Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Our new website and blog

After several months of planning and development, we were pleased to unveil the new-look Centre for Ecology & Hydrology website earlier this month (July 2015). The new site provides easy access to information about our scientific projects, data, citizen science activities and news.


The new website also incorporates the CEH blog, so for future posts you will need to visit http://www.ceh.ac.uk/news-and-media/blogs


Paulette Burns, Media Coordinator

Friday, 5 June 2015

Apping and assessing air pollution using lichens!

CEH released a new mobile phone app today. It gives everyone a way of assessing nitrogen pollution in their local area.

For those that don’t know lichens look like this!

The app is based on a field guide developed by CEH staff and our partners last year

Unlike most of our previous apps, such as iRecord Butterflies and iRecord Ladybirds, the Lichen app isn’t for wildlife recording, rather it’s a tool for assessing the status of nitrogen in your area by surveying lichen on trees. By identifying the presence or absence of nine nitrogen sensitive and eight non-sensitive lichens on tree trunks and branches you can get an estimate of how polluted your area is.

Lichens on a tree trunk – © Ian Leith/Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Full guidance can be found in the app but basically to get going you need to Identify five oak or five birch trees (not a mixture of the two) in your local area.
  • Trees should be single stemmed (standard) with a straight trunk, and greater than 40 cm in girth. 
  • There also needs to be some accessible branches.
Following the instructions in the app you then identify the lichens growing on the East, West, South of the tree trunks, and then some of the tree branches. You might need to use a hand lens to help with ID as some lichen features are very small!

Here's where you need to sample lichens on your trees.

All the details are then recorded using the App:

And if you have any problems identifying your lichens there’s a handy ID guide built into the App with lots of photos:

Once all the info is complete, you click on the ‘Results’ button. The app works out your lichen indicator score (LIS) and the NAQI score (Nitrogen Air Quality Index).

That’s it! More information on the Lichen App can be found in a news story on our website.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Managing the world’s water – sharing good practice

Dr Harry Dixon reports from the World Water Congress in Edinburgh

This week CEH organised a Special Session at the International Water Resources Association’s (IWRA) World Water Congress. The Congress is the Association’s 15th global gathering and this year it is being held in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, reflecting the Scottish Government’s drive to grow the water sector under its HydroNation agenda.

At CEH, we host the UK Committee for Nation and International Hydrology (UKCNIH). This Committee, chaired by Professor Alan Jenkins, provides a forum for UK government departments, agencies, research bodies, professional societies and universities to discuss current issues and priorities related to freshwater research. The aim is to better coordinate UK engagement in national and international hydrological research.

Speakers in the special session on international catchment management science
and application at the World Water Congress XV.

Central to the Committee’s activities are the UK’s activities related to the International Hydrological Programme of UNESCO , for which CEH leads engagement on behalf of the Department for International Development (DFID), and involvement in the water related activities of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), for which Alan Jenkins is the UK Hydrological Adviser.

On behalf of the UKCNIH we convened a session at the World Water Congress to bring together a range of experts from both the UK and overseas involved in catchment management science. The aim was to discuss both the scientific and implementation challenges related to catchment based approaches to water management.

The Session was kicked off by Mark Williams, Scottish Water’s Head of Environmental Science and Regulation, who provided a very interesting set of examples of issues the water industry are faced with when tacking urban pollution. Next, David Harley, Water and Land Manager at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, provided a local perspective outlining the regulatory challenges related to the development of River Basin Management Plans and in particular the issue around rural defuse pollution.

The Congress is, as the name suggests an international gathering with around 900 delegates from across the work attending. One key aim of our Session was to discuss the role of international science programmes in relation to improving catchment management and one very interesting examples in this area came from Prof David Harper (University of Leicester and long-standing member of the UKCNIH) who provided an overview of his work on the Lake Naivasha basin in Kenya. David outlined his research on the ecohydrology of the basin, an area which provides 40% of all cut flowers that are sold in EU supermarkets.

In addition to UK researchers and practitioners, we were very pleased to be joined by representatives of both UNESCO and WMO to give a UN perspective on the future direction for global science in this area and ideas on how the world community can improve catchment management. Dr Blanca E Jiménez Cisneros is the Secretary of the International Hydrological Programme (IHP) and UNESCO’s Director of Water Sciences. Blanca’s presentation set out the global challenges related to water security and the ways in which the IHP aims to provide a framework for global water science, policy development and education. Giacomo Teruggi from WMO detailed their activities under the Hydrology and Water Resources Programme and gave an interesting overview of the Associated Programme on Flood Management – a joint initiative by the WMO and Global Water Partnership to advocate the concept of Integrated Flood Management.

To bring the different ideas together, Prof Bob Ferrier (James Hutton Institute and member of CEH’s Science Development Group ) rose to the challenge of summarising the current issues and challenges in relation to catchment science and posed some thought provoking ideas. Following Bob’s presentation, Alan Jenkins adopted the role of David Dimbleby to host a Question Time style panel session with all our speakers to explore the issues further. The panel and audience discussed a range of questions covering: the key scientific questions to which catchment managers need answers; the challenge of mobilising individuals and organisations in relation to adaptation; and how to stimulate greater community engagement in managing the freshwater environment.

