SECURE Grand Challenge 23rd May 2017

SECURE Grand Challenge 23rd May 2017


A major aim of the SECURE network is to forge strong ties between academic researchers, with expertise in statistics, environmental science or modelling and the end-users of environmental research. Therefore, SECURE has launched a “Grand Challenge” where attendees at a 1 day event will explore real challenges posed by some of SECURE’s partner organisations with a view to developing bids for feasibility project support. 

Aims and Objectives

This one day event is designed to bring together researchers working in relevant areas of the mathematical and environmental sciences with end-users of environmental research to develop ideas to tackle the challenges.  To allow for the ideas developed on the day to be progressed SECURE will provide feasibility funding linked to the challenges.


The 1 day event will open with the presentation of the proposed challenges.  Attendees will then select a challenge based on their interests, and the resulting group will include at least one individual from the partner proposing the challenge. The attendees will work in these groups for the rest of the day to develop a plan detailing how to practically address the challenges.    At the end of the day, there will be a presentation on the discussion from each challenge area group and the SECURE network will produce a short report summarising the discussions.  The groups will then have an opportunity to prepare a feasibility project around the challenge) to be submitted by 23rd June.  Funding for up to five Feasibility Projects (at 15K per project) will be available. 


Health Protection Scotland: Linkage of air pollution data and health data in Scotland

One issue from a public health perspective is that urban air pollution hot-spots are often located in the city centre areas of major conurbations (e.g. in Scotland these would be in Aberdeen, Dundee,  Edinburgh and Glasgow) where the majority of people being exposed to the elevated levels of air pollution are only transiting through these areas, for relatively limited periods during daytime and where the permanent resident population being exposed chronically to elevated ambient air pollution levels is relatively small. Therefore, in terms of maximising the beneficial health impact on the population of reducing air pollution levels via establishing a Low Emission Zone (LEZ), an approach which has been used elsewhere in the EU and UK with mixed success may not be ideal.

Challenge: To what extent do areas at a small area level (lower than whole local authority locality or NHS Board boundary level) with elevated levels of air pollution (particulates, NO2 and ozone) coincide with areas having elevated levels of mortality and morbidity associated with air pollution related health impacts; specifically respiratory disease (asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)); cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.

Environment Agency Challenge 1: Healthy soils

Recycling of waste and waste-derived materials to farmland is an important source of soil improvers through the supply of nutrients (for example, nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus), raising pH, and adding organic matter.  Using them reduces the costs to both industry and farmers, and improves resource efficiency.  However, it is also vital that recovery activities do not cause unacceptable harm to human health, crops and livestock, and/or the wider environment.   The challenge for the Environment Agency in this and other areas of regulation is to balance the potential aggregated risk from individual farms and facilities, while taking a reasonable and proportional site-specific response.  On their own such farms and facilities may contribute very little to risk at a national level.  For example, the amount of food that one medium-sized farm contributes to the diet of national consumers is likely to be infinitesimally small.  However, risk assessments often consider the wider consumer dietary exposures from such potential local soil contamination as if they are exposed only to food from this source.

Challenge: Is there any mathematical way to demonstrate and account for the progressive and aggregated effect of individual farms and facilities at a bigger (regional or national scale) in site-specific decisions?  How can we better evaluate the effect of individual decisions on the management of the creeping effects of environmental deterioration over time?

Environment Agency Challenge 2: Catchment Sensitive Farming

We depend on fresh, clean water in our streams, rivers and aquifers for drinking, recreation and to enjoy diverse and abundant wildlife. Alongside this we wish to see a sustainable and competitive farming sector. These are natural and understandable objectives in their own right, notwithstanding the legislative drivers, such as the EU Water Framework Directive.

Around 70 per cent of land in England is used for agriculture and water pollution from agriculture is more difficult to deal with than other sources. It arises from numerous, often individually minor, sources across the landscape and inputs vary greatly over time.

