RESEARCH

From water quality in rivers and lakes to melting ice sheets to conflict & peace building, our researchers investigate global problems and confront complex 21st century challenges with a focus on societal good.

Our research-informed teaching provides students with meaningful and deep learning experiences. This approach enhances the student experience of real-world issues and helps develop critical thinking.


Read about some of our recent research below.

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MELTING GLACIERS

Nature

Glaciers distinct from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are shrinking rapidly, altering regional hydrology, raising global sea level and elevating natural hazards. Here we reveal the accelerated, albeit contrasting, patterns of glacier mass loss during the early twenty-first century. Using largely untapped satellite archives, we chart surface elevation changes at a high spatiotemporal resolution over all of Earth’s glaciers.

MODELLING MALARIA

PLOS Computational Biology

While mortality from malaria continues to decline globally, incidence rates in many countries are rising. To identify those areas most suitable for malaria elimination or targeted control interventions, we used Bayesian models to estimate the spatiotemporal variation of malaria risk, rates, and trends to determine areas of high or low malaria burden compared to their geographical neighbours.

FLOOD RISK IN PAKISTAN

Disaster Risk Reduction

Rapid urbanization and climate change have increased flood risk in urban settings. Risk perception is a vital constituent of flood risk management and risk communication. It has become important to understand risk perception so that appropriate disaster risk reduction strategies can be initiated. This study gives an insight into psychosocial aspect of multifaceted risk in flood prone urban communities of Punjab, Pakistan.

 
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LOCATING SOLAR FARMS

Renewable Energy

The introduction of renewable energy legislation in the European Union aims to encourage development of utility-scale renewable energy sources. Site location is a key part of strategic planning for renewables such as solar energy and is hampered in complex landscapes due to high spatial heterogeneity. This study used high-resolution spatial data in a Geographic Information System alongside Analytical Hierarchy Process and Multi-Criteria Decision Making to determine the potential for large-scale solar developments using Northern Ireland as a case study.

MIGRANTS & REFUGEES

Geopolitics

Each year thousands of people seeking better lives in Europe make the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean. Many of those struggling or stranded at sea are rescued by ‘boat people’ comprising NGOs, humanitarian organizations, coast guards and merchant vessels. Under maritime law there is a duty of care towards anyone that experiences difficulty at sea. This paper, using a case study approach of the humanitarian vessel the Aquarius, considers the ways in which the geographies of care intersect and collide with the geopolitical framing of migrants and refugees.

DUNE MANAGEMENT

AREA

Modern coastal dune management is viewed largely through the prism of dune ecology. Achieving maximum biodiversity and preserving priority species are the primary objectives and management is based on interventions (grazing, mowing, burning, reseeding, and artificial destabilisation) to achieve that purpose. The net effect of management is to create dunes with a network of vegetation types that conform to human wish lists. Rather than natural environments, such interventions reduce dunes to the status of parklands.

 
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PESTICIDES & POLLUTION

Science of the Total Environment

Worldwide herbicide use in agriculture, whilst safeguarding yields also presents water quality issues. This study investigates the occurrence of herbicides in streams and groundwater in two meso-scale catchments with contrasting flow controls and agricultural land use (grassland and arable land). Using a multi-dimensional approach, streams were monitored from November 2018 to November 2019 and groundwater was sampled in 95 private drinking water wells. The concentrations of herbicides were larger in the stream of the grassland catchment dominated by poorly drained soils than in the arable catchment dominated by well-drained soils.

WIND ON MARS

Nature Communications

Wind on Mars is a significant agent of contemporary surface change, yet the absence of in situ meteorological data hampers the understanding of surface–atmospheric interactions. Here we use 3D airflow modelling to demonstrate that local dune topography exerts a strong influence on wind speed and direction and that ripple movement likely reflects steered wind direction for certain dune ridge shapes. Understanding these processes and patterns are critical to Mars exploration.

ENDANGERED SKATE

Marine Policy

The flapper skate is the largest of all European skate and rays. It is found in coastal waters of the European continental shelf and slopes in the North-East (NE) Atlantic. With the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classification of ‘common skate’ as Critically Endangered, and the recognition in 2010 that this name masked two species (flapper skate and blue skate), and to better support conservation on this regional scale, the Flapper Skate Working Group (SWG) was formed. Here we present the SWG’s key recommendations for future collaborative conservation.

 
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Aerial Photo of a Coast
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TRANSFORMING EDUCATION

Transforming Education

Duplication and division are endemic at every level of the education system in Northern Ireland. Ninety-three percent of pupils in mainstream education attend schools that have either a British/Protestant or a Catholic/Irish heritage and identity. These school sectors are overseen by separate administrative authorities. Boards of Governors are comprised of members that have been appointed to maintain and safeguard the ethos of the school; they are likely to be drawn from only one side of the community and may be heavily influenced by clerics.

COASTS IN
PERIL?

Frontiers in Marine Science

Most assessments of coastal vulnerability are undertaken from the perspective of
the risk posed to humans, their property and activities. This anthropocentric view is based on widespread public perception (a) that coastal change is primarily a hazard to property and infrastructure and (b) that sea defenses (whether soft or hard) are required to mitigate and eliminate coastal hazards. From the perspective of coastal ecosystems, such a view is both perverse and damaging. In this paper we present an alternative approach to coastal assessment that centres on the physical integrity of the coast and its associated ecosystems both now and in the near-future. 