The Session generated some interesting discussions and highlighted the difficult challenges faced by the global community to improve catchment management. However, it also highlighted some great examples of UK scientists and practitioners rising to these challenges to deliver integrated catchment management approaches both in this country and overseas.

It is clear that as hydrologists we have an important role to play in developing water management in this area and that by working through organisations such as UNESCO and WMO we can ensure we learn from others internationally and that the good practices we have in the UK are shared around the world.

Dr Harry Dixon

Dr Harry Dixon is a Senior Hydrologist at CEH and the Secretary of the UK Committee for National and International Hydrology. He works closely with Prof Alan Jenkins to provide the Committee’s Secretariat and CEH’s leadership of UK engagement in international science programmes of WMO and UNESCO.

Related links

World Water Congress XV Special Session 4 outline of speakers 

World Water Congress XV

UK Committee for National and International Hydrology

Staff page of Prof Alan Jenkins, CEH

Staff page of Dr Harry Dixon, CEH

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A decade of recording harlequin ladybirds in the UK

Dr Helen Roy of CEH is among the scientists behind the UK Ladybird Survey which, thanks to the help of the public, has monitored the rapid spread of the non-native harlequin ladybird in the UK from its first confirmed appearance in 2004. Coinciding with a new paper in Ecological Entomology, Helen looks back at ten years of harlequin ladybird recording.

"The harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis), heralded as “the most invasive ladybird on Earth”, was first recorded in the UK in October 2004. Within a few months the online Harlequin Ladybird Survey was launched as part of the wider UK Ladybird Survey. Over the last decade, tens of thousands of people have contributed their sightings of this invasive non-native ladybird (and other species of ladybird) to the UK Ladybird Survey.

"The result - a unique dataset tracking the invasion of a non-native species from the moment of arrival.

Harlequin ladybird (Photo: Ken Dolbear)

Today (20 May 2015) we celebrate the contributions of these inspiring volunteer recorders through the publication of a paper describing advances in understanding of the ecology of the harlequin ladybird in the UK. The paper builds on a paper published in the same journal in 2006 which made predictions about the impact of the harlequin.

There have been many exciting discoveries over the years and some rather bleak messages too. Much of the research on this species would have been impossible without the volunteer recorders. We have learnt so many lessons from these ladybirds.

Highlights include:

  • The UK Ladybird Survey dataset highlighted that seven out of eight native species of ladybird were declining and this was strongly linked to the arrival of the harlequin ladybird.
  • We have also explored the way in which the colour patterns of harlequin ladybirds, their association with different habitats and plants within these habitats, their reproductive behaviour, their flight patterns and so much more has influenced the spread of this species.
  • The harlequin ladybird has been shown to be more resistant to parasites than other ladybirds.
  • We have shared the dataset with other scientists across the UK and around the world and enjoyed comparing our findings with others who are studying the harlequin ladybird across Europe, South Africa, North and South America and Asia.
  • The role of citizen scientists in this research has been inspiring and we have enjoyed sharing experiences with other citizen scientists and their projects to develop a citizen science.
  • The number of new arrivals is increasing year on year and the number of records of H. axyridis received by the UK Ladybird Survey demonstrates the critical role that people can play in non-native species surveillance.
  • The commitment of people to recording harlequin ladybirds encouraged the development of a recording system for other non-native species which is being used as an early warning tool for the Asian hornet and other species that are on the horizon. The demand for scientific evidence to underpin our understanding of the impacts of invasive non-native species on other wildlife continues to be high.

The next ten years

So what about the next ten years? We still have so much to learn about the harlequin ladybird and its interactions with other species. To date much of the research has looked at predation and we need to examine the importance of competition between harlequin ladybirds and other species, and our understanding of the resilience of the networks of species with which the harlequin ladybird intermingles. We are also asking people to tell us about the natural enemies (mainly parasites) of ladybirds as they observe them interacting with harlequin ladybirds and other species. It is possible that some of these incredible parasites will adapt to using the harlequin ladybird as a host – evolution in action!

Collaboration and working in partnership is so important and we have been delighted to have so many opportunities to work with so many people and organizations over the last ten years. We want to thank everyone who has contributed – it has been a privilege to work with you all. We hope that people will continue to be part of the UK Ladybird Survey. The smartphone app, iRecord Ladybirds, ensures that it is extremely easy to record sightings of all ladybirds. An incredible 12000 records have already been contributed through the app.

"So, if you see a ladybird, please record your sighting. Every record counts!"

Dr Helen Roy

Ten years of invasion: Harmonia axyridis (Pallas) (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) in Britain. 2015. Helen E Roy and Peter M J Brown. Ecological Entomology.

CEH News:  Ten years of invasion -  a decade of recording harlequin ladybirds

UK Ladybird Survey: Recording ladybirds

Monday, 18 May 2015

Fascination of Plants Day 2015

CEH scientists were among those taking part in an event at Harcourt Arboretum in Oxfordshire this weekend staged as part of the worldwide Fascination of Plants Day 2015. Insect interactions with different plants and wildflowers were high on the agenda as our experts led guided walks, answered questions and revealed the contents of a moth trap set up for the event.

