East Africa must prepare for more extreme rainfall during the short rainy season – new study

Rainy season in Kenya

East Africa has recently had an unprecedented series of failed rains. But some rainy seasons are bringing the opposite: huge amounts of rainfall.

In the last few months of 2023, the rainy season known as the “short rains” was much wetter than normal. It brought severe flooding to Kenya, Somalia and Tanzania. In Somalia, more than 2 million people were affected, with over 100 killed and 750,000 displaced from their homes. Tens of thousands of people in northern Kenya lost livestock, farmland and homes.

The very wet short rainy seasons are linked to a climate event known as a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (known as the “IOD”). And climate model projections show an increasing trend of extreme Indian Ocean dipoles.

In a new research paper, we set out to investigate what effect more frequent extreme Indian Ocean Dipole events would have on rainfall in east Africa. We did this using a large number of climate simulations and models.

Our results show that they increase the likelihood of very wet days – therefore making very wet seasons.

This could lead to extreme weather events, even more extreme than the floods of 1997, which led to 10 million people requiring emergency assistance, or those of 2019, when hundreds of thousands were displaced.

We recommend that decision-makers plan for this kind of extreme rainfall, and the resulting devastating floods.

How the Indian Ocean Dipole works

Indian Ocean Dipole events tend to occur in the second half of the year, and can last for months. They have two phases: positive and negative.

Positive events occur when the temperature of the sea surface in the western Indian Ocean is warmer than normal and the temperature in the eastern Indian Ocean is cooler than normal. Put simply, this temperature difference happens when winds move warmer water away from the ocean surface in the eastern region, allowing cooler water to rise.

In the warmer western Indian Ocean, more heated air will rise, along with water vapour. This forms clouds, bringing rain. Meanwhile, the eastern part of the Indian Ocean will be cooler and drier. This is why flooding in east Africa can happen at the same time as bushfires in Australia.

The opposite is true for negative dipole events: drier in the western Indian Ocean and wetter in the east.

Under climate change we’re expecting to see more frequent and more extreme positive dipole events – bigger differences between east and west. This is shown by climate model projections. They are believed to be driven by different paces of warming across the tropical Indian Ocean – with western and northern regions projected to warm faster than eastern parts.

Often heavy rain seasons in east Africa are attributed to El Niño, but recent research has shown that the direct impact of El Niño on east African rainfall is actually relatively modest. El Niño’s principal influence lies in its capacity to bring about positive dipole events. This occurs since El Niño events tend to cool the water in the western Pacific Ocean – around Indonesia – which also helps to cool down the water in the eastern Indian Ocean. These cooler temperatures then help kick-start a positive Indian Ocean Dipole.

Examining unprecedented events

Extreme positive Indian Ocean Dipole events are rare in the recent climate record. So to examine their potential impacts on rainfall extremes, we used a large set of climate simulations. The data allowed us to diagnose the sensitivity of rainfall to larger Indian Ocean Dipole events in a statistically robust way.

Our results show that as positive dipole events become more extreme, more wet days during the short rains season can be expected. This effect was found to be largest for the frequency of extremely wet days. Additionally, we found that as the dipole strength increases, the influence on the most extreme days becomes even larger. This means that dipole events which are even slightly “record-breaking” could lead to unprecedented levels of seasonal rainfall.

Ultimately, if positive Indian Ocean Dipole seasons increase in frequency, as predicted, regular seasons of flooding impacts will become a new normal.

One aspect not included in our analysis is the influence of a warmer atmosphere on rainfall extremes. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, allowing for the development of more intense rain storms. This effect could combine with the influence of extreme positive dipoles to bring unprecedented levels of rainfall to the Horn of Africa.

2023 was a year of record-breaking temperatures driven both by El Niño and global warming. We might expect that this warmer air could have intensified rain storms during the season. Indeed, evidence from a recent assessment suggests that climate change-driven warming is highly likely responsible for increased rainfall totals.

Responding to an unprecedented future

Policymakers need to plan for this.

In the long term it is crucial to ensure that any new infrastructure is robust to withstand more frequent and heavier rains, and that government, development and humanitarian actors have the capacity to respond to the challenges.

Better use of technology, such as innovations in disseminating satellite rainfall monitoring via mobile phones, can communicate immediate risk. New frontiers in AI-based weather prediction could improve the ability to anticipate localised rain storms, including initiatives focusing on eastern Africa specifically.

Linking rainfall information with hydrological models designed for dryland environments is also essential. These will help to translate weather forecasts into impact forecasts, such as identifying risks of flash flooding down normally dry channels or bank overflow of key rivers in drylands.

These technological improvements are crucial. But better use of the forecast information we already have can also make a big difference. For instance, initiatives like “forecast-based financing”, pioneered by the Red Cross Red Crescent movement, link forecast triggers to pre-approved financing and predefined action plans, helping communities protect themselves before hazards have even started.

For these endeavours to succeed, there must be dialogue between the science and practitioner communities. The scientific community can work with practitioners to integrate key insights into decisions, while practitioners can help to ensure research efforts target critical needs. With this, we can effectively build resilience to natural hazards and resist the increasing risks of our changing climate.The Conversation

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This blog is written by David MacLeod, Lecturer in Climate Risk, Cardiff University; Erik W. Kolstad, Research professor, Uni Research; Cabot Institute for the Environment member Katerina Michaelides, Professor of Dryland Hydrology, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, and Michael Singer, Professor of Hydrology and Geomorphology, Cardiff University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Dune: what the climate of Arrakis can tell us about the hunt for habitable exoplanets

Frank Herbert’s Dune is epic sci-fi storytelling with an environmental message at its heart. The novels and movies are set on the desert planet of Arrakis, which various characters dream of transforming into a greener world – much like some envision for Mars today.

We investigated Arrakis using a climate model, a computer program similar to those used to give weather forecasts. We found the world that Herbert had created, well before climate models even existed, was remarkably accurate – and would be habitable, if not hospitable.

However, Arrakis wasn’t always a desert. In Dune lore, 91% of the planet was once covered by oceans, until some ancient catastrophe led to its desertification. What water remained was further removed by sand trout, an invasive species brought to Arrakis. These proliferated and carried liquid into cavities deep underground, leading to the planet becoming more and more arid.

To see what a large ocean would mean for the planet’s climate and habitability, we have now used the same climate model – putting in an ocean while changing no other factors.

When most of Arrakis is flooded, we calculate that the global average temperature would be reduced by 4°C. This is mostly because oceans add moisture to the atmosphere, which leads to more snow and certain types of cloud, both of which reflect the sun’s energy back into space. But it’s also because oceans on Earth and (we assume) on Arrakis emit “halogens” that cool the planet by depleting ozone, a potent greenhouse gas which Arrakis would have significantly more of than Earth.