THE LAST BRITISH-IRISH
ICE SHEET

Journal of Quarternary Science

Palaeoenvironmental change following deglaciation of the last British–Irish Ice Sheet on the continental shelf west of Ireland was investigated using multiproxy analyses of sediment and foraminifera data from nine sediment cores. Lithofacies associations record various depositional regimes across the shelf, which evolve from subglacial to postglacial conditions. Postglacial conditions on the inner shelf were not established until <14 500 cal a BP, suggesting glacial conditions west of Ireland may have persisted into the Bølling–Allerød Interstadial.

 
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FUEL POVERTY

Energy Research & Social Science

Households in fuel poverty are unable to heat their homes at reasonable cost. Energy efficiency programmes
aim to tackle fuel poverty and should target resources towards households in greatest need. Households often do not have access to these kinds of schemes, as policies do not acknowledge the complex interaction between households, incomes and domestic energy efficiency, and the high level of variability which results. This paper explores this interaction at household level, and the diversity of fuel poverty which results amongst households in Northern Ireland.

NATIONHOOD

Museum and Society

Geographically, Spain consists of a complex mosaic of cultural identities and regional aspirations for varying degrees of autonomy and independence. Following the end of violent conflict in the Basque country, Catalonia has emerged as the most vocal region pursuing independence from the central Spanish state. This study addresses the increasing use of museums and heritage institutions to support the concept of a separate and distinctive Catalan nation over the past decade.

ANCIENT BRITONS

Molecular Ecology

Global climate changes during the Cenozoic (65.5 - 0 Ma) caused major biological range shifts and extinctions. In Northern Europe, for example, a pattern of few endemics and the dominance of wide-ranging species is thought to have been determined by the Pleistocene (2.59 – 0.01 Ma) glaciations. This study, in contrast, reveals an ancient subsurface fauna endemic to Britain and Ireland.

 
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SEA LEVEL AND MIGRATION

Nature

Current and future sea-level rise and the accompanying increase in sea-level extremes (collectively, sea-level change) present a key challenge to coastal inhabitants and others living in destinations where retreating coastal migrants may settle over coming decades to centuries. Minimizing the adverse consequences of sea-level change presents a key societal challenge. New modelling is necessary to examine the implications of global policy decisions that determine future greenhouse gas emissions and local policies around coastal risk that influence where and how we live.

SHIPWRECKS FROM SPACE

Journal of Archaeological Science

Nearshore shipwrecks can leave telltale sediment plumes at the sea’s surface that reveal their location. Using Landsat 8 data, we have detected plumes extending as far as 4 kilometres downstream from shallow shipwreck sites. This discovery demonstrates that Landsat and Landsat-like satellites can be used to locate coastal shipwrecks. The planet’s oceans are littered with an estimated 3 million shipwrecks; archaeological sites, war graves, biodiversity hotspots, environmental pollution sources, impediments to ocean engineering and navigation hazards.

STUDENT MOBILITY

Ethnic & Migration Studies

Of late there has been considerable interest in understanding international student mobility, focusing on the perspective of the students. However, international students are part of a considerable migration industry comprised of international student recruitment teams, international education agents and other institutions selling an education overseas. Yet there is little research which analyses these relationships. This paper investigates a series of interviews with international office staff to examine the methods they use to recruit international students.

 
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SPY PHOTOS FOR SCIENCE

European Geosciences Union

First launched in 1971, the KH-9 “Hexagon” reconnaissance satellites were operational until 1986. In addition to the high-resolution main cameras, the satellites had a secondary camera system, the mapping camera, which acquired images at approximately 6-10m ground resolution. These images, declassified in 2002, provide an unparalleled ability to extend records of elevation change over areas of the world where older data, typically from aerial photogrammetry, are missing, unavailable, or unreliable, including High Mountain Asia and the Arctic.

HIMALAYAN MEGATHRUSTS

Nature

The Himalayan mountain range has been the locus of some of the largest continental earthquakes, including the 2015 magnitude 7.8 Gorkha earthquake. Competing hypotheses suggest that Himalayan topography is sustained and plate convergence is accommodated either predominantly on the main plate boundary fault, or more broadly across multiple smaller thrust faults. Here we use geodetic measurements of surface displacement to show that the Gorkha earthquake ruptured the Main Himalayan Thrust fault. The earthquake generated about 1 m of uplift in the Kathmandu Basin, yet caused the high Himalaya farther north to subside by about 0.6 m.

URBAN AIRFLOW

Earth's Future

Rapid urban development has been widespread in many arid regions of the world during the Anthropocene. Such development has the potential to affect, and be affected by, local and regional dunefield dynamics. While urban design often includes consideration of the wind regime, the potential impact of construction on the surrounding environment is seldom considered and remains poorly understood. In this study regional airflow modelling during successive stages of urbanization at Maspalomas, Gran Canaria, Spain, indicates significant and progressive flow perturbations that have altered the adjacent dunefield.