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Groundwater-fed irrigation reduces arsenic pollution

New UCL research reveals key controls on groundwater pollution in Bangladesh
Groundwater-fed irrigation reduces arsenic pollution

Groundwater-fed irrigation, Bangladesh

In the Bengal Basin of Bangladesh, nearly 50 million people are currently affected by the chronic consumption of arsenic (As) in drinking water.

New UCL research by Dr. Mohammad Shamsudduha (UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction), Professor Richard Taylor (UCL Geography) and Professor Richard Chandler (UCL Statistical Science), published in Water Resources Research, has examined patterns of As concentrations in shallow groundwater throughout Bangladesh, and reveals that reduced concentrations are associated with areas of higher groundwater-fed irrigation.

There has been a dramatic increase in irrigation using shallow groundwater in Bangladesh since the 1970s, and scientific debate has persisted as to whether this has worsened or improved the As poisoning of water supplies. Much of this debate has so far been informed only by localised studies.

The UCL team assembled a national-scale database, applying advanced statistical techniques to examine a wide range of variables affecting the distribution of groundwater As concentrations across Bangladesh.  They found that, when other factors are accounted for, lower As concentrations are associated with higher groundwater-fed irrigation and groundwater recharge, and a more permeable surface geology. Collectively, these associations suggest that mobile As is flushed from shallow aquifers by groundwater-fed irrigation.

The results have major implications for water management in the Bengal Basin, and other Asian Mega-Deltas currently affected by As in drinking water. They suggest that groundwater-fed irrigation, so vital to food security in the region, also flushes out mobile As from shallow aquifers, so potentially reducing its concentration in drinking water.

These irrigation effects may not be entirely beneficial however, since they imply  a transfer of As from groundwater to the soil, where it may continue to pose a threat to human health and food security.


See also:

Excavating Buried Memories

Publication prize for Sam Merrill’s PhD Research
Excavating Buried Memories

Sam submitting his thesis!

Dr Sam Merrill has been awarded First Prize in the 2014 Peter Lang Young Scholars Competition in Memory Studies for his recently completed PhD thesis, Excavating Buried Memories: Mnemonic Production in the Railways Under London and Berlin.

The 2014 Peter Lang Young Scholars Competition was directed to young scholars in the field of Memory Studies. As the winner, Sam has been offered a contract for a paperback to be published by Peter Lang as part of its peer-reviewed Cultural Memories series.

Sam plans publication of the book in 2016, and thanks all those who supported his PhD research, within and beyond UCL. In particular, Richard Dennis, Andrew Harris, Ben Campkin, Matthew Gandy, Alan Latham (UCL), Karen Till (Maynooth) and Carlos Galviz. (School of Advanced Study, University of London).


Carl Sayer is UCL Engager of the Year

Work with Norfolk communities on freshwater habitats
Carl Sayer is UCL Engager of the Year

Carl Sayer (right)

UCL’s Main Quad was recently the setting for the sixth annual Provost’s Awards for Public Engagement, recognising work by UCL staff and students in engaging with the public.

Congratulations to Dr Carl Sayer, UCL Geography, who received the award of “Engager of the Year” from the UCL President & Provost, Professor Michael Arthur.

Carl has been heavily involved in public engagement for his entire career. He has always been passionate that key knowledge about how to conserve the natural environment is held by local people who have a close association with the land.

Carl’s activities have included founding the River Glaven Conservation Group, a local voluntary conservation group composed of fisherman, landowners, natural historians and interested members of the public committed to conserving aquatic habitats in the River Glaven catchment, North Norfolk.

He has also led several community-based projects centred on aquatic conservation in Norfolk, including workshops and practical restoration events. This culminated in the establishment of the Norfolk Ponds Project (NPP) in summer 2014

Carl’s natural talent to engage local people has benefited aquatic conservation work in Norfolk and across the UK.


More on measuring forest biomass

European Space Agency reviews UCL research
More on measuring forest biomass

3D laser mapping

At the end of January, Professor Philip Lewis and Dr Mat Disney attended the first science workshop in Italy for the forthcoming European Space Agency BIOMASS mission (launch 2020). They were invited to explain UCL Geography’s research on tree biomass measurement and its possible role in the mission.

Reuters has also recently published a TV video about this work, in which Mat explains how laser mapping 'weighs' trees. The technique allows researchers to determine biomass and carbon stocks in forests more accurately and less destructively than by other methods.

A terrestrial laser scanner fires thousands of beams per second to help build an estimate of tree mass, combining measures of volume and wood density. The resulting carbon stock estimation may be used to inform global policies on emissions control and forest protection as they respond to climate change.


