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Earth Surface Processes

Our multidisciplinary research group attempts to understand a future world with a warmer climate and different land uses.

Earth's surface processes and landforms are the interface between the geologic, biologic, hydrologic, atmospheric and human processes that drive environmental change.

Our work contributes to improved understanding of our future world, by investigating the impacts of changing land use, land management and climate.

We combine Earth observation data with field and laboratory measurements to improve numerical modelling of contemporary processes and landforms as the analogue to reconstruct past and predict future landscapes under a changing climate.

Environmental change in drylands

The world’s drylands cover about half of the Earth’s land surface, are getting hotter, drier and expanding in size. Drylands are home to some of the most vulnerable developing countries which are projected to experience 78% of the global dryland expansion and 50% of human population growth by 2100. Concurrently, the risks of climate change to dryland agriculture, biodiversity, and livelihoods are vast.

We are working on Drought Resilience in East African Dryland Regions (DRIER), the translation of climate information into multilevel decision support for social adaptation, policy development and resilience to water scarcity (Down2Earth) and groundwater recharge processes, quantification and sensitivities to environmental change.

We are investigating the triggers, mechanisms and changing interactions between drought, fire, vegetation cover and dust emission and their implications for the carbon, water, energy and dust cycles. In addition to the expansion of Earth’s drylands, we are investigating the processes occurring at the ocean-land interface that are a direct result of a changing climate are also important to understand in situ in order to derive accurate projections.

Near-Surface processes, risks, and hazards

Our work seeks to develop a stronger understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological controls on near-surface processes. We integrate process insights across a wide range of environments from mountains to coasts. Applications of near-surface process modelling and observation allow us to constrain hazards, particularly rare, large earthquakes and storms, and how these may change under differing climates and land uses.

We work across disciplines with social scientists and ecologists to explain the relationships between hazard and vulnerability that control the risks associated with near surface processes. For example, our work is contributing to societies transitioning to carbon neutrality and tackling land degradation estimated to currently affect >25% of the global land area costing nearly $66 billion per year. We are exploring sediment, soil (organic carbon; OC) and nutrient redistribution across scales. We are contributing to understanding the fate of SOC and the role of soil erosion in atmospheric CO2 and interactions between land use and changing nutrient emissions (NOx, ammonia). Whether changing dust emission is changing net heating / cooling of Earth is being explored via changing drought, fire, vegetation cover and wind speeds.

Monitoring, measurement and modelling

We combine Earth Observation (monitoring) data with field and laboratory measurements to improve numerical modelling across spatio-temporal scales of Earth’s surface processes and landforms. For example, we use this approach for nearshore hydrodynamics and beach morphology with airborne, satellite and camera imagery, and monitoring harder rock coastal cliff-top ground motions, and erosion in situ under extreme wave conditions to understand nearshore coastal cliff erosion. We use novel ground-based sampling and geostatistical analyses including stochastic simulation to model spatio-temporal variation of environmental properties e.g., rainfall.

We work with regional stakeholders on early detection and classification of fires in the Amazon region to preserve tropical forests. Our new momentum drag partition is being tested using the Google Earth Engine (daily, 500 m) to improve global dust emission in forecasting systems in the USA and Australia and evapotranspiration dynamics for modifying parameterisation of land surface-atmosphere interactions in Earth System Models.

We use field based and modelled data in both temperate and polar environments under extreme forcing conditions to determine how increased wave energy and sea levels influence the changing coastline/landscapes

Selected publications

Funding

  • Singer, M. DOWN2EARTH: Translation of climate information into land-based climate services for social adaptation, policy development, and overall resilience to water scarcity in East African drylands. European Union’s Horizon 2020 Program,€ 6.645m.
  • Cuthbert, M. O. Groundwater recharge in global drylands: processes, quantification & sensitivities to environmental change. NERC NE/P017819/1. 2017-2022, £717k.
  • Chappell, A. Aeolian dust responses to regional ecosystem change (with Jornada Experimental Range, USDA / New Mexico State University) NSF-NERC, 2019-2022. £350k
  • Earlie, C. Wave induced microseismic ground and glacier motions in polar environments, NPI Ny Ålesund Research Station, Svalbard. The Royal Society, 2019-2022, £20k.
  • Hales, T. C. Resilience to Earthquake-induced Landslide Hazard in China (REACH). NERC Directed Programme. NE/N012240/1. 2015, £500k.
  • Andela, N. Tropical savannas in transition: Tracking global savanna-fire interactions with ICESat-2. NASA Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Science (ROSES), 2020-2023, $590 k.

