£1.4m grant for water, energy and food systems research

Scientists from the University of Glasgow are setting out to help the planet’s population meet its growing demands for water, energy and food.

The University’s School of Mathematics and Statistics has received £1.4m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to tackle the challenge.

With the world’s population due to grow to eight billion by 2030, humanity is facing a crisis with predictions of increasing demand and shortages of water, energy and food.

Water and energy are needed to produce food; water is needed to produce energy and, with the advent of biofuels, energy and food are increasingly competing for land. This means that any shortage or disruption of one resource will impact on the other This unbreakable link between all the resources is known as the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus.

The WEFWEBs project will examine data and evidence around the water, energy and food systems, including social, economic, political, institutional and environmental components, and their interactions and dependencies at local, regional and national scales.

The project will use case studies based in Oxford, the Tamar Estuary, Devon and in London to explore the interdependencies in practice.   

The researchers will work together with food producers, retailers, utility companies, environmental agencies, local authorities and the public to develop new data and new understandings.

Marian Scott, Professor of Environmental Statistics at the University of Glasgow, will lead the project in partnership with researchers from the Universities of Exeter, Newcastle and Oxford, University College London, Imperial College London, the School of Oriental & African Studies and Rothamsted Research.

Professor Scott said, “The WEFWEBs project will examine the data and evidence for the water, energy and food systems and their interactions and dependencies within the local, regional and national environment. We need to maintain a balance between the sometimes opposing directions that our primary systems are moving in to ensure that we safeguard our ecosystems, while still being able to live sustainably, in a world where demands are increasing.

“To study these systems and their dependencies and interactions, we need to bring together a multitude of different disciplines from the physical, environmental computational and mathematical sciences, with economics, social science, psychology and policy.

“The impact of the work will be to improve the sustainability of our society and provide an improved understanding of the consequences of the choices we make as citizens or as a society.”

The project is one of three funded by £4.5m from EPSRC’s Living with Environmental Change sandpit to support multidisciplinary groups of scientists, with additional support from STFC’s Scientific Computing Department. The other projects are led by the University of Manchester and the University of Southampton.

Professor Philip Nelson, Chief Executive of EPSRC said, “This is one of the most important challenges facing the human race, and one of the most complex. The uniqueness of these projects comes from studying all three problems together, something that hasn’t been done before.

"These projects are a great opportunity for scientists with expertise in different disciplines to come together to find solutions".

Media enquiries: ross.barker@glasgow.ac.uk / 0141 330 3535

First published: 27 March 2015

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