Map of Arrakis
The authors gathered information from the books and the Dune Encyclopedia to build their original model. Then they added an ocean with 1,000 metres average depth.
Farnsworth et al, CC BY-SA

Unsurprisingly, the ocean world is a whopping 86 times wetter, as so much water evaporates from the oceans. This means plants can grow as water is no longer a finite resource, as it is on desert Arrakis.

A wetter world would be more stable

Oceans also reduce temperature extremes, as water heats and cools more slowly than land. (This is one reason Britain, surrounded by oceans, has relatively mild winters and summers, while places far inland tend to be hotter in summer and very cold in winter). The climate of an ocean planet is therefore more stable than a desert world.

In desert Arrakis, temperatures would reach 70°C or more, while in its ocean state, we put the highest recorded temperatures at about 45°C. That means the ocean Arrakis would be liveable even in summer. Forests and arable crops could grow outside of the (still cold and snowy) poles.

There is one downside, however. Tropical regions would be buffeted by large cyclones since the huge, warm oceans would contain lots of the energy and moisture required to drive hurricanes.

The search for habitable planets

All this isn’t an entirely abstract exercise, as scientists searching for habitable “exoplanets” in distant galaxies are looking for these sorts of things too. At the moment, we can only detect such planets using huge telescopes in space to search for those that are similar to Earth in size, temperature, available energy, ability to host water, and other factors.

Scatter chart of planets comparing habitability and similarity to Earth.
Both desert and ocean Arrakis are considerably more habitable than any other planet we have discovered.
Farnsworth et al, CC BY-SA

We know that desert worlds are probably more common than Earth-like planets in the universe. Planets with potentially life-sustaining oceans will usually be found in the so-called “Goldilocks zone”: far enough from the Sun to avoid being too hot (so further away than boiling hot Venus), but close enough to avoid everything being frozen (so nearer than Jupiter’s icy moon Ganymede).

Research has found this habitable zone is particularly small for planets with large oceans. Their water is at risk of either completely freezing, therefore making the planet even colder, or of evaporating as part of a runaway greenhouse effect in which a layer of water vapour prevents heat from escaping and the planet gets hotter and hotter.

The habitable zone is therefore much larger for desert planets, since at the outer edge they will have less snow and ice cover and will absorb more of their sun’s heat, while at the inner edge there is less water vapour and so less risk of a runaway greenhouse effect.

It’s also important to note that, though distance from their local star can give a general average temperature for a planet, such an average can be misleading. For instance, both desert and ocean Arrakis have a habitable average temperature, but the day-to-day temperature extremes on the ocean planet are much more hospitable.

Currently, even the most powerful telescopes cannot sense temperatures at this detail. They also cannot see in detail how the continents are arranged on distant planets. This again could mean the averages are misleading. For instance, while the ocean Arrakis we modelled would be very habitable, most of the land is in the polar regions which are under snow year-round – so the actual amount of inhabitable land is much less.

Such considerations could be important in our own far-future, when the Earth is projected to form a supercontinent centred on the equator. That continent would make the planet far too hot for mammals and other life to survive, potentially leading to mass extinction.

If the most likely liveable planets in the universe are deserts, they may well be very extreme environments that require significant technological solutions and resources to enable life – desert worlds will probably not have an oxygen-rich atmosphere, for instance.

But that won’t stop humans from trying. For instance, Elon Musk and SpaceX have grand ambitions to create a colony on our closest desert world, Mars. But the many challenges they will face only emphasises how important our own Earth is as the cradle of civilisation – especially as ocean-rich worlds may not be as plentiful as we’d hope. If humans eventually colonise other worlds, they’re likely to have to deal with many of the same problems as the characters in Dune.The Conversation

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment members Dr Alex Farnsworth, Senior Research Associate in Meteorology, and Sebastian Steinig, Research Associate in Paleoclimate Modelling, University of Bristol; and Michael Farnsworth, Research Lead Future Electrical Machines Manufacturing Hub, University of Sheffield. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What it means to be of the mountains: ethnography of social embrace in Nivica, Albania

Aisling Tierney (right) with local Albanians during her research trip.
Aisling Tierney (right) with local Kurvalesh during her research trip to Albania.

In 2022, I made my fifth visit to the village of Nivica in the heart of the Kurvelesh mountainscape. It was a quick trip for lunch and to say hello to the community that has made me welcome there since 2017. Upon visiting the house of the first couple who hosted me, I was greeted with hot tea, sharp raki and sweet cakes. The older couple, Bame and Trendefille, cannot stop themselves from treating me like family. They embrace me. They take my hand to lead me to the indoor seating area. They hug me constantly.  

Just a week before the visit I lost my father after a long and terrible illness. There was something profound about feeling so loved in a familiar domestic setting. I was different now. How I received their outpourings of love felt more meaningful than ever. When they asked about my father they were heartbroken to hear of his death. Both my parents were invited innumerable times by the couple, but there was never a chance my mother would make the trip up the wild rocky roads! 

During the visit they shared stories of time together with my travel companions. My ego was certainly entertained by their generosity of spirit in these retellings. Amongst their chats, the man of the house said something so lovely and unexpected that I was left speechless. He said that I am Kurveleshi – that is, I am of the Kurvelesh, I am one of them. Coming from one of the most respected members of the community, it meant the world to me. 

To be of the Kurvelesh means a lot of things and will be different depending on who you ask. What seemed to be important to Bame was that I showed respect. Concepts like Besa and Kanun are important in the region. The former is all about keeping promises and acting honourably, like a pledge to do right by people. The latter is an overarching customary law governing all aspects of traditional life, passed on through oral tradition for centuries. The Kurvelesh is the last remaining area where Kanun survives beyond the Ottoman era and into the modern age. 

Bame compared my team of archaeological researchers to other foreign groups from a range of disciplines. He said we were different, we embraced the mountains and the local culture. We took a different mindset into our research practice that included the community in both personal and professional terms. It is not an exaggeration to say that the team feels like Kurvelesh is a second home. It is no longer a remote foreign place full of the unknown. For us, it is now a place of familiar and familial faces and friendships. 

We love the people of the mountains and they love us back. 

Mountains in Albania.
Mountains in Albania.

One of the most unexpected comments I received was why my team laughs so much! We are a jovial bunch, always singing and joking around. It seems less easy to laugh in the Kurvelesh. Life has been hard in the wake of Communism, which is still a sensitive subject for most of the older community. People do not like to talk about their experiences in forced labour groups and the suppression of cultural traditions. We do not push the subject. Like much of Albania, this is also a site of several war fronts, not least of which saw the razing of the whole village by the Greeks in 1913. Remnants of these warfronts constitute a large body of our collection of artefacts from fieldwalking surveys. These objects tell stories themselves. The bullet casings from one misfiring gun are found in several locations adjacent to the modern village. Decorative uniform badges are found in local fields. Artillery shells and rusted guns are even collected and hung on display in homes and the single village café. The past is visible, even if it is unspoken. 

