In late August 2018 Prof Paul Whitehead attended the World Water Week in Stockholm. This is the annual focal point for the globe’s water issues. It was attended by over 3,300 individuals and around 380 convening organizations from 135 countries participated in the Week. Experts, practitioners, decision-makers, business innovators and young professionals from a range of sectors and countries come to Stockholm to network, exchange ideas, foster new thinking and develop solutions to the most pressing water-related challenges of today. The Water Prize attracts many entries each year; this year the junior prize went to two students from Singapore for producing reduced graphene oxide, a material that can be used to purify water, from agricultural waste products.
Paul attended many sessions and found these to be at a high level covering global issues with quite a focus on Africa this year. A strong reason for attending the meeting was to make contacts with others in the Water Sector, often at quite high levels. Paul rapidly got involved in a UN Habitats initiative to try to close the Sustainability Development Goal gaps, and in particular, ensure the provision of secure water for the entire world’s population. UN Habitats and other organisations (e.g. WHO) are very keen to close this gap; it is a massive task but projects are beginning to have an impact, in terms of new thinking and new methodology.
Meetings were well attended with people standing or sitting on the floor to get a space (see photo below). Paul found himself in the Dutch Embassy attending a packed event and discussing a wide range of topics from the MaRIUS Drought Project to new ways to measure the environment using biosensors, plus trying to persuade the Dutch to invest in Oxford Molecular Biosensors.
It was also a real pleasure to see so many Oxford Water MSc graduates at the meeting with at least 11 attending, representing their current organisations such as the World Bank, OECD, National Governments and Water NGOs from around the world. The evening get together on a Thai Boat in a Swedish Harbour was a great way to celebrate their success.
Jaeyoung Lee, who is a member of the MaRIUS project, received funding from the project to present her research at the 2018 Europe-Korea Conference on Science and Technology held in Glasgow, 20-24 August 2018. She describes her experience below.
Every summer, the Europe-Korea Conference on Science and Technology (EKC) brings together Korean scientists and engineers studying and working in Europe and in Korea. The conference aims to foster and develop new relationships, exchange knowledge and ideas and to promote science and technology that is of service to society. It also attracts European scientists and engineers interested in collaborating with Korean nationals. This year marked the 11th EKC, and it was held in Glasgow, UK from the 20th to the 24th of August 2018.
Science and Technology sessions provide an excellent opportunity for participants to exchange state of the art knowledge in comprehensive scientific areas ranging from basic science to engineering and policy. Ten groups with 42 specific sessions were on offer this year and my presentation was included in the basic science group, and the ‘Water on Earth: Rain, River and Ocean’ session. Many speakers were talking about their research within the Korean context, or Europe-Korean relationships or possible collaboration projects, whereas I shared my research in the UK context as part of the UK Drought and Water Scarcity programme.
I opened the presentation with a question, “Is there a drought in the UK?” As many of the Koreans in the audience are living in Europe and the UK and have experienced another dry and hot summer this year, a few started nodding, and many of them were curious about UK droughts. I started my presentation with how the MaRIUS project has started, and what we have been doing. I then brought the audience’s attention to my research on the ‘Dynamic water quality modelling in the Severn-Thames river systems and assessment of the impact of a water transfer in drought’. Inter-basin water transfer schemes have been discussed to tackle concerns on sustainability of water resources in the UK, and the Severn-Thames transfer scheme is one of the water resource development options under consideration by the Thames Water Utilities. The occurrence of severe drought events in past and climate change have highlighted the need for such transfer schemes. Key issues to examine and resolve relate to understanding water availability, water quality and the potential adverse biological impacts and it is important to ensure that both donor and receiving rivers are not adversely affected by the scheme. To explore possible risks and impacts of a water transfer on the Severn and Thames system, I applied newly developed MaRIUS climate change projection data (Weather at Home 2; W@H 2) to a hydrological model as well as a water quality model and then considered a set of hypothetical water transfer scenarios. I focused on my methodology and preliminary findings on water quality impacts including Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC) concentrations in both river systems, which was driven by w@h 2 climate data. I got a few questions after the presentation, and the one we needed to discuss more was ‘the definition of drought’. As drought can mean different things to different people and is therefore defined in many ways, I explained the type of droughts including meteorological, agricultural, hydrological and socio-economical drought and the relevant risks and impacts.
