcutaneous and mesenteric fat – in other words the proximate cause of death appears to be starvation. Deciding whether this was due to lack of food, an inability to feed efficiently or to some other factor(s) is much more tricky.”

Later this month (in the week starting 29th April) CEH scientists and volunteers will carry out an assessment of the puffin population on the Isle of May. We have been monitoring seabird populations on the Isle of May for more than 40 years, and carry out a full count every five years, so by July we hope to know the effects of the 2013 wreck at this colony. As more than half the corpses were of breeding age we expect adult survival to be lower than normal. However, whether this will result in a measurable decrease in numbers breeding is unclear.

Another serious wreck (in 1983) did not result in a demonstrable reduction in breeding numbers of puffins on the Isle of May. However in the 1980s the population was increasing rapidly. The last puffin count on the Isle of May (in 2008) showed that the population was no longer increasing, so it remains to be seen whether it is still sufficiently resilient to cope with the 2013 wreck or if breeding numbers will decline.

Prof Mike Harris and Prof Sarah Wanless of CEH have written a detailed article on the 2013 ‘wreck’ which will be published in the next issue of British Birds (1 May) and also on the British Birds website.

Additional information

Images of the puffin 'wreck' as well as images of puffins on the Isle of May can be found in our recently updated 2013 Puffin 'wreck' Flickr set.

CEH's Seabird Ecology research  

RSPB Scotland

Scottish Natural Heritage

Scottish Seabird Centre

Thursday, 11 April 2013

We're going on a Bug Hunt!

Two of our PhD students, Scott McKenzie and Helen Hicks, were out and about at Brownsover Community School near Rugby this week, where they organised and led a hugely successful Bug Day. Read Scott's account of the day below:

"Why do ladybirds have spots?"

I was stumped. It was all going so well! In the past, I'd fended away probing questions from top academics at international conferences regarding my own PhD. Previously that morning, I had explained why some caterpillars were brightly coloured but others just looked like sticks, but this one had me scuppered. I came up with a few possibilities, avoiding going into too much detail about Natural Selection. The seven-year-old ecological prodigy seemed satisfied with my response and we moved on. Phew! 

I was at Brownsover Community School and in front of me were 60 cross-legged six and seven-year-olds eager for information on the favourite bugs and beasties. Some months previously I had been asked to organise a “Bug Day” at the school near Rugby. With the recent cold weather I realised that undertaking such a venture could be quite a challenge, as not much insect life will be out-and-about. Regardless, I jumped in with both feet. I have worked with children before and it is incredibly rewarding to think (if slightly naively) that you are inspiring the next generation of ecologists – the perfect pick-me-up to the recent miserable weather! I set about organising an action-packed and fun-filled day for the children.

Children from Brownsover Community School look for
minibeasts around their school, armed with ID sheets
and pooters.

The morning session consisted of an interactive presentation that illustrated the diversity of insects all over the world, ranging from stag beetles to pond skaters and katydids to termites. The ID skills of many of the children were impressive to say the least, with one child correctly identifying a water scorpion! The same child informed the rest of the class that a woodlouse was not an insect and was more closely related to a lobster. Pupils and teachers alike looked at me expecting to say how wrong he was, but I nodded in agreement, impressed.

Pupils line up to empty their minibeast finds for the whole
class to admire.

A drawing task followed the barrage of questions the presentation had evoked. Using what they had just learnt about the diversity of insects, I asked them to draw their “Ultimate Bug”. I wanted them to tell me where it lived, what it ate and what special features they had. They could draw on all the attributes we had just been discussing; some had huge eyes on stalks and were covered in spines, others lived in water and ate fish (but still had huge wings!). One even had no eyes because it just lived in tunnels eating worms. Needless to say their imagination ran riot and they came up with some interesting and spectacular specimens. 

The next task was a classic “bug hunt”. With pooter and ID sheets in hand they set about stone-turning and leaf-litter-rummaging around the school grounds in search of some of the minibeasts they had seen during the morning. To encourage concentrated searching we had hidden a number of plastic bugs around the school in places where invertebrates might be concealed. If a pupil found one, they were rewarded with a wiggly worm (sweet). After 45 minutes we had amassed an impressive array of bugs and beasties, including 7-spot ladybirds and some impressive looking centipedes. By this time tummies were rumbling and lunch was upon us.

Here's one I made earlier...

The afternoon task was to make themselves a self-contained decomposer community from a 2-litre plastic bottle. In true Blue Peter style, I had taken in “one I had made earlier” (it is now adorning my desk in the CEH student room). The top of the bottle was cut off and filled with a handful of soil and some dead leaves and sticks. The children then added their own detritivorous invertebrates including woodlice and millipedes. I’ve always thought it is easy to enthuse kids about certain minibeasts: colourful butterflies and pretty ladybirds, for example. I think it’s much more difficult to get them excited about drab, dull things.  I had my work cut out, but I think I managed to win them over! Sooner or later they were handling woodlice as excitedly as if they were exotics in a zoo! 

