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tippingpoints

IHRR’s Tipping Points project has now published its fourth annual report. It provides recent updates on the multiple strands of its research that combines different fields in the physical and social sciences, and arts and humanities. The project has generated a tremendous amount of academic research investigating the many different kinds of tipping points in banking, climate change, human behaviour, health, financial regulation and many others.

This reports provides updates from the project including the following research topics:

  • Tipping points in British banking
  • Climate research in the North Atlantic
  • Modelling complex systems
  • Diffusion of ideas
  • Critical transitions in art and literature

We are exploring and producing a variety of ways of disseminating this research, and welcome any feedback or questions about the contributions the project has made to better understanding tipping points in nature and society.

Download the report

Air pollution caused by industry and other human-made sources is a determinant of health that continues to be largely overlooked despite its disastrous consequences. In 2012 the World Health Organization estimates that seven million people died as a result of pollutants in the air people breathe, this includes both indoor and outdoor air quality.

While many countries have banned smoking in public places it is less likely to see a similar ban on toxic emissions from cars or coal-fired power plants, although there have been attempts in limiting them. Many outdoor air pollution deaths are linked to heart disease and stroke. Health risks from air pollution is a major problem in urban areas throughout the world, but especially in cities in developing countries such as Kathmandu, Dhaka and Beijing.

Both Nepal and Bangladesh rank at the bottom of the air quality ranking from the Environmental Performance Index. China is just above Nepal and its air pollution problems have been well publicised as much could be done to mitigate the problems caused by poor air quality.

This satellite image taken January 2013 shows the extent of air pollution in China:

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Elena E. Burgos-Martínez is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at Durham University writing from her field site on the Celebes Sea in the province of North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Here she is living amongst the indigenous Bajo people who live a nomadic lifestyle on the sea, making them highly attune to environmental change.

The definition and contrast of concepts such as ‘culture’ and ‘nature’ do not apply in the same way across the globe. Dualities such as the environmental vs. the social, the material vs. the biological are not pieces that fit in all socio-ecological puzzles. Environmental change is perceived by the Bajo as part of the defining flux of interactions that grants social cohesion on the island and, thus, it is expected and desired.

Their social environment does not differ from the ecological one since they constantly interchange (e.g. an animated nature of ‘iblis‘ that requires collective Bajo knowledge to be understood and acknowledged). This world view relies on interactions between social and ecological forms of knowledge that cannot be isolated to a particular location. Read the rest of this entry »

mid_tide_towards_boulby

© Emma Norman, Durham University

We are seeking to recruit 4 fully-funded PhD students to work on the Coastal Behaviour and Rates of Activity (COBRA) project, from September 2014. The outputs of the four PhD projects will be used to develop a new understanding of rocky coast processes and will feed into local and regional shoreline management.

The 4 new PhDs are a new addition to COBRA, an ongoing collaborative research project between Durham University and Cleveland Potash Ltd (CPL). The overall aim of the project is to understand the past, present and future controls on coastal erosion within the North York Moors National Park. This stretch of coastline varies dramatically, with some of the UK’s highest near-vertical rock cliffs, softer glacial tills, extensive rocky foreshores and sandy beaches. CPL operates the Boulby Mine – the UK’s most important non-hydrocarbon mineral operation. The coastline presents a fascinating natural laboratory to address key research questions into: i) rockfall and erosion, ii) nearshore sediment dynamics, iii) coastal rock weathering, and iv) post-glacial coastal evolution.

Currently available funded PhD projects:

  1. High-resolution monitoring of rocky coast landscape dynamics
  2. Monitoring & modelling: Sea-bed deformation, waves & sediments
  3. Upscaling weathering & rock mass strength degradation to coastal cliff erosion
  4. Nature or nurture? Controls on long-term evolution of rocky coasts

More details on each project are available on the COBRA website. Read the rest of this entry »

The Durham Energy Institute hosted a visit from Professor Susan Christopherson, Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University, whose research focuses on political-economic policy. Sam Almond from DEI reviews Susan’s talk entitled: ‘A Distinctive US Approach to Shale Gas Development? Local Responses to Complex Risks’, that examined how communities react to and prioritise perceived risks from hydraulic fracturing operations. The talk was organised and hosted by Durham Energy Institute, Department of Earth Sciences and the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience.

