Your country’s air needs you!

“Everyone has a part to play in reducing air pollution that is killing as many as 50,000 people every year in the UK,” says Dr Kevin Wyche, lecturer on our Geography BA(Hons) course.

He was commenting on BBC Sussex Radio about latest figures showing pollution levels in parts of Brighton and Hove remain above EU and UK standards, and how London breached its limits for the entire year only a few days into 2017.

Dr Wyche, who with Dr Kirsty Smallbone launched a £250,000 advanced air quality monitoring station at Falmer in 2015, said reducing pollution was a complex issue: “It’s politically sensitive – should we ban all cars from city centres? It’s not politically favourable for a politician to say that.”

All of us, he said, has a part to play in cutting pollution: “We all like to use our cars and we all have gadgets at home which use electricity which comes from power stations which are pumping out all sorts of different gases and particles into the atmosphere.”

The Joaquin Advanced Air Quality Station (JAAQS), opened by Brighton MP Caroline Lucas, is the first in the UK which can detect harmful nano-sized particles and their gaseous precursors.

Dr Wyche expects to publish its first year’s findings from the station in the next few weeks and there are plans for UK’s first outreach programme taking their work into primary and secondary schools. A website on the station’s work is scheduled to be launched next month. Continue reading

Award win

Congratulations to Dr Susie Maidment, senior lecturer in our school, who received the Hodson Award at an awards ceremony this week from the Palaeontological Association.
The Hodson Award is presented to a palaeontologist within ten years of their PhD for notable contributions to the science.
The Palaeontological Association was founded in 1957 and has become one of the world’s leading learned societies in this field. The Association is a registered charity that promotes the study of palaeontology and its allied sciences through publication of original research and field guides, sponsorship of meetings and field excursions, provision of web resources and information and a program of annual awards.

PhD research findings taken up by leading humanitarian organisations

Emanuele SozziDr Emanuele Sozzi, pictured (right) with one of his supervisors, Professor Huw Taylor, returned to the UK this summer to celebrate the award of his University of Brighton PhD degree at our summer awards ceremony.

Emanuele began working with Huw’s team in Haiti following the 2010 cholera epidemic, where as a Médecins Sans Frontières engineer he was charged with finding a way to provide safer sanitation in the country’s emergency cholera treatment centres.

University of Brighton academics worked with Emanuele to develop these ideas further and he soon joined our school’s Environment and Public Health Research Group on a full-time basis to develop the research as part of his University of Brighton postgraduate research studies.

The novel findings from this work are now being taken up by leading humanitarian organisations around the world and have recently led to the school gaining financial support from USAID and the Body Shop Foundation to develop the ideas further.

Emanuele is now a postdoctoral research scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the USA, though he continues to collaborate closely with the Brighton team.

The complexity of microplastic pollution

Matt Turley picOur very own Matt Turley, PhD student at the Aquatic Research Centre has been on the news!

Matt was interviewed on Channel 5 news about the dangers of microplastics, following a report issued by The Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons. The report calls for the government to ban the use of microplastics in cosmetic products, due to the available evidence on the impacts to the marine environment.

Scientists from the Aquatic Research Centre at the University of Brighton are backing calls for a ban on ‘microbeads’ – particles of plastic used in a number of cosmetics and cleaning products, which end up in lakes, rivers and the ocean.

Matt, who is researching the problem, said: “Microplastics do not biodegrade, and so they accumulate in the marine environment and are extremely costly and difficult, if not impossible, to clean up.  A ban on the use of microplastics in personal care products in the UK is a step in the right direction to reducing further inputs of plastic to the marine environment and to begin to address the wider problems of marine plastic pollution.

“Globally, approximately 300 million tonnes of plastic are manufactured annually. In a single year, the amount of plastic pollution entering the oceans has been estimated at between 4.8 million tonnes and 12.7 million tonnes, and around 80 per cent of this is thought to be introduced through land-based activities.

“Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic less than 5mm. Despite their small size, these microplastics have been identified as a significant form of pollution with the potential to impact marine animals and the wider ecosystem. Their sources are numerous and include particles that arise following the physical and chemical breakdown of larger pieces of plastic debris, industrial spillages and products, as well as household items such as synthetic clothing or personal care products. Continue reading

Geophysical survey reveals hidden Preston Park feature

Brighton Museum, the University of Brighton and Brighton & Hove Archaeological Society have completed a geophysical survey of Brighton’s Preston Park – and discovered a Second World War secret.

The survey, supported by the Friends of Preston Park, looked beneath the surface of the park to find signs of archaeological activity.

Brighton and Hove has a rich and complicated history that goes back thousands of years, into the Stone Age. Preston Park is situated in a valley bottom which has long been a natural communication route (the modern London Road follows the same route), and the surrounding area has links back to the medieval village and manor of Preston. Before that there are signs of occupation during the Romano-British period, with the foundations of a Roman villa uncovered in the Springfield Road area as early as 1876.

The Brighton team completed an initial survey in November 2015, with positive findings in the area close to the tennis courts. In March this year the University of Brighton’s geophysics team therefore returned to do a higher resolution survey of this area using a magnetometer, which measures changes of magnetism in the soil and is particularly good at locating metal and burnt/fired objects (such as bricks and other building materials).

Having processed the data from this new survey the team was due to share its findings with the public at Preston Manor, as part of the Preston Village Community Heritage Open Day last Saturday.

Jaime Kaminski

Jaime Kaminski

Dr Jaime Kaminski, from the university’s College of Life, Health and Physical Sciences, said: “The results are really encouraging. They show that, despite the extensive landscaping which has taken place in the park, some archaeological features seem to have survived.”

