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

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Can environmentally-friendly farming also be productive?

Professor James Bullock of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is one of the speakers at this week's 2015 Oxford Farming Conference, held at the Oxford University Examination Schools from 6-8 January. Prof Bullock took part in the Smart Farming session, presenting research into agri-environment schemes, including the CEH-led Hillesden Farm project.

Other speakers at the event included Defra Secretary of State Elizabeth Truss, Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Huw Irranca Davies, Guardian columnist George Monbiot and Lord John Krebs, Principal of Jesus College, Oxford and a former chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council.

Related links

A video of James's presentation is now available on the Oxford Farming Conference website.

Oxford Farming Conference 2015 programme

Oxford Farming Conference website

Staff page of Prof James Bullock

CEH's Sustainable Land Management science area