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Climate change threatens precious UK ecosystem

An entire ecosystem is at risk from the effects of climate change on the UK’s blanket bogs, scientists at the University of Leeds have warned.

These wetland habitats provide important feeding and nesting grounds for bird species including the dunlin, red grouse and golden plover. Blanket bogs are also the source of most of our drinking water and vital carbon stores.

The scientists warn that the effects of climate change, such as altered rainfall patterns and summer droughts, could drastically affect bog hydrology, which in turn could affect insect and bird populations.

Study co-author Professor Joseph Holden is Director of water@leeds, one of the largest interdisciplinary centres for water research in the world. He said: “Our study shows the interconnectedness of our precious upland peatlands in the UK.

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Sir Peter Hendy awarded an honorary degree for services to transport

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Launch of the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics

A new institute set up to help public and private sector organisations meet the challenges and opportunities of the Big Data revolution opens its doors today.

The Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA) offers state-of-the-art facilities in data analytics and will partner with researchers and organisations to help them make the most of the rapidly growing fields of consumer and medical data analysis.

Professor Mark Birkin, Director of LIDA, explained more about today’s one-day event, the LIDA Research Forum. He said: “Today is all about making sure researchers and organisations know about LIDA and the expertise, support and resources we can offer. 

“Using large and complex data sets presents huge challenges for organisations. They may be combining different data with their own sales data, analysing and integrating data from various sources, or simply thinking about diverse data sets that can be pulled together to reveal new insights.

“With all these challenges, there is a constant need for new techniques and tools, and to ensure organisations have the right data analytics capabilities. That’s where LIDA comes in – we’re a trusted partner that has developed world-class facilities under one roof, so we’ve raised the bar in standards of secure data storage, access and analysis.”

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New e book launched by Jon Lovett: When Worlds Collide

Making decisions about managing  natural resources can be difficult; this interactive book explores why fairness needs to be part of policy. Policies about managing nature should be economically and environmentally sound, but they also need to be formulated with social fairness if they are to be sustainable. Inevitably, when there are so many different values, conflicts occur and worlds collide.

This book examines a number of basic principles and applies them to two case studies. These basic principles can be applied in many different contexts and the case studies used in this book are drawn from all over the world. There are no easy answers to many questions about the management of nature, but an understanding of the principles we discuss and learning how to apply them will help you make better decisions.

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Vanishing glaciers of Everest

‘Most of the glaciers on Everest are covered in debris,’ says Duncan Quincey, a glaciologist at the School of Geography, University of Leeds. ‘This layer of rock and detritus, which at the terminus can be the height of a room, can affect how the glaciers grow and retreat.’

Since 2003, a collaboration of researchers from the Universities of Aberystwyth, Sheffield and Hertfordshire have been improving data about debris-covered glaciers in the Himalayas. Debris-free (clean ice) glaciers grow forwards and melt backwards seasonally and are generally seeing a net retreat as the climate warms up. ‘Debris glaciers, on the other hand,’ says Quincey, ‘go up and down. But not a lot is known about how fast they will recede as the climate changes.’

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Why Carbon Is the Best Marker for the New Human Epoch

Fire ranks among humanity's oldest and most powerful tools. Now the residue from all the oil and coal burned to power modern civilization may provide the best marker for the start of a new geologic epoch that highlights Homo sapiens’s world-changing impact, known as the Anthropocene, or "new age of humans."

"We're actually changing and continuing to change how the Earth system functions and leaving markers that could still be found in a million years time," says Earth scientist Karen Bacon of the School of Geography, University of Leeds in England. "That's quite incredible to think about."

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Volcanic ash found in Yorkshire could help to improve flight safety forecasts

Predictions of where planes can safely fly following volcanic eruptions could be improved, thanks to fresh discoveries about ash clouds.

