Environment and health

Adapting to climate change

An interdisciplinary initiative to tackle global climate change

The research theme of environment and health includes measuring and modelling the impact of environmental changes on ecosystems and agriculture, within its larger scope of enhancing lifelong health and well-being by promoting illness prevention and improving the management of disease.

Through interdisciplinary and international collaboration, Sussex is committed to a new major climate change initiative that integrates climate science with the study of the economics and policy dimensions of climate change and its impact on society.

Martin Todd monitoring dust storms

Martin Todd, investigating the effects of dust storms in the Bodélé Depression in Northern Chad.

There can be little doubt that climate change is one of the great challenges of our time. Efforts to increase our understanding of the climate system and appropriate policy responses to climate change in the 21st century will require collaboration across disciplines and at an international level. Recent initiatives at Sussex have seen major investment in climate change, using an integrated approach that brings together research in climate science (in collaboration with the Department of Geography), the impact of climate change on society and our adaptive responses (the Institute of Development Studies), and the economics and policy associated with the transition to a lower carbon economy (in collaboration with SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research). The University is also a core partner in the world-leading Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Professor Martin Todd, who took up the position of Chair in Climate Change in September 2009, has been appointed to coordinate the teaching within this new initiative.

Understanding 10,000 years of climate change

The Department of Geography at Sussex has a wide portfolio of research into both fundamental climate science and applications to real-world problems. The climate research group investigates past, current and future climates, using a combination of field research, historical data, satellite observations and state-of-the-art climate models. The aim is to understand the major drivers of climate, and to improve our ability to predict both short- and long-term climate change.

Research into paleoclimate at Sussex aims to reconstruct past environments and explain the causes of climate change that have taken place in the last 10,000 years, such as the desertification of the Sahara. Contemporary climate analysis is focused on studying many of the key processes that drive climate variability and change, most notably the determinants of seasonal tropical rainfall, and the role of mineral dust aerosols. This latter phenomenon exemplifies the complexity of the challenge; the vast dust clouds that are blown from the Sahara across West Africa, the Atlantic and South America have a substantial direct impact on the planet's energy budgets but also influence the cycling of carbon between the atmosphere, ocean and land surface. Contemporary climate analysis also provides information for real-life applications,such as improving the prediction of seasonal tropical rainfall that impacts crop yields and water resources.

The work on future climate change at Sussex has two main dimensions. The first is to predict the long-term impact of climate change on our life-support systems, for example, water resources, ecosystems and agriculture, and the associated social processes such as mass migration. In addition, it is focused on how to use scientific data to help inform policy for adaptive responses to climate change from national to community levels. Thus, the work addresses the big challenges of providing relevant information on future climate changes and impacts, and communicating it in the best possible way to optimise decision making.

The three key agendas in Sussex's climate change initiative, the science, societal impact and economics and policy dimensions of climate change, are exemplified in the creation of two unique new Masters programmes in Climate Change and Policy and Climate Change and Development. By bringing together existing expertise within the University and fostering international research collaborations in the UK, Europe and Africa, the aim is to set up a world-class research network for climate change.

Martin's perspective

Professor Martin Todd

There can be few areas of science that directly inform policy to the extent that climate science does today. When I started my climate research career more than 20 years ago, climate science was a minority interest and climate change only a peripheral issue. Now it is at the forefront of the scientific, social, economic and political agendas and has a prominent media profile. Since climate change has moved out of the research labs and on to the front page, I felt I wanted to look outwards also. Coming to Sussex has enabled me to work with leading groups that work directly on developing policy on the shift from fossil fuels to low carbon energy and on the impact of climate change on people in the developing world. It has highlighted the magnitude of the challenge society faces and the necessity for the multidisciplinary approach we are developing at Sussex

Professor Martin Todd
Chair in Climate Change