Water plays a central role is many biogeochemical processes taking place in the critical zone as well as being of itself a resource that is predicted to have increasing demand:supply stresses in the coming decades. WRC researchers contribute to a number of cross-disciplinary projects and initiatives focussed on water as an agent of change or as a resource.
The structures, properties and stabilities of minerals and amorphous materials are studied in order to explain how and why particular structures develop, the conditions that are required and the mechanisms involved in their formation. The interactions between subsurface fluids containing toxic elements and minerals, at a molecular scale, are of particular interest.
The bioavailability, bioaccessibility and toxicity of many trace elements founds in the environment often depends critically on the nature of the chemical speciation of those elements in various geological and biological reservoirs. Tools for molecular environmental analysis provided by the Williamson Research Centre and collaborating institutions therefore underpin research into the controls on the hazards, exposure routes and health risks associated with chemicals in the environment..
By applying a wide range of high-end analytical techniques such as (pyrolysis) gas chromatography mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry we aim to better understand key Earth systems at a molecular level. Particular areas of interest include the effects of a warming climate on carbon cycling in the Eurasian Arctic region and UK upland environments, the role of organic substrates in the mobilization of other elements (such as As and Se) in aquifer systems and soils as well as fungi in the decomposition of macromolecular organic matter such as lignin and cellulose and the preservation of original organic materials in the fossil record (particularly in soft tissue material).
By combining the techniques of microbiology and molecular biology with physical, chemical and modelling approaches, we aim to identify the role that microorganisms play in key environmental processes. Particular areas of interest include the mechanisms and consequences of microbial metal reduction in the subsurface, the scalable production of functional bionanomaterials and the impact of microbial processes on the nuclear fuel cycle (from plant operation, through to decommissioning, bioremediation of contaminated land and geodisposal of radwaste).
Palaeontology research in the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences has been focused on applying new techniques to some very old problems. A multidisciplinary approach has yielded several new and fruitful avenues of research.
Microbial ecology underpins much of our cross-disciplinary research including projects ranging from the response of polar fungal communities to climate change, through to understanding the microbial controls on bulk and trace elements in natural and engineered environments. This latter work links to longstanding interests in the ecology and bioremediation of highly contaminated land and water. In all our studies we use traditional microbiological techniques combined with cutting edge genomic, post-genomic and imaging approaches.
The fundamental biogeochemical, geomicrobiological and mineralogical interactions of radionuclides in the environment are studied with application in management of the nuclear legacy from optimisation of ongoing operations, management of nuclear decommissioning and contaminated land and in nuclear waste management and disposal.