Department of Geography | Our research | The Science and Politics of Environment, Landscape and Climate Change
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The Science and Politics of Environment, Landscape and Climate Change

A medical humanities approach to understanding the cultural dimensions of traumatic human-wildlife encounters

  • Principal Investigator: Dr Simon Pooley
  • Funder: Welcome Trust ISSF grant, 2017-2019
  • Globally, where populations of wild animals survive outside protected areas, traumatic encounters with humans occur, resulting in both physical and psychological traumas and damage to livelihoods of poor rural people and the harming of wild animals. I aim to address critical shortfalls in current understanding and mitigation of the resulting conflicts through methods drawn from the humanities but so far neglected in the fields of conservation science and development (see Pooley et al., 2017).
  • Working in India and southern Africa, I will investigate how people understand, represent and communicate about traumatic encounters with wild animals, and the after effects, in particular places and cultural contexts. What kinds of narratives do victims, conservationists and scientists tell themselves and each other about such events? How do they communicate these (or fail to) across cultural and institutional borders?
  • To begin to answer these questions, I will use narrative analysis approaches, analysing the content and structure of narratives, and environmental history methods to contextualise the case study sites.

Development and application of a shoreline response model

  • This research was conducted by Dr Sue Brooks (October 2015 - August 2016). The research set out to improve the way we understand shoreline response to climate variability. There are many natural shoreline structures (gravel barriers, sand dunes, salt marshes) that protect vulnerable populations from the impact of the sea and the number of people living at or near the coast is growing rapidly.
  • Shoreline change is complex, being a function of the combination of still water levels (which become elevated during storms) and wave activity (which also increases during storms). Clearly sea level rise is critical in setting the baseline conditions for shoreline retreat and several models exist that include the effect of sea level rise on changing shorelines. Sue developed and applied such a model to the rapidly retreating cliffs of Suffolk that are moving landwards at rates of up to 7 metres per year and during large storms can retreat by up to 15 metres. This model has been used to generate shoreline positions for the future under different sea level rise scenarios based upon the UK Climate Impacts Programme.
  • The models available to date have a heavy focus on sea level rise but recent storm activity has shown that the generation of large waves is arguably more important. Large waves provide the energy to cause cliff base notching and subsequent collapse, and have a particularly significant impact on the softer sand dune barriers that protect valuable areas of wetland and inhabited spaces. This research therefore seeks to extend the shoreline response model to include both sea level rise and wave activity so their combined effect can be better understood. Although in the last IPCC assessment report there is considerable uncertainty over how storminess will change in the future, we do see phases of higher and lower storm magnitude and frequency which might be linked to the North Atlantic Oscillation. This project set out to provide valuable insight into these effects which will be of benefit to societies and habitats in areas close to the coast, through early warning and evacuation planning. The Leverhulme Trust is gratefully acknowledged for funding this research.

Radiocarbon dating of macrofossil seeds

  • Radiocarbon dating is a method used by geologists and archaeologists to determine how old organic material is, based on the level of radioactive carbon that remains in the material. It can be used to accurately date materials such as plants, seeds, shells and bones back to 25,000 years ago. Material between 25,000 and 50,000 years old is harder to date because by this time the level of radioactive carbon remaining within the material is low and it is easy to contaminate samples. An overview of Dr Becky Briant's research is detailed below.
  • "I work on how rivers respond to climate change over really long timescales – up to half a million years. I have approached this in two main ways. Firstly, I have tried to improve how well we can estimate the age of ancient river sediments by using the most up to date versions of techniques and applying them to new, more challenging geological settings. An example of this is my use of optically-stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating to generate the longest comprehensively dated sequence of river terrace deposits in Europe (Briant et al., 2006) I have also used multiple dating techniques on the same deposits and in doing so, have shown clearly that all radiocarbon dates on seeds older than 30,000 years should be treated with caution (Briant and Bateman, 2009). This is a problem because 30-60,000 years ago, we saw huge environmental and archaeological changes which we can often only date using the radiocarbon technique. I am now working on a Research Council funded project to improve chemical pretreatments for seeds of this age, which will greatly improve our understanding of this time period."
  • Read more about the project.