Investing in the environment
2 December 2003
A £13m research initiative aimed at securing a sustainable future for our planet has been launched by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The QUEST initiative will address some of the key questions facing mankind, such as improving our understanding of the carbon cycle.
QUEST (Quantifying the Earth System) will look for solutions to specific environmental questions by combining observational, modelling and experimental approaches. The three-year programme will be led by Professor Colin Prentice, who will be based within the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol.
Earth-system science aims to understand the complex interactions between all the Earth's components, such as the oceans, atmosphere and biosphere, as well as the influence of human society on global change.
Identifying Earth-system science as a priority, the University of Bristol has made its own appointment in this exciting and newly emerging scientific discipline. Professor Paul Valdes, an expert in Earth-system modelling, will take up the Chair in Physical Geography. Professor Valdes was selected through the University's Exceptional Talent scheme to lead on the study of the climate system, encapsulating research in the cryosphere (ice cover), biosphere, atmosphere and the oceans.
Professor Prentice said, "I'm really excited about the QUEST Programme. It's a fantastic opportunity to make progress on some of the hard questions, like what's going to happen to the carbon we are putting into the atmosphere as climate changes, what are the potential effects of global warming on human activities, and what has controlled the Earth's atmospheric composition naturally - things we need to understand far better if we are really to make sense of what's happening to the Earth today."
He added, " I am very much looking forward to working closely with Paul Valdes and his team. His knowledge of climate modelling, links with industrial partners, and broad research interests will be of enormous benefit to QUEST."
Professor Valdes echoes his enthusiasm for the new priorities. " Both the University and NERC are taking this challenging area of science very seriously and I'm pleased to be in at the start of the collaboration. I am already involved in several research programmes that will feed into the Earth-system science area, including NERC's Rapid Climate Change Programme which addresses some of the problems linked to climate and ocean currents. I'm looking forward to continuing and expanding my research into other parts of the Earth's system."
Dr Cherry Lewis
Research Publicity Officer
University of Bristol
Tel: 0117 928 8086
NERC Press Office
Natural Environment Research Council
Polaris House, North Star Avenue
Swindon, SN2 1EU
Tel: 01793 411561
Mob: 07917 557215
1. Professor Colin Prentice was born in 1952. He was educated at Cambridge University, where he obtained a first class honours degree in Natural Sciences (1973) followed by a PhD in Botany (1977). His main area of research is climate change and its effects on vegetation. He has an international reputation in the modelling of ecosystem processes and their interaction with the wider earth system. He has been one of the pioneers in developing the relatively new branch of science known as Earth system science, making important contributions in the fields of paleoclimatology, paleoecology, global ecology, carbon cycle science and atmosphere-biosphere interactions. He has co-authored three books and has some 150 scientific articles to his name. He is much in demand as an invited speaker at international conferences, and has served on numerous international and national scientific panels.
2. Professor Paul Valdes was born in 1960. After gaining a first class honours degree in Mathematics and Physics from University College, London he undertook graduate studies at the University of Oxford, obtaining a DPhil in 1984 for his thesis "Large scale waves in the atmosphere of Venus". His expertise is in earth system modelling and he is one of the world's leading authorities on palaeoclimate modelling. In addition to his mainstream academic work he is much in demand as a visiting speaker and has made significant contributions to the public understanding of science, in the form of lectures, articles and interviews in the media and museum displays. With two colleagues he has produced a CD-ROM entitled "Understanding Past Climates: Modelling Ancient Weather", pitched at undergraduate level.
3. The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) specialises in Earth- system science, covering the full range of atmospheric, earth, terrestrial and aquatic sciences, working with scientists and other partners around the world. It is addressing some of the key questions facing mankind such as global warming, renewable energy and sustainable economic development. NERC uses a budget of about £270m a year to fund 2,700 people employed in NERC research centres and a further 1,800 funded annually through a variety of research awards in university departments and other bodies.
4. Both the departments of Earth Science and Geography at the University of Bristol were awarded the highest grading in the last research assessment exercise (RAE), indicating that they are world leaders in their areas of research.
Press release: 26/03
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