How Sheffield geographers are working to combat climate change

Staff and students from the University of Sheffield are taking part in the Global Climate Strike to demand urgent action on the climate crisis. Professor Jenny Pickerill, Head of the Geography Department, outlines why it's crucial that staff and students get involved with the climate strike.


While the Department of Geography will be strongly represented on the streets, staff are also involved in numerous projects focused on measuring and mitigating the effects of global warming.

Two eco housesProfessor Jenny Pickerill, Head of Department

Jenny’s work on self-built eco-housing and eco-communities explores how people can radically reduce their environmental impact while simultaneously building homes which can cope with new climatic extremes.

Crucially, by self-building and building collectively people are able to build these homes relatively cheaply.

Find out more about eco-communities


volcano sensorDr Andrew McGonigle and Dr Tom Pering

Ultraviolet camera technology developed by researchers in the Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield is being used across the globe to measure the emissions of sulphur dioxide from volcanic craters. These gases cool the atmosphere, so the data are helping us to better understand natural variations in climate to improve constraints on how human activities cause global warming, now and in the future.

Find out more about Andrew's research

Dr Matt Watson, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography

In a year, the average person in the UK consumes many times their share of what the earth can produce each year. To tackle the climate crisis we need to reduce our use of resources. Matt Watson has been leading a team across Sheffield and Manchester Universities working with a wide range of organisations across policy, regulation, industry and third sector to develop new ways of thinking from current social theory in order to reframe approaches to effecting change in resource use. This builds on his research into reducing demand for energy, food and water through the DEMAND Centre.

Find out more about the Change Points project

People walking through an airportCutting air travel is one of the easiest ways of cutting carbon emissions. But for many professions - including academia - this is a challenge. Matt Watson, with Stephen Allen from the Management School, is running an academic symposium with researcher from around the UK and internationally (via video link) to bring together the latest research and thinking on reducing academic flying, and hear from initiatives already underway, to forge new paths for research and action at Sheffield and elsewhere.

Find out more about reducing air travel in academia


Dr Jeremy Ely, Independent Research Fellow

Melting causes ponds and streams to form on the surface of the Antarctic ice sheet. We show that this water drains to the bed of Antarctic Peninsula glaciers, causing the glaciers to accelerate. This means that atmospheric processes can directly interact with the glaciers.

Melt is predicted to double in the next 30 years, meaning that these processes are likely to become even more significant in determining how much Antarctic ice is lost to the oceans, contributing to sea level rise.

Find out more about Jeremy's research

khumbu icefallDr Ann Rowan, Research Fellow

Ann Rowan's research focuses on how glaciers in the Himalayas are responding to climate change. She says: "Our measurements of glacier temperatures revealed ice that is much warmer than we expected. The minimum temperature of Khumbu Glacier is two degrees higher than the mean annual air temperature, making this iconic glacier extremely vulnerable to climate heating and likely to shrink dramatically during the 21st century. These results have big implications for water supplies in central Asia."

Find out more about Ann's research


Professor Chris Clark, Sorby Chair of Geoscience

Climate change is melting ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland at a rate faster than can be replenished by snowfall, with losses exceeding 100 Gigatonnes per year (100 kilometre-sized ice cubes every year) with indications of acceleration.

The melted ice of course, ends up in the sea, contributing to our fast rise of sea level. The effect that such a rapid rise in sea level would have on people globally, and who have built their existence in a world of slow change, has dramatically focussed the minds of scientists who now need to improve understanding to make more precise forecasts.

The BRITICE-CHRONO project assembled a detailed map of the pattern of ice margin retreat. This gives a benchmark against which predictive ice sheet models can be improved and tested to help predict the future rates of change of these large ice masses.

Find out more about the BRITICE-CHRONO project


IcebergProfessor Grant Bigg, Professor in Earth Systems Science

Grant Bigg is a sub-chapter lead for high-latitude ice habitats in the UN World Ocean Assessment 2, which is being prepared to open the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. He also works on observing and modelling iceberg risk, particularly off Newfoundland from the increasing discharges from the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Find out more about the UN's Decade of Ocean Science


atmospheric pressureDr Julie Jones, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science

Julie is a climate scientist who works on Antarctic climate change, and also on reconstructing past climate from historical data. She is currently using measurements of atmospheric pressure from the logbooks of ships sailing the Southern Ocean to understand past changes in the winds around the Antarctic, work funded by the Leverhulme Trust. She was a contributing author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth and Fifth Assessment Reports.

Find out more about Julie's research


Dr Ruth Little, Lecturer in Human Geography

Agriculture plays a key role in contributing to the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that cause climate change, accounting for approximately 10% of emissions in the UK and 10-12% globally. In January 2019, the National Farmers Union announced its ambition to achieve net zero GHG emissions by 2040. Ensuring that this happens will require changes to the way that farmland is managed in the future. The UK’s exit from the EU could help to achieve some of the landscape-scale changes that will be required to achieve climate change targets – in providing payments to farmers based upon the ‘public goods’ (environmental benefits) that they can provide. A ‘green Brexit’ is the broad aim, but the devil will be in the detail as to if and how this can be achieved and the extent to which climate targets can be met.

Find out more about Agri-Environmental Governance Post-Brexit