I thoroughly enjoyed talking with people who are not familiar with drought research in the UK, but at the same time it was challenging to translate complex science into words that a more general audience can understand as well as find interesting. These are skills that scientists must develop to have any policy impact, so I thank the MaRIUS project for giving me this opportunity to do so.
About Drought’s Len Shaffrey wrote an article in Conversation UK in July which triggered heatwave and drought articles across the UK media spectrum.
Len, who leads the About Drought IMPETUS project, improving predictions of drought to support decision-making, is particularly pleased to see climate change make The Sun front page.
The About Drought Showcase Review is available as an online magazine , featuring the high quality inter-disciplinary content from the About Drought Showcase held in March 2018. It is packed with useful presentations, links and information for people who attended as well as for those who did not. The Showcase Review also gives a detailed introduction for anyone new to the programme and its work.
It provides a comprehensive guide to:
The UK Drought & Water Scarcity Research Programme
Its four projects – DRY, IMPETUS, Historic Droughts and MaRIUS
The engagement project – ENDOWS
A documentary video filmed at the Showcase, including interviews with presenters and delegates
An overview of each session
Slides from presenters
Links to all the About Drought outputs and datasets
The purpose of About Drought is to share information, tools and datasets from the programme, continuing stakeholders engagement and further supporting evidence-based decision-making for the management and planning of drought and water scarcity.
Three experts from About Drought provided journalists with an insight into the impact of the UK summer drought – Jamie Hannaford, Professor Jim Hall and Professor Ian Holman. Answering questions from the Daily Mail, Press Association, BBC, Telegraph and Financial Times they presented detailed but accessible information on the pressure on water resources, highlighting the way new data from the programme is already supporting decision-makers, such as the Environment Agency. Articles were published in the Daily Mail, The Sun, Telegraph and Mail Online.
This briefing note looks at the effects of water scarcity and drought on crops which require supplemental irrigation, and includes some ideas on steps which may help to mitigate losses to farmers. This is the first of a series of briefs to support improved decision making in relation to droughts and water scarcity.
We are currently experiencing a heatwave in the UK and other parts of Europe – with a hosepipe ban in place in Ireland. Climatic change causes greater unreliability of rainfall in wetter countries like the UK, as well as increased frequency of droughts, leading to higher demand for irrigation to supplement rainfall. The yield and quality of crops of fruit and vegetables can be lowered by short-term drought in the UK summer – this can be avoided by using irrigation to supplement rainfall, enabling farmers to continue to provide supermarket-quality produce.
Print media reacted to the Environment Agency’s briefing in early January on low groundwater levels and the prospect of a summer drought with headlines ranging from ‘Floody drought’ (The Sun) to ‘Drenched by the wrong kind of rain’ (The i). As Southern Water applied for an abstraction permit journalists were given a background briefing putting the application into context.
‘Floody Drought’, ‘Drenched by the wrong type of rain’: headlines that pick up the contradictory nature of Britain’s relationship with water and an underpinning perception that Britain is a land of plenty – at least when it comes to water. But hiding behind these headlines, published in January 2018, is the real challenge: for the British Isles rely on fairly regular rainfall and rather wet winters to ensure a plentiful water supply.
As the headlines suggest, the South East experienced a dry autumn and, if followed by a dry winter, the area would have been at risk of drought in summer 2018. This would not have meant standpipes in the streets and we were not approaching day zero (when the city runs out of water), as Cape Town had. But the result of the Environment Agency’s briefing should have provided pause for thought and an opportunity for communities to consider their drought resilience (and the measures they could take now to mitigate against the risk of hosepipe bans in the summer). But it didn’t.
