Climate Change Solutions: Research Page
Hello and welcome to our MOOC page, set up to support ‘Climate Change: Solutions’ with Exeter University. We hope that this summary, along with the rest of the website and our Facebook and Twitter feeds, will provide you with useful information, concepts and examples.
Artecology is all about making space for wildlife, integrating biologically favourable surfaces, designs, materials and structures into our built environments and into the fabric of urban places. By making it easier for biodiversity to colonise our towns and cities we might create conditions more likely to promote adaptation to climate change, helping species utilize the green, grey and blue infrastructures of human settlements. Phenotypic variation for example, as a mechanism of adaptation, might be optimised in the heterogeneity of urban niches once fine-tuned to the processes of colonization and succession.
We work in marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments and in each of these we have developed new ways to build habitats that can fit easily into existing engineering, architecture and landscaping. Here are some examples…
Vertipools are artificial rock pool habitats, made from moulded concrete and textured in a variety of finishes designed to maximise their biological receptivity. The largest so far installed are approximately 1m in length with a 10 L pool. Designed for grouping along seawalls, there are also 3 smaller models to suit differing locations: timber and concrete groynes, stone-filled gabions and metal sheet piling, each an example of coastal defence infrastructure.
Vertipools have a very simple purpose – to replace intertidal refuge habitats for marine species under pressure from the phenomenon of ‘coastal squeeze’ on defended and urbanised shorelines. As sea levels rise against these hard surfaces, the extent of the intertidal (the land surface exposed between high and low tide) shrinks and eventually disappears. This is a disastrous scenario for the diverse communities of invertebrates, fish, plants and algae that have adapted to these specialised conditions.
Vertipools provide, in the water they retain and in the texture and design of their surfaces, alternatives to the natural rockpools and rocky shores under threat, replacing the gradation of horizontal intertidal habitats with a set of useful refuges on the vertical surface of the seawall (or other structure), where the tidal range still operates.
We have worked closely with Bournemouth University over the past 4 years to monitor and evaluate the performance of a Vertipool array here on the Isle of Wight. The data show significant levels of ecological performance, with species richness and abundance matching natural features. Most interestingly, some features of the Vertipools outperformed natural habitats, especially where there was a high degree of designed and sculpted surface complexity in the construction. This result has been especially important to our work as Artecology is not really biomimicry; rather it tries to combine a design aesthetic with an ecological purpose, creating ‘biological ornament’ often using arts techniques, such as folded paper templates for casting complex and geometric textures. In this way we are attempting to create more interesting, stimulating and enjoyable public spaces (such as beaches, esplanades and piers) by connecting a new architectural spirit with a growing ecological imperative.
Cities and urban spaces will need to adapt to climate change to keep their human populations safe and healthy. If Artecology principles can deliver these changes through natural colonization, then we can aid both human and wildlife futures.
In work with Glasgow University, we are testing different surface textures and designs in marine environments, to see which are preferred by certain species. This work of course informs the design and casting of Vertipools, as well as providing options for patching and repairing existing sea defences. Arrays of different 250 x 250 mm concrete tiles are set out along sea defence structures, from upper to lower shore, and carefully monitored for colonization, physico-chemical change and durability. The research data shows that the best performing tile designs score up to 8 times higher in species abundance when compared with the seawall that they are attached to.
By experimenting with the composition of the tiles, as well as their surface textures, we may be able to further support the adaptation of marine life to climate change through sacrificial calcareous linings and other methods of mitigating against ocean acidification.
Tile designs have mixed silicone moulding and sand casting to generate a range of finished surfaces, from random naturalistic to highly styled and ornamental. This combination of functional and aesthetic is at the heart of Artecology.
RIVER CHANNEL ENHANCEMENT
Artecology has worked with the Environment Agency and other partners, to develop modular systems for improving the ecological functionality of urban and engineered freshwater habitats.
