Erupting With Knowledge

Staffordshire University's expertise in investigating natural hazards is well-documented. A specialist in geomorphological processes and an expert in the interactions between glacier ice and volcanoes, Professor of Physical Geography, Fiona Tweed, has over 20 years of experience of working in Iceland as part of collaborative research teams. Her main focus of study is the flooding that results from eruptions under ice - the exact problem that affected people living near the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull when it erupted in 2010. As part of a collaborative project with academics from Newcastle, Northumbria and Leeds Universities and researchers in Iceland, she has been involved in gaining greater understanding of the mechanisms and impacts of the recent eruptions.

International expert

An international expert in her field, Fiona has been involved in a series of collaborative research projects investigating glacier outburst flooding in Iceland, notably the 'Icelandic Glaciers' research project funded by the Earthwatch Institute. This project identified the processes and impacts of glacier outburst flooding, controls on sediment production from glaciers and the factors responsible for the formation of flood-related landforms. A longer-term goal of the project examined landscape evolution in a highly dynamic glacial environment. Recent work on the eruptions and flooding from Eyjafjallajökull was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Planning for the future

She comments: “This research contributes to our knowledge of landscape change and aids our understanding of the evolution of Iceland's landscape and landscape development elsewhere. We ran a stakeholder workshop in Reykjavík, in the aftermath of the eruptions and flooding from Eyjafjallajökull, to enable knowledge exchange - a critical element of hazard and risk management. Findings from the research in which I am involved help scientists understand the mechanisms and impacts of flooding from glaciers and are assisting Icelandic civil authorities to plan for the future.”

Impact assessment

In addition to a series of research projects on glacier outburst flooding, Professor Tweed led part of a collaborative EC-funded research project ‘ARMONIA’ (the Applied multi-Risk Mapping of Natural Hazards for Impact Assessment), which ran from 2004 to 2007 and was awarded a grant of over €1 million.

The threat of disaster from natural hazards is intensifying worldwide, with the increasing inhabitation of marginal land emphasising potential hazard impacts. The backdrop of climate change and the apparent escalation of flooding, storms and earthquakes have raised the profile of natural hazards research. Many different hazard and risk assessment methodologies are used across Europe and only marginal consideration is typically given to natural hazards in spatial planning. The development of more effective methodologies for incorporating natural disaster reduction into planning processes is key to hazard management.

Research at Staffordshire University responded to this agenda through involvement in the ARMONIA project. ARMONIA examined case studies and experiences of risk mapping in Europe, reviewing land-use planning and management in areas exposed to natural hazards. ARMONIA involved 12 European partners from seven countries, including Professor Fiona Tweed. This research led to her involvement in subsequent projects on natural hazard and risk in Europe.

A university making a real impact in research

Around the globe and across the UK, researchers from Staffordshire University are making a real impact. From providing sustainable solutions to the problems faced by society, to transforming lives, tackling global issues and devising flexible new ways of teaching and learning, our academics, graduates and research students are helping to make the world a much better place.