Articles

Here you can read articles written by senior scientists and postgraduate researchers. New articles will be continually added. If there is a topic you would like to know more about, contact us. You can also get involved by adding your own comments and questions.

Desertification: land degradation under a changing climate

Today, 17th June, is the World Day to Combat Desertification, with an event being held by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and hosted at the World Bank in partnership with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), TerrAfrica and Connect4Climate. The UNCCD have recently published a comprehensive report on the impacts of desertification. Here we look at what desertification is, how it is affected by climate change, and what this means for global populations. What is desertification? Desertification is a form of land degradation by which land becomes more arid.  It’s definition is debated, but it generally refers to “the process of fertile land transforming into desert typically as a result...

Quaternary science in the UK: 50 years of past climate research

2014 is a big year for Quaternary science! In January, the UK Quaternary Research Association (QRA) celebrated its 50th anniversary at the Royal Geographical Society in London. The QRA is a research organisation which focuses on the Quaternary Period – the last 2.6 million years of Earth’s history, which is broadly synonymous with ‘The Ice Age’. Quaternary science (the study of all things Quaternary) encompasses a wide range of research fields including: oceanography, glaciology, ecology, and human evolution. These strands of Quaternary research come together to build a detailed picture of the long-term changes in the Earth’s environment. Every year the QRA hosts an Annual...

Mitigating climate change – The IPCC WGIII report

What is the IPCC WG III? On 14th April 2014 the IPCC Working Group III (WG III) published their latest report (link) on climate change mitigation. This is the third of three reports from the IPCC, and follows on from their previous publications: WG I ‘The Physical Science Basis’, published in September 2013; and WG II ‘Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’, published in March 2014.  Their latest report draws together over four years of work by over 230 scientists, and presents our options for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and developing a more sustainable future.   The report analyses the outcomes of 1200 published scientific studies....

Oxygen isotopes and lakes

Lakes occur across the globe and are sensitive to climatic change. Analysing the sediments that have accumulated at the bottom of lakes over time can help us to reconstruct past environmental change. Here, we focus specifically on the use of oxygen isotopes from lake sediments to reconstruct climate change (Fig.1). What are isotopes? Isotopes are variations of a particular chemical element. It is all to do with the number of neutrons. Oxygen has two main isotopes: 18O which has 10 neutrons and 8 protons; and 16O which has 8 neutrons and 8 protons. Although these variants have a different number of neutrons (and therefore a different atomic mass),...

Moraines – piles of dirt record glacier fluctuations

What are moraines? And how do they form? Moraines are piles of debris deposited by glaciers. Such landforms can form along the margin of a glacier – at the front or its sides – or can build up on the glacier surface. One common form of the latter, termed medial moraine, typically forms at confluences of two glaciers in mountain areas (Figure 1 and 2). These are deposits that only last for as long as the glacier is around – once the ice melts, any material on its surface is redistributed by meltwater and gravity, so that medial moraines do not normally survive after a...