Geography and Environmental Science Research Projects

Find out more about our current research projects.


  • CatchmentCARE, Community Actions for Resilient Ecosystems

    The quality of our rivers and lakes across the island of Ireland is important for providing high-quality drinking water, supporting livelihoods such as agriculture and also for biodiversity, angling and water sports.

    Funding: EU INTERREG VA Programme
    Investigators: Professor Phil Jordan, Dr Richard Douglas and Professor Brian Rippey
    Partners: Ulster University, British Geological Survey, Geological Survey Ireland, Donegal County Council, Agri-Food and Bioscience Institute, Inland Fisheries Ireland, Loughs Agency of the Foyle, Carlingsford Irish Lights Commission, Armagh City Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council.

    The quality of our rivers and lakes across the island of Ireland is important for providing high-quality drinking water, supporting livelihoods such as agriculture and also for biodiversity, angling and water sports. This quality can be impacted by historical or present-day activities in upstream catchment areas. Despite legislation in place for many years to protect water bodies, quality has not improved as anticipated and so community-based actions are being tested alongside regulations as demonstrations of good practice.

    In undertaking these demonstrations, the aim in CatchmentCARE is to provide a platform for cross border engagement and knowledge sharing between community, governance, policy and scientific stakeholders.

    Our work includes the management of critical source areas of pollution, soil nutrient management planning with farmers, fish passage barrier removal and restoration of riverbanks, improving the quality of discharges from rural wastewater plants and rapidly modifying the chemistry of vulnerable lakes. Outcomes from this approach will feed directly into EU Water Framework Directive planning in the Republic of Ireland and into Northern Ireland water quality policy in the years following EU departure.

    We are working with a large partner consortium led by Donegal County Council and including Geological Survey Ireland, British Geological Survey, Agri-Food and Bioscience Institute, Inland Fisheries Ireland, Loughs Agency, and Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.

    The €13.8million CatchmentCARE project is funded (2017-2022) through the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme, which is managed by the Special EU Programme’s Body. There is support from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Northern Ireland and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in the Republic of Ireland. Geography and Environmental Sciences staff are Prof Phil Jordan, Dr Richard Douglas, Prof Brian Rippey, Dr Julie Campbell, Gabriel Gaffney, Peter Devlin and Clara Murray.

  • Marine Protected Area Management and Monitoring (MarPAMM)

    Funded by: European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme

    Investigators: Professor Derek Jackson; Professor Andrew Cooper, Dr. Chris McGonigle
    Partners: Ulster University, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (lead), Marine Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, University College Cork; Scottish Association for Marine Science and BirdWatch Ireland
    Project website: http://www.mpa-management.eu

    Active management of our coasts and seas is increasingly important in a changing world, and it is vitally important to understand how effective current management interventions are so we can understand the dynamics of these systems and plan for the future. Marine Protected Area Management and Monitoring (MarPAMM) is a 3.5-year environmental project to develop tools for monitoring and managing a number of protected coastal marine environments in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Western Scotland. Being able to better understand the physical and biological processes operating at the network of sites will enhance management across a range of locations and allow best practice across the range of partners. Our aim is to understand the physical and biological processes affecting the coastal environment and its marine species. This will improve management, conservation and sustainable development of the marine resource, including engagement with a wide variety of stakeholders.

    We work with Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (lead), Marine Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage), University College Cork; Scottish Association for Marine Science and BirdWatch Ireland to collect data on the abundance, spread and movement of marine protected species and habitats. This will help us produce new habitat maps and develop models for a range of species.

    Our next steps in this project will be the production of a regional model of protected seabed-dwelling species and habitats, development of new and existing monitoring methods and a coastal processes model.

    This project was funded by Interreg VA and the work at Ulster University has three investigators; Professor Derek Jackson, Professor Andrew Cooper and Dr. Chris McGonigle

    Read more about the project

  • Rising from the Depths

    Funding: AHRC - Global Challenges Research Fund
    Investigators: Dr Colin Breen
    Partners: Ulster University, York University, Cambridge University, Uppsala University, Bournemouth University, Roehampton University
    Project website: https://risingfromthedepths.com

    The Rising from the Depths network is funded for four years (2017-21) by the UK Global Challenges Research Fund through the Arts and Humanities Research Council Network Plus scheme. Rising from the Depths aims to identify how the tangible submerged and coastal Marine Cultural Heritage of Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar, and its associated intangible aspects can stimulate ethical, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in the region, of benefit not only to building social cohesion and reducing poverty in individual states, but also in enhancing the value and impact of overseas aid in the maritime sector. As part of the Network funding, we have a research fund for a range of Innovation Projects. These projects will fill the knowledge gaps that currently limit the way Marine Cultural Heritage contributes to social, cultural and economic sustainable growth in Eastern Africa.

  • Mapping fuel poverty: and area-based targeting approach to assist vulnerable households in Northern Ireland

    Funding: Department for Communities
    Investigator: Dr Paul McKenzie

    Fuel poverty occurs when a household needs to spend more than 10% of its income on keeping warm. Northern Ireland is one of the worst affected areas in the UK, with the rate of fuel poverty in Northern Ireland often above 40%. Difficulties in heating homes are caused by low incomes, expensive fuel types and inefficient buildings. Living in cold, damp homes can have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of residents and has been linked to high Excess Winter Mortality rates across the UK and Europe. Furthermore, fuel poverty can also restrict behavioural patterns which can negatively affect our communities as a whole.

    With fuel poverty such a critical issue across the UK and Ireland, there is an urgent need to target interventions to those in greatest need.

    Fuel poverty schemes in Northern Ireland historically relied on self-referral which often meant that people experiencing extreme fuel poverty did not avail of funding. More recently there has been a move toward area-based targeting schemes that use large datasets. By determining variables that indicate risk of fuel poverty it is possible to identify and target resources to those in greatest need.