Science, politics and acid rain

Richard Wright to present next Battarbee Lecture
Science, politics and acid rain

Richard Wright

Dr Richard Wright, a Senior Scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA), will give this year’s Rick Battarbee Lecture, on 8th May.

His topic will be: The rise and fall of acid rain: a story of science and politics

Richard is an international expert on acid deposition, land use and climate change, and their effects on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. He is one of the developers of the MAGIC model for soil and water acidification, which has been applied at hundreds of catchments and lake and river basins around the world.

The lecture will be held in the Chadwick Building (B05) at 5pm on Friday 8th May 2015, followed by a wine reception.

To attend, book your free ticket in advance at: http://bit.ly/Battarbee2015



Neoliberal nightmare

Mark Maslin: Geography can make a difference
Neoliberal nightmare

Mark Maslin

Professor Mark Maslin was recently asked by an incredulous colleague why he was working in a Geography department. In the Geographical Magazine Opinions section he argues that Geography has a profound role to play in both understanding and solving the great challenges of the 21st century, including global inequality, global poverty, global security, environmental degradation and climate change.

By combining natural and social sciences, geographers are building a body of work that reveals how the rules governing society are not fit for purpose, and that new governance systems are required to deal with these immense challenges. He cites the cases of human health, increasing atmospheric CO2, accelerating species extinction, growing inequality of access to the Earth’s resources, and especially an increasingly pervasive neoliberal geopolitical and economic philosophy,

Mark argues that what is required is proactive and aggressive redistribution of wealth, both within and between countries. Geography can make a difference by envisioning new political systems of governance, enabling collective action and a more equal distribution of wealth, resources and opportunities.



South-South Migration and Humanitarianism

New book from Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh
South-South Migration and Humanitarianism

Sahrawi Camps

This month sees the publication of a new book by Dr Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh which examines the important phenomenon of South-South educational migration for refugees.

South–South Educational Migration, Humanitarianism and Development: Views from the Caribbean, North Africa and the Middle East focuses particularly on South-South scholarship programmes in Cuba and Libya. These have granted free education to children, adolescents and young adults from two of the world’s most protracted refugee situations: Sahrawis (western Sahara) and Palestinians.

In-depth, multi-sited fieldwork was conducted with and about Sahrawi and Palestinian refugee students in Cuba and Libya. The research followed their return to the desert-based Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria and the urban Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. It brings refugees’ views and voices to the forefront and sheds unique light on their understandings of self-sufficiency, humanitarianism and hospitality.

The book also assesses the impact of various policies designed to maximise self-sufficiency and reduce both the brain drain and ongoing dependency upon Northern aid providers. It explores the extent to which South-South scholarship systems challenge the power imbalances that typically characterise North to South development models.

The study is particularly timely in discussing the impact of the Arab Spring on Libya’s support for Sahrawi and Palestinian refugees. It also considers the changing nature of Cuba’s educational model in light of continuing political, ideological and economic changes in the island state, asking whether there is a future for such alternative programmes and initiatives.

See http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415814782/

CBE for UCL Geography graduate

Services to Philanthropy and Charitable Giving
CBE for UCL Geography graduate

David Emerson

David Emerson, who graduated from UCL Geography in 1972, was awarded a CBE in the 2015 New Year’s Honours List for Services to Philanthropy and Charitable Giving.

Since 2003, David has been the Chief Executive of the Association of Charitable Foundations, the professional membership association for the UK’s charitable trusts and grant making foundations.

The ACF was formed in 1989 and became a charitable company limited by guarantee at the beginning of 2005. It now has over 300 member organisations, including large independent foundations, local and community trusts, family trusts, corporate foundations and broadcasting appeals, as well as organisations involved in research and policy work, venture philanthropy and social investment.

David’s previous experience has included theatrical management and production in the West End, running the trade association for regional theatre in the UK, working with the National Council for Voluntary Organizations, and with Rural Community Councils.


The public impact of research

Case Studies from UCL Geography
The public impact of research

Open air involvement in water science

The 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) for the first time included recognition of the wider public impact of university research.

The projects chosen to exemplify this aspect of UCL Geography’s work were:

  • Long term studies of freshwater acidification
  • The development of remote sensing techniques to monitor climate change and land management
  • Public, and especially children’s, involvement in water quality and aquatic biodiversity assessment
  • The history of the black presence in London
  • The mapping analysis of surnames to establish cultural, linguistic and ethnic affinities.


