New Centre for Environmental Geochemistry to open in Nottingham

7 April 2014

The British Geological Survey (BGS) and the University of Nottingham have announced a new research facility, the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry.

It will bring together existing facilities and groups within the two institutions to do research that can help address some of the most pressing environmental problems we face, as well as offering teaching and training.

Initially the Centre will focus on applying geochemical expertise to applications within three main themes - reconstructing past environmental and climate change, the cycling of chemicals through soils and watercourses, and developing new tools to research the underground environment.

The first theme involves using geochemistry to understand and measure the environmental changes that have happened in the past over timescales from decades to millennia. This kind of science is essential to help us understand how the Earth system will respond to the unforeseen consequences of our activities - for example, how climate change will affect ecosystems or what changing land and river management practices will do to the availability of water.

Professor Melanie Leng, head of the BGS Stable Isotope Laboratory, will lead this theme, as well as becoming overall Director of the Centre and holding a chair at Nottingham. She expects to work with Dr Christopher Vane, head of the Organic Geochemistry Laboratory at BGS and a science leader within the Centre, on projects in areas from understanding ocean circulation to modelling the roles of lakes and wetlands in the carbon cycle under different climate conditions.

She said:

BGS and Nottingham already collaborate in many areas, but the idea here is to take some of the best geochemical expertise from both and focus it on a few really important scientific subjects. We're hoping to use geochemistry to help address some of the most pressing environmental questions that society faces.

Research on biogeochemical cycling through the soil and waters is vital for food security and understanding changes in land use. For example, it has applications for urban farming and protecting food production systems from pollution, analysing soil mineral deficiencies that may be hampering agriculture in parts of the developing world, and applying soil-management techniques by taking into account soil conditions and other local factors. Dr Michael Watts, head of the Inorganic Geochemistry Laboratory at BGS, will lead this strand of research.

The third theme, research on the subsurface environment, also has many practical applications - for instance, in finding and extracting energy in a way that's secure even over geological time spans. Research will look at improving resource estimates by simulating natural oil and gas generation in geological basins and quantifying the amount of gas that can be generated from different rocks.

The Centre has already funded PhD students and postdoctoral researchers. Leng hopes that it will eventually become a self-sustaining facility that researchers from all over the UK can turn to for geochemical expertise. As well as directing the new facility, she will continue in her previous position as Stable Isotope Laboratory manager at BGS, which is part of the NERC Isotope Geosciences Facilities, run for the UK environmental science community.

Further information

NERC media office
01793 411561
07917 557215

Press release: 11/14