Pupils create their very own decomposer mesocosm,
 with a little help from Helen Hicks.

Pupils inspecting a decomposer community
mesocosm, and realising how awesome
woodlice are!

Whilst some held woodlice, others were peering into water-filled trays containing various aquatic invertebrates we had collected the previous day. There were lots of “wriggly things” and also many things “that looked like some stones”, all of which were received well by the children. Also on this “hands-on” table were some stick insects I had acquired the week previous. Once one child had an insect clambering over their hand they encouraged other, more timid, children to do the same. After a short while the stick insects had made their way over the hands of most of the children (and some braver teachers) in the class. It was great seeing children impart their knowledge onto their peers. This was mainly in the form of “you have to be gentle with them as their legs might come off”. Thankfully, no stick insects succumbed to this fate and all the children were, indeed, gentle.

It was fast approaching the end of the school day and all that was left was to suggest a few things they could do around their own gardens and the school to help insects. This included planting wild flowers and butterfly-friendly plants and building somewhere nice and warm for bugs to overwinter. I had been genuinely impressed with the high levels of enthusiasm and attentiveness shown by all the pupils throughout the day and I rewarded the top entomologist with their own mini-microscope. 

Happy (and exhausted!) ecologists with
satisfied pupils.

It was an incredibly rewarding and satisfying day for all, if quite tiring! I really do think it emphasises the importance of speaking to children about ecology in a fun and informative way. It was an equally educational day for us and I have learnt much from the experience. I'm looking forward to similar opportunities in the future!  

Scott McKenzie and Helen Hicks

See more photos in our Flickr set

Monday, 8 April 2013

CEH science at the EGU 2013 General Assembly

Scientists from CEH are joining 11,000 others at the EGU annual assembly in Vienna this week to present progress and results from a range of hydrological and other projects.
The annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union, running until Friday 12 April, is the place to meet every kind of earth, atmosphere and ocean scientist and even get the latest data from the Curiosity rover on Mars. It's one of the two largest annual gatherings of geo-scientists in the world, with participants from almost 100 countries.
Hydrology is always a feature, along with volcanology, planetary and earth science, atmosphere, climate, energy and resources. CEH’s hydrology-related presentations and posters will highlight our latest research in floods, droughts and predicting hydrological change.
Chris Taylor is presenting his work that shows afternoon rain is more likely over drier soils (relating to his recent Nature paper) and convening a session on African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis.
Ilaria Prosdocimi will explain a case study based on old Ordnance Survey maps that could take UK flood estimation forward from a steady state model to allow for the effects of increasing urbanisation and climate variability on flood risk.
Jamie Hannaford’s poster describes a unique international dataset, a network of more than 1200 “Reference” catchments (undisturbed by human activities like reservoirs and urbanisation) across Europe and North America where we can identify natural, climate-driven changes in river flow regimes. Jamie and his co-workers will use this broad network to quantify long-term changes in the frequency of major floods (events that occur on average every 25 to 100 years) for the first time on a continental scale.
Ignazio Giuntoli, a PhD student with CEH and the University of Birmingham, will present a poster looking at several models to assess future water security. Early results from two of the models suggest that water deficit is expected to increase in two “hotspots”: Northern Latin America and Southern Europe.
Bob Moore is convening a session on Friday on Hydrological forecasting: challenges in uncertainty estimation, data assimilation, post-processing and decision-making.
Thomas Kjeldsen, a co-author of several presentations on improving our understanding of European flood hydrology, is not attending but has just been appointed an Editor of the EGU journal Hydrology & Earth System Sciences (HESS).
CEH science is also represented beyond hydrology.  In a session on energy, resources and the environment, Niall McNamara reports on initial findings from a project investigating greenhouse gas balances of land use transitions into energy crops, while Andrew Robertson presents on carbon dioxide emissions for a Miscanthus plantation. Meanwhile, Mike Billett and colleagues' research on peatlands and the carbon cycle is also being presented.
Finally, CEH Fellow Professor John P Burrows, formerly our Director of Biogeochemistry and now with the University of Bremen in Germany, delivers the Vilhelm Bjerknes Medal Lecture on Wednesday. Professor Burrows receives the medal for atmospheric-earth system research. (Bjerknes was a Norwegian physicist and meteorologist who made a fundamental contribution to electricity working with Hertz and then moved to wave motions, which are the basis of modern weather prediction).

Congratulations and good luck to all those involved this week!

Further information

Read a news story about Chris Taylor's work showing afternoon rain is more likely over drier soils