Details of these projects can be seen below:

1) Provision of data on freshwater acidification and recovery for monitoring and policymaking
UCL Environmental Change Research Centre, led by Professor Rick Battarbee FRS

2) Models enabling the use of satellite data to monitor climate change and improve weather forecasting
Professor Philip Lewis and Dr Mathias Disney

3) Monitoring the impacts of fire in land management
Professor Philip Lewis and Dr Mathias Disney

4) Open Air Laboratories and their contribution to public awareness and involvement in water science
Professor Neil Rose

5) Illuminating the black presence in London before 1948
Dr Caroline Bressey

6) Mapping names to establish cultural, linguistic and ethnic affinities
Professor Paul Longley and Dr James Cheshire

Why Mark Maslin will talk politics with climate change deniers – but not science

Lively debate in The Conversation
Why Mark Maslin will talk politics with climate change deniers – but not science

Mark Maslin

An item in the 16 December issue of The Conversation by Professor Mark Maslin (UCL Geography) explains why it is essential for people, including scientists, to recognise that it is politics and not science that drives many people to deny climate change.

Drawing on the 1980s work of UCL Geography Emeritus Professor John Adams, he argues that opinions about climate change reflect the belief systems common to various types of individual, influenced by personal financial or political agendas, or whatever is expedient at the time. He also cites more recent evidence from the US showing the political basis of attitudes to climate change.

Many of these attitudes are embedded in the neo-liberal political system that has dominated global economic development in the past 35 years. Mark concludes: “..is it any wonder that many people prefer climate change denial to ... building a new political (and socio-economic) system...?”

In the two weeks following its publication the article had attracted 219 responses.

Read more in the Conversation.

2014 National Research Assessment Framework

UCL Geography again a top department

UCL Geography remains a top UK department for geographical research according to the 2014 national Research Assessment Framework.

UCL research:

  • Attracts one of the highest scores in Geography for the originality, significance and rigour  of its outputs.
  • Rates particularly well on the reach and significance of its ­impacts.
  • Supports an environment which Is expected to continue carrying out internationally excellent research, including much of world-leading quality.

UCL Geography has been a top department in every national research assessment since the first, held in 1986.

See Unit of Assessment 17 (Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology):


News Archive 2014

January 2014
February 2014
March 2014
April 2014
May 2014
June 2014
July 2014
August 2014
September 2014
October 2014
November 2014
December 2014

News Archive 2013

January 2013
February 2013
March 2013
April 2013
May 2013
June 2013
July 2013
August 2013
September 2013
October 2013
November 2013
December 2013

News Archive 2012

January 2012
February 2012
March 2012
April 2012
May 2012
June 2012
July 2012
August 2012
September 2012
October 2012
November 2012
December 2012

News Archive 2011

January 2011
February 2011
March 2011
April 2011
May 2011
June 2011
July 2011
August 2011
September 2011
October 2011
November 2011
December 2011

News Archive 2010

January 2010
February 2010
March 2010
April 2010
May 2010
June 2010
July 2010
August 2010
September 2010
October 2010
November 2010
December 2010

News Archive 2009

January 2009
February 2009
March 2009
April 2009
May 2009
June 2009
July 2009
August 2009
September 2009
October 2009
November 2009
December 2009

News Archive 2008

January 2008
February 2008
March 2008
April 2008
May 2008
June 2008
July 2008
August 2008
September 2008
October 2008
November 2008
December 2008