Andy Maxted, Curator of Archaeology at Brighton Museum, who helped lead the overall project, said: “We have identified a large rectangular feature, 18 metres by 40 metres, to the south of the Park’s Chalet Café and north of the tennis courts. Nothing is certain yet but we’re pretty sure that the feature is what remains of a Second World War water tank – built to test military vehicles.

Andy Maxted said: “These findings demonstrate technology’s potential for discovering hidden archaeology beneath Brighton & Hove’s green spaces. We would really like the opportunity to extend this project to other suitable areas within Brighton & Hove, as there is no doubt there is further archaeology to be found.”

Preston Park clock tower

Preston Park clock tower

Body Shop Foundation boosts our research

Body Shop catalogue screen shotOur teams work with lots of different organisations to provide research and help to find solutions to global issues.

Professor Huw Taylor and his team are working with The Body Shop Foundation and the U.S. Government on a £100,000 project to improve the management of sanitation in disaster zones. They have developed a unique low-cost solution to address sanitation emergencies that involved using a natural coagulant (slaked lime) to stabilise and sanitise excreta on-site.

Water and sanitation problems are the second biggest killer of children under five, worldwide. Every minute a child dies of a water related illness and 1 in 9 people lack access to safe water. They are worse in times of crisis, such as the outbreak of Ebola, or the recent earthquake in Nepal, and can lead to countless deaths from human waste-borne diseases.

Professor Taylor explained: “The funding we have received from USAID and The Body Shop Foundation will allow our research to offer an innovative and effective sanitation safety planning protocol to be used in the face of limited local knowledge. When this project is complete we hope that sanitation issues within disaster zones will be greatly changed for the better.”

Professor Taylor even makes an appearance in the current Body Shop catalogue! And you can find out more about this research at the Aquatic Research Centre page on the university website

 

National recognition for our work

WorTHE awards photos Nov 2015k being led by scientists Professor Huw Taylor and Dr James Ebdon, based in our Geography, Geology and Environment division, won national recognition at the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards 2015 held at the Grosvenor House Hotel on 28 November.

The project was ‘Highly Commended’ at the THE awards in the International Collaboration of the Year category and relates to work in Malawi, where 1,000 children under five die from water-related illnesses every month. By improving drinking water and sanitation these diseases can be reduced by nearly 90%.

Huw and James, working in collaboration with the University of Malawi, were commissioned by UNICEF to investigate options for the provision of safe water in rural Malawi. According to the team ‘this project provided the scientific evidence that was urgently needed to demonstrate the risk of waterborne disease to rural Malawian communities and to support immediate improvements that have provided safer drinking water for thousands of people’.

The team went from village to village, assessing the influence of water-point design, proximity to sanitary sources, and rainfall on the provision of safe water and identified the conditions that could achieve this.

MalawiThe project combined Malawian geotechnical expertise and local knowledge with UK water quality expertise to train Malawian team members and embed technical knowledge locally. The project offers a valuable blueprint for new ways to reduce excreta-related disease associated with water supply and sanitation.

The project, considered one of the most ambitious of its kind, remains the most comprehensive water quality investigation ever to have been conducted in Malawi. More than 880 samples from water sources (serving 150,000 people) were studied for the presence of microbiological contamination. Continue reading

El Niño linked to 19th century droughts

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Article by Professor David Nash, published in the Argus 27 November, 2015.

New research has established a long-term link between El Niño and droughts in southern Africa where crops are already under threat.

Research led by the University of Brighton, published online in the journal Climatic Change, used historical newspapers and materials written by colonial authorities and missionaries to identify variations in rainfall between 1836 and 1900 in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal.

The study’s senior author, Professor David Nash of the University of Brighton’s College of Life, Health and Physical Sciences, said: “Given that this year’s Pacific El Niño event is likely to be the strongest ever recorded, these are potentially worrying times for the people of the subcontinent.”

The findings come on the heels of the World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organisation predictions that as many as 29 million people in southern African countries are food insecure and that that lower rainfall in the region will lead to reduced cereal yields and higher prices.

Professor Nash said: “Results indicate that the region was affected by severe or multi-year drought on eight occasions (1836-38, 1861-63, 1865-66, 1868-70, 1876-79, 1883-85, 1886-90 and 1895-1900). Six wetter than average periods were also identified (1847-49, 1854-57, 1863-65, 1879-81, 1890-91 and 1892-94). The timing of these events agrees well with independent reconstructions of 19th century rainfall for other parts of southern Africa, suggesting subcontinental scale variability.

“The timing of droughts shows a strong relationship with El Niño events, particularly during the latter half of the 19th century. Drought events were particularly severe during the rainy season immediately following an El Niño event.”

Professor Nash said combining the results of this study with other annually-resolved records of past climate from southern Africa and surrounding oceans shows that mean summer rainfall has been declining progressively over the subcontinent for the last 200 years.

“We knew from our previous research that historical documents held huge potential for reconstructing the climate of the past. What we never expected was the level of detail we would find in materials from KwaZulu-Natal. From newspapers such as the Natal Witness we could build up an almost weekly picture of the weather from across the region.

”Our work not only identifies rainfall variability in KwaZulu-Natal but also confirms that the link between El Niño and drought in southern Africa is long-standing.”

The research, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, was conducted in collaboration with the University of Nottingham, Hedmark University College (Norway), King’s College London and the University of Sussex.

The Climate Change article can be read at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-015-1550-8

For more information on Professor Nash’s research, go to:

Past Human and Environment Dynamics research group

Read the full article in the Argus