Researchers share expertise to tackle global challenges

Pichincha Volcano looming over Quito City 
                           Teresa Ar

Pichincha Volcano looming over Quito City Teresa Armijos

Scientists from the University of Bristol will be sharing their expertise as part of two new £20 million UK Research and Innovation Global Research Hubs funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

The first will focus on urban disaster risk and the second aims to tackle the challenge that nitrogen pollution poses for the environment, food security, human health and the economy in South Asia.

Global Research Hubs are research communities focussed on innovative and sustainable solutions for global development challenges, which they will find through research engagement and capacity building activities.

Each of these communities include researchers from across the world, government agencies, communities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The GCRF Urban Disaster Risk Hub will include scientists and academics from Bristol’s Schools of Earth Sciences , Civil Engineering and Policy Studies , supported by the Cabot Institute for the Environment.

Its aim is to primarily provide new research that will underpin the integration of disaster risk reduction principles into global urban development.

More than two billion people are exposed to floods, earthquakes, landslides, volcanos and cyclones in cities of low-to-middle income countries and this figure is expected to double by 2050. Cities are home to 55 percent of the global population and account for 70 percent of global GDP.

Urban systems are expanding rapidly throughout the developing world, and globally 60 percent of the area expected to be urban by 2030 is yet to be built. There is a time-critical opportunity to incorporate disaster risk planning into this imminent rapid urbanisation to minimise disaster risk in tomorrow’s cities.

The Hub will create city-scale engagement around urban disaster risk and will coordinate research and policy teams in Istanbul, Kathmandu, Nairobi and Quito, supported by UK and international scientists. The Hub comprises 12 UK research organisations and 42 global partners representing 12 countries.

In the first stage of the project the Bristol team will work with academic and municipal partners in Quito - the capital city of Ecuador - focussing on new approaches to assessing threats and reducing risk from volcanic activity and landslides through engagement with city authorities and affected communities.

Bristol lead Dr Jeremy Phillips , Reader in Physical Volcanology from the School of Earth Sciences , said: “The Hub is a very exciting new project that will create a framework for ensuring that state-of-the-art hazard science and understanding of social processes that result in disasters are at the centre of urban development planning for future cities”.

The South Asian Nitrogen Hub, a partnership led by the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, includes around 50 organisations from across the UK and South Asia of which Bristol is one of 14 UK partners.

The Hub will be awarded 19.6 million over the next five years, comprising 17.1 million from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and 2.5m from UK and international partners, including the South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP). Contributions in-kind worth a further 7 million are being provided by partners of the UKRI GCRF South Asian Nitrogen Hub.

Public debate about planetary health tends to focus on carbon. But nitrogen is also critically important as it is connected to air pollution, biodiversity loss, the pollution of rivers and seas, ozone depletion, health, economy and livelihoods.

Nitrogen pollution is caused, for example, by emissions from chemical fertilisers, livestock manure, and burning fossil fuels. Previous efforts have addressed only specific aspects of the problem, while the Hub will bring these together in a more coherent approach.

The UKRI GCRF South Asian Nitrogen Hub will study the impacts of the different forms of pollution to form a coherent picture of the nitrogen cycle. In particular, it will look at nitrogen in agriculture in eight countries - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives.

The Hub’s recommendations will support cleaner and more profitable farming, as well as industrial recycling of nitrogen, fostering development of a cleaner circular economy for nitrogen.

The team at the University of Bristol, led by Dr Anita Ganesan , from the School of Geographical Sciences , will be quantifying emissions of nitrogen pollutants, including nitrogen oxides and ammonia, to the atmosphere in South Asia.

Dr Ganesan said: “Air pollution is one of the many detrimental consequences of our nitrogen usage. This Hub brings together a team studying nitrogen from multiple angles, from soils, and water systems all the way up to the atmosphere, with the goal of being able to more sustainably manage this resource.”

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