As climate change alters weather patterns, increasing the frequency of storm events and the risks of flooding, existing river defences are being strengthened and new ones constructed. These necessary works can have significantly negative impacts on freshwater biodiversity, through the loss of natural river channel features, the simplification of bed surfaces and the obstruction of wildlife migration. Our ‘Eelevator’ project tackles all of these issues in one location, the Holbrookes Stream on the Isle of Wight. Here the strengthening of a road culvert and its flood defences has resulted in a loss of bed substrate and the addition of new steps in the channel profile. In fact this location was already badly compromised for wildlife by previous engineering works which had created a 0.5m drop from the culvert spillway down to the stream’s summer level, an impassable blockage to aquatic species moving upstream, most importantly the European eel, a globally threatened species.
We used textured tiles to create a new surface between the road culvert and the stream, designed to retain even low flows and provide traction for eels and other aquatic life to move across the concrete stream bed and on through the road culvert. The tile array was then extended downstream via a steel ramp, reconnecting the stream across the obstructing drop.
The tile system allows us to retrofit improvements and adaptations to existing structures without the need for major re-engineering and to continue to refine and adapt as environmental conditions change and as monitoring data better informs our work.
The freshwater tile array is also designed to trap sediment and build naturally vegetating margins, on a small scale; even very simple plants such as mosses and algae can make a big difference to ecological functionality in urban settings.
An important feature of the Eelevator project was the highly ornamental nature of the tile designs, delivering the combination of flow and ‘purchase’ characteristics needed for fish passage but at the same time creating spectacle, transforming mundane public space into something curious, and revealing something about this location that would otherwise be hidden (i.e. its aquatic life).
SMALL HABITATS AND TERRAFORMING
Global urbanisation, as we head towards a population of 8 billion, is creating new built environments at a speed and on a scale never before seen. These are habitats for humans and will have to provide for our living and working under conditions of increasing environmental stress as climate change takes effect. There is a need to rethink urban design, engineering and architecture, with human ecology at its core. The role of natural features, landscape design, integrated grey-green infrastructures and biologically useful surfaces will become an essential part of this rethinking, in urban drainage and water management, in controlling the flow of air and heat and in remediating contamination and pollution. Artecology believes that by actively and imaginatively integrating the soft technology of green infrastructure with the fabric of our built environment, we can not only improve the efficiency and sustainability of the urban system, but also create a wealth of novel habitats for wildlife, drawing biodiversity into streetscapes, parks and gardens, from rooftop to flowerbed. In doing so we can make room for the natural world to find new adaptations to climate change within a framework that we design for our own health and wellbeing, members of the same constructed ecosystem.
There is a substantial body of evidence for the fundamental health benefits of contact and encounter with the natural world. Not fashionable cures for first-world ennui, but core life-support functions without which we suffer, individually and collectively. If we can adapt to climate change stresses in our built environment by harnessing ecosystem services drawn from a growing natural capital, and by doing so protect our own social and cultural capital, then we will be doing the right thing.
Artecology provides ways to begin this process, even in the starkest of urban landscapes and the key is the provision of small, bioreceptive features that can, in clusters and in combination with tweaks to existing landscaping (from street trees and pocketparks to window boxes and roadside verges) create new networks of colonising plants, invertebrates, songbirds, small mammals and reptiles. By patching a cityscape with carefully designed small habitats we can make even stand-alone objects, such as planters, function as ecological microcosms, supporting whole lifecycles, and build ecological density across the urban terrain, at ground level and on the walls and rooftops of buildings within the 200m height of the city skyline. By filling this urban ‘volume’ with designed surfaces and textures capable of supporting colonisation and sustaining populations of wildlife, we are increasing the possibilities for adaptation to climate change to express and develop.
One of our current projects is looking at cladding designs that can be incorporated into building repairs (thereby building a random patchwork of installations) and which will favour the growth of bryophytes (from aerial plankton) on vertical city surfaces, kick-starting simple ‘terraforming’ that can pave the way for ecological value in longer term green infrastructure works.
Artecology combines design, art techniques and methods, with materials science and ecology to create new ideas in architecture, engineering and the built environment.
By improving the biological usefulness of surfaces, spaces and features in urban landscapes, Artecology is working to increase opportunities for wildlife to adapt to novel and constructed city ecosystems and to climate change impacts that may make these essential refuges for retreating populations, and stepping stones for pioneering ones.
By building natural capital in urban environments, Artecology can make better use of ecosystem services for human populations that are having to adapt similarly, to the increasing intensity and density of urban living, and to the climate changes that will continue to impact upon our human ecology.
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