Our research

Below are just some of the many research projects members of the Geography team are involved with at the moment.

Professor Paul Withers: ‘ Improving the sustainability of phosphorus use in arable farming’

Funded by Defra-LINK, NERC and AHDB: With RSK ADAS Ltd, RCUK, Rothamsted-Research, NIAB-TAG, Southampton University, Newcastle University, Speciality Fertiliser Products, Omex Agriculture, Severn Trent Water, Nutrient Recovery Technologies and Agrivert. 

Phosphorus is a critical nutrient resource for food production but it is also a serious polluter of watercourses causing eutrophication and loss of aquatic biodiversity. Agriculture must intensify in the future to meet the food demands of a growing population but this intensification must be done much more sustainably than in the past in order to reduce eutrophication and safeguard future supply and affordability of finite phosphorus resources.  Two major industry-funded projects and related PhDs have been started to develop more profitable and sustainable farming systems that maximise the efficiency of utilization of soil and applied phosphorus by arable crops and minimise the negative environmental impacts. A key element of the projects is to develop more innovative ways to target phosphorus inputs more precisely to the crop during periods of critical or peak demand, including the screening and development of phosphorus efficient cereal varieties and the use of recovered and recycled P resources such as struvite from wastewater.

Professor Paul Withers: ‘Turf2Surf - The Multi-Scale Response of Water Quality, Biodiversity and Carbon Sequestration to Coupled Macronutrient Cycling from Source to Sea’.

Funded by NERC under the Macronutrients Programme: With University of Reading, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, James Hutton Institute and Pond Conservation.

This project aims to reduce uncertainty in our understanding of when, where and how carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) cycles are coupled through the air, land-water continuum exploiting data-rich platforms in the Conwy 'Source to Sea' catchment, supplemented by the Ribble.  The project focuses on developing new understanding of three critical processes: net primary productivity, decomposition and nutrient cycling by studying key hotspots of CNP cycling in catchments. Within Geography, we are investigating the coupling of C, N and P within the aquatic environment in relation to variable land use and source inputs (agriculture, wastewater) and in particular the processing of dissolved organic matter in the Conwy and Ribble rivers and how this is influenced by nitrogen and phosphorus inputs. The work will help inform catchment management with respect to strategies for improving water quality.
For further information on Turf2Surf: https://sites.google.com/site/turf2surfproject/

Dr Graham Bird: ‘Establishing a network of research excellence for mine reclamation in Southeast Asia’

Funded by the Global Innovation Initiative (GII). With: Prof. M. McDonald, Dr Paula Roberts (Bangor University), Dr Jerry Miller (Western Carolina University), Dr W. T. Perkins (Aberystwyth University), Dr I. Mansur (SAMEO Biotrop), Dr. D. Suprayogo (University of Bawija), Prof. R. Sagoya (Bandung Institute of Technology), Prof. A. Miftah Fauzi (Bogor Agricultural University).

The GII is a joint UK-US programme established to foster multilateral research collaboration with higher education institutions in Brazil, China, India and Indonesia. As a country rich in natural resources, Indonesia has undergone rapid economic development over the last 10 years with the growth of extractive industries, such as coal mining, contributing greatly to the economic development of the country. Of concern, however, are the environmental problems that can arise during, and particularly after mining has ceased. These may include soil and forest destruction, production of acid rock drainage, pollution of air, water and soil and the creation of harmful waste. The project will focus on the challenges and opportunities faced in attempting to reclaim mine sites in partnership with an Indonesian state-owned coal mining company, PT Bukit Asam.


Dr Graham Bird: ‘Impacts of remediation strategies upon the geochemistry of metalliferous mine waste’.

With Dr Bill Perkins (Aberystwyth University).

This project is based in Ireland, with has a rich history of metalliferous mining as well as an active current mining industry.  Mining for metals (e.g. Pb, Zn) generates enormous volumes of waste material (often metal-rich) that needs to be stored, often in large ponds or lagoons. The challenge is how best to remediate that material so that once full, those ponds are both environmentally safe but also can be used (e.g. for grazing).  The project is working at a number of sites that have undergone very different management approaches; ranging from the ‘abandon and hope for the best’ approach to ones which have been the focus of substantial research and planning.  Key foci for the project include the behaviour of metal elements within the mine waste and soils and also their uptake to vegetation.

Dr Graham Bird: The environmental impact of the Mount Polley mine tailings spill and related clean-up operations, British Columbia, Canada.

Funded by NERC (NE/M017486/1). With: Prof. K. Hudson-Edwards (Birkbeck College, PI), Prof. M. G. Macklin and Dr P. A. Brewer (Aberystwyth University) and Dr P. Byrne (Liverpool John Moores University).

The aim of the proposed research is to determine the short- to longer-term (months to years) environmental and geomorphological impacts of the August 4th 2014 Mount Polley (British Columbia, Canada) mine tailings dam failure. . The Mount Polley spill is one of the largest ever recorded (10 million m3 of water and 4.5 million m3 of tailings) and is unique in that that the tailings contain an unusual mixture of contaminants (arsenic, copper, gold, manganese, nickel, lead, vanadium) enabling the impacts of a wide range of contaminants to be studied in a single event. The project directly addresses NERC's societal challenges of 'Resilience to Environmental Hazards' in that a key output from the work will be a series of industry-facing recommendations relating to the hazard/risk of, response to, and recovery from tailings dam failures.

Dr Lynda Yorke: ‘The glacial hangover: Vale of Clwyd, North Wales’

Supported by the QRA Quaternary Research Fund.

This project is concerned with characterising the geomorphological evolution of the Vale of Clwyd since the end of the last glaciation.  Lying in the confluence zone between the Welsh and Irish Sea Ice, the area contains significant glacial landforms and sediments.  Subsequent, postglacial, valley-floor development (river terraces, palaeochannels, alluvial fans, alluvial basins and sedimentary sequences) holds important information about fluvial landscape development in the vale.  The project is working on sites throughout the vale and its tributary valleys, examining glacial legacies and postglacial responses. 

Dr Lynda Yorke: ‘Why we need to understand the past to manage the future: the River Dysynni, Mid Wales’

With Dr Hywel Griffiths (Aberystwyth University)

This project is based on the need to better understand river systems and human-landscape interactions because of increasing uncertainty about climate change and its impact on river systems.  The research combines geomorphological (LiDAR and field) mapping and sedimentological (litostratigraphic) investigation (gouge auger and percussion corer) with documentary and historical data in order to explore the occurrence and timing of major events, such as flooding or land clearance. It will enhance the understanding of the complexity of, and interaction between, human and natural processes of river valley floor development and will provide a wider perspective on human-landscape interaction over the last 1000 years in Wales.