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Current Projects



Interdisciplinary Connectivity (i-CONN): Understanding and managing complex systems using connectivity science



‘Connectivity’ is a description of the connectedness of a system. Structural connectivity assesses how the elements in a system are physically or spatially connected. Functional connectivity describes the connections between them which may vary in space and time. Using Twitter as an example, SC will describe who follows who, but FC would describe the dissemination of a piece of information through successive tweets.

Complex systems abound in real life, for example the brain, river networks and social media, so connectivity is relevant across many disciplines and has many applications. The i-CONN network was established to address the pressing need to understand and ultimately manage these systems. i-CONN is a truly transdisciplinary consortium of researchers who use connectivity to study complex systems and networks in the environmental sciences, social sciences, neuro- and bio-sciences and astrophysics.

i-CONN will train fifteen young scientists to study these systems but also provides the opportunity for the whole consortium to learn about the tools used in other disciplines and assess the applicability to their own.

For more information about i-CONN:





GCRF Living Deltas Hub

March 2019 to February 2024 

Project Lead: Dr Andy Large, Newcastle University

Durham University Leads: Prof. Julian Williams (Executive Director of the IHRR and Durham University Business School), Dr Ashar Aftab (Durham University Business School) and Dr Francisco-J. Hernández Adrián (Durham University School of Modern Languages and Cultures) 

River deltas comprise just 1% of global landscapes yet support over half a billion people. Deltas are vital social-ecological systems and global food-baskets, but the terrain and the livelihoods of those who rely on them are under threat from human exploitation, environmental degradation and climate change. Focusing on three deltas in Asia, this Hub will operate on a model of equitable partnership with the delta-dwellers and the research community working together to develop new knowledge and policies. 

The aim of the Hub is to safeguard delta futures through more resilient communities and sustainable development. The GCRF Living Deltas Hub will also: 

  • Develop transdisciplinary and integrative socio-ecological frameworks to capture changing delta trajectories, quantify threats and derive co-produced solutions. 
  • Raise awareness in relevant political and socio-cultural systems, identify key drivers of change and impacts, and build societal capacity through knowledge co-production and transfer. 
  • Develop a network of stakeholder partnerships with delta dwellers, NGOs, government departments, academics and businesses to scope, map, document and research human relationships with, and impacts on, deltas. 
  • Explore and quantify the complex, multi-layered and multi-directional interactions between the physical, biological, economic, social, cultural, historical and political components of these densely-inhabited delta systems. 

The GCRF Living Deltas Hub includes 55 co-investigators and 60 early career researchers (PDRAS and PhD students). It will focus on three river deltas; the Mekong (working in Thailand, Cambodia, Loa PDR and Vietnam), Red River (Vietnam) and Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (Bangladesh and India). 

IHRR will co-lead WP6 Creating sustainable development capacity and delivering impact. This WP encompasses the Theory of Change and the Monitoring Evaluation and Learning strategy. 



Smart Urban Resilience: Enabling Citizen Action in Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergency Response

Living Deltas web IHRR


Natural hazards in Mexico are a significant source of human suffering and economic loss. Between 2000–2010, natural hazards caused 2,367 deaths, leaving over 15m people affected (Gobierno de la República 2014). With natural disasters generating estimated annual average losses of $2.9b USD (UNISDR 2015), identifying novel, integrated and shared forms of disaster risk reduction (DRR) and emergency response is a national priority (General Civil Protection Law 2012; IFORM 2017).  

Find out more about Smart Urban Resilience: Enabling Citizen Action in Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergency Response




The Water Hub

The Water Hub is a new collaborative initiative between the IHRR at Durham University, Durham County Council, the Environment Agency and Northumbrian Water.  

The aim is to engage with small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the North East of England to identify and develop innovative and practical solutions to challenges in the region’s water sector. 

The project, which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, will deliver support to SMEs through challenge events, partnership working, flexible small grants and access to test facilities. 

Project features: 

  • Challenge events will offer SMEs the chance to work on specific problems to try and find innovative solutions. Suitable solutions will be tested and further developed using live testing facilities. 
  • Innovations partnerships will facilitate the development of new networks of SMEs, partners and researchers with the aim of bringing people together to form new, exciting collaborations. 
  • A number of small grants, which can be made available at different stages in the innovation process. Grants will have a value of between £1000 and £5000, to be fully matched by the SME. 
  • A range of test facilities to encourage and facilitate new product development and assist with market feasibility testing. These facilities including residential homes, laboratories and supply chains, to help test and develop innovative ideas. 
  • Valuable mentoring and facilitation to SMEs which in turn will help to develop ideas further, open up new supply chains and connect SMEs with research innovation services across the North East of England. 

“The Water Hub is all about harnessing the talent and technology of the North East business community to solve real challenges that affect us all, in areas such as water efficiency, water cleaning and flooding. 

“We are really excited to be launching this ambitious initiative and look forward to sharing lots of valuable opportunities with businesses we can work with in the near future.” 

Professor Louise Bracken, Scientific Director of The Water Hub 





Action on Natural Disasters (AND)

The focus for this cohort of the Action on Natural Disasters (AND) programme is earthquake-induced landslides in Nepal. Landslides are a perennial hazard in Nepal that pose a particular challenge to post-earthquake disaster response. The cohort comprises four PhD research projects, all of which seek to learn from the 2015 earthquakes and build upon ongoing and existing long-term research and collaborations in Nepal. The projects are designed to address pressing questions around landslide risk, use new and innovative approaches, and bring together supervisory teams from multiple disciplines, including the IHRR, Earth Sciences, Geography, Engineering, Psychology and Philosophy at Durham University. 