Moth and butterfly ecologist Dr Marc Botham began proceedings when he opened the moth trap to fascinated onlookers.

Dr Marc Botham (kneeling) opened a moth trap at the event

Although Marc himself was a little disappointed with the number and variety of species caught during a cooler than average May night, there were still plenty to keep the crowd interested, with poplar hawk moths particularly numerous. 

Many of the people got to hold some of the still docile moths for the first time and see up close the amazing colours and markings.

Next up was the first of the day's ladybirds walks, led by entomologist Dr Helen Roy, who taught some of the younger participants the art of using a sweep net and showed them how to input their discoveries into the Ladybird Survey app.

A number of pine ladybirds were found on both pine and hawthorn trees in the woodland. On a day when ladybirds were actually quite scarce, 14-spot and 7-spot ladybirds were also spotted by some of the more eagle-eyed participants.

Dr Oli Pescott, a botanist at CEH, led plant and wildflower walks during the day. As well as pointing out much of what was in bloom around the arboretum, Oli revealed fascinating facts, identification tips, similarities between species and the importance of different plants for insect interactions.

The cuckooflower or Lady's smock (Cardamine pratensis), a primary
larval food plant of the Orange tip butterfly

Comparing characteristics of thyme-leaved speedwell (left) and
germander speedwell.

Dog's mercury (Mercurialis perennis) - don't eat it! A
woodland plant which is highly poisonous.

This is the third international Fascination of Plants Day. Events are being held worldwide with the aim of getting people enthused by plants and their importance for the environment, food production, agriculture, as well as the sustainable production of goods such as timber, chemicals, pharmaceuticals etc.

As well as CEH, other organisations taking part at the Harcourt Arboretum event included the University of Oxford, the Wildlife Trusts, the Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre, and the RSPB.

Paulette Burns

Further information

Marc, Oli and Helen all work closely with the Biological Records Centre within CEH.

Fascination of Plants Day 2015 official website

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

CEH science at EGU 2015

CEH scientists are among those presenting research updates to the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna this week (12-17 April 2015). The meeting brings together scientists from all over the world to discuss aspects of Earth, planetary and space sciences.

Abstracts of oral and poster presentations led by CEH scientists and students can be found below:
Additionally, Dr Eiko Nemitz is a convenor of two sessions on Biosphere-atmosphere exchanges while Bob Moore is convening a PICO session on hydrological forecasting.

On Thursday, Prof Christel Prudhomme is one of the panel of experts taking part in the Young Hydrologic Society's session on Meet the expert in hydrology - The mystery of evaporation.

Good luck to everyone taking part!

Dr Paul Scholefield is one of the CEH scientists presenting at EGU2015 this week:

Below, poster presentation by Christine Braban and colleagues in the Natural Hazards session on Atmosphere emissions from volcanoes and their dispersion:

Effusive Eruption Modelling project: Assessing UK impacts of trace species and sulphur deposition

EGU 2015 is taking place at the Austria Center Vienna. Photo: CC BY-SA 3.0 BambooBeast

Related links

European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2015

CEH Biosphere-Atmosphere Interactions science area

CEH Natural Hazards science area

Friday, 27 March 2015

What ails our horse chestnut trees and can we save them?

A guest blog from pupils of La Sainte Union School, Camden, London.

Dr Michael Pocock, an ecologist at CEH, is one of the scientists behind Conker Tree Science. Thanks to a Royal Society partnership grant, he recently shared some of his knowledge and skills with students at a school in London.
One pupil’s scientific drawing of the tiny leaf-miner larva

Michael writes, “Over the past few months I have been visiting Dr Pari Collis and her pupils at La Sainte Union school in Camden, London as part of a Royal Society partnership grant. Based on my experience with Conker Tree Science, I helped the girls begin a project on the horse-chestnut leaf miner, but with their teacher they took it so much further than I thought they would.

"Not only did they undertake careful ecological studies, but they also covered biochemistry and environmental ethics, mixed with a little bit of German, maths and art! My final visit to the school was last week when they gave an excellent presentation of their project in front of an audience of teachers and parents.
"It has been a privilege to work with Dr Collis and the girls over the past year and share moments of scientific discovery and excitement with them. I would highly recommend using the Royal Society partnership grants for any scientist to link with a local secondary school."

The pupils at La Sainte Union school have written up their project and submitted it for peer review at the Young Scientists Journal. Below is an abridged version of their full article:

"Horse chestnut trees are ornamental trees and were largely planted for their attractive shape and beautiful flowers which make them really desirable in parks and village greens. We noticed that there was extensive early browning of the horse chestnut trees in our school grounds, which we found was caused by the horse-chestnut leaf-miner, Cameraria ohridella. Both the horse chestnut tree and the Cameraria ohridella are invasive species but we consider the moths to be pests because they harm the trees that we chose to plant.

We worked in groups to visually estimate the number of horse chestnut leaf miner in one tree. We counted the number of the leaf miners in a small section of the tree and then scaled up to estimate that there were 250,000 – 500,000 leaf miners per tree.

