Water is a natural resource on which all life depends. Water resources are under threat in the face of environmental pressures including population growth, urbanisation, land-use change and climate change.

Water Resources Science Area Summary front coverWater is an essential resource that supports our social and economic development through meeting the requirements of agriculture, industry, households, power generation, navigation and recreation. However, the planet’s water resources are already fully exploited in sustaining natural ecosystems which have developed in response to the natural availability and variability of water across the globe. An incomplete understanding of the available resource coupled with competing demands creates one of today’s major global challenges.

Our research

CEH research aims to provide insight into the relationships between the natural water resource and its dependent ecosystems, so that the impacts of pressures from our exploitation of the resource can be understood. This understanding is key to maximising the benefits provided by our water resources while minimising adverse consequences to the environment or to human development. Additionally this understanding will inform integrated water resource management and the restoration of over-exploited freshwater and wetland ecosystems.

Water Resources Science Area Summary front cover

Our research embraces ecology and hydrology, water quality and water quantity, pristine and polluted environments, short-term variability and long-term change. It aims to deliver locally and globally.

Research activity will include:

  • long-term observation of surface waters, including the physical habitat, chemistry and biology of rivers, lakes and wetlands.
  • development and deployment of novel monitoring techniques to quantify extremes, dynamics and fluxes of water, associated chemicals, biota and sediment.
  • assessing threats of pollution to the aquatic environment and human health.
  • maintaining nationally important datasets and making these available for further research, exploitation and reporting.
  • understanding the nature and change of variability in water resources, water quality and ecosystem function, and identifying trends and step-changes by comparison with observed historical variability. 
  • attributing changes in water resources and associated ecosystems as the basis for restoration of degraded resources.
  • using Earth observation data, monitoring and models to assess the status of regional and global water resources, now and in the future.
  • informing strategic planning and development of water policy by applying models that deliver forecasts of the likely impacts of change on water resources availability.

Future research objectives

Provide the evidence required to facilitate the management of water resources and to provide the evidence base for policy development

By 2019, we will have:

  • integrated web-based delivery of UK flood data into the NRFA.
  • established delivery of the first operational Hydrological Outlook service for the UK.
  • established a national inventory of lake assets and a global lake observatory based on Earth observation.
  • launched a real-time service describing soil moisture across the UK.
  • provided evidence-based assessments of science to support policy development.

Understand the variability and change in water systems caused by a wide range of drivers, including measures aimed at remediation

By 2019, we will have:

  • generated evidence regarding the status, and change in status, of freshwater resources and the relationships with multiple drivers of change.
  • evidence of the effectiveness of remediation and restoration programmes across a range of aquatic environments.
  • improved our understanding of the factors controlling algal growth in lakes, reservoirs and rivers, and derived knowledge-based phosphorus targets required to improve ecological status and sustain ecosystem services.

Understand and represent in models the pressures, processes and fluxes that control the availability, distribution and quality of water resources nationally and globally

By 2019, we will have:

  • improved our understanding of hydrological, chemical and ecological processes through an integrated programme of long-term and large-scale monitoring and experiments.
  • developed modelling frameworks that can be deployed rapidly to assess scenarios of change and the impacts of new policies.
  • quantified the impact on global water resources of the response of vegetation to changes in the physical and biogeochemical environment.
  • made estimates at the global scale of future water resource stresses due to changes in population, land-use and climate.
  • quantified, in the context of a changing climate, the influence of urban growth on eutrophication.
  • developed models of aquatic systems that link chemical concentrations and other environmental factors to biological factors.

Photo: Shutterstock Derwent Water from Catbells Photo: Shutterstock Photo: Shutterstock


Contact us

For general enquiries, please see our Contacts page.

Science Area Lead

Business Development Manager

Science Coordinator

Dr Gwyn Rees

Gwyn Rees Photo: Heather Lowther

David Fraser

Dr David Fraser of CEH

Anita Jobson

Anita Petrie

Email: hgrees@ceh.ac.uk
Tel: +44 (0)1491 838800
Email: davfra@ceh.ac.uk
Tel: +44 (0)1491 838800
Email: anit@ceh.ac.uk
Tel: +44 (0)1491 838800

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