Coastal flooding at the Wow! How? Science fair

A team of volunteers from Oxford University wowed nearly 4,500 visitors with their ‘Disaster Zone’ stand at the Wow! How? fair held at the Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford on 15 March.

Andres Payo with his coastal flooding and erosion display

Andres Payo with his coastal flooding and erosion display

Embellished with hazard tape, hi-vis vests and flashing hazard lights, the team offered a range of activities and information displays to educate people about natural hazards such as earthquakes, volcanos, tornados and flooding.

Dr Andres Payo, iCOAST Systems Modeller at the Environmental Change Institute, presented information on coastal flooding and erosion. He explained that coastal flooding occurs when defences or natural barriers are breached or overtopped while coastal erosion is a result of waves and currents changing the physical shape of the coastline. You can download his poster here.

Wow! How? is a hands-on family science fair which forms part of the Oxfordshire Science Festival. Running for the 10th year, the fair on Saturday was bigger than ever and filled the museums with exciting activities and experiments.

Andres was joined in the Disaster Zone by Jeannie Scott and Patrick Thomson from the School of Geography and the Environment, along with volunteers from the Department of Earth Sciences.

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Vacancy: Research Officer in the Legal Regulation of Water Resources

Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Manor Road Building, Manor Road, Oxford

Grade 7: £29,837 – £36,661 p.a.

The Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, (CSLS) wishes to appoint a Research Officer in the legal regulation of water resources. The person will assist Associate Professor Bettina Lange and Dr Chris Decker in carrying out research into the actual operation of legal regulatory tools that deal with the prevention and management of impacts of droughts.

The successful applicant will hold a good first degree in law, sociology, politics or geography, and a doctorate in a relevant subject. They will have experience in designing empirical research projects, the ability to establish and maintain relationships with stakeholders, to conduct qualitative interviews and to analyse empirical data. Good communication skills are essential, as is the ability to organise and prioritise work and to provide clear documents for a range of audiences. Informal enquires can be addressed to Associate Professor Bettina Lange via the email address below.

This is a full-time fixed-term appointment funded until 31 March 2017.

As part of the online application process, you will be required to upload a curriculum vitae and a list of publications, a supporting statement setting out how you meet the selection criteria, and a summary, (maximum 2 pages), detailing how your research interests relate to the theme of water resource management. Applicants must also arrange for two references to be sent directly to Kirsten Yost by the closing date detailed below.

The closing date for applications is 12.00 midday on Friday 4 April 2014. Interviews will be held as soon as possible thereafter.

To apply, go to the vacancy webpage on the university’s employment website and click on the Apply Now button.

See full job description

See project description

Contact person: Kirsten Yost

From rights to results in rural water services

New evidence to translate the human right to water into measureable results in rural Africa is presented in a new report funded by UK Department for International Development and led by Oxford University.

rural water suply


Institutional transformations are required if Africa is to deliver the universal Human Right to Water to 275 million rural people without improved water services. Improving the reliability of one million handpumps which should deliver drinking water to over 200 million rural Africans will be a major contribution to translating water rights into measureable results. This study tests a new maintenance service model over a one year period in rural Kenya using mobile-enabled data to improve operational and financial performance by reducing risks at scale.

The report, produced by the Smith School Water Programme, highlights results that have led to:

  • a ten-fold reduction in handpump downtime (days not working),
  • a shift to 98 per cent of handpumps functioning,
  • a fairer and more flexible payment model contingent on service delivery,
  • new and objective metrics to guide water service regulatory reform,
  • a revised financial architecture shaped by an output-based payment model.

The model outlines a new and replicable framework for policy and investment behaviour informed by rural water users’ more expansive views of the design and delivery of rural water institutions than currently prescribed.

Report launched at ‘Smart Handpump’ day

The report was launched at an event at Kellogg College on 5 March  hosted by the Oxford Centre for Affordable Healthcare Technology, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, School of Geography and the Environment and Department of Engineering Science.

Attendees from DFID, ARM, Sequoia Technology, Oxfam and ESRC were invited to meet the ‘Smart Handpump’ that has been installed in the college grounds. Smart Handpumps use a mobile-enabled transmitter which sends data on pump usage, rapidly detecting any failures and enabling repairs to be made. The technology is currently being piloted in rural Kenya and feeds into ongoing work at Oxford University on improving institutions to measurably reduce poverty.

