Characterising lake sediments by NIRS: integrating teaching and research in the Universities Central Teaching Laboratory

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A trend of ‘brownification’ identified in surface waters across the UK, North America and Northern Europe has been a growing concern, with the transfer of organic carbon from catchments to lake basins and water courses increasing. To explore this problem, in 2012-3 graduate teaching assistant Fiona Russell began PhD research investigating whether the sedimentary records preserved in lake basins provided new information on the longer term onset of this trend, the nature of any previous events in the last 11,500 years and the causes of browner surface waters. This research has used lakes in the UK Uplands Water Monitoring Network (formerly known as Acid Waters Monitoring Network), who for 30 years have collected data that shows some of these acid sensitive sites are affected by increases in the flux of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and browner waters. The research involved accessing the sediments from these lakes and exploring for patterns that matched recent increases in monitored DOC and for other changes in the organic stratigraphy that might explain the patterns.
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Humic waters on the edge of Loch Grannoch

 At this time, the award winning state-of-the-art Central Teaching Laboratories (CTL) at the University of Liverpool expanded the Infrared Spectrometry capabilities adding a Near-infrared Diffuse Reflectance machine. The Bruker MPA Diffuse Reflectance Fourier Transform Near Infrared Spectrometer (FT-NIRS) was added to the teaching facility to enable the rapid and non-destructive characterisation of powders including soils and sediments. NIRS has proven to be a valuable tool for quantifying the components present in lake sediments, such as type and quantity of organic and mineral matter. Often the approach uses direct comparison of the NIR spectra to parallel independently measured parameters, for example organic content (loss-on-ignition or total organic carbon). This approach requires the development of an extensive training set of parallel measurements, and one has been developed in the CTL to enable undergraduates and postgraduates to estimate loss-on-ignition by NIRS. The NIRS measurement takes 60 seconds and is non-destructive, whereas equivalent combustion methods take several hours, are destructive and more difficult to accommodate in the time frame of practical classes.
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MPA FT-NIRS in the Central Teaching Laboratory

In developing utilities to support teaching in the School of Environmental Sciences, Fiona Russell began exploring alternative approaches to the handling of NIR spectra to obtain a broader range of environmental information from sediments and soils. The approach developed rather than using a large training set, for example our loss-on-ignition dataset comprises > 200 samples with parallel NIRS and l-o-i measurements, instead uses a library of end member NIR spectra measured for known composition materials e.g. biogenic silica (diatoms), humic/fulvic acids (key components of DOC), rock and mineral types. This alternative approach, recently published in the Journal of Paleolimnology (click here), applies a multiple regression of a selection of known material NIR spectra to a sample set of NIR spectra measured for unknown composition materials, in this research lake sediment samples. The research shows that with appropriate selection of 3-5 end member spectra, the method can reconstruct successfully the proportions that these end members form in the series of unknown lake sediments. This different approach means that environmental reconstructions can be undertaken using 3-5 end member spectra rather than a library of >100-200 parallel measurements and it can reconstruct the proportions of multiple end member materials or sediment components simultaneously.

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To demonstrate the approach, we sampled a 14,500 year duration sediment core from Loch Grannoch in the Galloway Hills (SW Scotland). Loch Grannoch is a small upland oligotrophic lake that has granite bedrock, relatively large catchment area and is one of the lakes in the UK Uplands Water Monitoring Network. Applying our approach reveals a down-core pattern of varying dominance by biogenic silica, organic and mineral content from the late glacial to present. Testing a wider range of end members shows there is sensitivity to the choice of end members, with a local bedrock or sediment end member characteristic of the lake catchment important. The wider generality of the approach, and the utility of our growing library of mineral, organic and biogenic silica end-member materials, is demonstrated by successful ‘blind’ application to additional lake sediment cores from Wales, Norway and Sweden each with differing climate and bedrock.
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Fitting mineral, organic and biogenic silica end members to multiple lakes.

