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GeoPolicy: 8 science-based projects improving regions in the EU

GeoPolicy: 8 science-based projects improving regions in the EU

As scientists, it can sometimes be difficult to see the real-world implications of some of our research. Concepts can often seem abstract and remote when sitting in a lab or taking field measurements. But researching the Earth sciences can have profound effects on global society. Understanding how the natural world works can help protect and improve human, animal, and plant life. This month’s GeoPolicy post (part of the European Geosciences Union GeoLog Blog) highlights EU funded projects that have their foundations in the Earth sciences.

EU member states can apply for regional project funding that aims to improve living standards for the residents living within that region. Projects can be technology, medicine, environment, or social-science based. This post highlights 8 projects that have resulted from earth-science research. Scroll down to see what projects are going on in your country, or your area of science. A full list of EU funded projects can be found here and more information on the EU regional development fund can be found on their website.

 

Preventing coastal erosion in Southern France

Coastal erosion causes coastlines to collapse and retreat landward. This can have damaging effects on local residents, or on those who use the coast for recreational activities. In the Mediterranean, beaches are sustained by sediment supplied from river deltas. Erosion can occur when less river sediment is transported to the coasts. This can occur when there has been a decrease in the frequency of major floods, catchment reforestation, dam construction, or dredging activities1.

The EU funded a project to protect coastal regions in the South of France; an area popular for tourists and local residents alike. Amongst other initiatives, which included infrastructure changes, a dune ridge was re-established to protect the beach and coastal area.

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/france/preservation-of-coastal-gem

 

River adaptation to fight flash floods in Spain

The Simat region, located on the East coast of Spain, near Valenciana, is often subjected to flash flooding as it is situated between mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. Flash floods caused by heavy autumn rains burst river banks and have a devastating effect on the surrounding villages.

EU funding provided both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ flood defences for the Valenciana region. Soft river defences use natural resources and local knowledge to protect residents from flooding. A region upstream of Simet was reclaimed for flood plains and the river was widened. To complement this, a canal system (an example of a hard defence strategy) was constructed further downstream.

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/spain/river-adaptation-to-fight-flash-floods

 

Energy Efficiency: Recovering heat to produce thermal energy in Greece

Increasing energy efficiency is a key objective for the European Union: there is a specific EU Directive that focuses entirely on improving energy usage. By 2020, the EU aims to have saved roughly the equivalent of 400 power stations-worth of energy2.

Florina, a city in mainland Greece, has been awarded EU funding for a project aimed to distribute unused heat energy from power stations to 23,000 local residents. Surplus heat will be piped as ‘superheated water’ to local homes and businesses. As well as improving energy efficiency, this project is expected to cut water-related greenhouse gas emissions by 88%, as hot water will no longer be heated by traditional oil and gas combustion methods.

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/greece/recovering-heat-to-produce-thermal-energy

 

Improving groundwater quality in Poland

Groundwater is a lifeline to supplying Europe with freshwater. Over 300 million EU citizens get their drinking water from these subsurface water deposits. Unfortunately, groundwater can become contaminated making it unfit to be consumed, and endanger aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. This can happen when septic systems that are not connected to modern sewer systems leak bacteria, viruses, and chemicals into the environment.

An EU funded project for the Poznań region in Poland is protecting local groundwater supplies by improving wastewater treatment networks, which will benefit almost 736,000 local inhabitants. The construction of an integrated water and wastewater monitoring system helps to protect residents as well as the surrounding ecosystems.

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/poland/improving-groundwater-quality-around-poznan

 

Micro-hydropower plants in the UK and Ireland

The world needs to shift to non-carbon based energy generation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The EU aims to achieve 20% energy generation from renewable sources by 2020 (2012 levels stood at 11%)3. Renewable energy sources include hydropower, geothermal, wind energy, solar energy, and biomass. Hydropower is commonly generated through dam structures, where flowing water passes through a turbine. An alternative method is to take surplus electrical energy from the grid and use it to pump water to elevated ground, therefore storing it as potential energy to be used later.

A common method within water supply systems is to use pressurised pumps to transport water to the pipeline network. Excess pressure is often vented, releasing unused energy into the atmosphere. A recently funded EU project aims to create hydro-energy from these supply systems by installing micro-hydropower plants on the ventilation valves. The generated electricity can be used to reduce conventional energy consumption. The project has been funded for regions in Wales and Ireland, however it is thought this technology could be expanded across Europe and beyond.

