Upcoming Seminar: Transforming Oslo’s Waterfront

Urban Futures is a new research domain in the department of Geography that is primarily concerned with examining how visions of the future shape contemporary urbanism. As a group of critical geographers, we are interested in the question of the ‘future’ as a conceptual, analytical and methodological lens into challenging current paradigms of urban theory, practice and research. With apocalyptic visions of an urban age predicted by experts, we are interested in examining how alternative visions of urban futures in planning, governance, citizenship and everyday life are being imagined, contested and lived by people across the world. Join the new Research Domain for a special seminar on cities and architecture along Oslo’s iconic waterfront.


Social Justice in the Compact City: The Role of Architectural Mediations and Visions of Social Life in the Transformation of Oslo’s Waterfront

Per Gunnar Røe, University of Oslo
Tuesday 13 December 2016
4:30-6pm, Room K0.20

Oslo’s waterfront is being transformed, as part of a compact city and urban entrepreneurial strategy. Iconic architecture and architectural imaginaries play important roles in this transformation, and in the construction of a collective future vision for a compact and livable city. In this lecture I address the question of social justice, based on an empirical investigation of the centerpiece in the transformed core of Oslo, namely the Barcode project in Bjørvika. How are issues concerning social equity and diversity treated and represented in policies, plans, design and architecture? What is the role of the architectural design process and architectural representations in staging the compact and livable city? What are the social implications of these spatial imaginaries and designs?


Event flyer for 13 December seminar on Oslo waterfront transformation

More Than Flow for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Stefanie Schulte, Policy Manager at the NSW Irrigators’ Council, reflects on the last 18 months of Australia’s water reform process, ahead of this week’s Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council Meeting in Adelaide.

Tomorrow, State and Federal water ministers will gather in Adelaide for another Ministerial Council meeting to discuss the next steps in the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It will be an interesting meeting – not only because the Murray-Darling Basin Authority is scheduled to brief the ministers on the recently completed Northern Basin Review but also because there are likely to be further discussions around the most recent amendments to Australia’s Water Act 2007 (Cth).

Where are we at?

Four years since the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was signed into law, we have “nearly” completed the Basin Plan’s environmental water recovery target. As of 30 September, the Australian Government has recovered 1996.1GL, or 73 per cent, of the 2750GL target. While that technically leaves 754 GL to be recovered, we could be as close as 104GL if Murray-Darling Basin states find suitable ‘supply projects’.

What are these projects?

These supply projects can be works, revised river operations, river management rule changes and other measures that enable the use of less water but still achieve the Murray-Darling Basin Plan’s environmental outcomes. Examples of projects that have been submitted by the states include infrastructure modification at the large Nimmie Caira wetlands in southern New South Wales, improved flow management works in the Murrumbidgee River and water saving operational changes at the Menindee Lakes storages on the Darling River.

In total, there are 37 projects to date – all of which are ‘flow’ related.


We nearly missed the chance to consider these supply projects. Prior to the last Ministerial Council meeting in April 2016, Basin states were scrambling to finalise their package of supply measures (as well as efficiency and constraints reduction projects) before the Federal Government went into caretaker mode due to the 2nd July Australian Federal election.

However, due to a shortened timeframe, Basin ministers requested amendments to the Australian Water Act to include a second notification period (extending final project deadlines to 30 June 2017) to give the states more time to develop further projects – including ‘no-flow’ complementary projects like carp control, installation of cold water pollution mitigation infrastructure, and proactive management of wetlands.

All these projects have the potential to lead to significant environmental benefits without the obsessive focus on flows and further water recovery from irrigated agriculture. We now have an opportunity to consider these and other ‘non-flow’ projects.

Last week, the Water Legislation Amendment (Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2016 was passed – amending the Water Act to allow for another 12 months to develop further supply measure projects, as agreed by the Basin state water ministers and Federal Government.

The amendment will be on the agenda tomorrow – giving irrigators hope that we are finally moving away from a ‘just flow’ discussion.

Flow vs Outcome

These ‘complementary projects’ are not new but they have not featured in Australia’s water reform process – until now.

Since the early days of the Water Act 2007 (Cth), we talked about flows, river heights, flow constraints and water recovery amounts on behalf of the environment.

We have a Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder who manages the largest portfolio of water entitlements in the Murray-Darling Basin; we have a Basin-wide environmental watering strategy that speaks of base flows and flow rates as ‘expected environmental outcomes’ and we have models that are unable to measure anything but flows.

However, the rhetoric in Canberra appears to be changing – there is more talk about ‘outcomes’ and less talk about ‘flows’ – and the recent legislative changes over the last 18 months appear to confirm this trend.