Making careful observations of  horse-chestnut leaves
The common horse chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum is very susceptible to infestation by the leaf miner, but we found that the red-flowering hybrid (Aesculus x carnea) is very resistant. The mass of the red flowered horse chestnut tree leaves was approximately twice that of the white flowered trees (0.02 compared to 0.01 g per cm2). The caterpillars seem unable to feed successfully on these leaves.

We wanted to find out if anything could be done to stop the moths. We investigated the following possibilities of control:

  • Natural predators (parasitoid wasp and blue tit);
  • Pheromone traps that attract and kill male moths;
  • Collecting and burning or burying fallen leaves in autumn to destroy the overwintering pupae.

Natural pest controllers: Leaves from an infected horse chestnut tree were collected and stored in zip-lock bags for two weeks on a cool and dark shelf. We then recorded the number of adult Cameraria ohridella moths and parasitoid pest controllers. There were 171 wasps altogether (19% of the total) which means 171 horse chestnut tree leaf miner larvae were killed by the larvae of the parasitic wasps.

Pupils ready for the big sweep to 
collect fallen horse chestnut leaves

Blue tits have discovered that horse chestnut trees are absolutely loaded with caterpillars. Caterpillars are an important food source for blue tits, which feed them to their young. If blue tits were to start eating a substantial amount of the caterpillars it would help the horse chestnut tree. We examined the leaves for v-shaped tears as evidence of ‘bird attack’ and found 0 to 57 bird attacks per leaf.

Pheromone traps: The main component of the sex attractant (pheromone) released by the females of the horse chestnut leaf miner has been identified as E,Z-8,10-Tetradecadienal12. We used pheromone traps to catch male moths which reduces mating and therefore egg laying. We weighed the content of the trap and estimated that 30,000 moths had been captured over a period of two months. This is about a tenth of the number we had estimated on each tree in July after the 1st generation.

Clearing leaf litter: Early in the season (July), we noticed that the browning of the leaves is more prominent at the base of the tree. This is consistent with the moths emerging from the fallen leaves and spreading upwards first to the lower leaves. We collected fallen leaves from under the horse chestnut tree and found an average of 100 pupae per leaf. If we estimate that there could be at least 100 fallen leaves in the vicinity of the tree, then 10,000 moths could emerge. If half of these are females, which lay 30 eggs each, we could expect 150,000 moths at the end of the first generation and 2,250,000 eggs at the end of the second generation. In reality the number will be smaller because not all pupae, moths or eggs will survive. Nonetheless the number of potential moths is formidable bearing in mind that the calculation is based on just 100 leaves.

It may be time for the UK to follow Berlin’s example where there is a programme encouraging everyone to take part in raking up and clearing every single horse chestnut tree leaf. It is considered to be every citizen’s civic duty to participate in the clearing of the leaves. Involving the community in this way may have many social benefits encouraging social interaction, interest and responsibility for the environment."

Michael Pocock and several of the students
By: Tito A, Ursula A, Elisabeth A, Sharon B, Ariane F, Grace G, Catriona G, Zoe H, Oghogho I, Dea L, Mia O, Lara R, Hannah S and Ellie T (La Sainte Union School, London).

Dr Pari Collis is the science teacher at La Sainte Union school who invited Michael to visit and she concludes:  We really enjoyed working with Dr Michael Pocock.  Michael’s enthusiasm was absolutely infectious and it kept everyone on board. The girls did outdoor science, learnt how to be observant and use scientific method.  They improved their communication skills, worked as a team and showed commitment to the project. Under Dr Pocock’s guidance they also learnt to read original scientific papers for themselves. Most importantly they took an interest in their surroundings, seeing them in a different light, and in particular have become extremely fond of horse chestnut trees and conkers.  They discussed the project and shared their enthusiasm with their friends and family. It has been a great pleasure to have worked with Michael and to share and discuss our findings with him.  

Additional information

Michael has also recently written about his life in science for Catalyst magazine, which is produced to inspire secondary school pupils about science.

Royal Society Partnership Grants

Conker Tree Science

Staff page of Dr Michael Pocock

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Retirement beckons for voice of UK hydrological reporting

As many of our regular readers will know, the UK hydrological summary is a monthly update from scientists within the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology working with colleagues from the British Geological Survey. Every month, under the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme, they collate, quality check and analyse various data with regard to river flows, reservoirs and groundwater, placing them in historical context and identifying hydrological trends. The team produces regular updates and occasional reports into events such as the summer floods of 2007 and the recent 2010-2012 drought to flood transformation.

For several decades, a mainstay of the NHMP has been our own Terry Marsh, leader of the programme since 1982. This month, March 2015, is Terry's last before retirement so it is fitting that he authored the summary issued this month (analysing water resources in February 2015), bringing the total he has authored to an incredible 286. This "special souvenir edition" contains a tribute to Terry from his colleagues.

So, download the latest summary (PDF) and, after taking in the assessment of the UK's hydrological conditions, browse to page 3 for a tribute to Terry Marsh, the eloquent voice of UK hydrological reporting over the last three decades. As Terry is always one for a turn of phrase, it is certainly an appropriately written tribute. Although as colleagues note, it’s perhaps ironic that Terry signs off with a month notable for its normality!

