PhD Researcher Profile: Anna Lavelle

In a special edition of our series profiling the King’s Water students, here’s a repost of a piece from the King’s Geography blog highlighting PhD researcher Anna Lavelle. Anna is supervised by King’s Water staff members Nic Bury and Michael Chadwick.

PhD researcher Anna LavelleExploring the regular ‘inmates’ of the John B Thornes Laboratory, we ask PhD student Anna Lavelle what she gets up to…

• What are you doing in the lab?

My current work looks at examining nitrate and ammonium fluxes across the sediment-water interface in urban London rivers to determine the success of restoration.

• Why is it important?

The synergistic effects of multi-stressor factors placed upon river networks draining urban land is a phenomenon widely know as the “urban stream syndrome”. These stressors include physical habitat modifications, hydrological change and poor water quality resulting from increases in nutrient and toxicant loads. In recent decades, restoration efforts aimed at improving the physical structure, flow characteristics and ecological condition of rivers have been implemented across London to counteract these problems. However, little research has been undertaken to determine the success of restoration with respect to ecosystem function. The dearth of knowledge surrounding ecosystem function forms an important part of this project.

• How did you get into your field?

I have always had an interest in river environments. Examining river erosion along the Daintree River, Australia for my undergraduate dissertation using remote sensing , I began to gain an interest in the different factors shaping river environments. Following on from this, segments of my master’s degree in Aquatic Resource Management were focussed on river functioning and management. After being accepted onto my PhD programme and liaising with my supervisors, we found there to be a considerable amount of scope to examine ecosystem function as a determent of river restoration.

• What’s your favourite piece of kit in the lab?

The fluorometer! It is a compact and portable item of equipment used to measure parameters of fluorescence which correlate to ammonium concentrations in water.

• Tell us about an interesting or surprising finding you’ve come across recently?

I have noticed that there has been an increased focus on community river clean-up groups in and around London. It has been great to see the success that community engagement has brought about.

Exploring Biodiversity of Headwater Streams in Ulu Temburong National Park, Borneo

This summer, a group of KCL students and staff conducted an expedition to Ulu Temburong National Park in Borneo to document novel aquatic habitats and biodiversity using a combination of survey methods and underwater imagery. Ulu Temburong National Park is situated within a biodiversity hotspot with pristine topical climax forest and river ecosystems. It is a priority location for conservation and restoration efforts and a suitable reference site for comparable ecosystems, but limited biogeographical data exists for the region. The Royal Geographical Society’s Ralph Brown Award (2016) funded the expedition, which included Dr. Michael Chadwick, Dr. Daniel Schillereff, Kate Baker, Eleanore Heasley, Arthur Fuest and Rob Francis (expedition home support) along with Universiti Brunei Darussalam PhD student Hanyrol Ahmad Sah. The group spent three weeks surveying riverine physical habitats and associated biodiversity. These efforts will expand current knowledge of biodiversity and biogeography in the region with the collection of species un-described to science. This work is vital for establishing benchmarks needed for both local conservation and regional restoration of degrading rivers in SE Asia.

Many thanks to Universiti Brunei Darussalam for their support and to SonTek for the loan of the River Surveyor M9.

Below is a visual documentation of the trip, with thanks to Hanyrol for the photos!

All hands on deck when sampling macroinvertebrate abundances on waterfalls!


Borneo Horn frog in the study stream


Measuring velocity cross sections of the Temburong River with the SonTek River surveyor M9.


Celebrating the success of exploring the upper reaches of Temburong River

Celebrating the success of exploring the upper reaches of Temburong River


Talking about the expedition to Universiti Brunei Darussalam students

Talking about the expedition to Universiti Brunei Darussalam students


Night-time frogging! Assessing frog abundance and their diets in our study streams

Night-time frogging! Assessing frog abundance and their diets in our study streams


King’s Water member Rob Francis to speak on Family-Worklife Balance

As part of the London Doctoral Training Programme Conference to be held at King’s College London 1-2 September, there will be an open panel discussion on “Getting the Family-Worklife Balance right in academia”. King’s Water staff member Rob Francis will join other researchers at various stages in their academic career to discuss the struggles, challenges and advice they have for successfully managing family and work-life balance. The afternoon will include the opportunity to ask them questions.

All are welcome to join us in the Edmond J Safra Theatre of King’s Strand Campus from 2:40-3:30pm on 2 September.


