Let's talk about water

Whetting appetites for Bath's water research

Topic: Water Resources

Chemistry and Water: Challenges & Solutions in a Changing World

📥  Water Resources, Water Treatment, Water, Environment and Infrastructure Resilience, WIRC @ Bath

We are all aware of the breadth of issues that we face as a planet when it comes to securing sustainable water supplies in the future. Global changes in climate, land use and demographics mean that there will be different pressures on water availability and quality and these have the potential to affect human health and the environment. Whilst some challenges are long-standing, such as ensuring adequate sanitation for all, we also face emerging issues, in the form of new pollutants, such as hormones and pharmaceuticals.

Last year in Leipzig, leading scientists from China, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA met at the 6th Chemical Sciences in Society Symposium (CS3) to discuss how chemistry could contribute to future global water security. The meeting is part of an ongoing series that brings together leading scientists from these nations, with the support of their national chemical societies and national funding bodies to discuss the role of the chemical sciences in different global challenges.

The discussions from the meeting have been captured in the recently launched white paper Chemistry and Water: Challenges and Solutions in Changing World, which highlights the future research directions, collaborations and policies that are needed to ensure global water needs can be met in the future. The discussion at the meeting encompassed wide range of issues, including  the link between water, the environment and human health, the need for ever-evolving detection methods, improved water treatment techniques and the opportunities presented for recovering valuable materials from water.

A number of themes emerged from discussions across all areas, such as the need for chemists to work alongside other disciplines, such as engineering, ecology and epidemiology and the importance of continual international knowledge exchange and collaboration.  The white paper also makes more detailed recommendations for research directions in the different themes of environment and health, detection, treatment and recovery of materials and includes case studies on how water challenges are being tackled in each nation.

 

Safeguarding the UK’s Water, Energy and Food Resources

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📥  Water Resources

EPSRC is investing £4.5 million to safeguard the UK’s water, energy and food security. With the world’s population due to grow to eight billion by 2030, humanity is facing a crisis with predictions of increasing demand and shortages of water, energy and food.

mirella-di-lorenzo3Water and energy are needed to produce food; water is required to produce energy and with the advent of biofuels, energy and food are increasingly competing for land. This means that any shortage or disruption of one resource will impact on the other two. This unbreakable link between all the resources is known as the water-energy-food nexus. Mirella Di Lorenzo from the Department of Chemical Engineering, together with other 25 academics, was selected to participate in January 2015 in a sandpit organised by EPSRC on this topic. She was the only academic representing the University of Bath in this sandpit and the project she was involved in, Vaccinating the Nexus, was awarded £1.6 million (Grant EP/N005961/1).

This research, led by Dr Paul Kemp, University of Southampton, will be conducted by an inter-disciplinary groups of scientists based at 8 universities in the UK.

This project will focus on improving the resilience of water, energy and food systems. It will investigate how nexus ‘shocks’, such as extreme climatic events that cause flooding or drought, energy shortages,  or unsustainable infrastructure development, may help inform the development of more environmentally sustainable and secure systems.

The project will use information collected during the recent flooding on the Somerset Levels to model the potential for alternative flood resistant agricultural systems, including those used to produce bioenergy crops. Further, planning decision support tools will be developed to help develop an environmentally sensitive approach to deliver the UK energy and water infrastructure plan.  Although the project will focus on UK case studies it will have international relevance and help develop expertise and capability of global value.

Dr Pal Kemp, said: “To ensure future security of supply we need to develop innovative approaches to environmentally sustainable resource management.  This can only be achieved by adopting creative interdisciplinary approaches to develop solutions to the complex challenges faced."

Dr Mirella Di Lorenzo said "We have a range of different backgrounds on board varying from engineering to crop science, maths and social science. This a unique opportunity for me to be involved in such an exciting multidisciplinary project. In Bath we will work on the development of on-site sensors for the online monitoring of microbial activity in soils and nutrient depletion/ pollutant release from soils to water systems due to extreme climate changes such as floodings or droughts".

Professor Philip Nelson, Chief Executive of EPSRC said, “This is one of the most important challenges facing the human race, and one of the most complex. The uniqueness of these projects comes from studying all three problems together, something that hasn’t been done before.

"This project is a great opportunity for scientists with expertise in different disciplines to come together to find solutions".

 

Water shortages still likely to affect UK food security

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📥  Water Resources

A new piece of research from the University has found that despite us experiencing the wettest winter for 250 years, water shortages are still likely to be a problem in Britain.

droughtThe paper, published today in Climate Research journal by Bath and Loughborough researchers, warns that food security in Britain faces a real threat from water shortages in other parts of the world.

Dr Alistair Hunt from our Department of Economics said: “Many of the commodities we use everyday, such as food and manufactured goods, and especially those that rely on the availability of land or water, are sensitive to climate change on a global scale.

“Our research looked at the water used to create 25 of Britain’s most economically significant and climate-sensitive imports, essential items such as crops, meat, fish, fuels, pharmaceuticals and paper.

“We found that these products represented 30 per cent of Britain’s imports in 2010, and required 12.8billion cubic metres of water. From this we were able to compare the need for water with models that show the changes in our economy and those that show changes in the availability of global resources such as water, and determine how secure Britain’s future imports are.”

The research team has determined that Britain is likely to become increasingly susceptible to a loss of global water availability in the future.

Dr Hunt said: “Britain is susceptible to pressures on global water resources because the national water footprint and water import dependency are relatively high even before climate change and population growth are considered. Some of Britain’s most important water-trading partners are already water scarce and now face increasing scarcity from climate change.

The research group has also been able to outline how countries like Britain that depend on climate-sensitive imported resources can reduce risk, through measures such as investing in the development of exporting nations, and by improving trade relations with potential new supplying nations.

Dr Hunt said: “Many countries have studied the risks that they face from climate change within their own borders, but few countries have looked at the impact of global climate change on their wellbeing and resource security.

“Our study highlights that even in a time when water may be of huge abundance within Britain, its scarcity in other parts of the world is likely to have negative consequences for British people.”

Co-author Robert Wilby, Professor of Hydroclimatic Modelling at Loughborough University, added: "Our research shows we really do need a more integrated approach to land, water and food, if we are to meet the challenges posed by climate change at home and abroad."

You can access the full research paper online at http://www.int-res.com/journals/cr/cr-home/