A word cloud based on hydrological summaries authored by Terry Marsh

Related links

Staff page of Terry Marsh, CEH

National Hydrological Monitoring Programme

Hydrological Summaries of the UK

Blog posts relating to the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Entomological Club: Celebrating entomology through the centuries

Dr Helen Roy, an ecological entomologist at CEH, was recently invited to become a member of the Entomological Club. She writes more about the honour:

Founded in 1826, the Entomological Club is the oldest entomological society in the world. It has an amazing history encompassing many entomological heroes. The membership is restricted to just eight people at any one time, but it would be impossible to estimate the extensive global outreach of the Club. I have personally benefited from the generous mentoring, encouragement and guidance provided by the members over the years.

So imagine my delight, and utter surprise, when I received an invitation to become a member of the Entomological Club. I have the honour of being only the second female member, following (with intimidation) the incredible Miriam Rothschild.

The current membership includes Professor Jeremy Thomas, Professor Helmut van Emden, Professor Paul Brakefield, Professor Simon Leather, Dr Chris Lyal, Dr Richard Lane and Clive Farrell. They have all made unique and inspiring contributions to entomology but perhaps even more importantly they have shared their enthusiasm with diverse audiences in many different ways. It is unsurprising then that I reflect, with a slight sense of awe, at the incredible achievements of the Entomological Club but I am looking forward to being a small part of its long history.

Helen (centre) with Phd students Sandra Viglasova (left)
and Katie Murray (right) at the 2015 Verrall Supper.

The Entomological Club awards small grants, organises meetings and generally works to advance entomology. Within the entomological community it is best known for organising the Verrall Supper, an annual event in which hundreds of entomologists meet – it is hard to avoid the cliché that the atmosphere simply buzzes! Last week (4 March 2015) I attended the Verrall Supper as the newest member of the Entomological Club and it was wonderful to celebrate the legacy of entomology with so many people.

I had the pleasure of accompanying a few of my students and enjoyed many varied discussions (admittedly slightly skewed to ladybirds, but with more than a brief mention of parasitic wasps and fungi!).

I am sure all the discussions around the room were as lively and exciting as they have been over the centuries and I look forward to many more in the future.

Helen Roy

Related links

Staff page of Dr Helen Roy

The Entomological Club

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

CEH lakes research presented at 2015 Aquatic Sciences Meeting

A number of CEH's lake researchers are in attendance at the 2015 Aquatic Sciences Meeting taking place this week in Granada, Spain (22-27 February). See below for details of oral and poster presentations. You can follow updates from the meeting on Twitter with #ASLO2015.

Photo: CEH scientists carrying out restoration research at a lake in Scotland


Related links

2015 ASLO Aquatic Sciences Meeting

UK Lake Restoration research at CEH

Lake Ecosystems research at CEH

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

New dataset released: Integrated Hydrological Units of the United Kingdom

Our colleagues in the National River Flow Archive (NRFA) have released a new, freely available dataset of spatial reference units for hydrological purposes, called "Integrated Hydrological Units of the United Kingdom". Filip Kral explains more:

"This dataset will aid hydrological analysis and water management in the UK by providing a consistent, nationwide framework for segregating river catchments into component parts. It also serves as a reference list of major river names and, by indicating which units are connected, it can be used to trace the flow of rivers across the country.

The Integrated Hydrological Units (IHU) of the United Kingdom (UK) define spatial geographical reference units for hydrological purposes

Researchers and organisations working to improve catchment management have already expressed interest in the dataset which we believe will become popular in the water industry and wider hydrological science community, thanks also to its open data license.

Integrated Hydrological Units (IHU) of the United Kingdom (UK) consists of four polygon layers: Hydrometric Areas, Groups, Sections, and Catchments. Each layer represents a different level of spatial detail.

  • The coarsest level, Hydrometric Areas, consists of more than 100 polygons corresponding to the spatial units used to organise river flow measurement and hydrometric data collection in the UK (for example, HA023 represents the Tyne in Northumberland). 
  • Each Hydrometric Area consists of one or more Groups (405 in total), which carry names derived from the major rivers flowing through, in, and out of each group, for example HA023G03 is Tyne (North Tyne to tidal limits) Northumberland. 
  • Each Group consists of even smaller units – Sections (more than 500,000 in total). A Section is the drainage area of a watercourse between two confluences, for example HA023G03S0024 is Tyne (Devil’s Water to March Burn). 
  • Each Section is associated with one Catchment representing the compound catchment upstream of the Section outflow point.
Tyne Bridge, Newcastle

Historically, Hydrometric Areas were the primary reference units used by the NRFA to manage hydrometric data in the UK. IHU is a new release of the Hydrometric Area definition supplemented with finer scale units, all derived using the CEH Integrated Hydrological Terrain Model. Plans are being developed to utilise the IHU to help users explore other datasets produced by the NRFA and CEH’s Environmental Information Data Centre."

The dataset is available on the EIDC Hub.