Legislative Amendments

Aside from last week’s Water Legislation Amendment (Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2016, we have also seen two other legislative amendments that have shifted the discussion from ‘flow’ to ‘outcomes’ in the Basin Plan debate.

In late 2014, the Australian Government conducted the first statutory review of Australia’s Water Act. After extensive consultation, 23 recommendations were submitted by the review panel, two of which related to the trade restrictions of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH).

Under the original Water Act, the CEWH was constrained in trading water except in very limited circumstances. If he traded, he was required to use the proceeds for further purchases/sales of water elsewhere. The two recommendations and the subsequent legislative amendments to the Water Act 2007 (Cth) changed these trade restrictions and provided the CEWH with greater flexibility to use its extensive water entitlement portfolio to achieve broader environmental outcomes – including using the proceeds from trade for environmental infrastructure that better enables the delivery of environmental water.

In addition, the Australian Government legislated a cap on water purchases under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in 2015. The intention was to focus the ‘remaining water recovery task on infrastructure upgrades, on-farm and supply efficiency projects, and environmental works and measures’ instead of simply removing more productive water from communities.

This legislative amendment did not change the overall environmental water recovery target of 2750GL but it changed the method by which the Federal Government was to acquire the water entitlements – acknowledging that previous water purchases have had a devastating social and economic impact on regional communities. In effect, the cap acknowledged the triple bottom line objective of the Australian Water Act 2007 (Cth) and actively considered regional communities in Australia’s water reform process.

I wonder whether we have finally opened a new chapter in Australia’s water reform process. A chapter that steps away from the narrow focus on ‘flow’ and is actively working towards achieving long lasting environmental outcomes for Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin that don’t leave regional communities behind.

Tomorrow will be a good indicator of whether we are progressing on this new path or whether we revert to the same old tool of ‘just adding water’.

Friday: Seminar on the Mekong

This week’s Environmental Dynamics Seminar is this Friday from 17:15-18:15 in the Pyramid Room (K4U.04). Dr Chris Hackney from the University of Hull will be talking about sediment transport on the Mekong River and the potential impacts of climate change on the sustainability of the Mekong delta. The results of the project have been recently published in Nature:

The world’s rivers deliver 19 billion tonnes of sediment to the coastal zone annually1, with a considerable fraction being sequestered in large deltas, home to over 500 million people. Most (more than 70 per cent) large deltas are under threat from a combination of rising sea levels, ground surface subsidence and anthropogenic sediment trapping2, 3, and a sustainable supply of fluvial sediment is therefore critical to prevent deltas being ‘drowned’ by rising relative sea levels2, 3, 4. Here we combine suspended sediment load data from the Mekong River with hydrological model simulations to isolate the role of tropical cyclones in transmitting suspended sediment to one of the world’s great deltas. We demonstrate that spatial variations in the Mekong’s suspended sediment load are correlated (r = 0.765, P < 0.1) with observed variations in tropical-cyclone climatology, and that a substantial portion (32 per cent) of the suspended sediment load reaching the delta is delivered by runoff generated by rainfall associated with tropical cyclones. Furthermore, we estimate that the suspended load to the delta has declined by 52.6 ± 10.2 megatonnes over recent years (1981–2005), of which 33.0 ± 7.1 megatonnes is due to a shift in tropical-cyclone climatology. Consequently, tropical cyclones have a key role in controlling the magnitude of, and variability in, transmission of suspended sediment to the coast. It is likely that anthropogenic sediment trapping in upstream reservoirs is a dominant factor in explaining past5, 6, 7, and anticipating future8, 9, declines in suspended sediment loads reaching the world’s major deltas. However, our study shows that changes in tropical-cyclone climatology affect trends in fluvial suspended sediment loads and thus are also key to fully assessing the risk posed to vulnerable coastal systems.

Chris will share highlights of their results and how science needs to move forward if the Mekong is to be healthy. As always, the seminar is free and open to the public. A drinks reception will follow.

Event flyer for Hackney's seminar at King's

This Friday: Seminar on Ocean Plastics

This Friday’s Environmental Dynamics Seminar features King’s Research Associate Stephanie Wright from the Department of Analytical & Environmental Sciences. Stephanie will speak on microplastics in the oceans and their connection to human health. Join us at 5:!5pm in the Pyramid Room (4th Floor, King’s Building, Strand Campus) for a fascinating talk followed by informal wine and nibbles!

Plastic is a material of enormous benefit to today’s society, yet it is also an environmental pollutant of global concern. In the environment, plastic waste fragments into microsized pieces, known as microplastics. Microplastics are ingested by a range of marine species, and have the capacity to exert a range of biological impacts. They also have the potential to transfer endogenous chemical additives or adsorbed priority pollutants. Recently, microplastics have been reported in foods destined for human consumption, and there is suggestion that these particles can become airborne, highlighting possible human exposure pathways via diet and inhalation. Here, I shall present findings from my PhD research, which focused on the impacts of microplastics on an ecologically-important marine polychaete worm, continuing into my current research in microplastics and human health.

