Trinity researchers secure EPA funding to support sustainability and societal transformation projects

Posted on: 14 February 2024

Green plants appear in the foreground with a mist of water on top of them. A sunny sky is in the background.

The funding, from the 2023 EPA call, will support innovations and the development and implementation of policies in Ireland, as well as developing research capacity in strategically important areas.

The funding will also help build transdisciplinary research capacity and talent in Ireland in key areas relating to sustainability transitions and societal transformations.

Dr Patrick Morrissey, Martin Naughton Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering, will lead two projects.

The first will evaluate the vulnerability of aquifer recharge to changing climate across Ireland. Groundwater is an importance resource in Ireland, with up to a quarter of the population receiving their drinking water from groundwater-fed supplies. Understanding how this valuable resource is replenished, which is referred to as recharge, is therefore extremely important for both managing existing supplies and also for planning new sustainable groundwater supplies going forward.

In addition, understanding how changing climate (especially changing rainfall patterns) will impact groundwater recharge up to the end of the century is extremely important for appropriate resource management. This project aims to develop numerical models of groundwater recharge across Ireland under various climate scenarios and timeframes.

These models will produce maps, which will then facilitate assessments of the sustainability of existing supplies and plan future groundwater resource management. The project is a collaboration between researchers at Trinity and South East Technical University (SETU). 

Dr Morrissey said: “Understanding groundwater recharge patterns across Ireland and how they will change based on the most up to date climate predictions is critical to so many areas of society from groundwater-dependant wetland habitats to agriculture and industry, so I am really excited to work on this project with my colleague Dr Owen Naughton at SETU.”  

In the second project, Dr Morrissey and his collaborators will evaluate the benefits of agri-environmental schemes incorporating nature-based solutions (NbS) for water quality and ecology.  The primary aim of this project is to provide insight, tools and guidance on the most cost-effective approach to protect water quality and aquatic habitats in different Irish agricultural settings.

The project will focus research into the outcomes related to the water environment from two demonstration Irish agri-environmental schemes – ACRES West Connacht and the Water EIP. These schemes will incorporate various NbS such as the incorporation of wetlands for water treatment and flow regulation, or blocking drains to re-wet organic soils.

The project will involve field studies, lab analysis and numerical modelling. Tracking the efficacy of these NbS and subsequently quantifying the associated environmental benefits will be of huge benefit to many Irish state agencies, particularly with respect to shaping future national policy in this area. 

Dr Morrissey said: “I am delighted to be able to work on this project, which is vital to providing the scientific evidence required to fully assess these agri-environmental schemes and ensure that future policy in this area will deliver the best possible outcome for the water environment and particularly the health of our rivers and lakes.”  

Dr Paul Liston, Research Fellow in the Centre for Innovative Human Systems in the School of Psychology, will lead an innovative project (BASTILLE, Batteries: Barriers and Enablers to Circular Economy Transition in Ireland) that aims to inform policy to expedite Ireland’s shift towards a circular economy.

With a focus on examining barriers and enablers from diverse stakeholder perspectives, BASTILLE endeavours to produce evidence-based recommendations through rigorous analysis. At the heart of BASTILLE's mission is the investigation of battery grade graphite, which is a crucial component in electric vehicle (EV) batteries, large storage systems, and hydrogen-based energy production.

Through an investigation of Societal Readiness Levels (SRLs) for a number of use cases and the specification of an implementation roadmap, the project will help guide Ireland’s circular economy transition regarding batteries.

Dr Liston will collaborate with the European Carbon and Graphite Association (ECGA) in this project. He said:“In our pursuit to expedite Ireland's transition to a circular economy, BASTILLE stands committed to producing actionable research outputs that inform policy decisions. Together with Dr Corina Hebestreit from ECGA and Dr Damáris Fernandez from Trinity we will investigate the sociotechnical, as well as the technical, aspects of battery grade graphite and its role in circularity.

“This will provide us with holistic understanding of the challenges and opportunities at hand. Through collaborative engagement with stakeholders, BASTILLE seeks to pave the way for a more sustainable future, pushing forwards towards our collective goal of a circular economy in Ireland.”

Margaret Jackson, Assistant Professor in Geography in Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, will lead a project to reconstruct the timing and magnitude of past climate change in Ireland. 

This project will use Ireland’s preserved glacial landscapes to develop this reconstruction, with a particular focus on periods of past “abrupt” climate change. The team will conduct fieldwork around Ireland to reconstruct past glaciation, and to model the climate conditions that drove Ireland’s former mountain glaciers.

This project will ultimately provide data useful for glacier and climate models alike, which includes models of both past and potential future climate change. 

Prof. Jackson said: “This project will fundamentally improve our understanding of Ireland’s glacial past, and our climate past along with it.” 

Pete Akers, Assistant Professor of Physical Geography in the School of Natural Sciences, will lead a project aimed at bettering our understanding of certain intense rainfall events and resultant flooding in Ireland. 

The water cycle in our warming world is evolving in response to hotter oceans, shifting storm tracks, and more water vapor in the atmosphere. The ISO-TAISE project, funded for four years, will allow researchers to monitor the stable isotopes of Irish rainwater and atmospheric moisture through new analytical equipment and with postgraduate students.  

The stable isotopes studied in the project can “fingerprint” where the water vapor that produces extreme rain events originates and track how it is transported to Ireland. ISO-TAISE is particularly focused on examining water stable isotopes during atmospheric river events, which are rare storm systems fuelled by massive amounts of water vapor transported to Ireland from the tropics.  

Although generally impacting Ireland only a few times a year, the intense rain during atmospheric river events bring very high flood risks, and ISO-TAISE will give on-the-ground insight into the water vapor dynamics fuelling these storms. This insight will aid Irish efforts to promote resilience to flooding hazards and support future climate hazard projections through collaboration with Met Éireann’s climate modelling efforts. 

Prof. Akers said: “Ireland is no stranger to damaging floods and intense rainfall, and future climate change will enhance these risks. In ISO-TAISE, we’re going to use the chemistry of the water in the air itself during extreme storms to figure out where the moisture fuelling the storm came from and how it got here. We’re looking for common patterns in how these storms evolve so that we can better predict how they might change in the future and what adaptations Ireland will need to limit flooding and storm damage risks.” 

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