Geoscience, Resources and Environmental Risk

Geoscience, Resources and Environmental Risk

Why this Theme?

Hazardous events and processes are of broad concern to societies across the globe, but they rarely generate human adversity in isolation. Frequently, impacts are amplified by human choices around land use and regulation, or the occurrence of one hazard (or anthropogenic influences) can pre-condition the environment for response to a second event. These interactions and their cascades need better understanding, as do communication tools for reducing human responses to cascading environmental hazards.

ARIES is interested in the exciting possibilities to geo-engineer and bio-engineer soils to increase yields and carbon storage, regulate greenhouse gas emissions and water flows, and mitigate pollution. However, these manipulations generate trade-offs where improved provision of one service might be to the detriment of others. ARIES will nurture research and training concerned with the holistic understanding of soil and the ecosystem services it supports. The food-energy-water nexus that is underpinned by soil requires the next generation of environmental scientists to undertake discovery science to influence environmental regulation and policy, and to engage with agri-water industries to deliver societal impact.


ARIES has depth and breadth of expertise in Earth processes (past and present) and how they can dictate and contribute to the existence of environmental hazards. ARIES is particularly well-placed to address this priority topic with expertise and facilities across partners that enable cutting-edge research and high-level training that includes: volcanology, tectonics, paleoenvironmental change, meteorology, fluid flow, hydrodynamics, soil erosion, generation of energy, catchment science, geochemistry, social science, and science communication (UoP, RHL, UEA, BAS, BGS).

Specific expertise can be found in crop science (JIC), biogeochemical cycling, carbon storage and pollution mitigation (UEA, UoE, UoP, RHL, CEH, BGS), social sciences (UEA) and water flow / erosion (UoP, RHL, UEA, AW, BGS).

Student training and employability

Students will develop advanced skills in the analysis of physical processes and their effects, specifically considering how they may be coupled with multiple other processes and human activities, and in turn how this interaction may be modelled. Thus, they will receive advanced training in advanced geosciences techniques, statistics and modelling. Due to the frequently sparse nature of data emanating from hazards, students will be trained in game theory and game technology. Importantly, students will be trained so that they are conversant with psychological and socio-economic issues related to hazards, and they will learn how to communicate risk / hazard scenarios across scientific disciplines as well as to policy makers and the wider public. Coupled hazardous events are likely to increase in number and affect more lives due to population growth, urban development, deforestation, coastal squeeze, and extreme weather, and so skills developed by ARIES scientists trained under this priority topic will be highly sought after.

Wider engagement

This topic is of broad relevance to a range of ARIES partners, including the Defra group, especially the EA, as well as those involved in major engineering projects, notably Royal Haskoning and Balfour Beatty. In addition to HEI hosting partners, the expertise within BAS and BGS will be particularly pertinent to this topic. International engagement will be facilitated through ARIES scientists’ connections with overseas universities, volcano observatories, national geological survey’s and other institutions. The Sainsbury Laboratory has world-renowned expertise in plant-microbe interactions, and form a pivotal link between soil science and food security. ARIES partners have valuable collaborations with current Case partners, such AB Vista (developing products for animal feed and nutrition) and ADC BioScientific Ltd. (developing soil / plant monitoring equipment). The involvement of the Defra Group ensures that ARIES research is informed by policy. Community support for interventions and long-term socio-economic gains is essential, and so projects in this priority topic will benefit from input from the social sciences (e.g. via the ESRC DTPs SeNNS and SWDTP).

Hot Topics in this Theme

❖ Physical models to improve understanding of sediment transport routes.

❖ Some dredged material can be used for beneficial purposes. MMO would like to better understand the barriers to the reuse of dredged materials and where it could be used.

❖ Fracking and associated monitoring: Legislation in relation to fracking is poor so it could become a big business, therefore a good research opportunity

❖ The Oil & Gas sector needs research in order to undertake assessments of severity of climate change and its long-term business impacts. Can we as an industry continue to

Theme Leaders

Dr Sarah Boulton, Lecturer in Neotectonics, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Plymouth.
Sarah Boulton’s PhD research (focussed on unravelling the tectono-stratigraphic development of the Hatay Graben in southern Turkey) led to the development of a new method for calculating fault-slip rate of normal faults based upon river geomorphology (Boulton & Whittaker, 2009). Subsequently, understanding the role of uplift and active faulting on river systems and how we can extract ‘tectonics from topography’ has become one of her main research focusses with ongoing projects in Turkey, Morocco, Nepal and New Zealand. Sarah is currently a lecturer in Neotectonics at the University of Plymouth.
Sarah is also a Fellow of the Geological Society of London, a member of the British Society for Geomorphology and the American Geophysical Union, and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. In addition, she is the current chair of the South West regional group of the Geological Society and the university representative for the Geological Society, London.
Dr Alex Dickson, Lecturer in Geochemistry, Department of Earth Sciences, RHUL
Dr Alex Dickson is a geochemist with over 30 publications to his name with an interest in understanding how environmental processes impart distinctive geochemical signatures on geological materials. When properly understood, these chemical signatures can be used to trace the evolution of Earth’s environmental systems in the past. A major theme of his research has been to understand how quickly, and by how much, ocean chemistry can become perturbed during intervals of geologically rapid climate change, and during prolonged intervals of warmer-than-present climate. Ocean chemical changes integrate the global effects of rock weathering, tectonic activity, ocean circulation, temperature changes and biological productivity.
The ability to trace ocean chemistry during the geological past is therefore a powerful tool for understanding how these different environmental features interact over time to regulate both the global climate system, and the flora and fauna that inhabit the Earth. Unravelling the complexity of past global chemistry sets the scene for interpreting and managing contemporary environmental systems.
Ms Elizabeth Daly, Senior Consultant at Risk & Policy Analysts Ltd.
Elizabeth has a BSc in Environmental Sciences from UEA and an MA in Environment, Policy and Society from the Open University.  She has expertise in environmental economics and policy, particularly in relation to flood and coastal erosion risk management and water quality.  Her work has included identifying the benefits of mine water remediation schemes and assessing mechanisms to enable the implementation of natural flood management measures.  She is also experienced at evaluation and the use of ecosystem services based frameworks for assessing impacts.
Prof Jenni Barclay, Professor of Volcanology, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia
Jenni Barclay’s background is in Geology, with a first degree from the University of Edinburgh and PhD from the University of Bristol. Her real passion within geology is Volcanology. Her PhD looked at several aspects of the degassing process associated with silicic volcanoes. Her first post-doctoral research project in 1996 involved an experimental investigation of the magma storage conditions of the newly erupting Soufriere Hills Volcano and as well as two further post-doctoral positions (Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley and Maitre Assistante at the University of Geneva) she also undertook several periods as a duty scientist at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Her experiences on Montserrat and elsewhere convinced her of the need for a truly inter-disciplinary approach in order to properly understand volcanic eruptions and mitigate their impact.
Since her appointment at UEA in 1999, Jenni has made full use of the rich diversity of researchers at UEA that go beyond the usual realms of geology and collaborated with sedimentologists, atmospheric scientists, geophysicists and social scientists on a variety of different problems relating to volcanic phenomena.