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/europe/retrieving-water-energy-at-micro-hydropower-plants-could-pave-the-way-to-more-sustainable-water-supply-systems-in-ireland-and-wales

 

Turning copper to gold: mining in Portugal

Raw materials, including minerals and rare-earth elements, are used in infrastructure, renewable energy resources, agriculture, and telecommunications. The vast majority of these resources are imported to the EU, and very few mineral mines are located within Europe. It is important to improve the security of supply by either increasing internal supply or reducing the need for these materials.

The Alentejo region in Portugal is located on the Iberian pyrite belt, a geological zone rich in mineral deposits. Mining has occurred for many centuries and the region currently employs over 500 people. Funds have been awarded to develop the mine’s capabilities to increase its output of copper ore, whilst continuing to meet EU environmental standards.

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/portugal/turning-copper-to-gold

 

Adapting water management to climate change in Denmark and Germany

Greenhouse gases absorb radiated energy from the Earth and re-radiate this as heat; raising global temperatures. This results in ice caps and glaciers melting and causes rising sea levels. Low-lying countries are now experiencing greater flooding episodes and increasing storm surges (another effect of manmade climate change). The Syddanmark region in Denmark and the Schleswig-Holstein region in Germany was awarded EU funding to assess and reduce the damage new flooding has on these areas. After discussions with professionals, politicians and members of the public, it was decided to develop a hydrological model to assess the future impacts flooding would have. The model was able to highlight where dikes should be relocated and retention areas be created to reduce negative flooding impacts. Additionally, the resulting changes showed positive biodiversity effects in these new areas from the temporary flooding.

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/europe/grenzwasser-adapts-water-management-to-climate-change-requirements

 

Establishing a commercial spaceport in Sweden

Space research and exploration does more than simply try to answer overarching questions about life, the solar system, and beyond. The research and development driven by space science and exploration have led to inventions that are now used to help us in our daily lives. The ESA has a portfolio of ~450 inventions, covering areas such as optics, robotics, and electrical power. The development of the so-called “second space age” is seeing private space companies contributing to research and innovation, as well as providing opportunities for more commercial space flights.

The Kiruna region, in Northern Sweden, established an international space and research ground-station over 50 years ago. The station hosts rocket and balloon launches, satellite monitoring, new space and flight systems testing, and multiple ground-based space measurements. A project has been funded to transform the Kiruna centre into a ‘fully functioning spaceport’ to develop new products, services, research, and education.

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/best-practices/sweden/2105

 

More information about EU project funding and where it is allocated can be found on the European Commission website.

 

Sources:

1 – http://www.climatechangepost.com/france/coastal-erosion/

2 – https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/energy-efficiency

3 – http://www.eea.europa.eu/soer-2015/europe/energy

 

Volcanic darkness marked the dawn of the Dark Ages

Volcanic darkness marked the dawn of the Dark Ages

The dawn of the Dark Ages coincided with a volcanic double event – two large eruptions in quick succession. Combined, they had a stronger impact on the Earth’s climate than any other volcanic event – or sequence of events – in the last 1200 years. Historical reports reveal that a mysterious dust cloud dimmed the sun’s rays between in 536 and 537 CE, a time followed by global societal decline. Now, we know the cause.

By combining state-or-the-art ice core measurements with historical records and a climate model, researchers from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, Germany, and a host of international organisations showed that the eruptions were responsible for a rapid climatic downturn. The findings, published in Climatic Change, were presented at the EGU General Assembly in April 2016.

Explosive volcanic eruptions typically emit large volumes of ash and gas high into the atmosphere. The way this ash spreads depends both on how high up it’s propelled and the prevailing weather conditions. When it reaches the stratosphere, it has the capacity to spread far and wide over the Earth, meaning the eruption will have much more than a local impact.

Individually, these events were strong, but not that strong. Their combined force was what made their affect of the earth’s climate so significant. They occurred closely in time and were both in the Northern hemisphere.

Volcanic emissions reflect light back into space. Consequently, less light and, importantly, less heat reaches the surface, causing the Earth to cool. Diminishing sunlight following the eruptions resulted in a 2 °C drop in temperature, poor crop yields and population starvation. The drop in temperature led to a 3-5 year decline in Scandinavian agricultural productivity – a serious problem.

This double event had a major impact on agriculture in the northern hemisphere – particularly over Scandinavia. It’s likely that societies could withstand one bad summer, but several would have been a problem.

An ash covered plant via Wikimedia Commons.

An ash covered plant via Wikimedia Commons.