We also received comments about how the team is managed. Curious locals asked me how I get my team to work without shouting at them. They were surprised that we were all volunteering our time unpaid and at our expense to investigate local heritage. The fact that we were not renumerated seemed to change their perspective on our intentions in a positive manner.  

The community were outwardly pleased that we were fully open about our research. They talked about their assumptions about foreign groups and how the archaeology of the country has been pillaged by others. Our efforts included welcoming anyone to visit the site at their leisure. We were frequently visited by the young and old alike, sometimes as a detour from a walk or while passing with a herd of goats to laugh at us working in the rain. We made our work even more visible by taking finds for cataloguing to tables in the local café, so that the whole community could see everything we had and how we worked with it. Informal lessons and visualisations helped the community to understand the breadth of our work. They were delighted to learn of our multi-period approach and began to bring objects for us to record. 

Over time, the community began to trust us. Through friendships and openness, they could see we were there for the right reasons. One local man showed up one day with a purple plastic bag filled with pottery sherds and bronze coins. He allowed us to photograph and record them onto our database. Every item was handed back to him the next day in perfect condition. This happened a few times. Each instance proved we meant what we said – we were not there to take anything, we were there to observe, learn and record only. At the end of each season, we handed all the finds to the local leadership for storage, with some pottery samples collected by the national Institute of Archaeology for their archives. 

The community were also surprised that we value their knowledge and insights. We were positively enthused when offered tours of sites that might interest our archaeological endeavors. Every suggestion and prompt from the community was cherished and integrated into our research, valued as of equal value to anything considered more “academic”. This respect for local knowledge also helped our reputation. 

The reports compiled after each season were hugely beneficial in communicating the value of the compiled data. They included drawings and maps that showed the community how the data comes together to tell their stories. They were also keen to see how we used LiDAR and drone imaging with our GPS records to map concentrations of finds across the landscape. The visual stories transcended linguistic barriers and helped everyone see why our work was useful and relevant to them. For example, local B&B owners typically spend the most time with visitors and our data is helpful in conveying the history of the landscape to those eager to learn, whether domestic or foreign. The community hopes that the information plaques that we have contributed to and walking trails supported by other international groups, created in recent years, will help foster better understanding of their local history. In the future, they will create a museum featuring artefacts collected by us and the community alike.  

Goats being herded in Albania along a winding mountain road.
Goats being herded in Albania along a winding mountain road.

What makes our research fieldwork a bit different than most is that we take with us interdisciplinary perspectives. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the lens by which we evaluate our work and contributions. This maps well onto local and national initiatives that seek to offset long-standing issues facing mountain communities. These issues include depopulation, losing traditional intangible cultural heritage, lack of attractive jobs, and environmental sustainability. Our heritage story is a small part of a much bigger picture. Rather than consider our work on our terms, we embrace domestic value systems and methods of seeing value. 

One of our team has undertaken a project interviewing the community about their lives and experiences culminating in an MLitt dissertation, How do rural communities negotiate the legacy of a contested landscape in contemporary southern Albania? (A. Donnelly 2020, 95pps). Her work explores the landscape, agricultural practices, ethnobotanical knowledge, local recipes, conflict and rebellion, unique worship practices, folklore, and music. A taught masters student also produced a dissertation, How can social media function as a tool for initial tourist development? Lessons from rural Albania (R. Sanders 2020, 77pps). Her research reviewed the multivocality of tourists, the power of word-of-mouth marketing, and authenticity of touristic experience as demarcated by local business owners. Other outputs include fieldwork reports in 2018 (Tierney et al. 131pps) and 2019 (Tierney et al. 41pps), and multimedia engagement through public-engagement videos and at conferences. Additionally, I have integrated learnings from fieldwork into both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching at two universities. Several peer reviewed papers are underway and will be published soon. They include a comprehensive overview of the SDGs at Nivica, fieldwork survey analysis and artefact analysis.  

In academia, quantifiable outputs and impacts are championed. Even in the realm of public engagement academic discourse, the value of authentic, deep and personal trusting relationships are muted. For me, hearts and minds in a framework of respect are worth more than anything else. If our research work enables us to contribute positively to a community that we adore, then our work is a success. I am optimistic that this personal narrative helps to contribute something to how we view ourselves as fieldwork researchers in relation to the places and communities that we encounter and, hopefully, embrace. In a world replete with mental health strain and professional angst, as the higher education system pinches more and more, there are things more valuable than traditional academic milestones. It is one thing to love one’s work, it is another to be truly loved back by the people we work for. 

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment member, Dr Aisling Tierney.

Dr Aisling Tierney
Dr Aisling Tierney

Climate change is threatening Madagascar’s famous forests – our study shows how serious it is

Urgent action is needed to protect Madagascar’s forests.
Rijasolo/AFP via Getty Images

Global climate change doesn’t only cause the melting of polar ice caps, rising sea levels and extreme weather events. It also has a direct effect on many tropical habitats and the animals and plants that inhabit them. As fossil fuel emissions continue to drive climate change, large areas of land are forecast to become much hotter and drier by the end of this century.

Many ecosystems, including tropical forests, wetlands, swamps and mangroves, will be unable to cope with these extreme climatic conditions. It is highly likely that the extent and condition of these ecosystems will decline. They will become more like deserts and savanna.

The island nation of Madagascar is of particular concern when it comes to climate change. Of Madagascar’s animal species, 85% cannot be found elsewhere on Earth. Of its plant species, 82% are unique to the island. Although a global biodiversity hotspot, Madagascar has experienced the highest rates of deforestation anywhere in the world. Over 80% of its original forest cover has already been cleared by humans.

This has resulted in large population declines in many species. For example, many species of lemurs (Madagascar’s flagship group of animals) have undergone rapid population decline, and over 95% of lemur species are now classified as threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Drier conditions brought about by climate change have already resulted in widespread bush fires throughout Madagascar. Drought and famine are increasingly severe for the people living in the far south and south-western regions of the island.

Madagascar’s future will likely depend profoundly on how swiftly and comprehensively humans deal with the current climate crisis.

What we found

Our study investigated how future climate change is likely to affect four of Madagascar’s key forest habitat types. These four forest types are the dry deciduous forests of the west, humid evergreen forests of the east, spiny bush forests of the arid south, and transitional forests of the north-west corner of the island.

Using computer-based modelling, we simulated how each forest type would respond to climate change from the current period up to the year 2080. The model used the known distribution of each forest type, and current and future climatic data.

We did this under two different conditions: a mitigation scenario, assuming human reliance on greenhouse gas reduces according to climate commitments already made; and an unmitigated scenario, assuming greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at their current rate.

