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School of Geography

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Super high-resolution survey in Greenland

Duncan Quincey, Jonathan Carrivick and Joe Mallalieu have been using an exciting new surveying technique to improve understanding of glacial flooding in Greenland.

Dr Duncan Quincey, Dr Jonathan Carrivick and Joseph Mallalieu (all School of Geography) used the emerging technique of ‘structure-from-motion with multi-view stereo’ (SfM-MVS) to analyse bedrock parts of a river channel at an unprecedented resolution.

“Worldwide, glacier margins are retreating, loss from glaciers is increasing and the consequent meltwater often forms temporarily ‘ponded’ in glacier lakes. Many of these lakes are unstable and can drain rapidly producing outburst floods,” explains Dr Carrivick. 

“Glacier outburst floods can cause loss of life, displacement of populations and damage to infrastructure, but our understanding of them is limited, due to their suddenness and short-lived nature and also the power of the flow which makes direct measurements extremely difficult. Flows are not easy to understand because they cause rapid landscape change, causing erosion and routing through complex channels. They frequently accelerate and decelerate, with rapid and abrupt changes in energy and capability to erode, transport and deposit sediment. So, new methods of surveying are needed to identify sources of sediment from outburst floods and the changes that take place between events.”

SfM uses novel digital photogrammetric and computer vision methods for simultaneously reconstructing camera pose and 3D feature geometry using multiple, overlapping digital photographs. It produces super high-resolution topographic models to improve flood modelling and also provides baseline data to compare future surveys against, allowing quantification of bedrock erosion and sediment redistribution.

 “This project collected the imagery using a combined ground-based and airborne approach,” explains Dr Carrivick. “Surveyors walked on the river banks, getting hand-held camera images at each new perspective, producing around 300 images for each site. Additionally, a quadcopter took multiple aerial photographs of the bedrock gorges, and was invaluable for speed of survey and for imaging inaccessible and exceptionally complex areas. The resulting topographic datasets have centimetre-decimetre resolution, which far surpasses any previous elevation models of the site.”

The team is now analysing the multi-scale data with a view to improving models of flood routing and propagation – for hazard analysis via information on time to inundation and hydraulics – and improving understanding of rapid bedrock erosion.The research was funded by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, administered by the Royal Geographical Society.

Microscopic ‘Saturn of the Moors’ discovered

A species of alga that resembles the planet Saturn has been discovered for the first time in the British Isles.

The algal species, which is classified as 'Saturnella saturnus', was discovered by PhD student Jeannie Beadle from the School of Geography at the University of Leeds. Her research looks at pools of water created by peatland restoration measures in the Pennines, such as drain-blocking, with this particular find coming from Moor House-Upper Teesdale Nature Reserve in March 2014.

“I’m really pleased to have shown that drain-blocking is genuinely helping biodiversity. It’s evidence like this which helps land managers to justify the money spent on peatland restoration measures,” said Beadle.

After World War II, many peatlands in the UK were drained using shallow ditches with the aim of drying out the peat to make it more suitable for forestry and land grazing animals. However, the process has since been shown to be largely ineffective and also damaging to peatland ecosystems.

The blocking of drainage ditches began in the 1980s in an attempt to restore the peatlands to their former boggy state, with most of the pools being created in the last decade or so, when restoration programmes became more widespread.

Beadle concludes: “As well as looking at algae, I’ve sampled about 150 artificial pools for macroinvertebrates, which I’m currently sorting and identifying, so there may be further interesting discoveries later this year. However, I doubt any will be as beautiful as this Saturn of the Moors.”

Beadle’s research is funded by a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) CASE partnership with the RSPB.

Further information
Jeannie Beadle is available for interview. Please contact Sarah Reed, Press Officer, University of Leeds, on 0113 34 34196 or email s.j.reed(at)

'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.

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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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.

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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