The technique development embedded in this research showcases the importance of integrating teaching and research at the University of Liverpool. The paper is available as Open Access from the Journal of Paleolimnology should you wish to read more about it. The team have made available the library of end member NIR spectra and the multiple regression method code developed using the open source R platform with the the online version of the paper supplementary materials and in the University of Liverpool DataCat archive. The methodology is now being used routinely by colleagues, undergraduate and postgraduate students to characterise materials in their learning and independent research. For further information please contact the authors: Fiona Russell, John Boyle and Richard Chiverrell.

 

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Centre for Global Eco-Innovation: Environmental Researchers talking about how their passion drives their work

Last week the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation (CGE) held its third annual boot camp for Graduate Researchers based here at the University of Liverpool, and Lancaster University.  The CGE currently funds 50 PhDs in across a host of university departments including Engineering, Chemistry alongside 4 PhDs based in Geography and Planning.

Decamping to Ribby Hall, just outside Preston, the CGE researchers participated in a host of sessions all aimed at helping them to develop their skills in post-PhD life, either presenting research to other academics, putting together a business pitch, or marketing their ideas using video.  We also heard from guest speakers including Mark Shayler from the Royal Society’s Great Recovery Project, who spoke about the circular economy, and how important research is in filling that role, as well as Gary Townley from the Intellectual Property Office who spoke about IP in all its forms.

One of the major draws of the bootcamp was a session held by Bellyflop TV, which was aimed at GRs who wanted to produce videos that could either demonstrate their research, or market a new idea or business idea that they might have upon graduating.  To help illustrate how a video was put together, our researchers were asked ‘What made you want to do a PhD?’, with the resulting footage being compiled.  The result is the video below.

Combined, the research completed by the PhD researchers, working with their companies and the CGE will be responsible for the mitigation of 60,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, 725,000 tonnes of water and over 13,000 tonnes of material diverted from landfill by the project’s end.  Importantly, however, while the video does a great job of showcasing the range of innovation that the CGE supports, what it really shows is that each PhD has its own story and that often research is driven by a passion that goes beyond 9-5, and that ultimately it is this passion that has driven the success of the CGE’s projects.

First publication – ‘Procedural and distributive justice in a community-based Marine Protected Area in Zanzibar, Tanzania’

By Madeleine Gustavsson

As a PhD student in the Department of Geography and Planning, earlier this week I got my first research article published in Marine Policy: “Procedural and distributive justice in a community-based Marine Protected Area in Zanzibar, Tanzania”. The paper was co-authored by Lars Lindström (Dept. Political Science, Stockholm University), Narriman S. Jiddawi (Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Dar es Salaam) and Maricela de la Torre-Castro (Dept. Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University) who are all experts on natural resource management and governance in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Uroa, Zanzibar Island

Uroa, Zanzibar Island

The article investigates participation by local actors in planning and implementation of a ‘community-based managed’ Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Zanzibar, Tanzania, which is analysed in terms of procedural and distributive justice.

The study finds that no local actors participated in the planning of the MPA. Fishermen who were members of a village fishermen committee participated in implementation although this did not include women. The government of Zanzibar distributed equipment, alternative income generating projects and relied on tourism for development of the local economy. However, the distributed equipment and tourism development have created conflict and injustice within and between villages, because of the insufficient resources, which do not target those in need. Tourism created problems such as inequality between livelihoods, environmental destruction and local power asymmetries between hotel management and local people.” This paper found that neither procedural nor distributive justice has been achieved. The MPA has further failed to meet its objectives of conflict resolution and sustainable use of natural resources.  The paper argues that interactive participation by all, in the design and planning phases, is necessary for social-ecological sustainability outcomes.

The work was part of my master’s degree project at Stockholm University, Sweden. The paper adds to the growing field of MPAs social impacts in developing countries. Thanks for reading this blog post, and if you are interested, please get in contact (Click here to email).

First Year Student’s Perspectives on what a Sustainable Liverpool Looks Like

Post by Dr Alex Nurse

A few weeks ago, Pete North and I ran a seminar with the first year students taking the ‘Living With Environmental Change’ module.  Following discussions about what makes a sustainable city, we wanted to see what the first years themselves thought about what Liverpool was doing both right and wrong, as well as what it could do moving forward.