Our results suggest that unmitigated climate change will result in declines of Madagascar’s forests. The area of land covered by humid forest, the most extensive of the four forest types, is predicted to decrease by about 5.66%. Dry forest and spiny bush are also predicted to decline in response to unmitigated climate change. Transitional forest may actually increase by as much as 5.24%, but this gain will almost certainly come at the expense of other forest types.

We expected our model to show that mitigating climate change would result in net forest gain. Surprisingly, our results suggest entirely the opposite. Forest occurrence will decrease by up to 5.84%, even with efforts to mitigate climate change. This is because global temperatures are forecast to increase under both mitigated and unmitigated scenarios.

These predicted declines are in addition to the huge losses of forest already caused by ongoing deforestation throughout the island.

It looks as if the damage has already been done.

Climate change, a major threat

The results of our research highlight that climate change is indeed a major threat to Madagascar’s forests and likely other ecosystems worldwide. These findings are deeply concerning for the survival of Madagascar’s animals and plants, many of which depend entirely on forest habitat.

Not only will climate change decrease the size of existing forests, changes in temperature and rainfall will also affect the amount of fruit that trees produce.

A Lemur on tree in the forest.
Madagascar lemurs and other animal and plant species may become extinct if the forests disappear.
Rijasolo/AFP

Many of Madagascar’s animals, such as its lemurs, rely heavily on fruit for food. Changes in fruit availability will have serious impact on the health, reproductive success and population growth of these animals. Some animals may be able to adapt to changes in climate and habitat, but others are very sensitive to such changes. They are unlikely to survive in a hot, arid environment.

This will also have serious knock-on effects for human populations that depend on forests and animals for eco-tourism income. Approximately 75% of Madagascar’s population depends on the forest and subsistence farming for survival, and the tourism sector contributes over US$600 million towards the island’s economy annually.

To ensure that Madagascar’s forests survive, immediate action is needed to end deforestation, protect the remaining patches of forest, replant and restore forests, and mitigate global carbon emissions. Otherwise these remarkable forests will eventually disappear, along with all the animals and plants that depend on them.The Conversation

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This blog is written by Daniel Hending, Postdoctoral Research Assistant Animal Vibration Lab, University of Oxford and Cabot Institute for the Environment member Marc Holderied, Professor in Sensory Biology, University of BristolThis article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Marc Holderied

 

 

Reflections on creating equitable partnerships in research

Bristol’s Research Development International (RDI) Team works with our academics and their partners across the globe to help them secure funding for research projects. We support applications to a wide range of external funding calls including those funded as part of the UK’s Aid budget and others focused on collaborations with global South partners.

We also run internal calls to help our researchers initiate, develop and sustain international partnerships. These schemes have sown the ground for partnerships to grow their projects and to successfully secure millions in funding.

A key aspect of our internal funding schemes is the need for projects to demonstrate that the partnership is equitable. This without doubt strengthens funding proposals and ensures outcomes meet the needs of the intended beneficiaries. We have also seen equitable partnerships become more of an expectation for external funders too, especially for calls that aim to tackle global challenges.

Equitable research partnerships that enable co-design and collaboration across sectors to combine diverse sources of knowledge are crucial for enabling transformative adaptation.

Tacking Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Opportunities, UKRI 2022

Global challenges – our principles

The University of Bristol’s principles for global challenges research activity include our commitment to build equitable relationships. We fully support these statements of expectations:

  • Partnerships should be transparent and based on mutual respect.
  • Partnerships should aim to have clearly articulated equitable responsibilities, efforts, benefits and distribution of resources.
  • Partnerships should recognise different inputs, different interests and different desired outcomes and should ensure the ethical sharing and use of data which is responsive to the identified needs of society.

Between 2017-2021 the University directly supported in excess of 120 global challenges projects with partners in over 55 countries located in the global South. These projects demonstrated the importance of investing time and resources into building equitable partnerships which are based on trust and understanding. The funding enabled researchers to gain and develop first-hand knowledge about how to develop inclusive partnerships where cultural differences are considered and understood. It also helped them to recognise that there are power dynamics within partnerships that are sometimes out of their control, for example the particular model of funding or Bristol’s own institutional processes. Others arise due to a lack of awareness of the local contexts in which overseas partners operate.

A collaborative research project on mitigating everyday risks in Peru. Read more about this project.

 

Developing international research collaborations

When we asked some of our award holders what advice they would give to researchers who would like to develop international global challenges research collaborations they commented:

“I think you have to go and visit and sit down and spend time talking, understanding perspectives, priorities, and local constraints.  There are constraints that if you are based in the UK, you don’t even know are possible constraints, until you are there.  People have got to like you, to feel you ‘hear’ them and are interested and understanding.”

“The basic element of overseas partnerships is to be respectful of your partners and recognise that they come with substantial technical expertise and understand their context far better than an overseas researcher will.  It is crucial to listen to the partners and be willing to change you own ideas and plans in light of the inputs, insights and advice from the partners.”

“Communication was often difficult in the early stages of our partnership.  If considering new partnerships again, I would ensure that we had more extensive discussions at the start about capacity, capability, and areas of particular interest so we maximise the likelihood that research designs match partner expectations”

“Recognise that the drivers for academics in other countries may not always be the same as those in the UK – your partners may care much more about community interaction or policy engagement than writing papers for instance.”

“Co-development and collaboration creates new possibilities in terms of outcomes and impact that are not possible alone – be patient and flexible with partners and processes that are needed to build these collaborations because the rewards can be significant.” 

How to find international research partners

If you are interested developing an international research collaboration, your first question may be how do I find an international partner(s)?   Some of our suggestions include:

  • Seek advice from your School Research Director or Faculty International Director;
  • Contact your research support colleagues who may be aware of existing projects working in a similar area and can put you in touch with your colleagues.
  • Speak to your institutions research institutes and centres. These are often closely linked to institutions’ international engagement strategies and can enable interdisciplinary links within the institution that can lead to developing international collaborations.
  • Like Bristol, your institution may be part of an existing international network, such as the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN).  Contact the network’s team to find out what partnerships exist already and whether they can facilitate links with these institutions
  • The South West International Development Network (SWIDN) is a cross-sector membership organisation of non-profit, academic institutions, businesses, consultants and individuals who are working in international development towards the SDGs. Your institution may have connections to similar organisations. If you are seeking partners for your research, they can share information with their NGO members.

What help does the RDI team provide to University of Bristol researchers and their international partners?

Our activities include discussing potential projects and how these fit with specific call requirements; how to complete applications, the information to be included and who in the University can provide additional support; how to generate impacts and policy; identifying potential future funding streams for sustaining partnerships; reviewing draft applications; assisting or signposting in respect of the associated administrative, financial and contractual requirements. We have also developed a toolkit to help Bristol researchers navigate all these aspects.

