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Biogeochemistry and hydrology

View of a row boat on a lake
This group aims to improve knowledge of biogeochemical and hydrological cycles, and their role in ecosystem functions and services.

This group aims to improve knowledge of biogeochemical and hydrological cycles, and their role in ecosystem functions and services. To do this we study chemical, physical, and biological processes and reactions that govern the composition of soil, water, and living organisms.Stream gauge site at Westerton

This group aims to improve knowledge of biogeochemical and hydrological cycles using long term monitoring programmes[1] and experimental manipulations[2] which in turn are used to inform model development and the assessment of future scenarios of change[3], [4]. Our research considers the importance of air pollution, climate change and land management at a range of spatial scales from the mountains to the sea.

Many rivers have been modified from their natural condition through flow regulation, canalisation and drainage. We Automatic monitoring equipmentuse detailed geomorphic field survey techniques and remote sensing to explore the effects of dams and flow regulation on habitats of key conservation species such as the freshwater pearl mussel. We are also exploring how river restoration practices can deliver multiple benefits for habitat, flood risks and water quality.

The way in which water flows through the landscape has important implications for the hydrological and water quality characteristics of rivers and groundwaters. We monitor catchments to gain greater understanding of key hydrological processes, the transfer of pollutants and the influence that management activities can have on these. Monitoring data are used to underpin the development and application of catchment-scale hydrological and water quality models. 


Modelled climate change scenario map of Scotland

We combine knowledge gleaned from our studies at smaller scales with large scale national datasets, to develop risk assessment and screening tools at a national scale. These models allow exploration of generic national responses to drivers of environmental change and identification of problematic hotspots. Our modelling team also work on strategies for mitigating diffuse pollution such as the design of buffer strips. We have the modelling capacity to assess the effectiveness of these measures under future scenarios such as climate and land use change[3]. These tools provide a valuable communication tool to link with policymakers.


New monitoring and analytical techniques for emerging organic pollutants in different environmental matrices aAnalysis equipmentre in development, including a wide range of organic chemicals including biologically derived organics (for example, PLFA, amino acids, organic acids) and organic contaminants (PCBs, PBDEs, Phthalates, PAHs etc). These data underpin our research and as such are a valued resource to help improve our understanding of how and why environments change.

The research and data gathered by our research is used for a variety of purposes, such as informing government policy and demonstrating UK compliance with international commitments including the Water Framework Directive.


1. Long term monitoring programmes
Glensaugh and Sourhope as part of the Environmental Change Network: Contact Helen Watson
Hartwood Research Station
: Contact Pat Cooper
Your Catchment Tarland:
Contact Helen Watson
Lunan catchment: Contact Andy Vinten

2. Experimental manipulations
Contact Rachel Helliwell
Sewage Sludge Network (LTSE): Contact Pat Cooper

3. EU Project REFRESH

REFRESH is a research project in which James Hutton Institute scientists are working together with 25 European research partners as part of an FP7 European Union-funded initiative looking at adaptive strategies to mitigate the impact of climate change on European freshwater ecosystems.

4. NERC funded Macronutrient Programme

The overall goal of the Macronutrient Cycles programme is to quantify the scales (magnitude and spatial/temporal variation) of N and P fluxes and nature of transformations through the catchment under a changing climate and perturbed C cycle.

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Staff involved in this work:

Claire Abel, Lisa Avery, Yvonne Cook, Pat Cooper, Sheila Gibbs, Rachel Helliwell, Bex Holmes, Leah Jackson-Blake, Lynne Johnston, Marc Stutter, Carol Taylor, Helen Watson, Mark Wilkinson, Sarah Dunn, James Sample, Sohan Ghimirie, Steve Addy.

PhD Students.

Leah Jackson-Blake (part-time), Laura Cruickshank, William Roberts, Adam Wyness, Peter Goude, Nikki Dodd


Areas of Interest

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.