  • Prof. Viviene Jones, UCL
    Viv Jones  has had a non-standard career in academia.  She started her career as a Research Scientist after being awarded her PhD in 1986 and had twins in 1995.  Viv returned to  UCL after 6 months of maternity leave and then worked part-time (70%) from 1995-2010 in a Research role until she was awarded a full-time academic contract at UCL.  Since then she has been promoted to Professor of Environmental Change.
  • Dr Rob Francis, King’s Water, King’s College London
    Rob Francis is Senior Lecturer in Ecology at King’s College London. He joined King’s as a lecturer before completing his PhD and has been here for 12 years. Rob is married with two kids, aged 7 and 2. As a non-Londoner with no family support and a long commute, he is familiar with the challenges involved in successfully maintaining an academic career in London whilst also having a decent family life.
  • Dr Elizabeth Boakes, UCL
    Lizzie Boakes is a research scientist at the Centre for Biodiversity and Environmental Research CBER, UCL. She has three children and has been a postdoc working part time (0.4 fte) for many years.
  • Alex Steele, PhD student, UCL
    Alex Steele is a memberpart of cohort 1 of the London NERC DTP. He is a vulcanologist and met his wife, Maria, while doing fieldwork in Ecuador between 2009 and 2014, before he started his PhD. They have a young child, Elisa, born in August 2013. Elisa has dual nationality (British and Ecuadorian), and is now three years old. Maria and Elisa moved to London to live with Alex when he  began his PhD in September 2014. They spend the majority of the time in the UK but typically return to Ecuador for two months each year to visit family.

King’s Water at RGS

The 2016 Annual International Conference will be held at the Royal Geographical Society in London from Tuesday 30 August to Friday 2 September 2016. The theme for AC2016 is nexus thinking, an approach that has attracted a surge of interest in the last five years among academics, policy-makers and third sector organizations. The aim of nexus thinking is to address the interdependencies, tensions and trade-offs between different environmental and social domains – an approach to which geographers might feel an inherent attraction. Rather than seeing energy, food and water resources as separate systems, for example, nexus thinking focuses on their interconnections, favouring an integrated approach that moves beyond national, sectoral, policy and disciplinary silos to identify more efficient, equitable and sustainable use of scarce resources.

Given how strongly rooted the idea of ‘nexus’ is in water management and scholarship, it isn’t suprising that a number of King’s Water members will be taking part. Join King’s Water to consider transboundary water governance, gendered hydro-violence, hydro-social interactions, environmental education, hydro-diplomacy, and other issues.


Seeking and contesting environmental security in a complex world: Knowledge, agency and governance implications

Naho Mirumachi, King’s Water Lead, is convening a session on Wednesday exploring environmental security. Environmental security remains a key feature of global concerns to stability and development, as demonstrated in the 2016 Global Risks Report by the World Economic Forum highlighting effects of climate change, water and energy crises. While the concept of environmental security is not new, nowadays it concerns a wide range of climate, energy, food, water, biodiversity and migration issues, in addition to the interlinked impacts between and across them. At the same time, the referent object of security is multiple and less evident in contrast to statist interpretations of environmental security. Recent scholarship on environmental security calls for a better examination of global economic structures and human-biophysical processes of the anthropocene that mediate causes and implications of insecurities (Dalby 2013). Understanding environmental security thus encompasses a critical examination of the politics determining complex and multiple threats. What kinds of thresholds and trigger points are identified to establish risks and threats? What kinds of knowledge are used to explain causes of threats? How are inter-connected risks across sectors such as climate and migration, water-food-energy understood? The politics of environmental security sheds light on the normative assumptions and framing of threats. Actors strategize and challenge logics of security, which may not necessarily distribute the benefits and burdens of dealing with threats equally across society. Drawing on a range of environmental contexts, the panel will discuss the language and knowledge of securitising the environment; actors and referent objects of security; implications of governing for environmental security on socio-economic and ecological processes. Presenters include King’s Water’s own Amiera Sawas.


The Water-Gender-Violence Nexus in Disasters and Daily Lives

King’s Water is sponsoring a session examining the complexity of the links between water, gender, and violence is growing in research. Tragic cases in India of young women raped and murdered while searching for a spot to defecate drew the eyes of the world to the strong – and often horrific – ties between water for sanitation and hygiene and gender-based violence. Poor infrastructure creates opportunities for violence. Both temporary and permanent circumstances of limited resources and poor infrastructure can affect the way people interact with each other, both positively and negatively. The potential of water – in its abundance, scarcity, use, misuse, or related infrastructure – to be a driver of conflict and violence can only be understood via credible, extensive, and ground level research in a multiplicity of circumstances. In this session, cases from around the world will be used to question whether and how water is a gendered resource, how gendered dimensions plays out in water access and distribution, how discourses of water help shape gender-based violence, and how water might be leveraged as a tool against gender-based violence.