All projects involve an element of fieldwork within Nepal and time on placements working with local partner organisations to maximise the quality and utility of the research. The projects also seek to benefit directly those at risk from future natural hazards, working at the community level wherever appropriate and developing outputs that will be applicable in Nepal and beyond. The projects bring together students from a range of backgrounds, who interact to build a body of research that aims to reduce landslide risk in Nepal and beyond. 




Land Insecurity and Poverty in Africa

The primary challenge is reversing low agricultural productivity and poor economic performance driven by land insecurity in Africa. We want to break the stranglehold of poor land productivity, insecure land tenure, and underdeveloped value chains, which trap communities in a vicious cycle of persistent poverty. 

The success of previous programmes has been hindered for various reasons, including single discipline-focused research and a tendency to proffer externally-based solutions without inclusive technology development or listening to community-defined needs. This vision has been developed over several years with the participation of academics, communities, the private sector, NGOs and policy-makers (the stakeholders).  

We adopt a participatory dialogue to co-produce novel holistic solutions that combine stakeholder knowledge and strengths with land productivity restoration technologies. Five workshops have been held in both Africa and the UK to date to engage with these stakeholders and to formulate research questions that capture the needs of the communities in addressing this challenge. 

Find out more about Land Insecurity and Poverty in Africa





Project Leads: Jes Pedersen and Flemming Jorgensen, representing the Central Denmark Region

TOPSOIL is an EU cooperation supported by the Interreg VB North Sea Region programme: Sustainable North Sea Region, protecting against climate change and preserving the environment. The project will be working on the improvement of water quality and quantity, while support environmental, financial and human benefits. Special interest will be paid to surface and groundwater connectivity and its implication for water resource protection and management.  

The Wear Catchment Partnership works to integrate land and water management across the Wear river system. The Wear Rivers Trust, Durham University and Northumbrian Water, supported by the Environment Agency and the Heritage Coast Partnership, have hosted the Autumn Topsoil conference. Delegates came from Denmark, Holland, Germany, Belgium and the UK, representing 16 individual projects. They were welcomed by the Mayor of Durham City and Chair of Durham County Council, Councillor John Lethbridge who said,  

“I was intrigued to listen to the multi-facetted approach to water management. Its international dimension poses a note of optimism in this uncertain world and I look forward to this valuable work being pursued.” 

The Topsoil project aims to better understand relationships between the surface environment and groundwater within the context of a changing climate. Groundwater is a vital resource, providing water for public drinking supply, for agriculture and, where it comes to the surface, supporting habitats including wetlands, chalk streams and the wildlife which depend upon them. 

A key theme running through Topsoil, and of key importance to all of the 5 countries represented, is how to protect groundwater from agricultural discharges. In many areas across the UK and Europe the soils, surface and subsurface deposits can allow the rapid transport of fertilisers and other chemicals from the surface into groundwater. A common challenge for many of the 16 Topsoil projects is how best to work with farming businesses to ensure a viable farming industry, producing good quality food, while at the same time protecting both surface and groundwater from fertiliser run-off. 

A 3 trial year trial is underway in North East Durham, at Seaham Grange Farm, supported by Frontier Agriculture, looking at different methods of crop cultivation to see which method allows the most efficient uptake of fertiliser nutrients, leaving only a minimal amount of excess fertiliser in the soil after harvest. Remaining nutrients are at risk of being flushed out from the soil into surface or groundwater over the winter. Seaham Grange is a commercial arable enterprise, filling the role of a demonstration farm, where other farmers can observe the methods trialled, consider results, including harvest quality, yield and the levels of nutrients remaining in the soil. 

"We’re finding that farmers are very receptive to improving environmental performance through better soil management and efficient use of fertilisers. The Seaham project and has great potential as a showcase to promote the integration of arable farming and water management to local farmers and beyond. Along with our own network of soil demonstration sites, the project will help us share best practice with farmers, focusing on efficient nutrient use and improving water quality whilst maintaining crop gross margins.” 

Mike Slater, Fertiliser Technical Development Manager for Frontier Agriculture and presenting at the conference 

Building on the groundwater theme, conference delegates visited the Dawdon mine water processing plant which pumps water from the mine, removing 30 tons of iron hydroxide “cake” per week and returning the cleaned water to the sea. This modern industrial plant was then contrasted with the Ryhope Engines Museum, with its 150-year-old fully working twin-beam engines, which pumped drinking water to Sunderland until 1967 when the Derwent and Kielder reservoirs came online. The Ryhope site continues to supply the city from its balancing reservoirs to this day. 

Our visitors had the chance to visit Durham City, including the Cathedral, market square, townhall and local pubs, as well as the surrounding countryside.  

“It has been a huge pleasure and very interesting to visit the Durham area. We are dealing with the same issues in our countries, but the issues are often tackled in different ways. This is why a project like the Interreg TopSoil project is so important. It enables a lot of knowledge exchange and we make use of each others' experiences to develop new methods and guidelines. The hosting town of Durham and it's magnificent Cathedral provided a perfect setting for the conference". 

Find out more about Topsoil