Faculty of Environment

News & Events

Leeds is top UK university for environmental impact of research

Times Higher Education news story has shown Leeds is the top UK university for the environmental impact of its research and eighth in the world between 2011-2015, based on field weighted citation impact (from Elsevier’s Scopus database). Utrecht University in The Netherlands came top, followed by Stanford, Stockholm and Harvard. The University of Oxford came ninth.

Our score was boosted by papers by highly cited researchers from the Faculty of Environment, including: Oliver Phillips (School of Geography), whose multi-author paper A large and persistent sink in the world’s forests (Science, 2011) has 1733 citations; Andy Shepherd, Director of the NERC Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling and lead author of A reconciled estimate of ice-sheet mass balance (Science, 2012), which has 557 citations, and Priestley International Centre for Climate director Piers Forster, one of four lead authors of Bounding the role of black carbon in the climate system: A Scientific Assessment, a multi-author paper by Bond et al (Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres 2013), which has 1269.

Image source: Elsevier

Scientists observe first signs of healing in the Antarctic ozone layer

New research has identified clear signs that the hole in the Antarctic ozone layer is beginning to close.

Scientists from the School of Earth & Environment were part of an international team led by Professor Susan Solomon of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to confirm the first signs of healing of the ozone layer, which shields life on Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

Recovery of the hole has varied from year to year, due in part to the effects of volcanic eruptions.

But accounting for the effects of these eruptions allowed the team to show that the ozone hole is healing, and they see no reason why the ozone hole should not close permanently by the middle of this century.

These encouraging new findings, published today in the journal Science, show that the average size of the ozone hole each September has shrunk by more than 1.7 million square miles since 2000 – about 18 times the area of the United Kingdom.

The research attributes this improvement to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which heralded a ban the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – then widely used in cooling appliances and aerosol cans.

Professor Solomon said: “We can now be confident that the things we’ve done have put the planet on a path to heal. We decided collectively, as a world, ‘Let’s get rid of these molecules’. We got rid of them, and now we’re seeing the planet respond.”

Co-author Dr Ryan R Neely III, a Lecturer in Observational Atmospheric Science in the School of Earth & Environment, said: “Observations and computer models agree; healing of the Antarctic ozone has begun. We were also able to quantify the separate impacts of man-made pollutants, changes in temperature and winds, and volcanoes, on the size and magnitude of the Antarctic ozone hole.”

Leeds colleague and co-author Dr Anja Schmidt, an Academic Research Fellow in Volcanic Impacts, said: “The Montreal Protocol is a true success story that provided a solution to a global environmental issue.”

She added that the team’s research had shed new light on the part played by recent volcanic eruptions – such as at Calbuco in Chile in 2015 – in Antarctic ozone depletion.

“Despite the ozone layer recovering, there was a very large ozone hole in 2015,” she said. “We were able to show that some recent, rather small volcanic eruptions slightly delayed the recovery of the ozone layer.

“That is because such eruptions are a sporadic source of tiny airborne particles that provide the necessary chemical conditions for the chlorine from CFCs introduced to the atmosphere to react efficiently with ozone in the atmosphere above Antarctica. Thus, volcanic injections of particles cause greater than usual ozone depletion.”

The ozone hole begins growing each year when the sun returns to the South Polar cap from August, and reaches its peak in October – which has traditionally been the main focus for research.

The researchers believed they would get a clearer picture of the effects of chlorine by looking earlier in the year in September, when cold winter temperatures still prevail and the ozone hole is opening up. The team showed that as chlorine levels have decreased, the rate at which the hole opens up in September has slowed down.