There’s agricultural evidence to support the theory too. Pollen records read from sediment cores can be used to work out when agricultural crops covered the land and when the land was ruled by nature. Scandinavian cores suggest there was a shift from agricultural crops to forest around the time of the eruption. There is some scepticism regarding the cause of this shift, but the implication is that when food decreases, so does the population, This means there’s no need to farm as much land, nor enough people to do so. In the absence of agriculture, nature takes over and trees once again cover the land.

By Sara Mynott, EGU Press Assistant and PhD candidate at the University of Exeter.

Sara is a science writer and marine science PhD candidate from the University of Exeter. She’s investigating the impact of climate change on predator-prey relationships in the ocean, and was one of our Press Assistants this year’s General Assembly.

Imaggeo on Mondays: The British Winter Storms

Imaggeo on Mondays: The British Winter Storms

This week’s imaggeo on Monday’s photography is Godrevy Lighthouse in North Cornwall (UK) experiencing the full force of the 2013/14 British Winter Storms which caused damage across the south west of the country. During mid-December 2013 to mid-February 2014 the UK was hit by six major storms bringing record precipitation, strong winds, huge waves and generating overall hazardous conditions.

Despite the overall consensus being that these winter months were very wet, the question arose: did the period indeed represent unprecedented storminess?  Work carried out by a team of researchers to answer this very question found that the 2013/14 storms where the strongest experienced by the Biritish Isle in a 143 year period. The extreme precipitation, as well as atmospheric and gale measurements confirmed the findings.

With the storms triggering coastal flooding and gale force winds causing millions of pounds worth of damage to properties and infrastructure across Cornwall (and elsewhere in the country) it is clear that further research is needed in understanding the process which drive storminess in the region, concluded the study.

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

Testing triggers of catastrophic climate change

Tipping points that could trigger catastrophic climate change via Wikimedia Commons.

Tipping points that could trigger catastrophic climate change via Wikimedia Commons.


The research presented during the EGU’s 2016 General Assembly have wide-reaching implications for how we understand planet Earth. In today’s post, Sara Mynott, an EGU press assistant during the conference, writes about findings presented at the meeting which highlight the importance of the biosphere when it comes to understanding the threat posed to our planet by environmental challenges.

With the climate changing, land use shifting and continued environmental pollution, something’s got to give. And if it does, it may well trigger catastrophic change. With so many threats to our planet’s integrity, making decisions about what environmental challenges we should tackle first is a challenge. This is why the Stockholm Resilience Centre created the planetary boundaries framework. The framework identifies key tipping points that could cause catastrophic climate change. Recent updates to the framework have identified biosphere integrity and climate change as two of the core planetary boundaries that, if crossed, could endanger human prosperity.

A lot of research has been done into the tipping points that could trigger catastrophic climate change, from large scale methane release to irreversible ice sheet melt, but one area remains profoundly overlooked. The biosphere.

“It’s very well known that the climate affects the biosphere and the biosphere affects the climate, but there’s still a large amount of uncertainty about how those two are going to interact and play out,” explains Steven Lade, a modeller at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Climate talks tend to focus around cutting CO2, but there is three times as much carbon stored in soils and vegetation than there is in the atmosphere, making the biosphere a major reservoir. By modelling interactions between the climate and the biosphere, Lade aims to find out whether biosphere degradation could trigger catastrophic climate change.

“There’s definitely enough carbon in the biosphere to cause catastrophic climate change. There’s no question about that. The question is how accessible it is, how rapidly it will be pumped out, how rapidly other feedbacks in the climate system might counteract that. The quantity is enough, but the speed and the feedbacks may help counteract that. This is why we’re trying to do a dynamical model.”

Just one small part of the biosphere. Credit: Paul via Wikimedia Commons.

Just one small part of the biosphere. Credit: Paul
via Wikimedia Commons.

Rather than predicting where these boundaries lie, Lade is looking for things that could cause catastrophic feedbacks. This means his models are relatively simple – a way of finding out what happens when you push life to its limits.  

“The point is to incorporate different assumptions about what people know, for example, about how the climate and biosphere interact and look at the consequences of those assumptions. To show, for example, whether the biosphere might be strong enough…if you stopped emitting more carbon, but degrade the biosphere heavily – could the resulting carbon emissions trigger catastrophic climate change?”

He aims to see whether those outcomes are plausible or not. It’s an interesting approach, one that will help shape decisions about we can prevent catastrophic change and let policy be put into practice.

By Sara Mynott

Sara is a science writer and marine science PhD candidate from the University of Exeter. She’s investigating the impact of climate change on predator-prey relationships in the ocean, and was one of our Press Assistants this year’s General Assembly.

 

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