Evaluating Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) is challenging. It requires approaches that account for the complex nature of water pollution from agriculture and a clear understanding of the process by which voluntary advice translates into environmental outcomes. Over the years, we have developed important long-term datasets to support the evaluation of CSF. These include farmer engagement; advice delivery; uptake of mitigation measures; water quality; and ecology. These ‘rich’ datasets have informed analyses that demonstrate environmental outcomes from CSF for both surface water chemistry and ecology ( 

Challenge:Can we establish a relationship between the intensity of CSF activity or resulting (modelled) reductions in farm-scale pollutant losses and observed ground water quality trends that would provide evidence of a positive impact of CSF?

Scottish Environment Protection Agency: Improving Seabed Impact Analysis

The sea bed is a diverse and complex environment, subject to many natural and human activity processes.  Fin fish Aquaculture is an expanding industry around the world.  Current farming techniques deposit a range of wastes on the sea bed which are dispersed, broken down and processed.  This activity creates a zone of impact on the seabed that is monitored to determine if it is meeting agreed standards.  Modelling is carried out to predict the extent and intensity of impacts.  As with many models, they are a limited representation of the real world.

Monitoring of sea bed impact most often relies on samples obtained by “grabs” which physically cut out small areas of sea bed.  These grabs are further sub-sampled over area and depth for analysis. Cores of sea bed sediment may also be taken.   

Grab sampling results are used to infer a spatial impact.  This is extremely challenging as the number of samples are often low compared to the complexity of the impact.

Challenge: Is it possible to use a statistical approach to derive the most appropriate sampling pattern or sample number to most accurately assess the real world impact?  Existing data and modelling results will be available to analyse.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency challenge 2: integrating sensor technologies with traditional environmental monitoring approaches

SEPA are investigating the use of relatively low cost, autonomous (low power  battery use , wireless communication) sensors for environmental monitoring purposes. For example, ultrasonic sensors are being developed for river level monitoring for flood prone communities; air quality sensors are being investigated for use in urban traffic congested streets and low cost sensors for  rainfall, uv, windspeed, temperature, soil moisture , turbidity etc  are also being evaluated.  The trialling of LoRa radio communication technology for use with these sensors in both urban and more remote rural areas is also underway.

The potential is emerging for an ‘internet of environmental things’ alongside an’ internet of  regulated things (at regulated sites)’ comprising dense networks  of sensors all communicating data back to SEPA, being processed automatically and being communicated back via the web to be used by a variety of end users.

The emergence of these technologies and capabilities, raises some important questions  and challenges regarding the use of the emerging data streams, their volume, representativeness, spatial and temporal coverage and quality, and therefore, their use alongside  and potentially  instead of traditional monitoring technologies.  

Challenge: What are the statistical challenges related to the combined use of data from different monitoring networks with their different respective qualities and uncertainties. How should we approach the challenge of being faced with potentially vast amounts of data with high temporal and spatial coverage, but lower individual measurement accuracy? How can we best analyse, summarise, represent and visualise such data?


How to register

The event is free; to register follow the Eventbrite link top right of this page:



Activities and events

European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2017, Vienna, Austria 23-28 April,

The following session will be held:Communication of uncertain information in earth sciences: data, models and visualization


Information in the earth sciences is supplied to many end users, including regulators, policy makers and the general public.  It is important that these end users understand the uncertainties in information so that they can make robust decisions.  Much effort has been put into quantitative methods to describe the uncertainty in environmental information, but the outputs these generate (probabilities, confidence intervals etc.) are not always understood by the end user.  Effective communication of uncertain information is an important challenge, and one which must be tackled collaboratively by earth scientists, statisticians, psychologists and others.  In 2015 and 2016 there were successful sessions held at EGU to bring together scientists with a range of backgrounds to consider these issues.  We believe that the area remains a lively and important one, and want to  continue the discussion.  We therefore invite you to consider submitting an abstract to the session.  Enquiries to