Key facts 

  • Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey discovered in the mid-1980s that the October total ozone was dropping. From then on, scientists worldwide typically tracked ozone depletion using October measurements of Antarctic ozone
  • Ozone is sensitive not just to chlorine, but also to temperature and sunlight. Chlorine eats away at ozone, but only if light is present and if the atmosphere is cold enough to create polar stratospheric clouds on which chlorine chemistry can occur
  • Measurements have shown that ozone depletion starts each year in late August, as Antarctica emerges from its dark winter, and the hole is fully formed by early October
  • The researchers focused on September because chlorine chemistry is firmly in control of the rate at which the hole forms at that time of year, so as chlorine has decreased, the rate of depletion has slowed down
  • They tracked the yearly opening of the Antarctic ozone hole each September from 2000 to 2015, analysing ozone measurements taken from weather balloons and satellites, as well as satellite measurements of sulphur dioxide emitted by volcanoes, which can also enhance ozone depletion. And, they tracked meteorological changes, such as temperature and wind, which can shift the ozone hole back and forth.
  • They then compared yearly September ozone measurements with computer simulations that predict ozone levels based on the amount of chlorine estimated to be present in the atmosphere from year to year. The researchers found that the ozone hole has declined compared to its peak size in 2000. They further found that this decline matched the model’s predictions, and that more than half the shrinkage was due solely to the reduction in atmospheric chlorine and bromine
  • Chlorofluorocarbon chemicals (CFCs) last for up to 100 years in the atmosphere, so it will be many years before they disappear completely
  • The reason there is an ozone hole in the Antarctic is that it is the coldest place on Earth – it is so cold that clouds form in the Antarctic stratosphere. Those clouds provide particles, surfaces on which the man-made chlorine from the chlorofluorocarbons reacts. This special chemistry is what makes ozone depletion worse in the Antarctic.

Further information

Dr Anja Schmidt is an Academic Research Fellow in Volcanic Impacts and Hazards at the University of Leeds’ School of Earth and EnvironmentDr Ryan R. Neely III is a Lecturer in Observational Atmospheric Science at the Leeds-based National Centre for Atmospheric Science and Leeds’ School of Earth and Environment.

Scientists from the Atmospheric Chemistry Observations and Modeling (ACOM) Laboratory at National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, also worked on the research, which was supported in part by the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy.

The paper, Emergence of Healing in the Antarctic Ozone Layer, is published in Science todayFor copies of the paper, interviews, images or further information, contact Gareth Dant, University of Leeds Media Relations Manager, on 0113 343 3996 or email g.j.dant(at)leeds.ac.uk.

National Centre for Atmospheric Science

The National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) is a world leader in atmospheric science, a multi-million pound research centre, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). NCAS carries out research in climate science, atmospheric composition and air quality, physics of the atmosphere (including hazardous and extreme weather) and provides the UK community with state-of-the-art technologies and scientific facilities for observing and modelling the atmosphere, including a world-leading research aircraft.

University of Leeds

The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK, with more than 31,000 students from 147 different countries, and a member of the Russell Group research-intensive universities.

We are a top 10 university for research and impact power in the UK, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, and positioned as one of the top 100 best universities in the world in the 2014 QS World University Rankings. www.leeds.ac.uk

The EU Referendum – Statement from the Faculty of Environment:

Following the EU referendum outcome, we wish to re-emphasise the global outlook of the Faculty of Environment and that of the successful Schools and Institute within it. The Faculty is a world-leading base for environment research and student education and we will continue to advance understanding of the societal, economic and environmental challenges facing the world through our global research programmes and to train our students to guide and lead on positive changes. Together with University leaders we will make the strong case for Government investment in research and training as a key route to economic development and for sustainable foundations for long-term growth and stability. 

Whilst the referendum result has caused considerable uncertainty in many ways, in the immediate-term we stress that no fundamental changes have occurred to the research funding and student support landscape. Notably, we shall continue to pro-actively input to EU Horizon2020 funding proposals and to ERC funding schemes, and, following the confirmation from Jo Johnson that students from other EU countries who are currently at UK universities and those starting this Autumn will receive student loan support for the duration of their course, we look forward to welcoming our new and returning EU students to campus in September. 

Andy Dougill, Richard Batley, Anne Tallontire, David Bell, Simon Bottrell & Greg Marsden 

Faculty Academic Executive Team 


Professor Andy Dougill, 
Dean of Faculty of Environment,
Professor of Environmental Sustainability, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, LEEDS, LS2 9JT.

New online courses earn academic credits for degrees

The University of Leeds has launched a new range of online courses that will enable students to earn academic credits towards degrees.