    Our aim was to come up with a solution for targeting which areas were most at risk of fuel poverty.

    We worked with the Department for Communities to develop a highly effective area-based targeting algorithm which identifies small areas that are at increased risk of experiencing fuel poverty. We did this by integrating a range of datasets relating to income, building energy efficiency measures, fuel prices, building types and many others. These variables were weighted to produce a final risk index to indicate groups of homes that were at risk of fuel poverty.

    Our approach has now been adopted by the Affordable Warmth Scheme (Northern Ireland’s Domestic Energy Efficiency Programme) for addressing fuel poverty in the private sector. This has meant that they are better able to target resources to those who may be experiencing fuel poverty. This scheme has been delivered across Northern Ireland by the Housing Executive and local councils. Between 2014 and 2018 the Affordable Warmth Scheme has helped almost 16,000 homes and approximately 42,000 people. On average, each eligible household received a grant of over £4,000 with some properties receiving £10,000 for a host of energy efficiency measures. From a recent Health Impact Assessment carried out in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University it is estimated that gains in wellbeing equate to over £93 million while reductions in NHS costs are estimated to equate to over £4 million. The value of improved mental health conditions on increased working days is estimated to be almost £5 million. It is expected that many of the most vulnerable people in Northern Ireland will enjoy greater health and wellbeing as a result of the Affordable Warmth Programme.

    This project was funded by the Department for Communities, and led by Dr Paul McKenzie.

    You can read associated publications here (link back to publications page).

  • GLAciated North Atlantic Margins (GLANAM)

    Funding: EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie ITN
    Investigators: Dr Paul Dunlop, Dr Sara Benetti, Dr Kevin Schiele
    Partners: Ulster University, University of Bergen, Durham University, University of Tromso, University Centre in Svalbard, Scottish Association for Marine Sciences, Denmark and Greenland Geological Survey, North Energy, Volcanic Basin Petroleum Research, Statoil
    Project website: http://www.glanam.org

    The North Atlantic continental margins extend from the Arctic to the southwest of Ireland in water depths below sea level ranging from around 100 m close to shore to 350 m at the shelf edge. During the Ice Ages, large ice sheets in Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard, Norway, Britain and Ireland expanded offshore into the Atlantic and onto the continental shelf creating glacial landforms and delivering huge amounts of sediment to the seafloor that can be used to investigate their growth and decay through time.  Over the last 20 years, there has been a large research effort, involving both industry and academia, which has contributed to our current understanding of the history of these ice sheets and their influence on glaciated North Atlantic margins. However, despite these advances, major gaps remain in our understanding. For example the full extent and retreat patterns of the ice sheets surrounding the North Atlantic remains poorly defined for many areas, yet this needs to be properly investigated if we are to understand the times in Earth’s history when it was cold enough for ice sheets to form and then warm enough for them to melt again.  The glaciated North Atlantic margins are therefore key locations for helping us better understand the climate history of our planet and the processes involved in driving climate change.  The Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) which rests 1 km below sea level, is similar to the past ice sheets of the North Atlantic as it has also expanded onto its continental shelf. Understanding the glacial history of the North Atlantic margins provides us with a great opportunity to better understand how marine ice sheets such as the WAIS might respond to ocean warming.  This is really important given that the WAIS has the potential to raise sea levels by over 3 m if it collapses and would have huge societal implications for coastal communities across the globe.  The North Atlantic margins are also important for future energy supplies and contain significant oil and gas reserves that are important for industry and European economies.  Understanding the nature of the continental margin and its glacial sedimentary history is a fundamental pre-requisite for successful hydrocarbon exploration, as many potential reserves remain buried beneath glacial sediments.  Understanding the sedimentary history of the region is central to developing and testing models of reservoir depth and for locating and managing new reserves. In addition, glacial sediments on the shelf have caused underwater landslides in the past resulting in Tsunamis in the North Atlantic.  Since sedimentary sequences on the shelf could potentially slip again it is important to investigate whether they still represent a threat to coastal communities in the North Atlantic.

    Collectively, these knowledge gaps and the requirements of industry represent a major challenge that requires the next generation of European researchers to be equipped with the range of appropriate skills, expertise and knowledge at the interface of both academia, applied research and commercial interests. The GLANAM Initial Training Network was designed specifically to address this shortcoming through the establishment of a multidisciplinary network, which trained young researchers in skills relevant to academia and industry. GLANAM consisted of 10 research partners from Norway, UK and Denmark and including 6 University research teams, 2 industrial full partners and 2 industrial associate partners.  The overarching scientific goal of the GLANAM network was to determine the controls on the development in time and space of glaciated continental margins and employed 15 early career researchers to undertake co-ordinated PhD or post-doctoral research programmes to address five key objectives:

    1.To determine the role of different glacial/non-glacial sedimentary processes in shaping the glaciated North Atlantic margins

    2.To contribute to the understanding of the extent, timing and rates of decay of marine-based ice sheets.

    3.To contribute to the understanding of the influence the ice ages have imposed on the hydrocarbon systems on the glaciated North Atlantic margin including sedimentation rates/location of depo-centres, subsidence/tilting and direct ice loading through multiple glaciations.

    4.To determine the influence of climate change and sedimentary processes on the fluid flow (and gas hydrate) systems on the glaciated North Atlantic margin.

    5.To identify the controlling factors and the role of submarine mass movements (with resulting tsunamis) on the glaciated North Atlantic margin.


    GLANAM was funded by the EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie ITN programme.  You can read more details on the project, the early career researchers their projects and the associated publications at http://www.glanam.org