£24 million for new research into major environmental topics

13 December 2018

New research on major environmental issues, such as the impact of microplastics in our oceans, the UK potential for geothermal power and mitigating climate change, have been funded under the fourth round of NERC highlight topics.

Handful of soil

Around £24 million has been split between 14 research projects spanning a wide range of important topics generated by the UK environmental science community. The selection of highlight topic projects is a competitive process to ensure that the most excellent science is funded.

From understanding how soil can capture carbon, to investigating the impact of light pollution on coastal creatures, these awards fund research areas essential to help us understand our environment and how we live within it.

NERC Associate Director of Research Ned Garnett said:

The highlight topics programme allows us to receive ideas from both the research community and users of environmental science to ensure that we are providing funding where it is most needed. The provision of top quality environmental research has never been more essential as we continue to tackle some of the greatest environmental challenges of our time.

The highlight topics covered and the projects awarded funding are as follows:

Highlight topic - Emerging risks from microplastics in the marine environment

  • Current and future effects of micro-plastics on marine shelf ecosystems (MINIMISE) - Tamara Galloway, University of Exeter

  • Microbial hitch-hikers of marine plastics: The survival, persistence & ecology of microbial communities in the 'Plastisphere' - Richard Quilliam, University of Stirling

Highlight topic - What is the 4PM? New understanding of soil organic carbon persistence to meet C offset targets

  • LOCKED UP: The role of biotic and abiotic interactions in the stabilisation and persistence of soil organic carbon - Jeanette Whitaker, NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Highlight topic - Policy-relevant climate science to quantify and manage the risk of climate hazards

  • Emergence of climate hazards - Matthew Collins, University of Exeter

Highlight topic - Deep subsurface heat as a potential major future energy resource

  • Geothermal power generated from UK granites (GWatt) - Christopher Rochelle, NERC British Geological Survey

Highlight topic - Multiphase evolution of volcanic emissions

  • Volcanic plume understanding and forecasting: Integrating remote-sensing, in-situ observations and models (V-PLUS) - Anja Schmidt, University of Cambridge

  • Radar-supported next-generation forecasting of volcanic ash hazard (R4AsH) - Michael James, Lancaster University

Highlight topic - Preservation and potential of seafloor mineral resources

  • Ultramafic-hosted mineral resource assessment (ULTRA) - Bramley Murton, National Oceanography Centre

Highlight topic - The impact of light pollution on biological processes

  • Artificial Light Impacts on coastal ecosystems (ALICE) - Thomas Davies, Bangor University

  • Circadian disruption by light pollution: Extent, health consequences and mitigation in songbirds - Davide Dominoni, University of Glasgow

Highlight topic - Understanding urban soil properties, functions, and below-ground inter-connections in delivery of ecosystem services

  • Functionality of urban soils supporting ecosystem service delivery (FUSED) - Alexander Dumbrell, University of Essex

Highlight topic - Impacts of future ship traffic and emission regulations upon gas-phase chemistry, aerosol composition and radiative forcing in the North Atlantic and Arctic atmosphere

  • Shipping emissions in the arctic and North Atlantic atmosphere (SEANA) - Zongbo Shi, University of Birmingham

  • Atmospheric composition and radiative forcing changes due to UN international ship emissions regulations (ACRUISE) - Mingxi Yang, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Highlight topic - Objective verification of national carbon budgets for assessing climate change mitigation measures

  • Detection and attribution of regional greenhouse gas emissions in the UK (DARE-UK) - Matthew Rigby, University of Bristol

Further information

Ione Bingley
Press & Communications Officer
01793 411616


1. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major environmental issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is part of UK Research & Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.