The university is one of eight leading higher education institutions from around the world offering such courses on the FutureLearn platform of massive open online courses (MOOCs).

Called Programs, they will enable learners to take part in high-quality online courses.

Leeds' first Program is called Environmental Challenges and is made up of five short online courses that consider the relationships between people and nature, as well as the challenging and difficult decisions we face when managing natural resources.

For more information visit the University News Room

Athena SWAN Bronze award for Faculty

Athena SWAN Bronze Award for Faculty

The Faculty of Environment has been awarded the Athena SWAN bronze award for our work on advancing gender equality across the three schools. The Athena SWAN charter and awards seek to identify, promote and share good practice in advancing equality across genders in academia. This means analysing the journey from undergraduate applications through postgraduate study right up to the recruitment and retention of professorial staff and identifying how to improve.

Commenting on the success Professor Greg Marsden (submission coordinator) said "This is a great achievement, which recognises some of the good practice that already happens across the Faculty in making it a more diverse student population and inclusive workplace. However, we have also identified more that can be done from the details of organising field trips to enhanced support for those returning from parental leave."

The Faculty submission is available to download.

Women of Achievement University of Leeds

Faculty staff celebrated as 2015 Women of Achievement

To mark International Women's Day on Sunday 8th March 2015, the University has awarded 13 members of staff or students the title 'Woman of Achievement 2015'.

The Women of Achievement awards underpin the University's Athena SWAN objectives. The University of Leeds has been commended for its work to support the career development of talented women working in the traditionally male dominated fields of Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) in the form of a prestigious bronze award under the Athena SWAN Charter for Women in Science. The Faculty of Environment is currently working towards a bronze award submission.

Awards go to the following:

Dr Andrea Jackson, Pro-Dean for Student Education
School of Earth and Environment
Nominated as a result of her National Teaching Fellowship.

Professor Lindsay Stringer, Professor in Environment and Development, Sustainability Research Institute
School of Earth and Environment
Nominated following her 2013 Philip Leverhulme Prize for Geography.

Anne Clarke, Student in MSc Transport Planning
Institute for Transport Studies
Nominated following her MVA Transport Prize 2013 for the best dissertation in transport planning and sustainability, and the STAR (Scottish Transport Applications and Research) Conference prize 2014.

Laura Mills, Student in BSc Geography
School of Geography
Nominated following her runner-up prize in the Environment Agency’s Pollution Challenge competition 2013.

Research Excellence Framework Logo

Faculty celebrates success in Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014

The Faculty of Environment has excelled in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 whose results were published on 18th December 2014.

The Institute for Transport Studies is in the Top 2 nationally for research power, with its research rated to be 'internationally excellent'.

The School of Earth and Environment is ranked in the Top 5 universities in the UK for research in Earth systems and environmental sciences, and one of the UK’s Top 2 centres for research power and for the quality of its research.

The  School of Geography has risen to be ranked in the Top 5 UK Geography departments for research power.

The University of Leeds overall is ranked in the Top 10 for research power.

University of Leeds’ Vice-Chancellor Sir Alan Langlands, said: “Our place as one of the UK’s top ten universities for research and impact power reflects the quality and sheer scale of our research at Leeds.”

The REF is a robust and internationally-recognised exercise to measure the quality of UK university research. The results are used to allocate around £2 billion of government funding for research each year.

Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment logo

Undergraduate degrees gain IEMA accreditation

The School of Earth and Environment's BSc and MEnv in Sustainability and Environmental Management has been accredited by the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA) as an ‘Associate Certificate’ course.  Leeds is the only Russell Group University to offer an IEMA accredited undergraduate degree.

Read more.

Cheery Blossom flower

Global importance of pollinators underestimated

A major study, published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B and co-authored by the School of Geography Dr Guy Ziv, looks at the importance of pollinators to 115 of the most common food crops worldwide and the importance of those crops in delivering vital nutrients to vulnerable populations. Read more.


Amazon inhales more carbon than it emits

A new study led by NASA and Professor Manuel Gloor of the School of Geography, University of Leeds has confirmed that natural forests in the Amazon remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they emit. This finding resolves a long-standing debate about a key component of the overall carbon balance of the Amazon basin. Read more.