SEGH Articles

Centre for Environmental Geochemistry

15 June 2014
The Centre's research will focus on building established collaborations between the University of Nottingham and the British Geological Survey (across Departments, Schools and Faculties).

The Centre for Environmental Geochemistry combines the University of Nottingham's (UoN) and the British Geological Survey's (BGS) strengths, focussing on the use of geochemistry in research, training and teaching around reconstructing past environmental and climate change, biogeochemical cycling including pollution typing/provenance and the use of geochemical tools for research into the subsurface. The Centre's research will focus on building established collaborations between the University and BGS (across Departments, Schools and Faculties).

Photo shows Prof David Greenaway (UoN) and Prof John Ludden (BGS) signing the collaboration agreement

The Centre is initially focussed around three laboratories in BGS: the Stable Isotope Laboratory (part of the NERC Isotope Geosciences Facilities, governed by BGS) led by Professor Melanie Leng; the Inorganic Geochemistry Laboratory led by Dr Michael Watts and the Organic Geochemistry Laboratory led by Dr Christopher Vane. The three main areas within the university are the School of Biosciences, the School of Geography, and the Faculty of Engineering.

More information can be found at www.environmentalgeochemistry.org  

The Centre for Environmental Geohemistry will focus initially on the following topics:

Past Environmental and Climate Change

The Centre will use geochemistry to understand and measure climate and environmental change over decadal to millennial timescales both in the recent and geological past. This enables the understanding of local and regional impacts of climate variability, changing land and river management practices on hydrological processes, impacts of pollution, effects on sea level etc. The Centre will invest significantly to extend geochemical tracer work into several global projects including investigating current and past freshwater contributions into the polar oceans and effects on ocean circulation; climate influences over significant land masses (e.g. tropical Americas, Northern Europe) over time and effects on plant and animal migration and endemism, desertification/water resources etc; climate-driven human evolution, innovation, and dispersal through Africa and understanding the role of mangrove and wetland habitats as sources/sinks of carbon under different climate regimes as well as developing geochemical techniques. Several of these projects will fall within the remit of NERC, the International Continental scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) and the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP).

Biogeochemical cycling

Biogeochemical cycling of nutrients and pollutants is a key research area especially in relation to food security and understanding land-use change, in particular urban agriculture and protecting food production from exposure to potentially harmful contaminants; efficient application of fertilisers/agricultural techniques and the understanding of mineral deficiency in sub-Saharan African and Indian sub-continental soils. Improving our understanding of the linkages between soil composition/inputs, plant uptake of minerals/pollutants and subsequent impact on dietary and health status requires investigation and can be done using joint BGS-University of Nottingham expertise. This type of research influences regional government policy especially with regard to remedial strategies the most significant of which concerns mineral biofortification which has huge impacts on improving people's lives in developing countries.

Geochemistry and the subsurface

An ambition of the new centre will be to build on the geochemistry, geomechanical, geological, soil and biogeochemical expertise in BGS and University of Nottingham to research practical problems relating to use of the shallow and deep subsurface in developing resources. This project will build on a BGS-led infrastructure project 'Energy test bed: multicomponent sub-surface monitoring to underpin the UK energy industry', a research infrastructure to allow the subsurface to be monitored at time scales that are consistent with our use of the subsurface, to increase efficiency and environmental sustainability and to act as a catalyst to stimulate investment and speed new technology energy options to commercialisation. In particular research will look towards understanding the impact of deep shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing on the quality of shallow groundwater and surface water; studies on the impact of coal combustion products on the environment both from surface and subsurface operations; contaminants associated with mining in valley fill head waters; and water usage implications of widespread carbon capture and storage (CCS) and shale gas.


by Dr Michael Watts, Head of Inorganic Geochemistry, BGS.

Keep up to date

Submit Content

Members can keep in touch with their colleagues through short news and events articles of interest to the SEGH community.

Science in the News

Latest on-line papers from the SEGH journal: Environmental Geochemistry and Health

  • Agro-ecological suitability assessment of Chinese Medicinal Yam under future climate change 2019-10-15

    Abstract

    Chinese Medicinal Yam (CMY) has been prescribed as medicinal food for thousand years in China by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners. Its medical benefits include nourishing the stomach and spleen to improve digestion, replenishing lung and kidney, etc., according to the TCM literature. As living standard rises and public health awareness improves in recent years, the potential medicinal benefits of CMY have attracted increasing attention in China. It has been found that the observed climate change in last several decades, together with the change in economic structure, has driven significant shift in the pattern of the traditional CMY planting areas. To identify suitable planting area for CMY in the near future is critical for ensuring the quality and supply quantity of CMY, guiding the layout of CMY industry, and safeguarding the sustainable development of CMY resources for public health. In this study, we first collect 30-year records of CMY varieties and their corresponding phenology and agro-meteorological observations. We then consolidate these data and use them to enrich and update the eco-physiological parameters of CMY in the agro-ecological zone (AEZ) model. The updated CMY varieties and AEZ model are validated using the historical planting area and production under observed climate conditions. After the successful validation, we use the updated AEZ model to simulate the potential yield of CMY and identify the suitable planting regions under future climate projections in China. This study shows that regions with high ecological similarity to the genuine and core producing areas of CMY mainly distribute in eastern Henan, southeastern Hebei, and western Shandong. The climate suitability of these areas will be improved due to global warming in the next 50 years, and therefore, they will continue to be the most suitable CMY planting regions.

  • Application of stable isotopes and dissolved ions for monitoring landfill leachate contamination 2019-10-15

    Abstract

    We evaluated groundwater contamination by landfill leachate at a municipal landfill and characterized isotopic and hydrogeochemical evidence of the degradation and natural attenuation of buried organic matter at the study site. Dissolved ion content was generally much higher in the leachate than in the surrounding groundwater. The leachate was characterized by highly elevated bicarbonate and ammonium levels and a lack of nitrate and sulfate, indicating generation under anoxic conditions. Leachate δD and δ13CDIC values were much higher than those of the surrounding groundwater; some groundwater samples near the landfill showed a significant contamination by the leachate plume. Hydrochemical characteristics of the groundwater suggest that aquifer geology in the study area plays a key role in controlling the natural attenuation of leachate plumes in this oxygen-limited environment.

  • Lead transfer into the vegetation layer growing naturally in a Pb-contaminated site 2019-10-10

    Abstract

    The lead was one of the main elements in the glazes used to colour ceramic tiles. Due to its presence, ceramic sludge has been a source of environmental pollution since this dangerous waste has been often spread into the soil without any measures of pollution control. These contaminated sites are often located close to industrial sites in the peri-urban areas, thus representing a considerable hazard to the human and ecosystem health. In this study, we investigated the lead transfer into the vegetation layer (Phragmites australis, Salix alba and Sambucus nigra) growing naturally along a Pb-contaminated ditch bank. The analysis showed a different lead accumulation among the species and their plant tissues. Salix trees were not affected by the Pb contamination, possibly because their roots mainly develop below the contaminated deposit. Differently, Sambucus accumulated high concentrations of lead in all plant tissues and fruits, representing a potential source of biomagnification. Phragmites accumulated large amounts of lead in the rhizomes and, considering its homogeneous distribution on the site, was used to map the contamination. Analysing the Pb concentration within plant tissues, we got at the same time information about the spread, the history of the contamination and the relative risks. Finally, we discussed the role of natural recolonizing plants for the soil pollution mitigation and their capacity on decreasing soil erosion and water run-off.