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Manchester Environmental Research Institute

Close up of sea water

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.

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 combine to contribute to this problem.

This theme will bring together academics from all University faculties with external partners from industry, government, civil society groups, NGOs, and environmental organisations to improve understanding, prediction, and management of our changing water cycle. Our challenge-oriented research will help to design policies, technologies, and infrastructure that enable sustainable, equitable, and resilient management of freshwater in the UK and internationally.

Our key areas:

Hydrological science and modelling

Our research is improving scientific understanding about how water moves through the natural and built environment. We use this knowledge to predict changes in hydrological extremes due to climate and land use change.

Major ongoing research at The University of Manchester in this area is focused on:

  • Upland hydrology – researching the impact of land use change, erosion and pollution in upland ecosystems on drinking water quality and flood risk for downstream communities and ecosystems
  • Flood risk assessment and management - developing hydrologic and hydraulic models for flood risk prediction, and assessment of flood mitigation approaches and policies
  • Urban drainage design – evaluating the impact of urbanisation on water cycle processes and designing sustainable urban drainage systems and water supply infrastructure
  • Land-atmosphere interactions - assessing the impact of land use changes on local and regional scale hydro-climatology, including precipitation processes and dynamics

Activities in this area have important links with sub-themes below, including the development of new predictive tools for assessing future changes in water availability, hydrological risks, and contaminant transport pathways in major river basins in the UK and internationally.

Water resources management and policy

Our research is helping to inform how limited freshwater resources can be managed sustainably and efficiently to meet the competing needs of human uses and the environment. Included in this is: the improved design of water infrastructure systems, policies, and governance approaches.

Major on-going research at The University of Manchester in this area is focused on:

  • Agricultural water management – predicting current and future water risks to food production and evaluating the policies and technologies that have been put in place
  • Water-energy-food nexus – assessing the feedbacks and interconnections between water, food, and energy security to support decision-makers, manage risks and enhance sustainable development
  • Resilient water infrastructure – developing models and optimisation software to design robust and adaptive water supply infrastructure systems
  • Sustainable water consumption – identifying the drivers of individual and household water consumption practices, and developing solutions to incentivise more efficient water use behaviour and governance

Activities in in this area are supporting sectoral and inter-sectoral water policy both in the UK and internationally, including support for more equitable and sustainable water management in ODA countries to enable economic growth and improved resilience to climate change.

Water quality, treatment, and health

Our research is advancing understanding and assessment of naturally-occurring (eg arsenic) and man-made (eg microplastics) sources of water pollution in river basins worldwide, and developing novel policy and technological solutions to enhance access to safe and clean water supplies.

Major on-going research at The University of Manchester in this area is focused on:

  • Water pollution detection – evaluating the sources, dispersion and distribution of chemical elements and gases
  • Contaminant transport analysis – developing analytical and numerical tools to analyse how contaminants move through the water environment and the risks to people and the environment
  • Treatment and remediation – designing tools and approaches to protect and treat water quality and pollution and designing novel cost-effective and scalable water treatment technologies such as graphene-based water filtration

Activities in this area play are supported by improved hydrological modelling expertise being developed in the ‘Hydrological science and modelling’ sub-theme, and provide important contributions to efforts to manage competing demands for limited clean freshwater resources as part of our ‘Water resources management and policy’ sub-theme.