Hints and tips for global challenges research

Do

  • take time to build your partnerships.  Successful partnerships are built on trust and understanding.  Look out for funding streams which will help you to meet them face to face.
  • make sure the project is co-designed, it should be informed by the local contexts of the challenges(s) identified by partners and other stakeholders.
  • consider the potential for mutual learning and knowledge exchange.
  • recognise and understand that what you may think is a primary issue in a partner country, might not be a burning issue from your partner’s perspective.
  • think about cultural differences and how you will need to accommodate or address these as the project develops.
  • think about how time differences and different pressures may impact on how your project develops.
  • be aware that funding deadlines are often very short for global challenges research and applications can take a considerable time to complete
  • be aware that these funding streams are competitive.

Don’t

  • try to shoehorn your research to meet the aims of a particular call. Funding panels can usually spot where this is the case.
  • assume that professional services teams will be able to prioritise your application.  Liaise with them at an early stage in your planning. Take time to become familiar with the University’s research costing systems and the associated procedures in place.
  • assume that your University’s due diligence and contractual processes will always be straightforward and timely. These can be complex in some instances, especially where your partner(s).

Resources

Funding calls

Current UK funded international research development calls.

Recent equitable partnership projects

Here are some recent projects on global challenges that University of Bristol academics and their international research partners have been collaborating on:

Equal partnerships in creating an African-centred WASH Research Agenda

Towards the latter part of 2021, I was approached by the Perivoli Africa Research Centre (PARC), to support the process of ‘developing an African WASH (Water, Sanitation, Hygiene) Research Agenda’.  One could say that I wear a couple of ‘hats’ within the African Higher Education Sector and thematic research networks such as water, sanitation, disaster risk reduction and science, technology and innovation (STI). Primarily, I’m the Director of the Centre for Collaboration in Africa at Stellenbosch University, South Africa where we create an enabling environment for Stellenbosch University to partner and collaborate with other African institutions.

In addition, I’m the Programme manager of the Southern African Network of the African Union Development Agency (AUDA)-NEPAD Networks of Water Centres of Excellence and the Lead-Expert of another AUDA-NEPAD Centre of Excellence in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI). In addition, I am also the Director of the PERIPERI-U Network – a network of 13 universities across Africa focusing research and capacity development in the field of Disaster Risk Reduction. It might seem diverse, but this portfolio gives me broad insight into the African Higher Education Sector and various related thematic research topics such as water, sanitation, and STI which could contribute towards a process in developing an African WASH Research Agenda.

With his writing I would like to highlight key aspects I believe we have to consider in our approach in developing and Africa WASH Research Agenda.

‘Africa is not one country’

In a post-colonial era, Africa is too often referred to as one country where problems are generalized and where solutions are proposed as a ‘one size fits all’ approach without considering that local contextualization is required. At a national level, most African countries do have their developmental priorities clearly defined, but it would be impractical to attempt the development of any African Research agenda at this level considering each of the 54 African countries. Over the years, I have had the good fortune to travel to 33 other African countries, and have I experienced a level of regional homogeneity in, first, diversity in climate, topography, precipitation and furthermore diversity in languages, cultures, believes in different regions of the African continent.

To thus attempt a single African WASH Research Agenda would be futile, and could one, as a starting point, consider the delineation of countries within the five regions of the African Union (North, West, Central, East and Southern Africa). This delineation would however be limited, as one should also consider Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and specifically the 13 major trans-boundary River Basins, as many inter-governmental governance arrangements, strategies and implementation plans are coordinated through the RECs and River Basin Organizations (RBOs) across the continent.  One should never forget that for millennia, Africans were connected by waterways and rivers that cut across the continent and transcend national boundaries set during the colonial era.

Indeed, one could argue that there are deficiencies in the functioning of different RECs and RBOs, and the need continue to strengthen and build the capacity of these institutions across the continent. Here, partnerships with institutions in the Global North have played an important role to support RECs and RBOs along with the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) – a specialized Committee for Water and Sanitation in the African Union to promote “cooperation, security, social, economic development and poverty eradication among member states through the effective management of the continent’s water resources and provision of water supply services”.

However, it must be said that often inequalities exist in partnerships between African institutions and institutions in the Global North, specifically in relation to research and human capacity development where African institutions often do not reap the full benefits of such partnerships. This debate is nothing new with African institutions often exclaiming how they draw the short straw.

Inequality persists

At a recent webinar hosted by the African Climate Development Initiative (ACDI) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the School for Climate Studies (SCS) at Stellenbosch University (SU) the implications for Southern African of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, titled ‘Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’ were discussed (see https://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=8959 for detail of the webinar). During the webinar, Dr Chris Trisos, one of the coordinating lead authors on the Africa-chapter, indicated that between 1990 and 2020, “78% of funding for Africa-related climate research flowed to institutions in Europe and the United States – only 14.5% flowed to institutions in Africa”. Moreover, “not only are research agendas shaped by a Global North perspective, but African researchers are positioned primarily as recipients engaged to support these research agendas instead of being equal partners in setting the agenda.” Moreover, an analysis of more than 15 000 climate change publications found that for more that 75% of African countries, 60-100% of the publications did not include a single African author and authorship dominated by researchers from countries beyond Africa.

There are many examples where phrases such as ‘research tourism’ and ‘he who holds the purse is setting the agenda’ are reluctantly whispered in the corridors of African research institutions where partners from the Global North are involved. In addition, local researchers are often left to manage expectations and the associated disappointment of communities in the aftermath of ill-implemented research projects where the promises of a better life did not realize within the communities. Often, research projects land in the lap of many African researchers, knowing that their academic aspiration of promotion and stature lies in the anticipated publications resulting from the research projects, and not necessarily in what benefit the project might have to the societies where they operate in. Moreover, how often do we see how the majority of research funding emanating from institutions in the Global North are allocated to a Principal Investigator at an institution in their backyard, and where the partners in the African countries receive very little of the total funding of projects – often under the guise that the funds will not reach its intended purpose due to corruption and maladministration. Yes, there are improvements where African partners are co-designing research projects and indeed, there are many examples of institutions with challenges, but there are also many African research institutions that have repeatedly shown that they have the capacity to manage large research projects and have the leadership and will to continue improve Research Development Offices and financial controls within their institutions – not to appease partners in the Global North, but out of pure home-grown leadership and good governance.

So, in conclusion, I am of the firm belief that we can create an African WASH Research Agenda, and that we can, through true multi-stakeholder engagements identify, prioritize and create research projects which we can successfully implement that are for the benefit of our societies in which we live. This can only be achieved through true partnerships with the Global North where mutual trust and respect are earned. Personally, I have experienced such partnerships, and do I also realise that we can do so much more.

