Abertay has two centres of environmental research, the Scottish Informatics Mathematics, Biology and Statistics Centre (SIMBIOS) and the Urban Water Technology Centre (UWTC). These groups are delivering a wide range of research which impact upon the natural, agricultural and urban environments.
Soil processes support all terrestrial life and provide irreplaceable ecosystem services. These services include agriculture, climate regulation, flood prevention, and the provision of fresh water. Despite their importance, there is great uncertainty as to how much longer we can expect soil services to meet increasing demands. Under the directorship of Professors Wilfred Otten and Jim Bown, SIMBIOS staff address these challenges using systems approaches to complex environmental and biological systems.
The SIMBIOS Centre is a leader in the use of X-ray CT to characterize soil non-destructively at spatial scales that are relevant for microorganisms, and Dr Simona Hapca uses statistical modelling approaches to unravel the complexity of this environment. Dr Ruth Falconer uses modelling and visualisation approaches to investigate the interactions amongst soil processes such as water flow and microbial community dynamics, and aims develop a predictive and integrated framework for fungal growth in heterogeneous soil environments. She has expertise in developing sophisticated interactive visualisations and more recently parallelised numerical models; both of these being achieved via low-level API’s such as Direct3D and Direct Compute (GPGPU programming). Adaptation of micro-organisms to changing environmental conditions is a major missing link in long term predictions of soil ecosystem functioning. Combining aspects of molecular microbiology, microbial ecology and evolution Dr Andrew Spiers aims to get a better understanding of how the physical and chemical environment determines microbial colonisation, activity and fitness.
Professor Philippe Baveye and co-workers of the Centre aim to analyze in detail how micro-scale soil dynamical processes need to be up-scaled to account for observed macroscopic behaviours. This research presents a number of significant challenges, for example, about how to efficiently and non-subjectively extract information about pore geometry from X-ray micro-tomography data without biasing the picture.
UWTC has a vibrant environmental research programme led by six key members of academic staff. Many of the themes have an underlying thread of investigating ways of improving the urban and natural environment both above and below ground.
Research aims to develop more sustainable technologies for drainage, with the goal of reducing the impact of stormwater flows on the environment. Professor Chris Jefferies leads the research into Sustainable Urban Drainage (SUDS) which is a key area of strength at Abertay. The concept of SUDS was identified as being the key means of addressing the problems of urban pollution. The principle of dealing with surface water runoff at source has now been taken to heart in the development and redevelopment of surface runoff systems, and as a result a wide range of SUDS systems have been installed in Scotland.
Dr Joe Akunna’s research explores complex microbial communities with the aim of developing new technologies for the reduction of environmental impacts or production of useful products from municipal and industrial products. He is an international expert on anaerobic digestion processes; and his current research focuses on modelling and remediation of contaminated sites. Research on different types of biomass under different conditions supports environmental improvements and the development of new energy technologies.
Environmental chemistry research led by Professor David Bremner investigates the use of highly efficient Activated Carbon Cloth as a potential adsorbing and oxidizing catalyst for phenolic wastewater, the acquisition of fingermarks from fabrics using vacuum metal deposition, and the use of nanoparticles for fingermark enhancement.
Dr David Blackwood (UWTC) jointly leads the SAVE research group with Dr Ruth Falconer (SIMBIOS), developing a Sustainability Assessment, Visualisation and Enhancement framework promoting an integrated and iterative approach to inclusive decision making for Sustainable Development. This involves developing a suite of tools: decision mapping to identify points of intervention, indicator identification and measurement approaches, appropriate mathematical and analytical tools and developing interactive simulation and visualisations that communicate complex multivariate information to diverse stakeholder groups. Recently the sustainability assessment and enhancement framework has been applied to urban regeneration projects for Dundee and Fife councils, sustainable coastal management, studying the effect of alternative water management strategies on the life cycle of phosphates in rivers and the influence of land management strategies on the sustainability of ecosystems (in conjunction with Edinburgh University).
Meanwhile, UWTC is running a European SF funded project ‘Industrial Eco-Partnerships’. The project concerns by the future energy requirements of small businesses, driven by environmental legislation.
The team is carrying out waste audits for local hotels and restaurants. It is also working with the Forestry Commission, with the farming industry, and with the construction industry on biomass mapping to support the conversion of waste timber into biofuel solutions.