Trying to engage the public and communities with the risks of water shortage is hard at the best of times. Britain is perceived to be a rather wet island surrounded by plenty of water. This challenge to communication, though, is particularly hard in the winter because there is a perceptual link between drought and hot weather. If it’s not hot, it can’t be a drought. This perception makes winter droughts amongst the most challenging to communicate. How do you explain to someone who perceives that it’s dull and overcast (and therefore wet) that we’re heading for a drought?
And so we return to the wrong type of headlines. ‘Floody drought’ may be an attempt to link text to the water cycle, but how does it help people to understand that indeed drought may be followed by floods? Better a headline linking flood to the wrong type of rain. Headline writers love a contradiction: ‘Drenched UK might still see a hosepipe ban’ fits the bill but doesn’t help to address the problem of water resources and growing demand.
Newspapers may seek to grab our attention through these contradictory headlines, but unless readers go beyond the headline and start to understand Britain’s complex relationship with water, they will only reinforce stereotypes. In the face of climate change, it’s time to change those stereotypes.
The About Drought programme collaborated with the British Hydrological Society, University of Reading and University of Loughborough to present a national workshop on seasonal forecasting.
The aim of the workshop, held in Loughborough in January 2018, was to focus on the seasonal forecast needs of users and practitioners, and to identify ways of improving the dissemination, uptake and operationalisation of seasonal forecasts by the water and agricultural sectors.
Reliable seasonal forecasts can support planning of water resources for a variety of purposes, including allocation for urban and rural water supply, irrigation scheduling, reservoir operation, routine maintenance of infrastructure, and preparedness for hydro-meteorological extremes. In recent years, improvements have been made in seasonal forecasting skill. However, without translation of these state-of-the-art forecast products into direct, actionable information, little ‘real’ progress can be made.
Rebecca Emberton (University of Reading) is pictured discussing global scale seasonal hydrometeorological forecasting with the Global Flood Awareness System at a national workshop on seasonal forecasting.
Carmen Dayrell from the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS), Lancaster University, has presented her work with Helen Baker and Tony McEnery on a diachronic analysis of newspaper articles about drought and water scarcity at the 9th International Corpus Linguistics conference (CL2017). Corpus linguistics is a methodology for the systematic analysis of large amounts of empirical data to study language. The CL2017 was hosted by the University of Birmingham, from 24-28 July 2017.
Entitled ‘Enriching our understanding of historic drought and water scarcity: investigating 200 years of news texts’, the paper discussed the media representation of drought and water scarcity throughout the United Kingdom, covering two hundred years of newspaper data, from 1800 to 2014.
The results showed that, throughout the entire period, drought events were portrayed as intense and prolonged, with negative impacts of across the country, especially England. But the analysis also unveils some interesting shifts in the discourse. While references to drought the 19th and most of the 20th centuries overwhelmingly related to lack of rain, the word drought started to be used increasingly more frequent as a metaphor towards the end of the 20th century. These mainly related to sporting achievements (e.g. goal, trophy or scoring droughts) and finance (credit, mortgage droughts).
Another clear shift relates to people’s concerns. In the 19th century, the newspapers frequently mentioned the impact of droughts on farming and agriculture. From the 1990s onwards, the focus seems to have shifted to constraints and limitations in people’s daily lives due to shortage or rationing of water, which in turn led to the introduction of hosepipe bans or the use of standpipes. Concern over the impact of droughts on plants and gardens has become one of the major topic in the contemporary broadsheet papers and tabloids.
Thank you to all the delegates who attended the About Drought Showcase in Birmingham. Around 120 people representing a very broad range of interests and expertise joined us to connect with the truly interdisciplinary research initiative that is the RCUK Drought & Water Scarcity programme. Outputs from the day will be available to view in the updated e-delegate pack and slides and other outputs from each session will be available on this website in due course. In the meantime you can keep in touch with us on Twitter @AboutDrought and sign up to our newsletter mailing list via the home page.