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School of Geography

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'It doesn’t make sense to be the soccer country if there is no health or education.' Photo: F. Venturini

Why is the country of football screaming “FIFA Go Home”?

Researchers from the School of Geography and the Institute for Transport Studies are currently in Rio de Janeiro looking at why and how thousands of Brazilians, after one year in the streets, are still mobilising against the biggest sports event of the year.

Despite being considered a country with huge growth and development potential, Brazil is still a territory of dramatic inequalities and injustices.

Since June 2013 a huge popular movement has swept through the country: It started from small protests against the increase in bus fares and quickly reached a peak of millions in the streets who oppose the current capitalist model of development that has climaxed in the hosting of mega events for most cities in Brazil. The country is now hosting the FIFA World Cup and Rio de Janeiro will host the Olympic Games in 2016.

While huge new infrastructures are being built to accommodate athletes and tourists, thousands of families are facing evictions due to these mega events, and billions of public money is poured into luxury stadiums and hotels. All this happens in a country that still lacks standard health and education facilities and in which millions of people live in precarious conditions in slums, while natural resources are heavily exploited.

Federico Venturini and Ersilia Verlinghieri, both doctoral students from the Faculty of Environment, are collecting testimonies for a documentary, working together with the Grupo Popular Pesquisa em Ação, a people's research collective from Rio de Janeiro.

This documentary will focus on the area close to the famous Maracanã stadium. This area where thousands of football fans are having a good time, is also a space of struggles and clearly represents the high price paid by the poorest to host these events. Here, hundreds of families are facing eviction to build a car-park, an Indigenous University is being replaced by a shopping mall and thousands of young people who are protesting weekly against the World Cup are being violently repressed by the police.

Maracanã, originally an indigenous name of a parrot which inhabited the region, has become the icon of the uneven development that Brazil is experiencing and of the struggles that are crossing it.

This research is part of a wider initiative on Contested Cities, a network of researchers in the UK, Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Chile looking at changes in our cities.

Faculty members amongst world’s most highly cited scientists

Oliver Phillips, Professor in the School of Geography, Dr Simon Lewis, Reader in Global Change Science, and Ken Carslaw, Professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science, and have been named 2014 Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers.

They have earned the distinction by being amongst those scientists writing the greatest numbers of reports officially designated as Highly Cited Papers – those ranking among the top 1% most cited for their subject field and year.  Within their category, these individuals represent less than one-half of one percent of all publishing researchers, making them some of the world’s leading experts in their field.

Oliver’s work on tropical forests meanwhile gives him a listing in the Environment/Ecology category with just twelve other UK researchers, as well as those from Europe, the USA, South Africa and Australia. 

Simon, also listed in the Environment/Ecology category, is a plant ecologist whose work centres on tropics and global environmental change and how humans are changing the Earth as a system.  Simon holds the position of Reader at both the University of Leeds and at University College London.

Ken is one of only ten Highly Cited Researchers in the Geosciences in the UK, alongside scientists from Europe, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, China and the USA.

As members of the Highly Cited Researcher list, Oliver, Simon and Ken are included in the Thomson Reuters 2014 list of The World's Most Influential Scientific Minds. Their inclusion on the list demonstrates the exceptional impact they are having in their chosen research areas.

You can read more about Oliver’s work here and about Simon’s work here.

Research on the Khumbu Glacier: Scientists study melting Himalayan glaciers

Exactly ten years after he first visited the region, Duncan Quincey returned to Mount Everest to study the Khumbu Glacier, one of the most iconic in the Himalayan region.

Duncan Quincey was installing temperature probes and a hydrological station to measure the effect surface debris has on ice-melt, along with Ann Rowan (British Geological Survey), and Tristram Irvine-Fynn and Morgan Gibson (both Aberystwyth University).

“What was most striking about the glacier was the amount of melt that has occurred just below Everest Base Camp since I was last there” Duncan explained. “We know that many of these glaciers experience maximum melt several kilometres from their termini because the surface debris is much thinner there – these can rapidly become low-points on the glacier surface and a focus for meltwater accumulation”.

