Boreal regions hold upwards of 60% of the planet's freshwater, an essential ingredient for all life. But human activities, such as climate and land use change, are dramatically altering these landscapes and threatening the delivery of key services provided by aquatic ecosystems, such as clean drinking water and healthy fish populations. Contemporary paradigms of aquatic conservation have emphasized inputs of pollutants and water resource development as causes of declining water security and biodiversity, but restoration attempts are failing when these two factors alone are improved. Increasingly, local watersheds are seen as critical controls of aquatic ecosystems. This is spurred by the recent discovery that pathways of energy mobilization upwards through aquatic food webs - from microbes to fish - rely on organic matter originating from terrestrial vegetation, proving the adage that "clean water is a forest product". Any factor that changes the quality and quantity of organic matter input into freshwater from their surrounding catchments will clearly influence the delivery of aquatic ecosystem services. Fire, forest pests, and resource development, such as mining and logging, are emerging disturbances that are transforming boreal regions, but little is known as to how they will change long-term cycling of nutrients from terrestrial vegetation into aquatic ecosystems. A new watershed-level science that integrates the management of forestry and water resources is clearly needed to inform decision makers of the actions needed to conserve freshwater supplies by linking actions on land to processes in water. Our research will test whether the productivity of aquatic food webs increases with the quantity and quality of terrestrial organic matter under different climate scenarios. We will also answer whether disturbances on land that remove plant biomass and change the quality of plant litter will dampen the productivity of freshwater plants and animals. Our approach will be to create 96 artificial ecosystems in a common lake environment and expose sites to different quantities and qualities of organic matter. We will measure the responses of microbial, algal, and grazer communities using cutting-edge technologies such as next-generation DNA sequencing. We will also plant tagged individuals of a sedentary mussel species closely-related to economically important taxa within each site and monitor their long-term growth and survival. The ultimate goal of this work is to develop a spatially-explicit, dynamical watershed-level simulation model. We want to answer the question if X% of habitat is consumed by fire or insect outbreaks, then food stocks for fish will change by Y%. Outcomes of this research will be highly relevant to the UK and international policy around managing freshwater supplies by demonstrating strong linkages between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. For example, the EU has developed legislation to protect freshwater but this ignores the effects of land use practices on lake water quality and biota. The future of extensive forestry plantations and pastures surrounding many socio-economically important watersheds in Britain are also being debated as the EU begins reforming the Common Agricultural Policy. We aim to show that any changes in land use must consider how energy in the form of organic matter is dispersed to aquatic ecosystems and supports their productivity. Finally, this project will have many applications for improving regional land use planning and management, as well as restoring environmentally damaged landscapes. We will work closely with partners in the mining industry and government to inform them of the best practices for re-vegetating degraded watersheds.
In the UK there are more than four billion square metres of roofs and facades forming the building envelope. Most of this could potentially be used for harvesting solar energy and yet it covers less than 1.8 % of the UK land area. The shared vision for SPECIFIC is develop affordable large area solar collectors which can replace standard roofs and generate over one third of the UK's total target renewable energy by 2020 (10.8 GW peak and 19 TWh) reducing CO2 output by 6 million tonnes per year. This will be achieved with an annual production of 20 million m2 by 2020 equating to less than 0.5% of the available roof and wall area. SPECIFIC will realise this by quickly developing practical functional coated materials on metals and glass that can be manufactured by industry in large volumes to produce, store and release energy at point of use. These products will be suitable for fitting on both new and existing buildings which is important since 50% of the UKs current CO2 emissions come from the built environment.The key focus for SPECIFIC will be to accelerate the commercialisation of IP, knowledge and expertise held between the University partners (Swansea, ICL, Bath, Glyndwr, and Bangor) and UK based industry in three key areas of electricity generation from solar energy (photovoltaics), heat generation (solar thermal) and storage/controlled release. The combination of functionality will be achieved through applying functional coatings to metal and glass surfaces. Critical to this success is the active involvement in the Centre of the steel giant Corus/Tata and the glass manufacturer Pilkington. These two materials dominate the facings of the building stock and are surfaces which can be engineered. In addition major chemical companies (BASF and Akzo Nobel as two examples) and specialist suppliers to the emerging PV industry (e.g. Dyesol) are involved in the project giving it both academic depth and industrial relevance. To maximise open innovation colleagues from industry will be based SPECIFIC some permanently and some part time. SPECIFIC Technologists will also have secondments to partner University and Industry research and development facilities.SPECIFIC will combine three thriving research groups at Swansea with an equipment armoury of some 3.9m into one shared facility. SPECIFIC has also been supported with an equipment grant of 1.2 million from the Welsh Assembly Government. This will be used to build a dedicated modular roll to roll coating facility with a variety of coating and curing functions which can be used to scale up and trial successful technology at the pre-industrial scale. This facility will be run and operated by three experienced line technicians on secondment from industry. The modular coating line compliments equipment at Glyndwr for scaling up conducting oxide deposition, at CPi for barrier film development and at Pilkington for continuous application of materials to float glass giving the grouping unrivalled capability in functional coating. SPECIFIC is a unique business opportunity bridging a technology gap, delivering affordable novel macro-scale micro-generation, making a major contribution to UK renewable energy targets and creating a new export opportunity for off grid power in the developing world. It will ultimately generate thousands high technology jobs within a green manufacturing sector, creating a sustainable international centre of excellence in functional coatings where multi-sector applications are developed for next generation manufacturing.