Selected publications

Academic staff

Dr Niels Andela

Dr Niels Andela

Lecturer in Remote Sensing

Email
andelan@cardiff.ac.uk
Professor Adrian Chappell

Professor Adrian Chappell

Professor in Climate Change Impacts

Email
chappella2@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 0642
Dr Mark Cuthbert

Dr Mark Cuthbert

Principal Research Fellow and Lecturer

Email
cuthbertm2@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 4051
Dr Claire Earlie

Dr Claire Earlie

Lecturer in Coastal Processes

Email
earliec@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 5563
Dr T.C. Hales

Dr T.C. Hales

Director, Sustainable Places Research Institute and Reader

Email
halest@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 4329
Dr Michael Singer

Dr Michael Singer

Reader
Deputy Director of the Water Research Institute

Email
singerm2@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 6257
Dr Diana Contreras Mojica

Dr Diana Contreras Mojica

Lecturer in Geospatial Sciences

Email
contrerasmojicad@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 029208 74333

Postgraduate students

Associated staff

Dr Tiago Alves

Dr Tiago Alves

Reader

Email
alvest@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 6754
Dr Rhoda Ballinger

Dr Rhoda Ballinger

Reader

Email
ballingerrc@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 6671
Dr Samantha Buzzard

Dr Samantha Buzzard

Lecturer in Climate Science

Email
buzzards@cardiff.ac.uk
Professor Thomas Blenkinsop

Professor Thomas Blenkinsop

Professor in Earth Science

Email
blenkinsopt@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 0232
Dr Marie Ekström

Dr Marie Ekström

Lecturer in Climate Risk and Resilience

Email
ekstromm@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44(0) 29 2068 8788
Dr Ake Fagereng

Dr Ake Fagereng

Reader

Email
fagerenga@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 0760
Shasta Marrero

Shasta Marrero

Lecturer in Environmental and Physical Geography

Email
marreros@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 4579
Dr Henrik Sass

Dr Henrik Sass

Senior Lecturer

Email
sassh@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 6001
Dr Sindia Sosdian

Dr Sindia Sosdian

Senior Lecturer

Email
sosdians@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 4330

Air pollution and geoenvironmental laboratory

Air pollution

  • bespoke, mobile, high-volume air vacuum pump, 1,100 liters/minute
  • tiered foam impaction head, over 10micron, 10-2.5 micron, 2.5-1.0 micron, under 1 micron particles
  • three Model 3785 Condensation Particle Counters, for ambient air pollution monitoring
  • MicrodustPro handheld dust monitor
  • TSI air pollution monitor
  • nine 10 litres/minute vacuum air pumps
  • bespoke dry dust fine particles separator
  • preparation bench for SEM, XRD and ICP-MS samples.

Geoenvironmental

  • 4” submersible borehole pump with control panel and petrol generator
  • borehole bailers, slugs and downhole loggers
  • Heidolph leachate tumbler
  • Herdeus sample drying oven
  • double-distilled water maker
  • -80C freezer
  • sonic baths, desk top test tube agitators, weighting scales, heating plates, mini-centrifuge, sample storage facilities
  • preparation benches for sample filtering and gas monitoring
  • field water probes for pH, temp, DO.

Soils laboratory

  • mechanical sieve shakers
  • sieves and sample splitters
  • sedigraph particle size analyser
  • pyknometers
  • vacuum desiccator
  • hydrometers
  • 3 x Drying ovens
  • 1 x Muffle furnace
  • cone penetration test kit
  • 4 x electronic balances
  • 5 x lever arm oedometers and ancillaries
  • direct shear box rigs and ancillaries.

Field store: resistivity and shallow seismic

  • IRIS 72 Channel Electrical tomography system
  • GEM-2 Ground conductivity system with DGPS input
  • ATLAS COPCO vibrocorer with capability to sample to 10m depth through Quaternary and soft sediment.