In the case of the Khumbu Glacier, much of the ice is also stagnant, meaning there is little opportunity for meltwater to escape. The long-term concern, therefore, is that the glacier will develop a large lake on its surface, as has happened on several nearby glaciers. But in the short-term, the team is most interested in how long, and at what rate, the glacier will supply meltwater to downstream areas.

Previous research has suggested that with a warming climate, debris-covered glacier melt will initially increase, before decreasing as the resource depletes. Accurately predicting meltwater runoff is challenging, however, because as the glacier degrades it becomes much more adept at storing water in surface pits and subsurface cavities.

Two of the team will return to the glacier in November to retrieve their equipment, and then will start the long job of analysing the temperature and hydrological measurements collected during the critical monsoon period. These results will feed directly into glacier modelling work to predict future recession of the glacier ice, and ultimately forecast future river flows with greater accuracy than has previously been possible.

This expedition was supported by a Royal Society research grant.

Saving trees in tropics could cut emissions by a fifth, study shows

Reducing deforestation in the tropics would significantly cut the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere – by as much as one-fifth – research shows.

In the first study of its kind, scientists have calculated the amount of carbon absorbed by the world’s tropical forests and the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions created by loss of trees, as a result of human activity.

Scientists from the Universities of Leeds and Edinburgh analysed data from multiple previous studies, including satellite studies, to determine the amount of carbon absorbed and emitted by the world’s tropical forests in South and Central America, equatorial Africa and Asia.

“Forest census data from an Amazon-wide network of forest plots, maintained by the Universities of Leeds and Oxford, played a critical part in the analysis” said Professor Emanuel Gloor, a co-author of the study from the School of Geography at the University of Leeds.

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Peat bog as big as England found in the Congo

Source: The Guardian, David Smith, Africa Correspondent

For peat's sake, a British scientist trekked for three weeks through perilous jungle swamps in one of the most far-flung corners of Africa. His reward? A peat bog the size of England.

But while some explorers might have found this anti-climactic, for Simon Lewis (School of Geography, University of Leeds) it was like striking gold. His discovery is being hailed by experts as a breakthrough in unlocking secrets of the Congo basin and climate change.

The monster swamp his expedition found in Congo-Brazzaville is thought to contain billions of tonnes of peat dating back 10,000 years. Studies of this carbon-rich material could reveal how the environment has changed over millennia in central Africa – information that has remained largely shrouded in mystery due to political instability and the geographical remoteness.

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Tackling labour exploitation among refugees and asylum seekers

Hannah Lewis, Lou Waite and Stu Hodkinson recently held three workshops in Leeds, Manchester and London as part of their ESRC Knowledge Exchange grant entitled ‘Tackling labour exploitation among refugees and asylum seekers’.

The workshops were aimed at any organisation, campaign group or individual working with refugees and asylum seekers at risk of labour exploitation. They were also designed to launch the Guide, posters and postcards that we have been producing throughout the project – these can be seen here http://forcedlabourasylum.org.uk/.

The response to the workshops was overwhelming, and we had over 120 people attending from a range of migrant and refugee organisations, statutory providers, unions and employment rights networks, and anti-trafficking organisations. The third workshop in London ended with our final Platform meeting to discuss the future for tackling labour exploitation among asylum seekers and refugees in the UK, as we hope this project will have an ‘impact life’ far beyond the end of grant date!

For more information about how you can get involved visit our platform

Super-charged tropical trees: Borneo’s productive trees vitally important for global carbon cycling

A team of scientists including Professor Oliver Phillips, has found that the woody growth of forests in north Borneo is half as great again as the most productive forests of north-west Amazonia.

Whilst regional variation in wood production rates has been suspected, this research is the first to use identical methods in Amazonia and Borneo to measure properties of both the forests and their soils, making robust comparisons among different continents possible for the first time.

The study was led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the University of Leeds, and examines differences in above-ground wood production (one component of the total uptake of carbon by plants) which is critically important in the global cycling of carbon.

They found that trees are taller for a given diameter in Southeast Asia compared with South America, meaning they gain more biomass per unit of diameter growth, and this in part explains the differences observed.

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