The Environmental Sciences Research Division has earned a world-class reputation, and our work is of global significance.
By improving understanding of how the environment works, as well as responds to and recovers from change, we are addressing questions of sustainability and informing national and international policy and practice relating to food and water security, extreme weather events and pollution.
Our research focuses on the evolution, dynamics and interactions of the environment’s components and on the interplay between people and the environment, in the past, present and future.
We conduct Environmental Science in the widest sense – from analysing important properties of the soil beneath our feet, to glaciers and oceans. Core areas of research include soil science, hydrology, biogeochemistry, terrestrial and marine ecology, remote sensing, meteorology and climate science, as well as landscapes and landforms.
A key aspect of our work is expanding knowledge of the critical zone (parent material-soil-vegetation) and its interactions with the atmosphere, groundwater and surface water.
For specific enquiries, please contact:
Professor Liz Shaw
Research Division Lead
Telephone: +44 (0)118 378 6971
Climate advice over the airwaves
Our research is feeding into radio broadcasts of climate-related advice for people living in farming communities living around the Volta river basin in Africa, who are facing increasing water shortages. Researchers from the University’s Walker Institute working on the BRAVE project provide vital weather and livelihood data to farmer field listening groups in Ghana and Burkina Faso to help them develop radio outreach information.
Broadcast through community radio stations and tailored to the specific needs of local communities, these programmes help farmers prepare for oncoming climate or drought challenges, guiding decisions on sustainable land management, conservation of resources, health and nutrition, and crop yield and production. The work is part of a partnership with the Lorna Young Foundation, CARE International and the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation.
Priming aid agencies to act before floods strike
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. Aid agencies were able to take early action because of an innovative humanitarian system known as ‘Forecast-based Action’. This allows early action plans – supported by evidence from academics - to be triggered when a specific forecast of a natural hazard is made.
Leverhulme Early Career Fellow Dr Liz Stephens' research involving the Global Flood Awareness System has contributed to early pilot research projects in Uganda and Peru, while ongoing research under NERC / DfID’s Science for Humanitarian Emergencies and Resilience programme is providing the tools and evidence to scale up these pilot projects to systematic international financing mechanisms. This will allow early action to be approved and funded on the basis of a forecast. Find out more on our blog about this research, which won Dr Rebecca Emerton and Dr Andrea Ficchi a 2019 Research Engagement and Impact Award (see feature on this page).
Supporting sustainable societies
The Loddon Observatory is an environmental initiative to support sustainable societies, led by Professor Jo Clarke, currently addressing the challenges of flooding, water quality and sustainable agriculture. The initiative works to find sustainable solutions to these challenges within the Loddon Catchment of the Thames Basin – an area which covers 680 square kilometres across the counties of Berkshire, Hampshire and Surrey.
Hosted at the University, it brings together researchers with charities, public sector, business and other research organisations. The observatory's overall aim is to find ways to build capability and capacity to meet 21st Century challenges and to inform policy and practice. Professor Clarke won a Research Engagement and Impact Award 2019 for the undergraduate research aspects of the project. Find out more about some of the Observatory's research projects.
The 5-year NERC-funded Flooding From Intense Rainfall (FFIR) programme, led by Professor Hannah Cloke, aims to reduce the risks of damage and loss of life caused by surface water and flash floods. It works to improve the identification, characterisation and prediction of interacting meteorological, hydrological and hydro-morphological processes that contribute to flooding associated with high-intensity rainfall events. There are three projects within the FFIR programme, directed by the University of Reading: Project FRANC, Project SINATRA and project TENDERLY. To find out more, see the video about FFIR on this page.
Real-time flood forecasts save lives
Rebecca Emerton and Andrea Ficchi - WINNERS
Predicting natural events such as storms and earthquakes is a challenge, but advance notice can help save lives. During Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in 2019, Dr Emerton and Dr Ficchi’s real-time flood hazard reports helped national and international aid agencies working in Mozambique deliver aid to those most in need.
Flooding from intense rainfall
Blöschl, G., Bierkens, M. F.P., Chambel, A., Cudennec, C., Destouni, G., Fiori, A., Kirchner, J. W., McDonnell, J. J., Savenije, H. H.G., Sivapalan, M., Stumpp, C., Toth, E., Volpi, E., Carr, G., Lupton, C., Salinas, J., Széles, B., Viglione, A. and Wade, A (2019) Twenty-three unsolved problems in hydrology (UPH) – a community perspective. Hydrological Sciences Journal.
Gougoulias, C., Meade, A. and Shaw, L. (2018) Apportioning bacterial carbon source utilization in soil using 14C isotope analysis of FISH-targeted bacterial populations sorted by Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting (FACS): 14C-FISH-FACS. Environmental Microbiology Reports
Boelee, L., Lumbroso, D. M., Samuels, P. G., Cloke, H L (2019)Estimation of uncertainty in flood forecasts - a comparison of methods. Journal of Flood Risk Management.
Lees, K.J., Quaife, T., Artz, R.R.E., Khomik, M., Clark, J.M. (2018) Potential for using remote sensing to estimate carbon fluxes across northern peatlands – A review. Science of the Total Environment
Sizmur, T., McArthur, G., Risk, D., Tordon, R., O'Driscoll, N.J. (2017) Gaseous mercury flux from salt marshes is mediated by solar radiation and temperature . Atmospheric Environment
Cloke, H.L., Pappenberger, F., Smith, P.J., Wetterhall, F. (2017) How do I know if I've improved my continental scale flood early warning system? Environmental Research Letters
Kademoglou, K., Xu, F., Padilla-Sanchez, J.A., Haug, L.S., Covaci, A., Collins, C.D. (2017) Legacy and alternative flame retardants in Norwegian and UK indoor environment: Implications of human exposure via dust ingestion. Environment International
Cloke, Hannah Louise., Stephens, Elisabeth M. (2017) Complex picture for likelihood of ENSO-driven flood hazard. Nature Communications
Ritson, J.P., Brazier, R.E., Graham, N.J.D., Freeman, C., Templeton, M.R., Clark, J.M. (2017) The effect of drought on dissolved organic carbon (DOC) release from peatland soil and vegetation sources. Biogeosciences