Managing the world's water resources
Water is critical to all life on Earth, underpinning everything from food production to energy generation and transportation. It also sustains our natural ecosystems which we all rely upon for diverse goods and services.
Our research is helping to design policies, technologies, and infrastructure that enable sustainable, equitable, and resilient management of freshwater in the UK and internationally.Tim Foster / Managing the world's water resources theme lead
However, water scarcity is increasing in many regions worldwide. A combination of rising human demand, pollution and degradation of freshwater ecosystems, and changes in water availability due to climate change all contribute to this problem.
This theme brings together academics from all University Faculties with partners from industry, government, civil society groups, NGOs, and environmental organisations to improve understanding, prediction, and management of our changing water cycle.
Our research expertise
Our research is challenge led and brings together a wide variety of experts operating across disciplines. This research is focused around three main areas:
- Clean water and sanitation – developing technological and institutional solutions to mitigate risks of water pollution and increase access to safe, sufficient and affordable water for drinking, sanitation and hygiene
- Resilient catchments and hydrological extremes – developing our understanding of water cycle dynamics, how processes are responding to climate and land use change, and how natural and built infrastructure can support resilience to floods and droughts
- Water security and sustainable development – identifying challenges and solutions to sustainably manage and govern competing demands for limited freshwater resources from human uses and the environment
Our research highlights
Arsenic in water
Human exposure to arsenic in groundwater causes 100,000s preventable deaths every year. Researchers have developed predictive models to understand how arsenic is released into groundwater and the key pathways through which human exposure occurs. This knowledge is being used to develop decision-support tools to help governments and communities to design effective low-cost mitigation and remediation measures to provide arsenic-safe drinking water supplies in countries across south and Southeast Asia.
Graphene water filtration
Approximately 3.5m people die each year due to a lack of clean water for drinking, sanitation and hygiene. Researchers at The University of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute have developed new pioneering water filtration technologies, including a graphene-oxide membrane that can filter salts out of water at much lower costs than existing desalination technologies. These discoveries are helping to deliver clean potable water, providing an effective solution to drinking water issues in the humanitarian sectors to millions around the world.
Plastics are found in all natural environments on Earth’s surface, with at least 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic estimated to the afloat in the world’s oceans. Detailed catchment-wide studies are ongoing to investigate the microplastics levels at river sites across Greater Manchester. This work is enabling scientists to better understand how plastics move through the environment, and informing development of new environmental regulations to reduce waste flowing into our rivers and plastic contamination in freshwater and marine ecosystems.
Natural flood management
Flooding costs households and business in England as much as £1.1 billion each year, with risks of extreme events projected to increase in coming decades due to climate change. We are working with landowners, conservation agencies and governments to explore how nature-based solutions, such as peatland restoration and sustainable urban drainage systems, can be used to reduce the level of flood risk to downstream communities.
Smallholder irrigation development
Millions of smallholder farmers worldwide lack access to reliable and cost-effective water supplies for irrigation. We are working with governments and development agencies to design and assess technological, economic and institutional solutions to improve water access, livelihoods, and resilience to climate change for small-scale farmers in Africa and Asia in ways that are socially equitable and environmentally sustainable.
Sustainable water consumption
Population growth is leading to increased demand for water resources around the world. Our researchers are exploring solutions to improve , including research on water use practices in domestic, agricultural and industrial settings to support design of effective demand management policies and technologies.
Water plays a critical role in energy generation, economic development, agricultural production and sustaining ecosystem services. Our research is developing new data and tools to help policymakers worldwide to make decisions about how to manage competing demands for water from different human uses and the environment. Through the GCRF FutureDams project, our research is helping to develop new decision support tools to enable decision-makers in countries worldwide to more effectively plan and monitor performance of water infrastructure investments and policies.
Urban water access in the Global South
Vast segments of the Global South lack access to safe, reliable and affordable water services. Work led by researchers at The University of Manchester’s Global Development Institute, including as part of a new £32 million African Cities research programme, is helping to understand why water services are not reaching residents in some of the world’s fastest growing cities, and identifying key actions to ensure more equitable access to safe, reliable and affordable water.
Hear from our researchers
Read about our latest water research:
- World Water Day case studies - Manchester Worldwide have created short case studies on the water-related problems faced by urban residents in the Global South.
- Water Research at Manchester ECR Forum - To coincide with World Water Day 2021 we held an event where early career researchers from across the University came together to discuss their water-related research, with themes including water security, irrigation and water infrastructure. Watch the event presentations.
- Publication highlight - Laura Richards -Emerging organic contaminants in groundwater under a rapidly developing city (Patna) in northern India dominated by high concentrations of lifestyle chemicals.
Discover more about our research
Find out more about the work of Manchester Environmental Research Institute.
Visit our research pages
Get in touch
If you would like to work with us or you’re a researcher at The University of Manchester and would like to feature on this page, contact us.
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