Managing water, and access to it, is one of the greatest challenges of our time. The UN estimates that by 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water. This water scarcity negatively impacts food security and the livelihood of families across the world.  

Through multidisciplinary research into water systems, water security and the causes of and responses to both drought and flooding, academics at The University of Birmingham and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are looking to help provide solutions to the problem at hand. 

The two institutions have a long standing relationship in the field. Projects, such as that which mapped the Brahmaputra river, and its dramatic river features called megascours, in Bangladesh, have paved the way for further links. 

Thanks to BRIDGE funding, the two institutions are able to bring together their multidisciplinary expertise and align the work being done in their Water Councils.  

Focus on: microplastics in freshwater 

While most of the attention on the fate of plastics in the environment has focused on the accumulation of plastics in the world’s oceans, very little is known about the pathway of plastic once it has been used by humans and heads towards the sea, including the way in which it is transported, and the impact it has on freshwater and terrestrial environments and public health. 

Researchers at the University of Birmingham are pioneering a fundamental system-wide understanding of microplastic behaviour in freshwaters. In the first-ever comprehensive research study carried out in the UK, the team will assess how microplastics are transported, transformed and accumulated in river corridors.  

These will be combined with the first systematic worldwide freshwater microplastics survey. This global perspective will allow us to identify risks and develop improvement strategies specifically tailored to the variable microplastics compositions and concentrations encountered in freshwater ecosystems worldwide. 

Working alongside experts at UIUC, with their research into the impact of microplastics in the Great Lakes, the team believe that they can steer the field towards a greater understanding of microplastic behaviour in freshwater.

Read the Birmingham Brief from World Water Day 2018.

  • To mark World Water Day (22 March 2018), international researchers and practitioners from water industries, consultancies, regulators and non-governmental organisations (including UNESCO) came together at the University of Birmingham in an event unique to the UK – organised by the Birmingham Water Council and the Institute of Global Innovation. The focus of discussions at the event looked at how we can best align our interdisciplinary research and practice to collectively solve today’s and tomorrow’s ‘Wicked Water Challenges’

  • The Environmental Change Outdoor Laboratory (ECOlab) at the University of Birmingham represents a £1.1m investment for interdisciplinary research and provides experimental systems to understand environmental pollution, toxicology and climate change. 

  • The Birmingham Water Council facilitates the Institute of Global Innovations theme on ‘Water Challenges in a Changing World’ and allows us to address the global water crisis. It integrates interdisciplinary research from more than 200 researchers across all five of the University of Birmingham’s colleges. The Birmingham Water Council leverages global networks, including the established UNESCO Chair in Water Sciences held at Birmingham.