The session will be chaired by PhD researcher Becca Farnum. King’s Water member Amiera Sawas will share her work on the gendered dimensions of water for sanitation and hygiene in urban settings. Becca’s research partner Dar Si Hmad will speak about a fog-harvesting project in Southwest Morocco tackling the symbolic violence of gendered water roles.


Hydrosocial or socio-hydro? Cross-disciplinary discussions on Deltas as nexus of social, technical and physical systems

UNESCO-IHE, one of King’s Water’s institutional partners, will be leading a session investigating the physical and social elements of water systems. The last decade has seen the exploration across disciplines, but especially by physical and human geographers, of water as simultaneously social and natural. In the age of the Anthropocene, natural scientists refer to socio-hydrology, while social scientists refer to the hydrosocial. They both agree – but with important differences – on needing to understand the interplay between human and natural systems. This session aims to understand the differences, similarities, and implications of the hydro-social-technical paradigms in use. Waterscapes where this issue is particularly pertinent are deltas. Deltas are special places, where the relationships between humans and nature is often strongly, and increasingly, mediated by technology. Traditions of ‘living with water’, with modest interventions, are in many places superseded by modernity’s aim to control: dikes prevent flooding, groins and embankments fix the river channels’ position, polders enable micro-water level management for the benefit of agriculture. The conceptualisation of delta systems should therefore give due recognition to the constituting role of technology. This session aims to explore this relationship of technology with social and natural processes within the context of delta, theoretically and/or empirically. We want to compare the reasons for, and implications of, the choice of paradigm for research and policy on deltas. Our purpose is not to judge competing claims but to start a meaningful conversation. We want to assess possibilities and constraints in the light of pragmatic questions: what can we learn when we employ these different approaches, what different rationales for action do they suggest, what scope exists for collaboration? We also ask to what extent paradigms are incommensurable, and under what circumstances they may not be. Our tentative proposal is that ‘narrative’ is the common ground that can be a shared endeavour amongst disparate paradigms. We therefore also look for speculative papers that propose how such engagement around narratives may be implemented in research.

King’s Water members David Demeritt and Maria Paula Escobar Tello will be presenting their work on “Forecasting in the nexus: looping effects and the impacts of ‘impact-based’ warnings”. King’s Water Lead Naho Mirumachi will reflect on “Hydrosocial or socio-hydro? Cross-disciplinary discussions”.


Environmental Peacebuilding: The Peace-Environment-Conflict Nexus

“Environmental peacebuilding” is an emerging concept recognising the potential of the natural environment to play a role in post-conflict rebuilding and peaceful relations between communities in conflict. This session will examine the logic of the environmental peacebuilding rationale and the links between peace, the natural environment, and conflict. The focus will be on critically considering when and where peacebuilding does and should happen, the unique position occupied by nature in these processes, and the need to examine both the negative and positive consequences of environmental concerns. Examining theoretical debates and including practitioner and activist voices, the session will consider whether environmental scarcity inevitably leads to conflict; what the goal of environmental peacebuilding is and should be; how the natural environment might be understood as a tool, actor, and/or stakeholder in peacebuilding processes; and how various actors at multiple scales might learn from successful examples of environmental peacebuilding?

King’s Water PhD researcher Becca Farnum will be profiling her research partners in a unique session bringing together activists from three Middle Eastern countries to discuss the ways in which they use water for local peacebuilding and international diplomacy. Part 1 will review the theoretical basis of environmental peacebuilding, with contributions from a range of disciplines. Part 2 will be Becca’s first public presentation of the data she has collected from six months of fieldwork in Morocco, Kuwait, and Lebanon and will include a variety of local voices.