To study the size of ash grains and how far they can travel, scientists at the Met Office and the Universities of Leeds, Edinburgh and Iceland, compared grains recovered from recent Icelandic eruptions – including samples recovered in Yorkshire –  with satellite measurements of ash clouds.

Their findings, published today in Atmospheric Measurement Techniques, will help to improve methods of mapping ash concentration in order to identify zones where it is safe to fly during future eruptions.  Hundreds of flights were cancelled in 2010 and 2011 following volcanic activity in Iceland because of the danger that volcanic ash posed to aircraft and their engines.

In the new study, researchers studied volcanic ash recovered in the UK from the recent Eyjafjallajökull and Grímsvötn eruptions, as well as prehistoric samples from peat bogs in Yorkshire, Scotland and Ireland. Another sample, from an 1875 eruption, had been in a museum for 140 years.  The researchers found that grains were much larger than what had been typically estimated by satellite measurements of ash clouds – even moderately-sized eruptions could disperse large grains as far as the UK.

Study co-author Dr Graeme Swindles, from the School of Geography at the University of Leeds, said: “Microscopic volcanic ash layers preserved in Yorkshire peat bogs and mud at the bottom of lakes, far from volcanoes, are providing much needed information on the characteristics of ash clouds. These records show us that Europe was hit by volcanic ash clouds very frequently in the past.”

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Amazon: 1% of tree species store 50% of region's carbon

About 1% of all the tree species in the Amazon account for half of the carbon locked in the vast South American rainforest, a study has estimated.Although the region is home to an estimated 16,000 tree species, researchers found that just 182 species dominated the carbon storage process. Amazonia is vital to the Earth's carbon cycle, storing more of the element than any other terrestrial ecosystem. The findings appear in the journal Nature Communications.

"Considering that the Amazon is massively important for the global carbon cycle and stores so much of the planet's biomass, finding out just how that carbon is stored and produced is very important if we want to understand what might happen in the future in different environmental conditions," explained co-author Sophie Fauset from the School of Geography, University of Leeds.

The tropical forest covers an estimated 5.3 million sq km and holds 17% of the global terrestrial vegetation carbon stock.The findings build on a study published in Science in October 2013 that found that despite being home to an estimated 390 billion trees - made up by 16,000 species - just 227 "hyperdominant" species accounted for half of Amazonia's total trees.

Dr Fauset observed: "If you then take abundance into account and then analyse the data again, then maximum size is very important as well. Trees that are able to reach a large size contribute more to the carbon cycle." As trees grow larger, they develop more biomass, which contains carbon. So the larger the tree, the greater quantity of carbon locked within its wood. As trees are long-lived organisms, this means the carbon is removed from the atmosphere for decades, if not centuries.

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Fairytale frog: London Zoo breeds bizarre amphibian for the first time thanks to geography PhD student,Thomas Doherty-Bone

Article courtesy of The Guardian

In a world first, the Zoological Society of London hatches and rears Lake Oku clawed frogs as an insurance population against extinction.

It could be the opening of a children’s story: in a great forest on a mountaintop lies a tiny lake, and in that tiny lake lives a tiny frog. But this isn’t just any frog. No, this frog is different. Very, very different. It has big webbed feet, no tongue at all, and (here’s where we leave typical children’s book territory) a whole bunch of chromosomes. The vast majority of the world’s animals, including humans, have two sets of chromosomes. But the Lake Oku clawed frog has twelve sets, which is a high number even for chromosome abundant organisms like plants.

The Lake Oku clawed frog is “[one] of the most genetically unusual creatures in the world,” said Carly Waterman, the Programme Manager for the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) EDGE group

The chromosome-happy frog is a member of an ancient lineage of amphibians known as pipids, which are only represented today by about 30 species that lack tongues and stick solely to water. Pipids first split off from other frogs 130 million years ago during the age of dinosaurs, but still some 60 million years before Tyrannosaurs Rex came on the scene. Scientists think the frog attained so many chromosomes through hybridising with similar species over millions of years.

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