SEGH Articles

Michael Watts elected SEGH President

10 October 2017
Dr Michael Watts was recently elected SEGH President, following a handover from Dr Chaosheng Zhang. Michael has been involved in the SEGH for nearly 15 years as a member of the European board and active on the International board via his role in redesigning the website since 2010.

Dr Michael Watts was recently elected SEGH President, following a handover from Dr Chaosheng Zhang. Michael has been involved in the SEGH for nearly 15 years as a member of the European board and active on the International board via his role in redesigning the website since 2010.

Dr Michael Watts is the Head of Inorganic Geochemistry at the British Geological Survey. He has a team of geochemists and analytical chemists, supporting a suite of geochemistry laboratories and leading on environmental geochemistry projects in the UK and overseas, particularly in Africa. These projects involve investigations that span pollutant pathways from source through to human biomonitoring and ecological hazard assessment; micronutrient pathways from soil-crop-diet-health, with both aspects seeking better knowledge of geochemical controls on mobility/biovailability of micronutrients and potentially harmful elements through to measures of health status. Activities often link with industry, overseas governments, regulatory bodies or academia, in particular through a joint Centre for Environmental Geochemistry with the University of Nottingham.

We take the opportunity to ask a few questions of Michael to gain an insight into his experience as an environmental scientist, member of SEGH and his hopes for the future of SEGH.

What are your hopes for the future of SEGH and how do you intend to lead the SEGH forward as the new President?

Firstly, I would like to thank Dr Chaosheng Zhang for his steering of SEGH through a period of significant change, including revision and acceptance by the international board for the revised constitution and strategy to make SEGH ‘fit for purpose’ for the future. 

SEGH faces many challenges, namely competition from numerous societies, financial constraints for members, maintaining representation for members equitably across each region and financial pressures to remain relevant e.g. maintaining web interaction, communications and relevancy to PhD students and early career scientists. Young scientists will be increasingly discerning in choosing which societies to become involved in and spend their money on subscriptions. The SEGH board will need to constantly question what the member is gaining.  This will need to include better communication with members, whether through web interaction, web articles or the like, which has been particularly poor in recent years. This could become part of the terms of reference that board members sign up to and agree to actively participate and drive SEGH forward, seek out new opportunities, gauge the current themes relevant to SEGH and encourage young scientists to join SEGH. Some ideas under discussion have included a form of fellowship for the mentoring of members, which should form part of a wider consultation with the membership.

SEGH is at the cusp of consolidating on its reach across the regions, with good knowledge of web traffic driving emphasis on developing and renewing sections.  For example, a section for Africa will be developed in the next year leading up to the conference in Victoria Falls in July 2018. Whilst web traffic has increased significantly in Africa, this has also been the case in the Indian sub-continent which needs further attention for the Asia/Pacific section.  Interaction via the web and membership numbers has fallen away in Southern America, which will need to be addressed by the Americas regional section.  European membership and web traffic has remained strong and diversified in recent years. We will still need to maintain our efforts in this area, particularly eastern and southern Europe which has experienced financial instability in recent years.  Innovative ideas will be required, whether this is via web communications, hosting of small local symposia or online groups, with an emphasis on keeping costs down to ensure affordability for members. SEGH has been successful in running conferences each year that bring together early, mid and late career scientists to share their research and experience.  SEGH has been very good at fostering new talent, but how could we do this better with an increasingly interconnected world?  Should we be considering other platforms to supplement and reinforce the traditional conference schedule? This is a point where we need to engage with members for fresh ideas.

What do you think are the major scientific issues facing the society’s areas of research and could SEGH take a lead role in these?

The major theme for SEGH is still the interdisciplinary nature of the society in linking through from environmental studies to the health of humans, animals, wildlife and wider ecological contexts. There has been patchy success over the years and perhaps SEGH will continue to struggle to link directly with medical practitioners. However, there are examples of inter-disciplinary research linked through epidemiologists, public/animal health professionals and regulatory bodies. Further efforts are required to draw in members from these areas, but also improve the relevancy of research by drawing in socio-economic skills to better demonstrate pathways to impact to justify research expenditure. SEGH has a unique platform to link such disciplines. SEGH also has the potential to facilitate members in working through Official Development Assistance programmes targeting the United Nations Strategic Development Goals (SDG), of which there are 17(http://segh.net/articles/geology_for_global_development_gfgd/ ), the majority of which SEGH members research most likely overlaps. Enormous sums of money are being spent to target the SDG’s, SEGH has a potential role to play in ensuring funds are spent wisely, researchers are connected for funding proposals for sustainable development opportunities.  We have seen a little more diversity of the use of technologies in research particularly at Brussels 2015, such as biomarker research. A future challenge will be for the transfer of technologies ‘fit for purpose’ for researchers in Lower Middle income Countries (LMIC) who often only lack technical capacity to engage equally in international research programmes, rather than samples disappearing to the so-called developed world for data outputs.

During your scientific career, how was your membership of SEGH benefited you personally? What do you are the advantages of early – mid – late career scientists joining SEGH?