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This blog is written by Dr. Nico Elema is the Director of the Centre for Collaboration in Africa at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Read more about his collaborative sustainable water services project with the University of Bristol.

Dr Nico Elema

#COP26 to #CabotNext10: Reflections from our 2021 Communications Assistants

Last year, we had the pleasure of working with six excellent Master’s and PhD students in the run up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26. They impressed us with the creativity in their applications and we recruited them as Cabot Communications Assistants – an exciting opportunity that doesn’t come up very often within the Institute to gain experience in communications, and work with the Cabot team. Covering COP26 themes, the ecological emergency and #CabotNext10, which celebrated the 10 year anniversary of the Cabot Institute and looked ahead to the next 10 years, our comms assistants designed and implemented campaigns for a variety of different audiences, drawing upon their own research as well as that of experts across the University.

With COP27 coming up later this year, these issues are still very much on the minds of press, the public and environmental professionals across the world. Keep reading to learn more about the work that some of our Cabot Communications Assistants created in response to the key messages of COP26 and the UN biodiversity conference COP15 and their reflections on their experience.

Dora Young – Climate Emergency and Mock COP26

I am undertaking my Master’s by Research (MScR) with the Cabot Institute in the hopes of contributing to a more equitable knowledge politics around environmental justice issues in Bristol. I aim for my work within the City Futures theme to enhance the inclusivity of urban ecological management strategies (specifically, addressing the intersections of action to restore healthy pollinator populations, improve the quality and accessibility of green spaces, and ensure food security in the city’s most deprived areas).

Dora’s reflections

I was pleased to have produced a 14 or so week long Twitter campaign, with weekly tweets to highlight crucial climate research being done by Cabot members, ahead of COP26. I was also very happy to be able to write a blog about our fantastic experience facilitating the Mock COP26, which involved 60 school students from Bristol and was a thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring day.

Lucy Morris – Clean transport, clean energy and the Mock COP26

I’m currently studying for a Master’s by Research in Environmental Themes, Sciences and Wildlife Filmmaking. I’m interested in the spectrum of framing strategies employed in wildlife films and how these shape our relationship with the natural world and in particular, non-human animals. I believe that film and other digital media, with their enormous affective power, are immensely important in confronting anthropogenic environmental degradation and demonstrating the intrinsic value of all species and natural spaces.

Lucy’s reflections

I worked on two projects throughout my time as a comms assistant. The first was a Twitter campaign promoting the work of Cabot researchers on clean transport in the run up to COP26. I interviewed 4 experts and produced videos of some of these interviews advertising the blog that would summarise them . I created a week-long Twitter campaign counting down the days to the blog release with facts about transport, links to more information and tagged amplifiers. I wrote up a blog that was released on the last day of the campaign that was read by more than 220 people. In the process, I learnt many new skills, worked as part of a great team and my own interest in the topic of transport only grew. I also worked to produce a creative output to summarise the process and events of the mock COP26 for sixth form students run by Cabot and Praxis research. Working with Jack Nicholls, I conducted qualitative research of all the notes made at the mock climate negotiations, drawing out themes of the day and learning outcomes. I produced a brief for illustrator, Ellie Shipman, who created amazing illustrations of the day. I also produced my own sketch illustrations as part of this brief, which were used in the final product – a web page all about Bristol’s mock COP.

Hilary McCarthy – Ecological Emergency

I’m an interdisciplinary PhD student working in laboratories across Life Sciences and Chemistry, investigating photosynthetic enhancement in plants and algae. My research involves investigating the role of both naturally occurring photonic nanostructures and artificially synthesized nanoparticles, called carbon dots, in photosynthetic processes such as light harvesting. A changing environment and increasing threats to biodiversity and global food and fuel supply puts increasing pressure on better understanding photosynthesis and its mechanisms, adaptations and potential routes to enhancement.

Hilary’s reflections

During my internship with Cabot, I worked on a campaign titled the ‘Ecological Emergency’, which was scheduled to run in October alongside COP15, a global convention on biodiversity. As part of the campaign I produced, I spoke with a number of academics in relevant research fields about their perspective on ecological decline and its drivers and projections. The campaign involved amplifying the academics statements, through a combination of blogs and visual social media posts. The visual content overlaid academic statements on top of staff and student photography and videography, of relevant wildlife and nature.

Olivia Reddy – #CabotNext10

Currently, I’m a few months into my PhD in Civil Engineering here at Bristol. My focus is on the infrastructure and management of sanitation systems in Ethiopia and Uganda, specifically looking at their resilience to climate change and the greenhouse gases they emit. I’m interested in creating sustainable, achievable change, and exploring the different ways in which to do so.

Olivia’s reflections

I think it’s really important that the work that Cabot does is understood and valued by a wider audience. That’s why I have taken the approach I have with #CabotNext10, to delve into why this research is important and what it means. Similarly, it’s important to see who Cabot is, and why the staff do what they do – which is why I wanted to re/introduce the core Cabot team. Science communication is a huge part of research which often gets overlooked, and I wanted to make sure those working here got highlighted. Read the #CabotNext10 blogs.

Also check out blogs by Comms Assistant Lois Barton on Urban Pollinating and World Water Day.

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This blog is written by Joanne Norris, Cabot Institute Postgraduate Research Coordinator, and Adele Hulin, Cabot Institute Communications and Engagement Officer.

 

Joanne Norris

 

Joanne coordinates our Master’s by Research in Global Environmental Challenges, an interdisciplinary programme that brings together students from all disciplines to work on independent research projects tackling key areas of environmental change.
Adele Hulin

 

Adele manages internal and external communications and engagement at the Cabot Institute including recruiting and managing our Cabot Communications Assistants.
Interested in postgraduate study? The Cabot Institute runs a unique Master’s by Research programme that offers a blend of in-depth research on a range of Global Environmental Challenges, with interdisciplinary cohort building and training. Find out more.

Human health is entwined with the health of our planet

 

It’s a short time since COP26 finished in Glasgow. Many colleagues from the University of Bristol were there to discuss their research and share knowledge with those who are making decisions about policies that impact everyone’s futures. When we think about climate change, we often think about the health of the planet and the natural world, but the health of our planet is entwined to the health of the human population too. Here, Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Director, Rachael Gooberman-Hill, gives a timely update on our research looking at the intersection between climate and health.

We’re already seeing local and global impacts of climate change on human health. The World Health Organization states that in the 20 years from 2030 to 2050 climate change will cause around 250,000 additional deaths per year, which is a timeframe that starts in just eight years from now.

These, arguably preventable, deaths will relate to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat. Health impacts of climate change will disproportionately affect people who are already vulnerable in other ways, including people who are young, old, living with other conditions, or living in situations of vulnerability including poverty and other dimensions of disadvantage. Climate change is associated with changes in infectious diseases and non-communicable conditions, such as mental health difficulties. Heat and extreme weather events have major impact on health, cause forced migration and these issues are global in scale. In the UK, extreme weather events and heat are already visible and are likely to become more common and more impactful.

