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Impact Case Studies

Preparing for volcanic eruptions

When a volcanic eruption occurs that ejects ash and gas into the atmosphere, the questions that are immediately asked by both the public and disaster management and health agencies are "Is it harmful to breathe this air?" and "How can I protect myself?" Communities living near active volcanoes, and the agencies protecting them, require evidence-based advice on how to reduce exposure to volcanic emissions, in order to reduce the risk of respiratory diseases and associated symptoms. Over the past decade, Professor Claire Horwell’s group has studied how communities can protect themselves from potentially harmful volcanic emissions. Their research has investigated the physical and chemical characteristics of ash, community risk perceptions, and the effectiveness of respiratory protection. This has generated critical evidence and techniques, leading to the production of both global and community-specific advice in the form of printable and audio-visual informational products, endorsed by international, national and provincial NGOs and governmental agencies (GOs). These are mass distributed during eruption crises, resulting in increased awareness of suitable protective strategies and individual behaviour change.

Opening-up Fractured Basement Reservoirs

New geological data created by Professors Bob Holdsworth and Ken McCaffrey has transformed our understanding of fractured basement reservoirs, materially underpinning the appraisal and drilling of the UK’s first basement-hosted oilfields (Clair, Lancaster and associated prospects) west of Shetland. The investments required run into billions and are of major strategic importance to the UK. An associated spin-out company, Geospatial Research Ltd was set up with Durham alumnus Dr Richard Jones in 2006 to further develop structural geology research methodologies and expertise. To date the company has provided > £6 million of consultancy services to industry, creating more than 20 new graduate-level jobs based in Durham.

Economic metal resources

Metal resources underpin industry, technology, and the transition to renewable energy sources. Research by Professor Dave Selby’s group has developed isotope geochemical techniques to fingerprint the age and source of mineralisation of economic metal deposits. The geochemical toolbox uses rhenium–osmium radioisotopes to constrain the geochronology of formation of mineral deposits. This allows the development of more accurate geological models for extractive industry, permits improved reserve estimates, and minimises the environmental impacts of global exploration.

Expert advice to the UK Nuclear Regulator

Through membership of the Expert Sub-Panel for Seismic Hazard, Professor Bob Holdsworth has provided regular review of materials that impact directly on permissioning decisions made by the ONR (Office of Nuclear Regulation) during the planning and construction of ca £20 billion nuclear facilities of strategic importance to the UK energy supply. Through workshop interactions, written reports and site visits, he has directly influenced geological investigations carried out by licensees at four UK nuclear sites. The ONR technical guidance (‘TAG 13’) documents and an associated Sub-Panel Paper on Seismic Hazard co-authored by Holdsworth are consulted and used by the nuclear industry and regulators worldwide. He is also leading on the technical review of geological aspects of documents related to the development of a UK Geological Disposal Facility, one of the largest and most technically challenging infrastructure projects ever attempted.