Applied Volcanology @ GW4


Project period: July – October 2017

GW4 community leads
University of Bristol: Dr Ryerson Christie, Dr Alison Rust, Professor Kathy Cashman
Cardiff University: Dr Wim Degruyter
University of Exeter: Dr James Hickey

Project overview

Reducing risks associated with volcanic hazards has been classified as an increasing international priority requiring urgent and interdisciplinary action in the recent United Nations Global Assessment
Report on Disaster Risk Reduction.

Three main strands of action were specified to combat this in an accompanying summary paper (Loughlin et al., 2015): (i) identifying risk areas and quantifying the hazard, (ii) strengthening local to national
coping capacity and improving mitigation measures, and (iii) strengthening national to international capacity and cooperation.

Across the GW4, we have the expertise and experience to tackle all three, and thus promote the welfare of people in DAC countries by improving their resilience to volcanic eruptions.

Volcanoes are also an important source of renewable energy and mineral resources. Magmasourced geothermal energy, in particular, has the potential to provide a 10-fold improvement on conventional geothermal energy in volcanically-active countries (Elders et al., 2014), and the industry is growing by 4-5% each year (Geothermal Energy Association).

Research, including scientists from the UoB, is currently underway in Ethiopia, and the results could be rolled out to numerous other DAC countries with volcanic regions to promote their economic development.
The interdisciplinary research opportunities we will address are two-fold, an exploration of: (i) risk reduction and societal resilience to environment change, and (ii) the provision of renewable energy
– both underpinned by applied and physical volcanology. We therefore reach two of the specified Grand Challenge areas. This challenge-led approach can not be solved by a single institution: we will
share resources, current work and expertise to explore and develop future projects where collaborative funding can be sought in response to upcoming calls, focusing on UN sustainable development goals and GCRF priorities. We will adopt an interdisciplinary approach as natural
disasters are inherently political events, and these challenges are not solely natural science related.

Global Challenges ‘Low Carbon Energy Access’ Hub


Project period: July – December 2017

GW4 community leads
University of Bath: Dr Philippe Blondel
University of Bristol: Dr Sam Williamson
Cardiff University: Dr Kersty Hobson
University of Exeter: Dr Philipp Thies

Project overview

The forthcoming RCUK GCRF Collective Fund call will invite applications for large-scale interdisciplinary research hubs. Our objective is to prepare an international team in the field of low-carbon energy and energy access, aligned with the ‘Grand Challenge’ of ‘Secure, Clean and Efficient Energy‘. The proposed hub will be GW4-based and co-produce research with ODA countries, supporting their capacity-building.

This will be achieved through three main activities:

  1. Workshop 1: Shaping the Hub. This workshop will bring together relevant, identified academic staff from GW4 and other invited universities from disciplines, including but not limited to: engineering, physical sciences, economics, law, anthropology, development studies, and human geography. It aims to further develop the Hub’s ambit, action plan, application team, and potential international partners.
  2. Visits to International Partners. These field visits, in 6 targeted ODA countries, will develop and/or build upon extant working relationships with relevant stakeholders.
  3. Workshop 2: Consolidating the Hub. This workshop will feedback from international visits to finalise the focus, aims, size, and work plan of the proposed Hub.

The exact timing of the Collective Fund call is not known, but we aim to have ready a comprehensive and coherent Hub application by the end of this project’s funding period.

GW4 Software-Intensive Research


Project period: September 2017 – December 2018

GW4 community leads
University of Bath: Professor James Davenport
University of Bristol: Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith
Cardiff University: Professor Peter Knowles
University of Exeter: Dr David Acreman

Project overview

GW4 have been awarded £3M of EPSRC capital funding to purchase Isambard, an innovative high-performance computer (HPC) for use by the GW4 universities, the Met Office (where the machine is housed) and the wider UK Community to explore innovative HPC, in particular the use of HPC based on UK-designed ARM processors rather than Intel processors, which power the overwhelming majority of HPCs currently. The EPSRC award funded the capital purchase of Isambard, while the project partners committed a modest level of operating costs to fund electricity costs and staff to support the machine (0.5 FTE for software support and 0.25 FTE for systems administration per GW4 partner).

The aim of this proposal is to fund the development of a GW4 community to leverage the Isambard opportunity, and turn it into a world-class Tier 2 HPC service focused on delivering novel HPC systems.  This grant would fund community building activities around the Isambard system, including networking activities, joint proposal writing workshops, and training for staff, both technical and academic. One expected outcome would be a proposal for a GW4 doctoral training programme for the next generation of HPC researchers and research software engineers.