Shale gas exploitation (or ‘fracking‘) has revolutionised the US energy market over the last decade, with the country as a whole experiencing lower gas prices and increased energy independence. Some gas-rich regions have seen booms in their economy with reduced unemployment and large financial rewards for landowners and certain local businesses.

image1

Production of natural gas from shale in the United States has expanded rapidly in the last ten years, and is projected to continue through 2040 (EIA 2013a).

However, many local residents have opposed such developments and are concerned regarding issues such as safety, industry regulation, and disruption to their way of life. With shale gas exploitation becoming ever more likely in the UK, it is important to learn from the US experience to understand how communities react to the industry, and how best to regulate the industry to alleviate public concern and to mitigate any negative impacts of the shale gas industry.

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gmoprotest

By Tom McLeish, Durham University; Phil Macnaghten, Durham University, and Susana Carro-Ripalda, Durham University

conversation-logo-

The UK Council for Science and Technology recently called on prime minister David Cameron to reassess EU rules on GM crops. Two days later the Observer published an editorial bluntly declaring: “There’s no choice; we must grow GM crops now”. There is a high risk that a new round of the shouting match that mired the debate 15 years ago will begin again, with little real progress.

But research since the first failure of the debate on GM crops in the EU suggests there is a better way. Our GM-Futuros project has recently explored the GM debates in depth at national and local levels in India, Mexico and Brazil – highlighting some stark lessons for the EU and UK. Quality engagement with the public is key.

Both of the recent UK publications call for a positive move towards GM agricultural technology. Ostensibly this is driven by forecasts of global population increases and a shortfall in food supply from current agricultural land by 2050. The Council for Science and Technology letter also appeals to the current loss of economic opportunity in the UK from present over-restrictive EU regulations. The Observer piece is dismissive of objections: “Thirty years ago, it could be argued that we should proceed cautiously because of potential health dangers. That argument is no longer acceptable.” Read the rest of this entry »

Brownfield or previously developed land is everywhere. Nearly everyone has visited or lived near an area that was once used for industrial purposes, making it unsuitable for redevelopment. Besides being an eye sore, brownfield is also known to be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of communities who live near it, but often the financial costs are too great for it to be restored and developed.

As the global population rises and land for agriculture and housing increases in demand, redeveloping brownfield may hold a solution to some of these challenges, but how do we do it? Some technologies are available, while others are in the making, but how can they be used sustainably? Read the rest of this entry »

10th March 2014, 13:00 to 14:00, Seminar Room 010, Dept of Geography, Professor Alberto Montanari, University of Bologna, Italy

Summary

The damages and fatalities caused by floods are dramatically increasing in many countries of the world, including in Europe and developing regions. Scientists have long investigated the possible reasons for the raising severity of floods, in order to devise efficient strategies for mitigating the above damages. There is a general consensus that is widely amplified by media, that climate change is the most important triggering factor of the increased flood hazard and vulnerability. This seminar will give an overview of recent research on this subject and will provide a forward-looking perspective on the impact of floods on human activity. Read the rest of this entry »

There are a number of upcoming seminars in the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience. All seminars take place from 1pm-2pm in Seminar Room 010, Dept of Geography, unless noted otherwise.

24 February – Two Approaches to Reasoning from Evidence or What Econometrics Can Learn from Biomedical Research

Professor Julian Reiss, Dept of Philosophy

3 March – Making Evolution Visible. Volcanoes and Other Tipping Points in Franz Hohler’s Apocalyptic Eco-Narratives

Professor Nick Saul, Dept of German Read the rest of this entry »

Scholarships and bursaries are available for the Risk Masters programmes based in the Department of Geography and the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience at Durham University.

Civil Society Leadership Awards

The Civil Society Leadership Award provides a fully funded master’s level scholarship for the MSc Risk and Environmental Hazards and MA Risk and Security programmes within the Geography department. The program aims to support individuals who demonstrate both academic and professional excellence and have the potential to become civil society leaders in their home communities.

Eligible countries: Azerbaijan, Belarus; Cambodia; Egypt; Ethiopia; Laos; South Sudan; Sudan; Syria; Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

How to apply: Please apply directly using the online application form and also register with CSLA directly at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Z5ZXJB9.

Further details on this award can be found at Civil Society Leadership Awards. Please note the deadline for applications is 1 March 2014. Read the rest of this entry »

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