News Archive 2007

Scientific Committee on Information and Data
What’s in a Name
A Researcher in the Department has won an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship to study the geography and ethnicity of people’s names.
Endangered Plant Discovery Could Signal Climate Change
A team from the Department’s ECRC (Environmental Change Research Centre) has found a new example of a rare and endangered plant in a Welsh lake, it has just been confirmed
From Dust to Dust: an Award-Winning Paper
Departmental Reader wins an award from the Environmental Research Letters journal for his paper on how dust from the Sahara ends up in the Amazon.
Dissolved organic carbon trends explained
Don Monteith, a Senior Research Fellow in the department, has published a Letter in this week's Nature (22nd November) discussing the causes of rising levels of Dissolved Organic Carbon in surface waters.
UCL undergraduate geographers in Tunisia
Ray Harris and Russell Hitchings, aided by Lauren Wagner, led a third year undergraduate field course to Tunisia this November
New theory of Human evolution
Professor Mark Maslin and Dr Beth Christensen have edited a special issue of the Journal of Human Evolution which focuses on the connections between African palaeoclimates and early human evolution.
Department Wins Grant To Study Past Climate Event
Head of Department Mark Maslin has won a NERC QUEST grant of £650 thousand to study an ancient climate event.
Fifty Years of Geography
Former UCL Geographers held a reunion fifty years after they first entered the Department as undergraduates in 1957.
Towards a Better Bus System
The Department’s Professor Alan Gilbert was in Bogota to advise on its rapid bus system.
The Fawcett Fellowships – Support for School Teachers
Two school geography teachers have started on the Fawcett Fellowships that fund teachers on a 4-month stay in the department to refresh their knowledge in their subject.
Ice Ice Baby
The Head of Department, Professor Mark Maslin, has just returned from a unique expedition to the High Arctic, where he helped 12 young people from around the world understand climate change during a sailing trip to Svarlbad in Norway, where they made arts and science projects to help raise awareness of what climate change is doing to the region.
Department Student Wins Top Essay Prize
Graduate student Angela Self of UCL Environmental Change Research Centre (UCL ECRC) has scooped first prize in the 2007 Wellcome Trust and ‘New Scientist’ science essay competition.
At Home and Away Development and the Diaspora
Dr Ben Page has drawn up a list of recommendations to help UK-based African Community groups develop their home towns.
The GRAPHIC Initiative
Richard Taylor has joined a panel of international experts examining the impacts of climate change and development on groundwater resources
Mapping France
Emeritus Professor Hugh Clout delivered the keynote speech at the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France
Geography of the Young
A book co-edited by the Department’s Dr Ruth Panelli is out now.
Perspectives on Tall Buildings in London
Two Department members spoke at a conference tracing the history of tall buildings in London. Dr Richard Dennis’s paper recalled ‘Babylonian flats in Victorian London’, and Dr Andrew Harris‘s addressed ‘The High-rise Battle of Bankside’.
UCL Geography in NERC Science Highlights
Investigations into measuring forest growth from space, led by Dr Lewis in collaporation with the NERC Centre for Terrestrial Carbon Dynamics, have been listed amongst the twenty climate change science highlights in the NERC 2006-07 annual review.
Egypt's Global Warning
Fieldwork by Roger Flower and Kevin Keatings investigating the effects of environmental change in ancient Egypt will be shown on a documentary for the TV Discovery Channel. The film will reveal new research into the reason for the downfall of Egypt's ancient civilization
Landscape, Heritage and Memory
Professor Emeritus David Lowenthal has delivered a series of lectures in the U.S this month on cultural memory. He has also had a number of works published recently, including a paper entitled 'Islands, Lovers, and Others'.

The 1979 Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution

Adam Byrne assesses a landmark environmental treaty on its 35th Anniversary
The 1979 Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution

Vehicles: a significant source of LRTAP

In a newly published paper, Adam Byrne (UCL Geography) argues that, despite successes in reducing air pollution in Western Europe, a great deal of work remains to be done.

The 1979 Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) faces significant challenges of participation, implementation, the empowerment of domestic stakeholders, and funding, particularly with regards to the countries of Eastern Europe, the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA).

The Convention was adopted under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and covers the European Union, North America, Turkey, and EECCA. Its agreed protocols address a range of pollutants, including industrial and vehicle emissions resulting in acid rain, ground-level ozone, heavy metal pollution, and agricultural chemicals (pesticides and ammonia). Black carbon, a short-lived climate forcer, has also recently been incorporated into the regulatory framework.

Publishing in Transnational Environmental Law, Adam’s paper sets out to:

  • Explore the strengths and weaknesses of the regime established by the 1979 CLRTAP, focusing on regime design – the legal, institutional, and normative elements of the regime.
  • Test Daniel Bodansky’s argument that international environmental law is ‘art and craft’, and that regime design can be successfully evaluated.
  • Consider the relationship of the 1979 CLRTAP to European and International Environmental Law.



A first view of the paper is available at:




A new satellite to measure global plant fluorescence

UCL team at European Space Research and Technology Centre
A new satellite to measure global plant fluorescence

Fluorescence of vegetation cover (C) U. Rascher, Forschungszentrum Jülich

The UCL Geography Earth Observation Group have recently contributed to the preliminary report for a planned new satellite which would be used to measure vegetation fluorescence globally.

The FLEX satellite (Fluorescence Explorer) aims to supply the first ever high spatial-resolution space-borne images of plant fluorescence, providing better estimates of global photosynthesis and atmospheric carbon assimilation by plants.

On 19th February, Professor Philip Lewis, Dr. Jose Gomez-Dans, Dr Natash MacBean (LSCE, Université de Versailles) and Jacques Malaprade joined other scientists collaborating on the project during a meeting at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk (Netherlands). A user consultation meeting is planned for September in Krakow (Poland) to advise the European Space Agency on the selection of the Earth Explorer 8 (EE8) Mission.

The UCL team is contributing expertise in:

(a) vegetation radiative transfer, especially considering the 3D effects of plant canopies on the fluorescence signal;

(b) data assimilation methods and Gaussian processes;

(c) optimisation of global vegetation models using fluorescence.

They are working directly with researchers at LSCE in France, and have increased collaboration with researchers at the Universities of Valencia, as well as at the University of Milan and elsewhere.

The FLEX team are hoping the FLEX mission will be chosen for EE8.