Filip Kral

Related links

National River Flow Archive


Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Plant hormone signals and climate models, plus a mathematical surprise

A new study examining the links between soil moisture and leaf stomata should be of interest to both plant physiologists and climate modellers. It was published in the journal Ecological Modelling (27 January 2015, Ecological Modelling 300 (2015) 81–88), and is open access, so freely accessible. Below the lead author, Dr Chris Huntingford of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), explains what they did and how the analysis reveals an unexpected mathematical twist:

“A small team of us have just published a paper on assessing how the equations link together that describe ABA (abscisic acid) messaging in plant systems. Possibly more than most pieces of mathematical analysis, our study turned into a bit of an adventure, including an unexpected outcome.

ABA is a hormone which passes through vegetation, and provides a signal to leaf stomata regarding the amount of soil moisture available. Stomata control both evaporation and photosynthesis and, if soil moisture is depleted, then generally plants close such pores as a protection mechanism during periods of drought.

Climate models are designed to estimate adjustments in near-surface temperature and humidity (amongst many other quantities) in response to raised atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. However the land surface is a fully coupled part of the climate system, not simply responding to any imposed adjustment to weather conditions, but also affecting them. This can be through multiple feedbacks, one of which is how rain water is returned to the atmosphere via evaporation. In addition, any better understanding of transpiration losses by vegetation can aid impacts planning of viable crops for future perturbations to the climate system.

Despite this need, many land surface descriptions within climate models contain only an empirical semi-linear response to soil stress. This varies from no effect at a critical moisture level, down to complete shut-down at a prescribed soil moisture wilting point.

Detailed laboratory and field measurements of ABA concentration at the leaf level reveal a strong dependence on both soil moisture and the actual transpiration rate. Concentration levels then influence the amount to which stomata open. This allows the opportunity of building more accurate, chemically-based descriptions into the functioning of the terrestrial part of climate models, with performance verifiable against ecological data. Hence the first role of the paper is to describe the equations in full, and in that context.

Figure 2 of the paper, providing a schematic of the main equations analysed
At the same time, where climate models frequently do excel is in non-water stressed representation of photosynthetic response, including the impact of temperature and light effects. But these descriptions are not included in models of ABA control on stomata, giving the opportunity to merge both. We are not the first to suggest this (see earlier paper, Dewar, 2002) but here, as we unite equation sets, we fully analyse their projections of such a common model to soil moisture, light, temperature, CO2 concentration and surface humidity – our Figure 1 within the paper. This can be important to check as such linking can create odd cross-effects between model components. Fortunately we find this more ABA-based combined model does reproduce the salient features of expected stomata response across a range of imposed environmental conditions. We offer this as a possible future candidate for inclusion in climate models.

There is, however, also a mathematical surprise!

Despite our linking together in a common framework, which generally makes models more complex, we find that equation re-arrangement may actually simplify things. Stomatal response can be re-written as a function of soil moisture, evaporative flux, atmospheric CO2 concentration and photosynthetic flux only. We are not suggesting that this is necessarily what the stomata “see” to guide their responses (eg with drivers such as temperature occurring instead of via influence on photosynthesis). But the ability to write the equations in this form links to a long-term “store” of the hydrological cycle, ie soil moisture, and to a more instantaneous flux, ie transpiration, the latter fluctuating more with weather conditions.  And, in a symmetry for the carbon cycle, links to the “store” of atmospheric CO2 concentration, and again to more immediate fluctuations of photosynthetic uptake.

Could plants therefore respond to the more slowly changing stores in the carbon and water cycles, but using fluxes to provide time-evolving corrections dependent on the precise passing meteorological conditions?

Although our priority is to try and contribute towards improving process representation in land surface models, we really hope that other authors might investigate further the “stores-fluxes” concept that the equations of this model hint at.”

Dr Chris Huntingford

Additional links

Chris Huntingford, D Mark Smith, William J Davies, Richard Falk, Stephen Sitch, Lina M Mercado. Combining the [ABA] and net photosynthesis-based model equations of stomatal conductance. 2015. Ecological Modelling. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2015.01.005

The full paper is open access and can be read by anyone. The work was carried out by scientists from CEH, Exeter University, Lancaster University and the IUCN.

Staff page of Dr Chris Huntingford

CEH Climate science referenced in US Senate

Earlier this year a climate modelling paper published in Nature in 2013 which was led by CEH scientist Dr Chris Huntingford was mentioned in a US Senate debate.

Senator James M Inhofe made reference to the research during a debate on the KXL oil pipeline. He was reported as claiming that the Huntingford Nature paper casts doubt on the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

His exact words were "Nature journal, which is a well-respected journal, in their 2013 paper said that 'there is considerable uncertainty as to whether [increases in extreme climate variability] is occurring."

Subsequent to the debate Dr Huntingford was contacted by a US journalist and asked if his research did show there is "considerable uncertainty as to whether [increases in extreme climate variability] is occurring."

Chris replied, "Our Nature paper strictly analyses only year-to-year variability (fluctuations) in temperature, and demonstrates that in some parts of the world, this is actually going down. Elsewhere it is going up. This may be seen in both direct measurements and in supporting climate model simulations. This goes against the view that maybe, as general global warming occurs, everywhere will additionally see larger year-to-year swings in temperature."

"However, we do not at any point offer evidence against a general on-going background and upwards warming trend. Detection and attribution statistical studies show that the observed average increasing temperatures are almost certainly a consequence of the burning of fossil fuels."