To help us, we used the World Cafe model of discussion, breaking into seven groups, each with a specific topic.  They were decided by the key areas for action identified in the recently published Environmental Audit of Liverpool, which in turn became key focus areas for the city’s new Green Partnership.

Those areas were: Energy, Transport, Green Infrastructure, CO2 emissions, Eco-Innovation and Waste/recycling.  We also added an extra table discussing the City’s overall priorities.After that, we set the students to it – taking ten minutes on each table to discuss their thoughts, writing down their best ideas for those who would follow.

Student ideas about Waste & Recycling

Student ideas about Waste & Recycling

We felt that there some excellent ideas and some great examples of forward thinking that could really benefit the city.  One example included a shift to consider wastefulness alongside traditional conceptions of waste/recycling, with the group suggesting greater use of clothes/food banks. Whilst the students weren’t fans of the recent move by the City Council to suspend Liverpool’s bus lanes, they were excited by the prospect of the Scouscycles bike hire scheme.  Similarly they had numerous ideas that the city could adopt to encourage the more efficient use of transport such as car-pool lanes and they were very keen for the rollout of Merseytravel’s Walrus Card (the Liverpool equivalent of the Oyster Card) to be completed.

Eco-Innovation Ideas from the students

Eco-Innovation Ideas from the students

In the coming months, Low Carbon Liverpool will have the opportunity to present evidence to the upcoming Mayoral Commission on the Environment, as well as continuing to feed into the activity of the Liverpool Green Partnership.  We plan to use some of those best ideas to help shape the evidence that we present, and hope that some of them may be realised.

For more information on Low Carbon Liverpool, or to find out how to get involved, please visit www.lowcarbonliverpool.com

Visiting the 2012 European Green Capital: Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain

Posted by Alex Nurse, Research Assistant, Low Carbon Liverpool project.

Last week, as part of the Low Carbon Liverpool research project, I visited Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain.  Vitoria is the capital of the Basque Country, located some 40km south of Bilbao and this year has the honour of hosting the European Green Capital award. Image  The Green Capital award is given to cities who have demonstrated an ability to lead on environmental issues whilst showing a commitment to continuing this development – the award has previously been held by Stockholm and Hamburg.

I attended an event entitled ‘Greening European Cities’: a collective of NGOs with an interest in the environmental issues who meet each year in the respective European Green Capital.  We heard from representatives of Vitoria-Gasteiz and had several opportunities to explore the city.

What shone through was that Vitoria-Gasteiz is a very well planned, compact city.  For 30 years planners have emphasised the need for good transport links, coupled with easy access to amenities.  By way of illustrating this, almost all of Vitoria-Gasteiz’s 240,000 residents live within 300m of key amenities (including shops, schools and hospitals). Image However the most striking point is the fact that a resident living on the very edge of Vitoria-Gasteiz has to travel only 3km to reach the city centre (a 40 minute walk, 10 minute cycle, or 5 minutes by one of Vitoria-Gasteiz’s trams or buses).  This would be the equivalent of the edge of Liverpool being located in Sefton Park.

However, after visiting the town centre, and speaking to residents it became evident that Vitoria-Gasteiz was a city that was struggling to reconcile the commitments that were made to the Green Capital year with the financial downturn which has enveloped Spain in recent times.  Although the reasons why the city won were evident, and logos in store fronts indicated a wealth of citizen support and pride, there was little by way of celebrating or engaging with the visiting public.  This could lead to Vitoria-Gasteiz being dubbed ‘The Austerity Green Capital’.

Nonetheless, I think Vitoria-Gasteiz has some key lessons to those who wish to study the city and to develop low carbon futures.  The central role of the citizen, effective multi-modal public transport and the ease of access to amenities could be held up as a model for how to develop future cities even if the financial downturn has prevented Vitoria-Gasteiz from celebrating its time in the spotlight as much as they might have liked.