Embedding climate in current research

Broadly speaking, research efforts include work to reduce rise in our planet’s temperature and attempts to address, mitigate, and adapt to the impact of the rises that are already happening. At the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute we are working with the Cabot Institute for the Environment. As researchers, we can change focus of our research, can embed climate in the research that we are already planning or doing, and we can also consider that all of the research that we do is already impacted by climate change and will already have much to add to the evidence base that can underpin change and make a difference.

Mapping activity in climate research

The University of Bristol has a world-leading track record in environment-focused research already. We recently mapped the research activity in this area and identified 39 climate and health related research projects and over 150 members of our research community working in this area. We work on many topics, including extreme weather events, heat, water and sanitation, animal health, crops and nutrition, and social impacts of climate change. The University is an active member of the Met Office Academic Partnership (MOAP), we contribute considerable and internationally recognised expertise to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), including in the crucial assessment reports which provide the scientific evidence base. We’re active in the GW4 Climate Alliance, comprising the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff, Bath, and Exeter.

Potential to pivot

There is real potential now to build this area even more. Many members of our University are deeply concerned about climate change and many are doing work that helps, or want to do so. We are a community whose research is often driven by our sense of social responsibility and we’ve seen before how our desire to make a difference can drive new focus. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic we saw large parts of the University’s research community turn skills and attention to the virus and its impact. At the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute we supported over 90 projects that focused on COVID-19 and owe thanks to everyone for the vast effort that has been put into research with real world impact. The effort to focus on COVID-19 showed how our expert researchers can pivot quickly onto new topic areas, although other topics remained urgent and important alongside our pandemic-related work.

Supporting more climate research

The Elizabeth Blackwell Institute wants to support the desire and need to work on climate change and health, whether that’s to enable people to pivot to the area, build on existing work or to encompass climate change into existing workstreams. We’ve already supported projects focused on climate change and health, with particular emphasis on interdisciplinary research. We want to support even more. As we move forward from COP26, please consider how your research can address climate change and health and let us know about your plans and ideas.

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This blog is by Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Director, Rachael Gooberman-Hill . View the original post.

Rachel Gooberman-Hill

Net Zero Oceanographic Capability: the future of marine research

 

Image credit: Eleanor Frajka-Williams, NOC.

Our oceans are crucial in regulating global climate and are essential to life on Earth. The marine environment is being impacted severely by multiple and cumulative stressors, including pollution, ocean acidification, resource extraction, and climate change. Scientific understanding of marine systems today and in the future, and their sensitivity to these stressors, is essential if we are to manage our oceans, and achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, these systems are complex – with a vast array of interacting physical, chemical, biological and sociological components – and operate on scales of microns to kilometres, and milliseconds to millennia. To address these challenges, modern marine science spans a wide range of multidisciplinary topics, including understanding the fundamental drivers of ocean circulation, ecosystem behaviour and its response to climate change, causes of and consequences of polar ice cap melt, and the impacts of ocean warming on sea level, weather and climate. Marine scientists investigate problems of societal relevance such as food security, hazards relating to sea level rise, storm surges and underwater volcanoes, and understanding the consequences of offshore development on the health of the ocean in the context of building a sustainable blue economy. With the start of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development in 2021, there is a clear motivation not only for more research, but for sustainable approaches.

However, a key challenge facing all scientists in the near future is the absolute necessity to reduce and mitigate all carbon emissions, achieving ‘Net Zero’. Among many of the high-impact pledges made over recent months, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have promised to achieve Net Zero by 2040. UKRI is the umbrella organisation encompassing all of the UK Research Councils including the Natural Environment Research Council, which funds the National Oceanography Centre and British Antarctic Survey to operate the large-scale UK marine research infrastructure.

Whilst marine science is intrinsically linked to Net Zero objectives since the ocean is a major sink of anthropogenic carbon and excess heat, the carrying out marine research itself contributes to the problem in question: ocean-going research vessels use considerable amounts of fossil fuels. Ship-based observations allow scientists to address global challenges, to support ocean observing networks, make measurements not possible via satellite, or in remote and extreme environments. Such observations are essential to establish a thorough picture of how the ocean is changing, and the underlying processes behind the complex interweaving of physics, chemistry, biology and geology within marine systems, but can only continue into the future if the carbon footprint of sea-going research is cut dramatically.

Image credit: Eleanor Frajka-Williams, NOC.

 

The Net Zero Oceanographic Capability (NZOC) scoping review, led by the National Oceanography Centre but supported by researchers from around the UK, is a groundbreaking project aimed at understanding the drivers and enablers of future oceanographic research in a Net Zero world. New technologies and infrastructure – together with multidisciplinary, international approaches, and collaborations with private and public sector stakeholders – are going to be increasingly important to advance understanding of the oceans and climate, while accomplishing Net Zero. The NZOC team are building a picture of a future research ecosystem that capitalises upon emerging technologies in shipping, marine autonomous systems (MAS) sensor technology and data science.  Ships will still be an essential linchpin of a new marine observing network, to gather critical information that may not be accessible using MAS, and to enable the maximum value to be extracted from datastreams collected during oceanographic expeditions.  The new Net Zero approaches have the potential to not just replace existing marine research capability with one less damaging to the environment, but also to expand and extend it, with new tools available more marine observing, new avenues of research opened up, and wider accessibility.  In order to achieve its potential, the development of new systems, and adaptation and improvement of existing methodologies, must be co-designed between technologists and scientists, including modellers and data scientists, as well as those engaged with sea-going observations.  Investment in an equitable, diverse and inclusive marine workforce must be considered from the beginning, with engagement in skills training for existing and future marine researchers so that scientists are primed to use the new approaches afforded by a Net Zero approach to their full potential.  All of these initiatives have to deliver on their promise in a co-ordinated way and in a short timeframe.  Many of them will rely upon global infrastructures and international systems that must similarly adapt at pace.

Image credit: Eleanor Frajka-Williams, NOC.

Environmental and climate scientists overwhelmingly and urgently support a move towards Net Zero. However, we cannot overstate the importance of getting the transition to Net Zero right. Whilst an ever-growing number of UK marine scientists are using MAS and low carbon options, NZOC also identified a number of case studies where achieving Net Zero will limit marine science – possibly permanently – if not addressed.  These include research areas where scientists need to drill into deep rock, or carry out intricate biological or geochemical experiments and measurements. Any transition to using new methods must be managed flexibly, requiring intersection between old and new technologies, due consideration to accessibility, and verification and validation by the wider scientific community.

Achieving Net Zero is one of the most important societal goals over the next decade. We can not only maintain but also build on marine science capability – essential for meeting Net Zero targets – with equitable and fair strategic planning, co-design of new approaches, and by taking advantage of new opportunities that arise from emerging technologies.