Flyer for Stephanie Wright's event on ocean plastics

Event: Water Crisis – conflicts and opportunities

Together with the Irrigation and Water Forum and Institution of Civil Engineers, King’s Water is hosting an event this Friday 11 November on “Water Crisis”. Speakers include experts from DFID, FAO, EA, GIZ, the UN, and others. Live streaming will be available for those not physically present in London. More details can be found on the event page.


There are growing concerns about the increasing frequency and severity of droughts and water scarcity remains high on international agenda. Water scarcity, together with climate, environment, and population stresses, compounds political instability and water conflict, and this requires emergency action both nationally and internationally. It is widely acknowledged that there are different types of scarcity (e.g. physical, economic) and the consequences of scarcity are context-dependent.

This seminar examines the relationship between water crises, particularly related to surface water, and conflict. It also looks at water crises through the lens of opportunity – exploring the interplay between conflict and cooperation in solving water crises, and exploring how water crises can act as a catalyst to improve water governance.

This one-day workshop will include presentations from IWF members, Kings Water, FAO and DFID among others. The full programme will be published shortly, and will include papers on characterisation and management of drought, challenging the war and water scarcity discourse; role of regional drought and climate change in contributing to conflict, and the use of water management as a tool for conflict resolution, amongst others.

Seminar this Wednesday: Water Games

This week for the King’s Human Geography Seminar Series, Professor Bruce Lankford from the University of East Anglia will lead an interactive session exploring the potential for role-playing games in water science and policy. Join us at 4:30pm in the Pyramid Room (4th Floor, King’s Building, Strand Campus). The event is free and open to the public. A wine reception will follow.

Role-playing games in water: Cultivating a phenomenological understanding of catchment and irrigation equity and efficiency? Or simply icebreakers?  
Bruce Lankford, University of East Anglia
Wednesday 9 November 2016
4:30pm, Pyramid Room

Bruce Lankford is Professor of Water and Irrigation Policy at the University of East Anglia with more than 30 years’ experience in agriculture, irrigation and water resources management.  His research covers irrigation management in Sub-Saharan Africa, large-scale irrigation systems, the use of role-playing games in natural resource management, resource use efficiency, river basin management, and water allocation.

The River Basin Game (RBG) is a role-playing tool for promoting dialogue and decision-making over water resources where irrigation is present. The RBG is a physical representation of a catchment. The board has a slope and uses glass marbles to reflect how flows of water can favour upstream users. This difference often gives rise to inequality in water access for rural people, which can result in conflict. Seminar participants will engage in a shortened version of the RBG and discuss whether and how role-playing games can aid in equitable policymaking.

flyer for Bruce Lankford's water games seminar


Investigating threats to the world’s largest desert lake

Dr Emma Tebbs of the Department of Geography at King’s College London has visited Lake Turkana in East Africa to carry out research on the sustainability of the lake ecosystem in the face of current developments. Check out the Geography Blog for more from Emma and other staff!


The lake is under threat from a hydropower dam and planned commercial irrigation schemes which will permanently alter the hydrological cycle of the lake and lead to significant declines in lake levels. The issue has received considerable international attention and it has been said to be another potential Aral Sea disaster in the making.

Dr Tebbs’s research has used satellite datasets to observe Lake Turkana from space and to predict the impacts of the Gibe III hydropower dam on the water quality and fisheries within the lake. The results have shown that the loss of seasonal inflows from the Omo River will cause a decline in the productivity of the lake with serious implications for the lake’s fisheries and the indigenous communities that depend on them. This work is being carried out as part of the MacArthur Foundation funded ‘Lake Turkana ecological/hydrological baseline’ project and whilst in the field Dr Tebbs teamed up with Dr Sean Avery, Principle Investigator for the project, who has carried out extensive studies of the lake’s hydrology.

With the support of DRIF funding from the King’s Geography Department, Dr Tebbs was able to undertake fieldwork at Lake Turkana in August this year, in order to collect ‘ground-truth’ measurements for validating satellite observations of water quality. The remote nature of the lake and the choppy conditions made fieldwork extremely challenging; nevertheless, the trip provided valuable new measurements that can now be used to validate existing satellite observations and to develop new methods for monitoring the lake using satellite data.
Dr Tebbs’s research focuses on the application of satellite remote sensing for addressing issues of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, with a particular focus on East African lakes and their catchments. She also leads the Earth Observation and Environmental Sensing Research Hub at King’s College London, along with Professor Martin Wooster.