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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  2010  /  August 2010  /  Progress and threats in environmental change research

Progress and threats in environmental change research

Accepting RGS Victoria Medal, Rick Battarbee urges continuing support for scientific effort and public communication

Progress and threats in environmental change research

At the Award Ceremony at the RGS on June 7th Professor Rick Battarbee dedicated the award to the outstanding group of talented and highly motivated research students and staff at UCL over the past 30 years, without whom very little would have been achieved.

One of their main research interests had been the effects of ‘acid rain’ on upland lakes and streams, a hot topic of the 1980s. Eventually, the scientific evidence led to acceptance that this was the cause of widespread damage to upland waters in the UK and other parts of Europe. Action to reduce power station sulphur dioxide emissions across Europe has had dramatic effects, with emissions falling by 90% since 1980. As a result, we can also now show that lakes and streams in the UK are beginning to recover.

This recovery of upland water ecosystems is still threatened by climate change - not by an increase in temperature but by the higher amount and intensity of sea-salt laden winter storms expected in upland Britain. As climate change is tackled, principally by reducing dependence on coal and oil, there will also be added benefits from associated reductions in  emissions of other serious pollutants, including sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides and toxic pollutants such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons and trace metals, especially lead and mercury.

The climate change battle has not yet been won despite the compelling nature of the science, and carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise inexorably. Rick urged learned societies, such as the RGS-IBG, to play a full role in supporting the science base needed to inform Government policy and in communicating that science to the wider public.