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Dr Katharine Hendry is an Associate Professor in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. With Contributions by Eleanor Frajka-Williams, National Oceanography Centre (NOC).
Dr Katharine Hendry

 

Who is Cabot Institute? Amanda Woodman-Hardy

Amanda Woodman-Hardy (third from left) with Cabot Institute volunteers

In conversation with Amanda Woodman-Hardy, Communications and Engagement Officer at the Cabot Institute for the Environment

What is your role at Cabot Institute?

Hi there! I’m responsible for all our communications and running our biggest events and public engagement activities. I’m in a job share with the lovely and wonderful Adele Hulin.

How long have you been part of Cabot?

I’ve been part of Cabot since the very beginning, 10 years ago! It’s been my baby for sure. I’ve watched the Institute grow, learn valuable lessons, and mature into a beautiful thing.

I’d say we’re at the young adult stage now but thankfully past the awkward teenage stage where we were learning who we were and what our purpose was.

Now we are moving forward with our awesome tagline – Many Minds, one mission – protecting our environment and identifying ways of living better with our changing planet.

What is your background?

I grew up by the sea on the Devon/Cornwall border in a working-class family. I spent a lot of time outdoors because my home was depressingly cold, mouldy, and noisy as it was under a constant state of DIY. My parents took out a mortgage on a very cheap derelict bungalow as it meant I could be in the catchment for a good school…and they do like a challenge! It took them 20 years of hard graft, with their own hands, to finish the home! I spent a lot of my free time on the beach, in or on the sea, cycling around, hiking across Dartmoor, roaming around my local fields with the neighbours’ kids or digging up mud and looking at insects in our surprisingly ok garden. My connection to nature and the environment started at a young age, it was the place I could be happy and completely free, and I was always in awe of how beautiful and powerful it was.

I was the first in my family to go to university. My dad had dropped out of school at 14 to work as a mechanic and my mum got a diploma from college but no one had ever gone onto university before, so it was all new to me! I studied Geography at the University of Plymouth, living at home and working two jobs to help pay my way. It was hard but I had the time of my life! I moved to Bristol to find work after graduating. I got a temp job as an Admin Assistant at the Soil Association. I stayed there for 5 years, moving to Business Development and then into Policy and Standards as Administrator and PA. This gave me a good background in the organisation of multiple working groups and boards under several different environmental themes. It helped me understand the importance and value of bringing in different voices of people who lived and worked the subject areas, who had hands-on expertise, not necessarily lots of qualifications.

Towards the end of my time at the Soil Association, I decided I wanted to study part-time for a Masters in Sustainable Environmental Management at the University of Plymouth. I would be a mature student! I started a second job in a coffee shop to help me pay the fees and associated costs of doing a masters and then a year later I was made redundant from the Soil Association just as I was about to start my thesis. The redundancy was a complete shock but unfortunately the whole organisation had to be downsized due to the financial crash. I finished up my Masters and then did some temping in Payroll at UWE. I moved to a local job as a Library Assistant for the next 18 months and did some voluntary blogging for an environmental consultancy on the side to keep my CV relevant to the environmental sector.

I then got quite ill. After 9 months of severe weight loss, vomiting and absolute agony and an emergency admission to hospital I was told I needed to have my gall bladder removed. Two weeks into my convalescing after the surgery, I saw a job at the Cabot Institute and thought it was too good to be true. It certainly looked like my dream job and I had all the skills required. To my delight I got an interview and I attended with bandages still on my tummy and my suit trousers smarting around my surgery wounds. I managed somehow to smile through the pain, and I got the job as PA and Administrator! After I settled into the role, I found there was a need for more and more communications and engagement of what Cabot academics were finding out through their research and so I naturally fell into the role of doing communications and engagement. It’s an absolute privilege working at the University of Bristol as they encourage training and learning so I’ve been able to do lots of courses and learn on the job for my current role. I also work across many departments so I learn lots from the super talented people I collaborate with too.

Why did you want to join the team?

I wanted to join Cabot because of what it was standing for. It was like a beacon of light in so many ways. I am so passionate about the research areas and working here means I can support people who are positively changing the world. It has been an absolute privilege to be a part of and I thank my lucky stars that I get to spend every day with such an incredible bunch of people on the biggest issues of our time.

What do you think is the biggest environmental challenge facing us today?

Without a doubt – justice.

Justice for all.

There will be no saving the planet or indeed a safe planet unless there is justice for everyone. There are so many valuable voices that need to be heard that my white privileged colleagues and I need to amplify, and bring into our research agenda because ultimately, those people, those communities, are resilient AF. They have been living at the sharp edge forever, dealing with many horrors and traumas, yet still somehow living. Living in their environment and within their means. They know how to solve the environmental problems we have.

We just must listen to them; ensure they are brought fully into decision making and act quickly. We have to ensure everything we (Cabot does) is fair and just. I’d also like to see more people of colour hired by the University, especially those working on environmental research.

There is A LOT of work to be done but I’m up for the challenge!

What is your favourite part of your job?

That’s a tricky one as I love so much about it. I love working with my colleagues and the people I meet on the job – they inspire me every day and I’ve learned so much from them. I love the public engagement aspects of my job, where I get to communicate the work of our researchers and put it into Plain English or support work with an artist so that academics complex work can be understood by everyone.

When you see people approaching an artwork for example, or they come and talk to you about some research they’ve read about, their eyes go wide and their mouths drop open in awe and wonder, and something clicks in their brain that makes them more engaged with environmental issues.

I love that side of the role. That’s why I do this. The more I can communicate what our academics do, the more people will see that there can be a positive outcome for our planet if we all work together.

What are you most looking forward to over the next 10 years of Cabot?

I can’t actually believe I’ve done ten years already; it’s been an incredible decade! Just this year we’ve had some really cool stuff come out in the run-up to COP26 including Cabot Conversations, and the Annual Lecture in October 2021. A few months ago we had a collaboration between Cabot academics, Rising Arts Agency and the incredible artist Emma Blake Morsi which lead to the creation of artwork which was displayed on billboards across the City of Bristol to highlight environmental issues in the run up to COP26.

As for what’s coming up next year, watch this space! Plenty of events, public engagement activities and fingers crossed more collaborations with creatives around the city.

Looking further ahead, I would hope that we have really nailed the justice side of our work, fully embedded equity and inclusion into everything we do and help to positively influence policymakers and government on just how crucial this aspect of environmentalism is. I would also love to see us known the world over for our excellent quality research and expertise. I think we’re getting there, but there’s much more work to be done!

Come and join us, we’ll do it together!

Find out more about Amanda here.

You can follow her on Twitter @Enviro_Mand and find out more about her background on LinkedIn.