Photonic Biomimetics


Project period: January 2017 – August 2017

GW4 community leads
University of Bath: Professor Richard Trask
University of Bristol: Dr Heather Whitney, Dr Martin Lopez-Garcia
Cardiff University: Dr Stephen Lynch
University of Exeter: Dr Jacopo Bertololi

Project overview

Photosynthesis is probably the most important photochemical process on the planet. Researchers have long investigated how a plant absorbs light to convert it to useful chemical energy, but this key process is still not fully understood. Some photosynthetic organisms may manipulate light even more efficiently than others, using intracellular photonic structures.

This project will exploit recent results showing that seaweed develop specialised natural “opals”, 3D closely packed oil-droplet clusters, that show a strong blue iridescence. The biosynthesis and function of these opals remains unclear, but we aim to demonstrate that they increase or regulate the light available for photosynthesis, and that the dynamic nature may be controlled chemically. Photonic structures are known to enhance light capture and are therefore of interest directly for more efficient energy generation through solar capture, both through artificial technologies, but also natural ones such as algal farms and enhanced crop production.


The GW4 Domestic Energy Consumption Group


Project period: July – November 2016

GW4 community leads
University of Bath: Dr Ian Walker
University of Bristol: Chris Preist
Cardiff University: Wouter Poortinga
University of Exeter: Aleksander Pavic

Project overview

Energy networks are scaled for a short window of peak demand in the early evening. This is costly for operators, whose infrastructure is essentially over specified most of the time. And there are serious environmental consequences: it is gas and coal power stations that ramp up to meet peak demand.

These issues could be addressed if domestic users shifted some high-consumption behaviours away from peak times. Time-varying prices are one possible mechanism to push consumers to do this, and these will imminently become feasible with national smart-meter rollouts.

However, trials of variable tariffs have so far seen only limited behaviour change. Notably, these trials have been small and the tariffs have been implemented without reference to end-user psychology – particularly the literature on how people (don’t) understand their own energy consumption.

Except for one study, non-financial incentives for time-shifting have not yet been explored and there is only one study on how time-varying information might be interpreted. At the policy level, we need research on whether variable tariffs and smart metering might introduce issues of energy justice and data privacy. Filling such knowledge gaps could provide a transformational shift in energy practice and policy.

Water Security Alliance


Project period: January 2017 – February 2018

GW4 community leads
University of Bath: Jan Hofman
University of Bristol: Thorsten Wagener
Cardiff University: Isabelle Durance
University of Exeter: Zoran Kapelan

Project overview

The Water Security Alliance is a large regional alliance of academics from the four GW4 institutions, together with stakeholders, with a common vision of addressing the impact of global change on water to benefit people and ecosystems.

Visit our website for more information: 

Water security means making sure that there is enough water of the right quality in the right place at the right time for people, farming, businesses and environment.

Due to an expanding population – and increasing social, economic and cultural activities that place pressure on our water resources – water security has been identified by the World Economic Forum as the biggest long-term danger facing the world over the next decade.

The Water Security Alliance fosters research excellence, shares infrastructure and builds long-term partnerships to tackle global water security challenges. Taken together, the multi-disciplinary expertise of our 160 researchers, the complementary state-of the art infrastructure in water science, as well as our combined stakeholder partnership portfolio, put the Water Security Alliance in a quite unique and competitive position.  As an Alliance we are the largest UK water research consortium and one of the largest worldwide.

The Incentives for Conflict and Cooperation

Initiator Fund

Project period: February – May 2016

GW4 Community Leads
University of Bath: Dr Peter Postl
University of Bristol: Dr Francesco Giovannoni
Cardiff University:
Professor Indrajit Ray
University of Exeter: Professor Rajiv Sarin

Project overview

Game theory is the ideal tool for the analysis of the underlying incentives for conflict or cooperation. It has a vast number of applications, from understanding the issues of adoption and diffusion of green technologies, to the structure of international coalitions, to the political constraints underlying economic inequality, to development economics. Our GW4 community aims to tackle both the methodological challenges in bringing game theory to bear on these issues and applying the lessons learned to relevant policy debates.

Reconceptualising Conflict and Peacebuilding: New Ideas and Actors in a Changing World

Initiator Fund

Project period: September 2015 – January 2016

GW4 community leads
University of Bath:
Dr Oliver Walton, Dr Althea Rivas
University of Bristol: Dr Ryerson Christie
Cardiff University: Dr Elisa Wynne-Hughes
University of Exeter: Dr John Heathershaw

Project overview

This project responds to evolving global challenges relating to insecurity, inequality and shifting global power relations. Peacebuilding is becoming increasingly central to global development policy, as demonstrated by its inclusion on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

The character of conflict has changed considerably over recent years. Key trends include the growing role played by rising powers in the field of conflict management and resolution; a shift in western responses to conflict, involving the privileging community resilience over western responsibility; and changes in how conflicts are represented to western publics via the media.

