Oxford University water research at the 2015 European Geosciences Union General Assembly

There was a great turnout for the School of Geography and the Environment at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly, where eight students and staff presented their latest water and climate related research findings.

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Map of a global topographic index developed by Toby Marthews and colleagues.

The annual EGU General Assembly is the largest European geosciences event and took place this year on 12-17 April in Vienna. The meeting covers all fields of science dealing with planet Earth, including volcanology, the Earth’s internal structure and atmosphere, climate, as well as energy, water and other resources.

Our students and staff were among the 11,000 scientists at the event from 108 countries. Oxford University presence included oral and poster presentations by Associate Professor Simon Dadson, post-doctoral researchers Emily Barbour, Gianbattista Bussi, Benoit Guillod, Rachel James, Toby Marthews and Daniel Mitchell, and doctoral candidate Franziska Gaupp.

Franziska Gaupp presented research on the role of storage capacity in coping with water variability in large river basins. Using a global water balance model, her analysis shows that current storage is able to buffer water variability in most basins. However, hotspots of water insecurity were found in South Asia, Northern China, the West Coast of the United States, Spain, Australia and several basins across Africa.

Emily Barbour’s research examines the complex relationship between water resource management and poverty in the Bangladesh Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta. Her poster shares experience with engaging policymakers and stakeholders to discuss the impacts of climate and socio-economic change on water availability and quality.

The map featured on this page shows a topographic index developed by Toby Marthews and colleagues – a measure of the ‘propensity for soil to become saturated’ – which will be an invaluable resource for use in large-scale hydrological modelling. In a second poster, Toby presented findings from a study which sought to find out if human-induced climate change contributed to the devastating 2014 drought in the Horn of Africa. The modelling results suggest no human influence on the likelihood of low rainfall but clear signals in other drivers of drought.

It’s difficult to study extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, because, by definition, they don’t occur very often. A way to overcome this issue is to use large ensembles of climate model simulations to produce ‘synthetic’ weather events. This was the topic of Benoit Guillod’s talk which he illustrated with an example of synthetic drought events in the UK being generated for the MaRIUS project (Managing the Risks, Impacts and Uncertainties of drought and water Scarcity) in order to better understand and predict droughts. In a second talk Benoit presented results on the impact of soil moisture on rainfall – an important interaction in the climate system.

Taking a more local perspective, Gianbattista Bussi spoke about his research on water quality in the River Thames basin which analyses the dynamics of fine sediments. Another strand of the work models the growth and movement of phytoplankton – microscopic algae which are an important food source for river wildlife, but over-growth can lead to algae bloom, depleted oxygen levels and the death of fish and other species.

It was fantastic to see so many of our researchers in Vienna sharing their insights and knowledge about the Earth’s water and climate systems.

Visit the EGU General Assembly website

Presentation files