Researcher Patrick Thomson demonstrating the handpump to Nick Liddington (MD of Sequoia Technology Group) Steve Sydes (Commercial Director of Sequoia Technology Group).

Researcher Patrick Thomson demonstrating the handpump to Nick Liddington and Steve Sydes (Managing Director and Commercial Director of Sequoia Technology Group).

Download the full report

Calculating the risks of coastal flooding and cliff erosion

Scientists at the University of Oxford are developing a computer model that will forecast the environmental risks to Britain’s coastline for decades ahead. This will be of immense value to local authority planning departments.

Happisburgh Beach, Norfolk, UK. Photo credit

Happisburgh Beach, Norfolk, UK. Photo credit

Calculating the risks of coastal flooding and cliff erosion has become ever more important as the UK’s weather patterns change and sea levels rise. The capability to do that depends upon having reliable data. Developing such data and creating a model for forecasting has been the work of scientists such as Professor Jim Hall and Dr Andres Payo at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute.

Around 35% of the UK’s coastline is vulnerable to flooding or erosion. Some areas are especially susceptible such as the East Coast. Research in Norfolk and Suffolk by Professor Hall and other scientists has shown how coastal areas respond to the forces of nature over years, decades and centuries.

By measuring the changes in coastal formation and recording how these changes occur – e.g. by sedimentary movement, wave height, wave direction etc, – the scientists have been able to construct a simulation model of the whole process of coastal change. Much of this process is self-regulating, e.g. rocky cliffs erode to form beaches below. More dramatic are those instances where soft cliff erosion leads to a build up of new headlands miles down the coast.

The current coastal model – created by Hall and colleagues – focuses on cliffs and beaches, but the newer, more advanced model will include estuaries, tidal inlets, sand dunes, spits and sandbanks. The East Anglian coast, which has long been the subject of Professor Hall’s research, has many examples of these. Meanwhile Hall’s colleagues in Manchester are looking at the coastal impact of offshore energy devices.

“The new insights of potential coastal change being delivered by the iCoast Consortium could bring about a step change in our understanding and management of the coast” said Owen Tarrant, Principal Scientist at the Environment Agency. “Only by understanding the full picture of the effects of both natural change and the influence of human activity over the long-term and large scale will we be able to manage flood and erosions risk sustainably.”

This research by Hall and his colleagues has applications far beyond East Anglia. In the UK the coastal model is being used by the Environment Agency and local authorities, when assessing long- term plans for coastal and offshore development. Beyond the UK New Zealand has shown interest. Other countries are likely to follow.

Funded by: Natural Environment Research Council

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Are the UK winter floods linked to climate change?

The general public are being called to take part in an Oxford University research project to find out what role climate change played in the UK’s record-breaking wet winter.

The rainfall from December last year through to February resulted in the wettest winter ever recorded at the Radcliffe Meterological Station in Oxford. The deluge caused widespread flooding across southern England, affecting thousands of people and resulting in an estimated £1bn or more in damage.

The project weather@home, led by Professor Myles Allen, will reveal whether climate change made the extreme rainfall and resulting floods more likely to occur, or not. Anyone can use their home computer to run weather simulations and contribute results to the experiment.

One set of weather model simulations will represent ‘real world’ conditions and possible weather, while another set of will represent the weather in an imagined world where humans have not changed the composition of the atmosphere through greenhouse gas emissions. By comparing the number of extreme rainfall events in the two sets, researchers can work out if the risk of a wet winter has increased, decreased or been unaffected by human influence on climate.

The models have to be run many thousands of times to ensure that the estimated probability of extreme events is robust. That’s why the researchers are asking for the help of the general public who can download the computer software and run the experiment from home. The results should be available within a month and will be published as they come in.

In the video below Nathalie Schaller, a researcher based at the Environmental Change Institute, explains the science behind the project.

Read the Guardian article ‘Home computers to help scientists assess climate role in UK’s wet winter’

Follow Damian Carrington’s blog on the Guardian website which discusses the science and its implications

Visit the weather@home project website and contribute to the experiment