The Environment-Education-Empowerment Nexus

PhD student Becca Farnum is convening a session on The Environment-Education-Empowerment Nexus. Part I will explore the premise that student engagement as researchers in Education-Practitioner Partnerships can enable students to be a key nexus in the practical application of geography both at the time, through their activity in partnership, and in the future, through the pedagogic development and networking skills they gain through partnership. We will share perspectives on opportunities and challenges offered by a range of stakeholders including students, professional practitioners and academic researchers across the breadth of the discipline. Part II will take a closer look at the concept and pedagogy of “environmental learning”. Environmental learning may refer to education about the environment and natural ecosystems, education taking place outdoors surrounded by nature, or ecologically focused instruction with sustainability as an aim. This session seeks to understand the interplays between the natural environment, teaching and learning, and empowerment – for teachers, students, economies, communities, and nature itself. The session will make use of both local case study and pedagogical theory to consider these relationships. The two sessions will focus primarily on practical case studies, with the chair facilitating discussion between and across the case studies to highlight emerging themes. A discussion with the audience will help to raise further questions and issues in order to inform conclusions about the efficacy and potential of environmental learning for education, empowerment, and sustainability.

The session will include a paper from King’s Water PhD researcher Anna Lavell about her work with Intrepid Explorers. Two of Becca Farnum’s research partners will also be presenting. The Kuwait Dive Team will share their work with youth in an extensive Mobile Beach Clean-Up project. Dar Si Hmad, a local NGO from Morocco, will present their Water School, a model of rural sustainability education.


PhD Researcher Profile: Eleanore Heasley

Eleanore Heasley began her PhD investigating patterns of river habitats with King’s Water this April.

Before coming to King’s, El completed an undergraduate degree in physical geography from the University of Southampton in 2015, where she was awarded the RGS Fieldwork Apprentice grant in her first year. The grant allowed El to join a research group studying the geomorphology of the Lower Mekong River during the monsoon. This experience sparked her interest in rivers. She went on to work as an intern and consultant for the FreshWater Watch project at the Earthwatch Institute funded by the HSBC water programme, where her team collected water quality information from global community of citizen scientists in order to better understand the drivers of local water quality across the globe.

Rising Mekong flood levels spill onto the floodplain carrying high levels of suspended sediment, monsoon storm clouds brewing in the background (September 2013)

Rising Mekong flood levels spill onto the floodplain carrying high levels of suspended sediment, monsoon storm clouds brewing in the background (taken by El during her trip in September 2013)

In September 2016, El became part of the second cohort of the London NERC DTP. She chose King’s for her PhD because “I loved the Geography Department’s interdisciplinary approach”.

PhD researcher El Heasley on a whike in forested mountains El’s PhD is working to find a way to better explain how instream habitats are arranged throughout the stream networks of England and Wales. Currently, methods that explain the spatial arrangement of habitats depend heavily on oversimplification of characteristics of river catchments. In contrast, El will explore the spatial arrangement of river networks and catchment land covers and estimate the hydrological response of the river and how this influences the distribution of river habitats. Using this approach, she aims to identify areas in river catchments where habitats may be vulnerable to changes in the catchment or flow regime to inform river management practises in the UK. You can read more about El’s work with England’s chalk streams in this blog post with the NERC DTP.

Seeing Like a Water Secure State

The guest post below is written by King’s Water alum Barnaby Dye, who earned an MA in Environment and Development from the Department of Geography last year. In it, Barnaby reflects on his learning and engagement with the Water Security 2015 Conference held at the University of Oxford in December.


Water Security as a concept, invokes many definitions, from those focusing on basic human needs, to ideas of adaptation, to others of disaster prevention. It is also a core concept behind a recently created partnership between the University of Oxford, OECD and Global Water Partnership that aims to study the relationship between this concept and ideas of prosperity, growth and poverty. The project draws on a report proving a causal relationship between these factors and water security. It builds on a conceptual thought experiment, backed up by correlational analyses as well as econometric tests. The results show that there are significant relationships between water insecure areas, defined as areas with high variability of water runoff, and low levels of GDP. Water runoff in simplistic terms meaning the amount of water flowing over surfaces, primarily in rivers. This relationship is further exemplified through analyses of poor countries whose GDP tracks rainfall data and that a range of poor human development statistics are concentrated in these same supposedly water-insecure states.

As partly admitted by the study, what these results could actually be argued to show is the vulnerability of having an economy that is heavily dependent on agriculture, particularly one in a more arid climate. Furthermore, a more structuralist perspective on global economic trends, one that took in factors of history, politics and the unequal market barriers faced by primary producers, might avoid such assertions that verge on the environmentally deterministic idea of a country’s location being the primary reason for its poverty.

