New investment in state-of-the-art field monitoring equipment and laboratory facilities will enable the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) to continue to deliver innovative world-class environmental research.

UK Research and Innovation is investing a total of £213 million across the country to expand and upgrade existing research infrastructure, helping UK researchers of all disciplines tackle major challenges such as recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and meeting the national target of net zero carbon emissions.

UKCEH is to receive £3 million of this new capital spending, which comes from the UK Government’s World Class Labs funding scheme, to support our research into the impacts of environmental changes.

Much of the investment will be spent on high-tech laboratory equipment at UKCEH’s four sites, in Wallingford, Lancaster, Edinburgh and Bangor.

There will also be funding for remote monitoring equipment, including £200,000 for new instrumentation for COSMOS-UK, the pioneering national soil moisture monitoring network. Run by UKCEH, COSMOS-UK supports scientific research and provides valuable data to stakeholders such as the Met Office, farmers and water companies. The investment will enable equipment to be standardised across the national network of around 50 monitoring stations, ensuring data collected is consistent, useful and reliable for users, especially farmers to help them manage crop yields. 

Meanwhile, £175,000 will pay for a new flux analyser at the BT Tower Atmospheric Observatory, which is run by UKCEH and partner institutes. The new instrument will track central London’s emissions of three most important greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide - as well as carbon monoxide and ethane. Of these gases, only emissions of CO2 and methane are currently measured at the top of the 190m-tall BT Tower by ageing equipment.

Dr Eiko Nemitz, an environmental physicist at UKCEH, explains the new flux analyser will identify the key sources of pollution that need to be addressed for reducing emissions, with the measurement of carbon monoxide emissions, for example, helping to isolate the impact of vehicle emissions.

The equipment will be essential to provide an independent assessment of whether the UK’s targets to reach net zero and improve air quality are being met - Dr Eiko Nemitz

Dr Nemitz says: “Pollutants emitted by fossil fuel combustion in the urban environment are of great concern to human health, while cities are large contributors to overall greenhouse gas emissions.

"The BT Tower is one of relatively few sites globally and the only one in the UK equipped to directly measure urban emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases, rather than estimating emissions indirectly from concentration measurements, a method which has large uncertainties. Its equipment will therefore be essential to provide an independent assessment of whether the UK’s targets to reach net zero and improve air quality are being met.”

The new investment in upgrading UKCEH’s laboratory facilities includes a total of £843,000 for four more analytical instruments to measure stable isotopes in gases, plants, animals, soils and water at our Lancaster site, which will provide invaluable evidence about key biochemical and geochemical processes. Isotopes are atoms that are variants of chemical elements which differ in the number of neutrons, with a higher number of neutrons meaning greater mass and consequently instability.

Projects at the UKCEH’s isotope laboratory in Lancaster, which was set up in 1984, range from identifying and addressing the impacts of pollution and climate change, to evaluating biodiversity changes and safeguarding the UK’s soils and carbon stocks.

Dr Gloria Dos Santos Pereira, Head of Analytical Chemistry at UKCEH, says: “The state-of-the-art instrument package will be capable of delivering multi-element isotope analyses on a wide range of solid, aqueous and gaseous environmental samples at both natural abundance and enriched levels. This will maintain and enhance existing UK research capability and excellence in stable isotope ecology.”

The £213 million funding is being awarded through UK Research and Innovation’s eight research councils, covering a range of disciplines from physical sciences to arts and humanities. The money for UKCEH is being awarded via the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC).

“This funding will help ensure that our world-class scientists continue to have world-class labs. Investing in the work of UK environmental researchers highlights our commitment as a nation to understanding and combatting climate change and environmental degradation,” says Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of NERC.