International development agencies are recognising this changing landscape but at the same time are operating at an increasing distance from local communities.

Mainstream approaches for responding to conflict have been heavily critiqued, leading to prominent calls for ‘hybrid’ approaches to peacebuilding seen to be more reflective of the concerns and interests of local actors. While this hybrid focus is welcome, the existing literature has continued to frame local and international approaches in opposition to each other and the general failure to satisfactorily conceptualise and theorise peace and peacebuilding from the bottom up remains a key gap.

Inter-disciplinary analysis is required to better understand the realities of peace and conflict in these dynamic environments, and the ways in which international narratives and conceptualisations of conflict interact with local dynamics and power relations.

The collaboration has five outcome objectives:

  1. Identify key areas for research development and comparative advantage of the GW4 institutions in the area of peacebuilding, conflict and development.
  2. Support a joint funding application to the AHRC/ESRC Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research under the Conflict Theme call.
  3. Explore possible South-West Doctoral Training Centre (SWDTC) collaboration.
  4. Identify the administrative, financial and intellectual resources needed for further GW4-wide projects in this area.
  5. Identify projects or publications, and possible funding bodies for sub-themes to take forward.

GW4 Centre of Excellence in the Built Environment

Initiator Fund

Project period: September 2015 – January 2016

GW4 community leads
University of Bath:
Dr Mike Lawrence, Professor Pete Walker
University of Bristol: Dr Wendel Sebastian
Cardiff University: Professor Chris Tweed, Professor Yacine Rezgui
University of Exeter:
Dr Matthew Eames

Project overview

The overarching need to reduce global carbon emissions was recognised by the Kyoto Protocol. This is an EU-Wide priority as expressed in its action on climate targets for 2030 (40% reduction in emissions) and 2050 (80-95% reduction in emissions). Construction is responsible for nearly 50% of UK Carbon emissions (BIS 2010) and research in this area therefore has the potential to make significant contribution to these targets.

We will focus on embodied carbon, predicted to account for more than 95% of total construction related emissions by the 2020s. CO2 emissions are generated at all stages of a building’s life cycle. The materials and energy involved in the construction of a building is embodied in it for the duration of its life. Energy is consumed in using the building, and more energy and materials are expended in refurbishment or demolition. Much research has concentrated on reducing in use emissions but less work has been done on embodied carbon.

The University of Bath’s Building Research Park (BRP) and the EPSRC-funded HIVE have been conceived as the host and platform for world leading research into low carbon construction materials and systems at full scale. The facilities on offer include:

  • 16 experimental buildings at the BRP.
  • Up to 8 single storey and 4 double storey building envelope panels.
  • Infrastructure to research the impact of flood and wind on building envelopes.
  • Remote access to data.
  • Full technical and administrative support to allow ‘plug and play’ research programmes to take place.

We aim to establish a GW4 Centre of Excellence in the Built Environment at the HIVE which will act as an incubator for research innovation projects drawing in both academics and industrialists.

Through the series of proposed activities, we aim to address this grand challenge in a holistic manner. We will bring together expertise in novel materials, digital technology, thermal modelling, composite structural performance and retrofit. This will create the potential for building envelopes and retrofit solutions that can make dramatic changes to the embodied carbon of both existing and new build. The synergy of the expertise will be realised in products which will be field tested at full scale at the Building Research Park – dramatically reducing the time taken to bring them to market.

Prototypical Iterations in the Built Environment

Accelerator Fund

This project has been developed from the Initiator funded Flexible Formwork community.

Project period: May to November 2015

GW4 community leads

University of Bath: Dr John Orr
University of Bristol: Dr Wendel Sebastian
Cardiff University: Dr Iulia Mihai
University of Exeter: Dr Prakash Kripakaran

Project overview


By 2050 all new structures will be prototypical iterations; harnessing big data to be self-resilient while minimising whole life environmental, economic, and social costs.

This community has the long-term vision to change the way that all structures are designed and operated within the built environment. This is crucial if we are to achieve global sustainability in the face of a growing population and increasing urbanisation.

All buildings use materials, and energy, to perform their functions. A decarbonised built environment will be founded on several challenges. Whilst these are interlinked challenges, research to date has typically considered them isolation. This community will take a systems approach to achieve the overarching aims of our vision statement.

We aim to strengthen collaborations across this community and develop three new research proposals. These proposals will share the vision that by 2050 every new structure will be designed and measured in terms of whole life cost – consuming minimal energy during construction and operation.