However, leaving that aside, the study proceeds with its conceptualisation of the causal link between water insecurity and poverty being related to quantities of water infrastructure. Such infrastructure is argued to end water insecurity by reducing water variability, thus breaking the ‘poverty trap’ and allowing sustainable growth with help from its irrigation, flood prevention and hydropower benefits. In order to become a good water-secure state then, one would have to see water as a resource to be utilised, a thing to be controlled for the good of society. A good state would want to make water legible then, understood, controlled and managed. The study indicates this would take the form of the ‘three Is’: Institutions, Infrastructure and Information. Through this water-legibility, water rainfalls can be better known, and most crucially, their flows influenced, so that economically productive activities can consistently take place. The relationship is crystallised in this graph which is supposed to show decreased variability and increased infrastructure are correlated with wealth. However, the lack of correlation and presence of middle income countries throughout the graph arguably suggests that water variability is not related to wealth but that merely richer countries have more infrastructure.

Figure showing trends between economic growth, hydrologic variability, and investment in risk mitigationThe outcome of this water security logic for states might resemble the thesis of James Scott, in that it would adopt modernist rationales of a state ordering society and the environment. A water-security conscious state would similarly seek to ‘read’ and govern water, shaping it to its preferred idea of what a society and its environment should embody. This would happen through the measuring of water by ‘rational’ scientists who would then design a benign set of infrastructures transforming the wild and irrational variable flow of water into a tamed, known and ‘productive’ one; more infrastructure and less variability is seen as an essential good. Such water security thinking seems to be based on inherently modernist principals. The first is that that a scientifically ordered environment of constant water flow is superior to presently existing irrational and unproductive variable flows. This ignores the socio-environmental systems and services inherently based upon water variability. Principally these might involve the fertilising and irrigating annual floods which underpin many agricultural systems and aquatic ecosystems (including riverine and coastal fisheries). An example that springs to mind here being the Rufiji in Tanzania, which is one of the country’s most productive farmland areas that also contains a significantly biodiverse mangrove swamp. The second is that it seems to presume that economically productive activities involve a farming system of predictable and managed irrigation. This can be argued to be markedly Eurocentric, favouring the agricultural systems of the ‘North’ that are premised on all year water, and modernist, in that it preferences scientifically-produced and technology-intensive agriculture without considering the merits of existing systems.

By removing the under-pinners of an existing socio-environmental system, this water security definition around variability and infrastructure could lead to States creating numerous dis-benefits that could lead many into less economically and water-secure lives. This argument is made not to dismiss the challenges that are presented by variability. Indeed they do not dismiss the idea that dam-infrastructure or other large scale interventions should never be considered. However, they do point to the fact that whilst necessarily fluid and less controllable, flooding can nonetheless be crucially beneficial. A narrow understanding of water security can consequently be argued to provide a justification for large infrastructure adhering to essentially modernist and statist agendas that ignore the values of existing agri-environmental systems and the people affected by such interventions. This point is perhaps most illustrated in the report’s stating of the benefits of water-security technology and infrastructure (read dams) without listing the comparable costs these infrastructure entail. A growing body of critical dam-literature[i] focuses not only on displacement of people but also the loss of agricultural income, ecosystems and on dam-made earthquakes and flooding. Such a glaring omission begs the question, who is ‘water security’ being created for?

A further question asked by this analysis of the water security agenda is how it should relate to the ‘small water’ agenda of hygiene and drinking water. Large infrastructure projects reducing variability may well be able to deliver tangible benefits in this area, but through the changes wrought by them, they can also endanger the flows that deliver ‘WASH’ (Water and Sanitation Hygiene) solutions.

Fundamentally it is important to think about whether water security means intervening in the environment to reduce variability and increase reliability, or whether it might entail accepting the challenges presented by extremes of water and building the physical ‘hard’ and more important ‘soft’ socio-cultural and aversion systems that allow people to adapt and live through them. Should we seek to impose solutions of universal increased infrastructure or base solutions on the knowledges, existing agri-environmental systems and participation of those trying to achieve water security?

The REACH program which has been recently launched in Oxford offers an exciting opportunity to tackle these issues in its aim to deliver ‘water security’ to 5 million people across three countries with the closer marrying of development practise and academia. And indeed many of the distributional, gendered and power related aspects were discussed at the Water Security Conference that took place in Oxford to launch the program in December. Crucially, discussion in the conference recognised that ideas of water security vary at different scales, going beyond the idea of mere water runoff to think about what it means for individuals, communities or regions. It is therefore hoped that REACH will engage in these fundamental questions, creating a broad, critical and policy-relevant idea of water security at its base for implementing a water security agenda.

[i] To name the most prominent: Reisner, 1986; Adams, 1991; McCully, 2001; Khagram, 2004; Scudder, 2005; Everard, 2013; Ansar 2014,