This quote was used verbatim here and has also been subsequently referred to in the Congressional Record (Proceedings and debates of the US Congress).

You can read more about the original paper on the CEH website here.

One year on: reviewing the floods of 2013/2014

This month’s issue of Weather, the journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, takes a look back at last winter, asking “How unusual were the storms and floods experienced by many areas of the UK during late 2013 and early 2014?”

As well as papers on the weather systems (Kendon and McCarthy) and coastal flooding (Sibley et al), Katie Muchan from CEH together with colleagues Jamie Hannaford and Simon Parry, and Melinda Lewis of the British Geological Survey, review the inland flooding, which included prolonged river flooding in many areas – notably on the Somerset Levels and in the Thames Valley – and the opening of a large number of sinkholes, bringing damage to property and affecting livelihoods.

Walking through flood water. Photo: Julia Lawrence

In the paper, Katie and her colleagues outline several key aspects of the events of last winter, concluding:
“A defining aspect of the winter was the occurrence of multiple types of flooding. The combination of coastal, pluvial, fluvial and groundwater flooding in winter is not unusual, but its extent, frequency and severity through the winter of 2013/2014 was extraordinary.” 

They add, “The simultaneous occurrence of multiple types of flooding and other weather hazards presented a major challenge for the emergency services.”

Data from the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme (NHMP) forms the source of much of the material discussed in the Muchan et al paper.

Average winter outflows (m3s-1) for Great Britain 1961-2013

The NHMP, mentioned on many previous occasions in this blog, collates data for 104 index river flow gauging stations and 37 index groundwater boreholes in the UK, and produces monthly Hydrological Summaries.

Related links

Full citation for the paper: Muchan K, Lewis M, Hannaford J & Parry S (2015) The winter storms of 2013/2014 in the UK: hydrological responses and impacts, Weather, 70(2), 55-61. It is open access.

Weather, Special Issue: The storms of winter 2013/2014 in the UK 

Monthly Hydrological Summaries for the UK

More on the NHMP: Rainfall, UK floods and the potential impacts of climate change? 6 January 2014

Monday, 19 January 2015

CEH research on nanoparticles: toxicity, exposure and risk assessment

Watch a presentation by CEH's Dr Steve Lofts giving an overview of research into nanoparticles. Steve's talk focuses on toxicity, exposure and risk assessment. He explains more about what nanoparticles are and the different characteristics which need to be taken into account to guide research both now and in the future as more diverse nanoparticles are developed.

This talk was first delivered to CEH staff on 14 January 2015.

Related links

Staff page of Dr Steve Lofts

CEH's Pollution and Environmental Risk science area

CEH's Soil science area

An example slide from Steve's presentation on nanoparticles research.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Introducing the International Year of Soils

2015 is the International Year of Soils and throughout the year we’ll be highlighting CEH research on soils. To kick off I’ve been speaking to staff working on two of our key soil science projects. Here’s what they had to say:

Dr David Robinson is based at our Bangor site in north Wales. He’s worked extensively on soil physics and soil monitoring, and his career has taken him all over the world, starting at CEH’s site in Wallingford in the 1990s and completing a PhD and then working in Israel, the USA and the West Indies, before returning to CEH in 2009.

In recent years David has jointly led CEH’s input into the mySoil project with Bridget Emmett, an app which gives members of the public access to a comprehensive European soil properties map. As well as discovering what lies beneath their feet, users help build a community dataset by submitting their own soil information. David also takes a keen interest in how soil property change is assessed at the regional to global scale.

David told me, “The problem is that much of our soil survey data is both old and static in time. At national scales our understanding of how soils are responding to climate and land use drivers of change is limited. We need to think carefully about the type of soils data we collect, and the design of monitoring schemes to capture soil change.”

In a recent letter to Science (Science 347, 6218; 2015) David argued for prioritisation of ‘soil change’ assessment at regional to global scales. He told me, “Understanding the impacts of climate and environmental change is vital to human social and economic well being. This is not to diminish the importance of rare soils research, but simply to acknowledge that their identification is not currently the highest priority for soil science within environmental change research.”

Dr Jonathan Evans is based at our Wallingford site in Oxfordshire. He’s the technical lead on the COSMOS-UK project, a new network that is delivering real-time weather monitoring and field scale measurements of soil moisture across the United Kingdom.

Jonathan told me, “The health of our soils is something that we take for granted but it has a profound effect on our environment – not only what we see and our enjoyment of its beauty, but also in our climate and weather systems, through complex interactions between the air and the land surface.”

He added, “COSMOS-UK has great potential to transform hydro-meteorological modelling, for example for flood and drought prediction, by providing continuous field measurements to test and improve national weather and flood forecast models. Using the new technology of cosmic-ray soil moisture sensing, our measurements are representative of areas up to 700m in diameter – this is really useful to average the highly variable soil moisture over a scale relevant for water resource, flood and climate modelling, and for comparison with satellite remote sensing of soil moisture.”

Webcam image from the COSMOS site at Moor House

The COSMOS-UK project website is a mine of information on the project including a great description of the technical details (and challenges) behind measuring soil moisture using the cosmic-ray technique.

