Environmental research is centre-stage at the University of Reading. Two hundred academics, and hundreds of postdoctoral researchers and PhD students come together within our Environment theme to explore, understand, and address the challenges of environmental changes, both natural and those shaped by humans.
Some recent highlights of our world-class research include:
Tropics link with European weather: Reading and ECMWF scientists have uncovered a new link between conditions in the tropics and the weather in Europe, allowing scientists to improve the accuracy of early UK winter forecasts. The researchers found that combining observations of El Niño – a periodic warming of waters in the Pacific – with other natural weather cycles around the equator gives more accurate indications of the type of weather Europe will experience, up to a month in advance.
Bumpy ride: Climate change could make severe in-flight air turbulence up to three times more likely by 2050-80 by increasing a process called vertical wind shear in the jet stream, according to research led by Professor Paul Williams, published in Nature. The study showed that whilst the temperature difference between Earth’s poles and the equator is narrowing at ground level because of climate change, the opposite is happening at 34,000 feet - typical aeroplane cruising altitude. The jet stream is driven by these temperature differences, and the strengthening trend at cruising altitudes is causing an increase in turbulence-driving wind shear.
Cleaning up our air won’t affect global warming: Air pollution does not help to keep global warming in check as was previously suspected, according to a landmark study led by Dr Nicholas Bellouin, published in Nature. Airborne particles from pollution help clouds to form with more water droplets, meaning they reflect more of the sun’s energy back into space. However the study findings shows that pollution affects different clouds in different ways: while some get thicker, others become thinner, meaning that overall pollution is unlikely to offset warming caused by greenhouse gases. This offers greater hope that current plans to curb global warming by moving to cleaner sources of energy may still work without leading to an unexpected extra source of heating. Find out more.
Energy demand solutions proposed in new government report: Actions that could change consumer energy habits in the transition to a net-zero carbon UK have been proposed in a new report involving Reading urban energy demand researchers. The report, written by the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS), is intended to strengthen and deliver the commitments in the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy.
Flood forecasts put aid in place ahead of Cyclone Idai: A day before Cyclone Idai hit the coast of Mozambique in April 2019, humanitarian aid – clean water, blankets, emergency shelter – had already been put in place. Research led by Dr Liz Stephens contributed to advanced flood forecasting systems, giving enough lead time for humanitarian agencies to secure money and buy and distribute aid before disaster struck.
Climate tipping points: Humanity must be wary of breaching a ‘point of no return’ that leads to ecological disaster such as loss of rainforests or irreversible climate change, according to a detailed study by Reading mathematics and climate science researchers. Exploring the thin line separating the Earth’s current climate from a frozen one – the so-called snowball state - they analysed how random events and human action could combine to reach a ‘tipping point’, where one natural state transitions to a very different one. The findings can be applied to the Earth’s climate, landscape features or ecosystems to aid our understanding of how they can be altered or destroyed after reaching a point of no return.
Top UK university for environment and wildlife research: The University of Reading has been ranked as the number one UK university for citations in environmental and ecological research by InCites, illustrating the outstanding quality of work carried out by our scientists. The InCites Essential Science Indicators rankings, which scores institutions based on academically influential published research papers, placed Reading as the UK’s best university and ranked us 59th in the world out of 956 institutions.
Helping islands switch to green energy: Island states are to use data from Reading’s Institute for Environmental Analytics (IEA) to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy. RE-SAT, a renewable energy analytics platform, will be introduced in Montserrat, Palau, St Lucia, Tonga, Mauritius and Vanuatu, backed by £2.9m from the UK Space Agency International Partnership Programme. RE-SAT brings together satellite and in-situ weather data with advanced analytics to help users explore the best renewable energy mix, plan where to locate infrastructure and estimate variability of power generation by taking into account seasonal weather patterns.
Impact of WW2 bombs felt at the edge of space: Bombing raids by Allied forces during the Second World War sent shockwaves through Earth’s atmosphere big enough to weaken the ionosphere (the electrified upper atmosphere) above the UK, according to Reading research.
Plastic pollution takes to the skies: Reading research has shown that tiny fragments of plastic eaten by water-dwelling larvae of flying insects - such as mosquitoes - are retained inside the adult insect during metamorphosis, giving plastic pollution a new pathway into the environment.
news and events
We collaborate with the very best researchers and users of research, nationally and internationally. These partnerships better enable us to play a critical role in tackling environmental challenges and provide solutions that are both adoptable and adopted.
We work closely with organisations such as:
International space agencies
University Institutes, Centres, Clusters and facilities
We have several centres of research and facilities focusing on specific environmental issues, including:
Institute for Environmental Analytics – translating environmental research into commercially-relevant solutions.
Walker Institute – an interdisciplinary research institute supporting the development of climate-resilient societies.
Soil Research Centre – tackling the decline in soil health and quality.
Centre for Past Climate Change – quantifying historical climate change and seeking to understand the co-evolution of human society and environment.
Data Assimilation Research Centre – theory and applications in all areas of the geosciences.
Water@Reading – providing flood, drought and water-quality monitoring, forecasting and early-warning systems, in the UK and abroad
Land Surface Processes cluster – uses computer simulations and observations to study interactions between the land and atmosphere.
Chemical Analysis Facility – open-access analytical instrumentation, and advice on access to external facilities, such as beamlines.
Cole Museum of Zoology – University museum and collections relating to zoology and natural history.
Agrimetrics – The world's first Big Data Centre of Excellence for the whole agri-food industry.
Technologies for Sustainable Built Environments (TSBE) – bringing together academic and industry partners for applied research in built environment and energy.
Postgraduate Research Opportunities
Want to join some of the world's leading environmental researchers, with a fully-funded PhD research studentship at the University of Reading? We have PhD positions available starting in September 2019.
For information on postgraduate research opportunities within the Environment Theme, please visit our research division pages or the Graduate School's website.