Research impact

In the most recent Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences was ranked first the UK for its unit assessment. We transform our blue-skies driven research into real solutions that make an impact in the world today. Anyone with an interesting idea that could be developed as part of the School's research should contact the Director of Impact at

2015 REF Impact case studies

Health: Tackling the global tobacco epidemic with geochemistry

Geochemical research in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences (SEES) has contributed to Framework Convention on Tobacco Control policies and supports their implementation by chemically characterising and monitoring potentially toxic environmental metals such as arsenic and cadmium in tobacco. The group’s research has been helping to combat the global trade in illicit tobacco and its major consequences for health and for government revenues through taxation and criminal activity.

Environment: Protecting our Ocean’s future

Research into sonar methodologies for conducting habitat surveys has led to the establishment of over 107 internationally important sites of Marine Special Areas of Conservation and Marine Special Protection Areas. In 2009, UK Conservation Organisations (e.g. Natural England, Joint Nature Conservancy Council, Scottish Natural Heritage) adopted, as mandatory, procedures on sonar methodologies for benthic habitat survey developed in SEES, within their conservation guidelines.

Our more recent impact work

Heritage: Protection and Preservation using Remotely Sensed Data

SEES has developed remote sensing techniques for creating land and marine palaeo-landscape reconstructions in order to preserve past landscapes and cultures. This work has led to the preservation and effective management of archaeological and heritage sites around the world, including sites in Tanzania, Croatia, Syria, Italy, France, Nepal and the UK.

Resources: Safeguarding a sustainable future of mineral resources

Establishing Green Economies as a response to anthropogenic induced climate change is resulting in a currently unsustainable demand for natural (geologic) resources. SEES has created new methods to search for the rare Earth elements required for this energy transition to renewable and low carbon power, resulting in increased industry exploration investment in Greenland, Ireland, Kazakhstan, and Finland.

Health: The burning question: Does tobacco have a future in a healthy world?

Recognising that quitting smoking is very challenging, and that nicotine itself is not the main toxic substance in cigarettes, devices that simulate the act of smoking have become popular, such as vaping. Surveys of current smokers however identify considerable confusion as to the risks of vaping as an alternative to smoking. Research in SEES has been applying tools often used in geochemistry to investigate carcinogenic chemicals present in the aerosols that smokers and vapers inhale to evaluate the relative risk. The research shows that exposure to carcinogens may be reduced on average by as much as 10-fold for heated tobacco products, and up to 100-fold for E-cigarettes. That said exposure to 10 % of the dangers of smoking is still a considerable risk to health and the research aims to reduce that risk still further for users attempting to quit tobacco.