Jonathan and project co-workers David Boorman and Lucy Ball were recently interviewed for BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science programme. The interview was first broadcast on 15 January 2015 and is available to listen to again online.

Additional information

International Year of Soils

CEH's Soil Science Area

Listen again: BBC Radio 4 Inside Science -

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Measuring ‘impact’ - news of highly downloaded papers

There are many ways these days to measure the impact of scientific publications but it’s always nice to be told that people are actually downloading your paper (of course, whether they read it or not is a different matter!).

Various scientific journals have collated all kinds of statistics covering activity in 2014 - some have now published lists of their most downloaded articles.

Members of CEH’s Plant-Soil Interactions group (based at our Lancaster site) figure prominently in the top download list from Global Change Biology Bioenergy. The group, which has conducted research on bioenergy for a number of years, including on projects such as ELUM and Carbo-Biocrop, are lead or co-authors on 4 of the 15 most downloaded GCB Bioenergy articles in 2014.

Well done to all involved!

The CEH staff and students are highlighted in bold:
Can biochar reduce soil greenhouse gas emissions from a Miscanthus bioenergy crop?
Sean D C Case, Niall P McNamara, David S Reay and Jeanette Whitaker

Implications of land-use change to Short Rotation Forestry in Great Britain for soil and biomass carbon
Aidan M Keith, Rebecca L Rowe, Kim Parmar, Mike P Perks, Ewan Mackie, Marta Dondini and Niall P McNamara

Evaluation of the ECOSSE model for simulating soil carbon under short rotation forestry energy crops in Britain
Marta Dondini, Edward O Jones, Mark Richards, Mark Pogson, Rebecca L Rowe, Aidan M Keith, Mike P Perks, Niall P McNamara, Joanne U Smith and Pete Smith

Modelling the carbon cycle of Miscanthus plantations: existing models and the potential for their improvement
Andy D Robertson, Christian A Davies, Pete Smith, Marta Dondini and Niall P McNamara
Meanwhile another CEH-led paper, "Horizon-scanning for invasive alien species with the potential to threaten biodiversity in Great Britain", was one of the top 15 most downloaded articles from the Global Change Biology journal last year. Lead author Dr Helen Roy told us the news was very exciting, and said she was delighted that the research had been of such interest.

This prescient paper was published before sightings of the Quagga mussel and Asian shore crab were confirmed in Britain later in 2014. There were also some unconfirmed sightings of raccoons. Interestingly, being published in May 2014, it is one of the more recent publications on the list! A 2002 article on climate change effects on insect herbivores, co-authored by former and current CEH staff members, was also among the top 15 downloaded from GCB. Again, well done to all the authors!

2014 article: Horizon-scanning for invasive alien species with the potential to threaten biodiversity in Great Britain
Helen E Roy
, Jodey Peyton, David C Aldridge, Tristan Bantock, Tim M Blackburn, Robert Britton, Paul Clark, Elizabeth Cook, Katharina Dehnen-Schmutz, Trevor Dines, Michael Dobson, François Edwards, Colin Harrower, Martin C Harvey, Dan Minchin, David G Noble, Dave Parrott, Michael J O Pocock, Chris D Preston, Sugoto Roy, Andrew Salisbury, Karsten Schönrogge, Jack Sewell, Richard H Shaw, Paul Stebbing, Alan J A Stewart, Kevin J Walker

2002 article: Herbivory in global climate change research: direct effects of rising temperature on insect herbivores
Jeffery S Bale, Gregory J Masters, Ian D Hodkinson, Caroline Awmack, T Martijn Bezemer, Valerie K Brown, Jennifer Butterfield, Alan Buse, John C Coulson, John Farrar, John E G Good, Richard Harrington, Susane Hartley, T Hefin Jones, Richard L Lindroth, Malcolm C Press, Ilias Symrnioudis, Allan D Watt, John B Whittaker

Related links

GCB Bioenergy

Global Change Biology

CEH News:  Top 30 high risk invasive alien species with potential to threaten British biodiversity identified by scientists

Monday, 12 January 2015

New Atlas of British & Irish Bryophytes

A new atlas of British and Irish bryophytes is published this month. Bryophytes is the collective term for mosses, hornworts and liverworts, spore-producing, rather than seed-producing, plants without flowers. The British Isles support a rich and geographically diverse flora of bryophytes with more than 1000 native species (four hornworts, 298 liverworts and 767 mosses) currently known. Fifty-nine new species have been discovered in the last 20 years.

See our news story for more information about the atlas but we're taking the opportunity to highlight some great images below of some of the species it features.

Philonotis fontana. Photo by Jonathan Sleath

Aulacomnium androgynum. Photo by Jonathan Sleath

Cololejeunea minutissima. Photo by Jonathan Sleath

Distribution map of Ulota phyllantha

Cryphaea heteromalla. Photo by Jonathan Sleath

Frullania dilatata. Photo by Jonathan Sleath

Related links

CEH news: New atlas reveals spread of British bryophytes in response to cleaner air

Full reference: Blockeel, T L, Bosanquet, S D S, Hill, M O and Preston, C D (2014). Atlas of British & Irish Bryophytes. Pisces Publications, Newbury.

The atlas can be ordered via all good bookshops or purchased directly from Nature Bureau