Welcome to the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Studies
IDÆA is an environmental science institute devoted to the study of the footprint of the chemical changes our species is imposing on the biosphere. Much of the research work at this institute is centred on two of the great environmental challenges of our time, namely the cleanliness and availability of the WATER we drink and the quality of the AIR we breathe, guided by the principle that our scientific understanding of current threats to global ecosystems is best approached from a holistic, systems-based viewpoint.
Founded in 2008, IDÆA was envisaged as a new multidisciplinary research institute bringing together a wide range of expertise in environmental science and organized under two broad Departments (Environmental Chemistry and Geosciences). The institute has demonstrated particular strengths in the analysis of organic pollutants and their impact on ecosystems, the study and management of water resources, the development of multivariate resolution algorithms in chemometrics, and in the study of inhalable particulate matter and toxic gases.
The international research profile of the various research groups working at IDÆA is firmly grounded upon a solid analytical base operating within the institute building which houses large environmental geochemistry laboratories focused on analysing atmospheric and aqueous pollutants. The Institute is also responsible for prestigious, state-of-the-art air monitoring “supersites” that include advanced on-line instrumentation for the study of air pollution. These supersites are integrated into international networks and have enabled the institute to achieve research dominance in the field of source apportionment and transboundary migration of atmospheric pollutants.
It is difficult to overemphasise the potential value of high quality, hard-science based research disseminated on an international stage in the fight to help resolve, or at least ameliorate, 21st century environmental problems as extreme as hydrologic sustainability, megacity air quality, and the ongoing global extinction event affecting so many species in our ecosystems. Human society is expanding and globalising at an unprecedented, accelerating rate, pushing the limits of what our ecosystems can sustain.
Increased water use and severe scarcity, especially in arid and semi-arid regions, have been highlighted by the World Economic Forum as a global risk. Water shortages result not from the global lack of water, but from the spatial and temporal mismatch between demand and supply, and things are going to worsen as our collective demand increases. Water engineers have traditionally overcome the problem using reservoirs, water transfers, desalination and groundwater, but all these sources and solutions are by now severely stressed, and the water is increasingly polluted with a wide range of emerging contaminants. Of particular global concern are emerging micropollutants (EMP’s) and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) which can bio-magnify and bio-accumulate in ecosystems, inducing toxic effects that can be as poorly understood as they are potentially pernicious.
In the field of air quality we are similarly facing an environmental problem of unprecedented scale. Realistic calculations by the UN predict 2.5 billion people being added to current urban populations by 2050, with nearly 90% of the increase concentrated in Asia and in Africa. Megacities reaching populations of 100 million people are envisaged, creating environmental challenges that are hard to imagine.
New approaches are required. In the case of water supplies Integrated Water Resources Management Groundwater is emerging as the way to address water scarcity, combining surface and ground water, pristine and waste water to reconcile the demands of people, agriculture, industry and the environment. Society is recognising that it no longer has the luxury of using water only once. With regard to water cleanliness, the current trend is to reduce the production of residues and the use of chemical products during depuration processes, leaning more towards the “natural” treatment for supply water production.
Finally, all of us living in cities are increasingly aware of the fact that we breathe air contaminated with toxic particles and gases. In Europe the main problem is road traffic, but in the developing world these combine with industrial and domestic emissions and poor infrastructure to create what is a global insult to human health and results in millions of premature deaths. We need to develop more efficient and accurate methods of measuring our daily dosage of these pollutants, draw up legislative controls that really make a difference, tell people exactly what they are breathing and why, and find new solutions such as high-tech purifiers and low-emission transport in greener cities where clean air is a priority demanded by its citizens.