Is river dredging and straightening the answer to saving towns and farmland from flooding like that which hit parts of the UK in the new year? How effective are these and other man-made interventions at mitigating such risk and what knock-on effects do they have on river channel morphology and sediment yields? This and many others are just the sort of questions students will be answering in the new River Lab at the QMUL School of Geography.
Two new flumes – a sediment transport demonstration channel and a river simulator – have been added to the School’s already industry-leading standard of research equipment. The flumes will allow the School’s geographers and environmental scientists to explore the ways in which changes in the magnitude of river flows can affect not only the movement of materials downstream but the shape and configuration of the bed too. “We can now simulate the natural environment in a lab setting and give students an insight into how rivers behave in different circumstances,” Dr Henshaw from the School’s environmental science team explained. “Whether a river is deluged during a flood, or flows faster because of human engineering or, indeed, slower because of a natural change in depth, all of these variables affect the amount of water and sediment that can be moved and students will now be able to model such outcomes in the lab.”
The new River Lab, he added, offers unparalleled facilities in London for research into understanding the evolution of rivers. Brand new digital camera equipment will capture results in 3D to facilitate digital modelling too. “This is new for the School of Geography and we’re really excited to see how this technology can be used in the students’ work,” Dr Henshaw said. “The camera can capture their experiments from multiple angles and then allow those images to be turned into a 3D model on computer. They will be able to use this to examine the topography – or surface shape and features – of river channels in a variety of states.”
The teaching space in the labs has also been reconfigured for undergraduates to give an even more flexible teaching and practical space for project work. Meanwhile, PhD students have their own dedicated research space.
Professor Dave Horne said the labs were an important investment for the School because of the way lectures had been integrated more and more with practical hands-on lab sessions. “The second year students, for example, have been working in the labs this semester on a module called Global Environmental Change,” he said. “This included preparation for a three-day field trip to Somerset in October where they were investigating evidence of environmental change and human activity in the landscape over the past few hundred thousand years. Follow-up lab sessions help them with their assessed fieldwork write-ups and give them practical experience in the identification and interpretation of fossil assemblages.”
Thanks to the new facilities a new module called Physical Modelling of Fluvial Processes is available this year to masters students studying Environmental Science: Integrated Management of Freshwater Environments. “The School of Geography at QMUL has a unique collection of expertise in fluvial geomorphology and this new equipment will offer masters students the chance to work on projects that will reinforce knowledge developed through the programme and provide an excellent grounding for PhD-level study,” Dr Henshaw said.