Applied Geosciences Research and Enterprise Group

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The Applied Geosciences research and enterprise group studies fundamental geological and geomorphological processes and their application to environmental and resource management. Our areas of expertise include marine and terrestrial geomorphology, hydrology and hydrogeology, sedimentology, geochemistry of geological materials and artefacts, mineralogy and mineral deposit formation, and sourcing of metals required for sustainable development and a low-carbon economy.

The group’s pure and applied research is aligned closely to industrial and business needs, with funding from a range of sources including research councils (particularly the Natural Environment Research Council), the European Union (particularly INTERREG), industry (including ExxonMobil, Schlumberger and BHP), NGOs such as the Environment Agency, local authorities and charitable organisations. Members of the group are also active participants in the Centre for Aquatic Environments, the Ecosystems, Remote Sensing and Environmental Management REG, and the Past Human and Environmental Dynamics (PHED) REG. Many members are part of the Centre for Earth Observation Science, a new CORE launched in April 2021.

Research within the group is inter-disciplinary and can be represented by two themes:

• Past and present sediment dynamics and environmental change

• Geosphere to biosphere metal cycling

 

Past and present sediment dynamics and environmental change

Research within this theme focuses upon understanding the dynamics and sedimentology of fluvial, estuarine, and coastal and deep marine environments and applying this understanding to environmental and natural resource management. Our research spans a range of scales, including work in the Andes and in some of the largest rivers and estuaries in the world.

Current projects include quantifying sediment transport and the morphological evolution of sand-bed rivers, examining the impact of flood events on river stability, modelling global flood risk, isolating the impacts of dam building in the Amazon River Basin, and assessing the human health implications of microplastic transmission via rivers. Our research encompasses large-scale mapping of fluvial geomorphology using satellite imagery to study interactions between salt tectonics and fluvial sedimentation, and between mountain uplift rates, denudation and supergene metal enrichment.

Within the group we have research expertise on sediment processes and ecology within coastal environments, primarily mangroves, salt marshes, coastal meadows and seagrasses. This work utilises physical and chemical analyses of sediments, combined with dGPS, LiDAR and multispectral remotely sensed data, that are used to characterize geomorphology and plant communities to model impacts of climate change on carbon sequestration within coastal wetlands. Another theme is researching how submarine landslides originate and develop, and using the marine offshore record to reconstruct the retreat history of the last global glaciation.

The majority of our research has real-world application. It is, for example, being used in the design of coastal managed retreat sites and the characterisation of river and submarine flow regimes for improving prediction of flood events and submarine landslide tsunamis.

 

Geosphere to biosphere metal cycling

A range of metals that are vital to high technology and renewable energy generation are classified as ‘critical’ for the UK and EU economies because of potential risks to their supply as raw materials, and the potential economic impact of supply failure. Understanding the behaviour of specific metallic elements in geological, environmental and biological systems is a basic underpinning of modern society and the way in which we deal with our environmental impact. Metals and other mined materials that are used to meet societal needs are derived from accumulations formed by geological processes, and are dispersed to the environment via atmospheric, aquatic and biological processes. Research strives to mitigate the environmental impact of extraction, to enhance recovery and contribute to sustainable development. Much of the work undertaken by the group is strongly applied in nature, ranging from ensuring the environmentally acceptable supply of Rare Earth Elements (REE) necessary for low carbon energy production, to the development of ‘smart’ mining methods that increase efficiency and reduce waste.

This theme combines researchers with interests in conventional mineral deposit formation, critical metal deposits, trace element behaviour in geological processes, sediment biogeochemistry, corrosion of man-made infrastructure, and remediation of contaminated land and atmospheric particulates. It is directly supported by analytical facilities for portable and laboratory X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, X-ray diffraction, ICP-MS and ICP-OES analysis, ion chromatography and gamma spectrometry. Examples of current work include investigations into the formation of rare earth element (REE) mineral resources, spectroscopic investigations of minerals used in CO2 sequestration, and developing methods to characterize and predict corrosion damage to steel infrastructure at coastal locations.

In addition to strongly applied research, members of the REG also undertake ‘pure’ research to understand Earth’s evolution as a planet and its ancient environments. The geochemical compositions of ancient sediments and lavas provide proxies for deciphering processes that operated during Earth’s long history, such as the driving mechanisms for the oxygenation of Earth’s atmosphere and ocean in the Precambrian. These processes were instrumental in forming distinctive mineral deposits, such as sediment-hosted copper and barite ores in the late Precambrian which are currently researched by REG members and their students.

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