Water Science: Case Studies

Birmingham researchers are carrying out research and providing solutions to water challenges to communities across the globe.

We have a particular niche within urban environmental research. Issues of water quality, supply, wastewater, human health and ecological response are most acute and growing in the urban context. Our research done in rivers and streams in Birmingham gives us insight in the relevant underlying processes, which can then be applied to other cities around the world.

In remote regions, poverty and threats to ecosystems are often exacerbated by an insufficient knowledge of the state of the environment. We have helped develop a new ‘citizen science’ framework to support adaptive governance of ecosystem services. For example, in the Peruvian Andes and Nepalese Himalayas, streamflow was monitored by local farmers and an interactive hydrological model developed to support land-use planning and safeguard water supplies.

The UK

The scale, diversity, persistence and severity of the UK flooding events in the winter of 2013–14 were unprecedented in recent history. By working with businesses and communities recovering from these floods we will assess which factors enable or inhibit fast and effective flood recovery from the perspectives of business, social justice and environmental stability. We will also better understand how communities, businesses, government organisations and policy makers can better prepare to mitigate and reduce the impacts of future flood events.

Alpine Ecosystems

Our research in Arctic and alpine freshwater ecosystems has quantified how changing water sources resulting from glacial retreat have modified the habitat template and associated ecological response. This knowledge has been used to inform current conservation principles and governance frameworks in relation to predicted climate change impacts.


Scientists from Birmingham and UIUC are working together on a project that could help protect the lives of millions of people living close to the banks of some of South Asia’s biggest rivers. Erosion is often the untold story of the world’s big rivers, nowhere more so than in Bangladesh. In the large rivers of this country so-called ‘megascours’, large areas of erosion that can be up to 50 metres deep, move several kilometres in a year, destroying property and infrastructure.


In Chile the team have set up a drought monitoring scheme which enables local water managers to find out which parts of the country are in drought. By providing early insights on developing drought conditions, governmental spending to alleviate its impact can be brought forward, increasing the options to strengthen the resilience of communities to cope with droughts.

South Africa

Storytelling workshops have been set up with local communities to help people increase their preparedness for future droughts, through imagining and discussing hypothetical drought scenarios. The aim of the CreativeDrought project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), is to prepare rural communities in Africa for possible future drought by combining local knowledge with environmental science.