I joined SEGH in 2002/03 and attended my first conference in Glasgow where I was buttonholed at the bar to see if I would be interested in joining the SEGH board as ‘new blood’. Both as a member attending meetings and as a board member I have made like-minded friends, many of whom in the early days provided some form of mentorship, linking me with appropriate researchers who were also trying to work in the gap between environment and health sciences. Some of these links progressed through to funded projects and publications, helping me to get my research career kick-started. Certainly having independent and outside research links via SEGH has helped my career at BGS, but has also enriched my understanding of inter-disciplinary research. I think this continues to be the case for mid and late career scientists, with SEGH providing a friendly environment to reinforce relationships and develop new links as scientific research questions and priorities evolve. I am probably in the mid-career phase and seeing students present research is also very rewarding, students and early career scientists are generally where the cutting edge research is taking place as they have the time to focus before other responsibilities start to soak up time. As already mentioned, as long as I have been involved, SEGH has placed emphasis on giving young and new scientists an opportunity to present their research. This is not always the case at other meetings and is an aspect of SEGH we should strive to protect.

By Dr Daniel Middleton

SEGH webmaster

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

  • Geophagy among East African Chimpanzees: consumed soils provide protection from plant secondary compounds and bioavailable iron 2019-12-01

    Abstract

    Geophagy, the intentional consumption of earth materials, has been recorded in humans and other animals. It has been hypothesized that geophagy is an adaptive behavior, and that clay minerals commonly found in eaten soil can provide protection from toxins and/or supplement micronutrients. To test these hypotheses, we monitored chimpanzee geophagy using camera traps in four permanent sites at the Budongo Forest Reserve, Uganda, from October 2015–October 2016. We also collected plants, and soil chimpanzees were observed eating. We analyzed 10 plant and 45 soil samples to characterize geophagic behavior and geophagic soil and determine (1) whether micronutrients are available from the soil under physiological conditions and if iron is bioavailable, (2) the concentration of phenolic compounds in plants, and (3) if consumed soils are able to adsorb these phenolics. Chimpanzees ate soil and drank clay-infused water containing 1:1 and 2:1 clay minerals and > 30% sand. Under physiological conditions, the soils released calcium, iron, and magnesium. In vitro Caco-2 experiments found that five times more iron was bioavailable from three of four soil samples found at the base of trees. Plant samples contained approximately 60 μg/mg gallic acid equivalent. Soil from one site contained 10 times more 2:1 clay minerals, which were better at removing phenolics present in their diet. We suggest that geophagy may provide bioavailable iron and protection from phenolics, which have increased in plants over the last 20 years. In summary, geophagy within the Sonso community is multifunctional and may be an important self-medicative behavior.

  • Accumulation of uranium and heavy metals in the soil–plant system in Xiazhuang uranium ore field, Guangdong Province, China 2019-12-01

    Abstract

    Plants that have grown for many years in the special environmental conditions prevailing in mining areas are naturally screened and show strong capacity to adapt to their environment. The present study investigated the enrichment characteristics of U and other heavy metals (As, Cu, Pb, Mn, Mo, Zn, Cd, Co, and Ni) in the soil–plant system in Xiazhuang uranium mine. Four dominant plants (Castanopsis carlesii, Rhus chinensis, Liriodendron chinense, and Sapium discolor) and soil samples were collected from the mined areas, unmined areas, and background areas away from the ore field. U, As, Cu, Pb, Mn, Mo, Zn, Cd, Co, and Ni concentrations were analyzed by ICP-MS. The results demonstrate that (1) The highest concentrations of U (4.1–206.9 mg/kg) and Pb (43.3–126.0 mg/kg) with the geoaccumulation index (Igeo) greater than 1 show that they are the main soil pollutants in the research area. (2) The biological accumulation coefficient (LBAC) values for Cd, Mn, and Cu are greater than zero in S. discolor, L. chinense, and C. carlesii and these three plants indicate that they can be used for remediation of the soil in the ore field. (3) R. chinensis inhibits the accumulation of heavy metals and shows sensitive pigment responses to the accumulation of U in the leaves. L. chinense has the strongest enrichment effect on heavy metals but exhibits weak biochemical responses under U stress. C. carlesii demonstrates strong adaptation to U and can maintain healthy pigment characteristics in case of high U enrichment. (4) S. discolor, L. chinense, C. carlesii and R. chinensis have strong tolerance to U toxicity and different biochemical responses.

  • Distribution, sources and health risk assessment of contaminations in water of urban park: A case study in Northeast China 2019-12-01

    Abstract

    This case study was performed to determine whether the pollutants in water of urban park could bring health risk to human engaging in water-related activities such as swimming and provide evidence demonstrating the critical need for strengthened recreational water resources management of urban park. TN, NH4+-N, TP, Cu, Mn, Zn, Se, Pb, As, Cd and Cr(VI) contents were determined to describe the spatial distribution of contaminations; sources apportionment with the method of correlation analysis, factor analysis and cluster analysis were followed by health risk assessment for swimmers of different age groups. The results reveal that element contents in all sites do not exceed Chinese standard for swimming area and European Commission standard for surface water; all detected elements except Cr(VI) have a tendency to accumulate in the location of lake crossing bridge; Mn and Zn are considered to have the same pollution source including geogenic and anthropogenic sources by multivariable analysis. Carcinogenic risks of different age groups descend in the same order with non-carcinogenic risks. Among all elements, Zn and Mn contribute the lowest non-carcinogenic risk (5.1940E-06) and the highest non-carcinogenic risk (7.9921E-04) through skin contact pathway, respectively. The total average personal risk for swimmers in swimming area is 1.9693E-03, and this site is not suitable for swimming. Overall, it is possible that swimmers are exposed to risk via the dermal route when carrying out water-related activities, it is recommended that necessary precautions and management should be taken in other similar locations around the world.