Global Security and Resilience - Researcher Focus

Providing the world’s growing population with a sustainable and secure way of living is a key focus for both staff and students at Stirling. Professor Andrew Tyler, Associate Dean for Research in the Faculty of Natural Sciences, is at the forefront of a world-leading project aiming to improve access to fresh water across the globe. 

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Andrew Tyler

As a society, we are fundamentally dependent on water for drinking, energy and food security. However, the declining quality and quantity of water has been highlighted by the World Economic Forum as the pre-eminent risk to society and the global economy. Ensuring access to clean and safe water for all is a real challenge and fundamental to alleviating poverty and developing more resilient, healthy and sustainable communities.

Professor Andrew Tyler, Professor of Environmental Science and Associate Dean for Research in the Faculty of Natural Sciences 

Global water monitoring

Experts hold very little data on the world’s 100 million lakes due to their geographical spread, coupled with the logistical and political difficulties of monitoring water. Therefore, protecting citizens from water scarcity, pollution and deleterious impacts, including harmful algal blooms, remains a serious challenge.

In a bid to tackle the issue, Andrew and his Stirling team lead the £2.9 million GloboLakes project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), which has established the world’s first satellite-based global lake surveillance system.

The innovative approach – involving a number of other UK universities, research institutes and overseas partners – uses earth observation technology to measure the absorption and reflection properties of light emanating from lakes, rivers and estuaries to reliably estimate the constituents within the water. This technique provides vital data on water quality, such as algal concentrations and harmful algal blooms, and mineral and organic matter.

While other scientists have developed satellite algorithms to monitor one or two lakes on a local scale, Professor Tyler’s team is the first to develop a capability to work across a range of optically complex waters globally. He added: “Our work is groundbreaking.”

infographic: Stirling academics lead GloboLakes

Stirling academics lead GloboLakes

and four Horizon 2020 projects

Combining expertise

The Stirling team are now turning their attentions to interdisciplinary work in an attempt to increase the developing world’s access to fresh water. They are working with colleagues in the Faculty of Social Sciences, to establish how best to deliver these new sources of information to communities, and the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, to understand cross-border conflicts and the associated legal frameworks of governance.

Water for all

Building on this capability, Professor Tyler’s team has now secured further funding, through the European Union’s Horizon 2020, for a number of related projects involving end users and partners across Europe. Meanwhile, Stirling experts are also working with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to develop a risk-based management strategy for water quality monitoring and reporting as part of another NERC-funded project.

Tyler, whose research interests also include the impact of radioactivity on the environment, added: 'Our highly interdisciplinary work is tackling serious global issues. We are keen to exploit this opportunity to provide the knowledge that will help deliver water for all.'