Top five world-changing research stories from the Cabot Institute

Today (11 November) we’re celebrating the fifth birthday of the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute, whose researchers are helping us better understand how our planet is changing – and how plants, animals and humans are responding to those changes. Here, we look back over the last five years and list some of their research highlights.


  1. Flying to the rescue: In 2014, engineers created new and much-needed drones to safely and accurately assess dangerous nuclear accident sites. Cabot Institute geochemists are also now using drones to collect much-needed data to monitor radiation levels, like those at Fukushima, after a tsunami triggered a nuclear disaster in 2011.
  2. Saving our oceans: In 2014, Professor Schmidt assessed the consequences of CO2 emissions on the ocean and summarised the most urgent and important findings in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which helps policymakers all over the world take decisive action to tackle climate change.
  3. Rising from the ashes: Following the ash crisis caused by the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, world-leading volcanologists advised the government and improved upon predictive ash dispersal models, increasing industry understanding of risk in future eruptions. Today, alongside mathematicians, our volcanologists are researching the potential impact that volcanic ash might have on nuclear sites.
  4. Bee-ing good to our pollinators: In 2015, the Urban Pollinators Project, led by Cabot Institute biologists, was named one of ten ground-breaking research projects in the UK by The Telegraph. Insect pollinators play a crucial role in our food system, so it’s more important than ever that projects like these help tackle their decline.
  5. Modelling floods: In 2010, hydrologists improved 2D flood modelling so that simulated scenarios are faster, use less power and provide detail on a five-metre scale (rather than a 50-metre scale). The model has become a blueprint for the multi-million pound flood risk management industry that impacts tens of millions of people each year. Now, water and environmental engineers are leading the CREDIBLE project, which aims to better assess the uncertainty and risk of natural hazards to improve societal security.

These five stories represent just a few of the pioneering projects researchers and engineers in Bristol’s Cabot Institute are working on in response to some of the most pressing environmental challenges we face. From discovering a mega canyon hidden beneath an ice sheet in Greenland to launching a network of Global Farm Platforms to improve food security and sustainability, this research is instrumental in helping us understand how we, as humans, depend on, live with and affect our planet.

Locally, the Institute also played a central role in Bristol’s bid for European Green Capital 2015, an initiative which could create up to 10,000 new jobs and save nearly £1 million a day in energy bills across the city, and is supporting the Bristol is Open partnership to explore how smart city technology can help the city become more sustainable and resilient.


About the Cabot Institute

The Cabot Institute drives world-leading research on how we depend on, live with and affect our planet. It stimulates new thinking and strives for new innovations to meet our social and environmental challenges. Researchers within the Institute focus on six crucial areas: global environmental change, food, water, low carbon energy, natural hazards and future cities and communities. Each research area is driven by outstanding academics alongside government, industry and society partners from around the globe – working together, they seek radical and integrated solutions to 21st-century challenges.

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