Dr Natalie Hicks is a lecturer within the School of Life Sciences. Her research looks at climate change and how elevated CO2 levels affect the chemistry of our oceans, and how the seabed is important in storing carbon.

What is your role at the University?

I am a lecturer in the School of Life Sciences, I teach on the Marine Biology degree course and my research focuses on the carbon cycle, particularly in marine sediments. I have also just been awarded funding to look at the impact of man-made structures (such as oil and gas platforms, renewable infrastructure, pipelines etc) have on the seabed, and implications for decommissioning these structures.

Tell me something funny or unique about yourself?

I grew up in a landlocked country (Zimbabwe) and discovered the ocean during my Zoology degree – I had no idea marine biology was a career choice! I also took up mixed martial arts (mma, also known as cage fighting) during my first post-doc – it was a great stress buster!

What are your current priorities?

Improving our knowledge on how marine systems (e.g. coastal habitats) respond to climate change, and how we can enhance their ability to sequester more carbon. Also to ensure research involves more than just scientists – we need stakeholders, government, environment regulators and the general public to be involved.

What projects are you most proud of?

I’m involved in a couple of projects at the moment looking at ways of measuring aquaculture impact on the seabed – it has the potential to improve our environmental standards (through altered environmental regulations) whilst supporting food production and protecting jobs. I enjoy the dialogue between industry partners, environmental regulators and scientists. I’m also proud of our recent work on the Shelf Seas programme – numerous cruises and experiments, and lots of data have led to CEFAS-led publication summarising the role of our Shelf Seas (North Sea, Celtic Sea, Irish Sea): https://www.uk-ssb.org/shelf_seas_report.pdf. This has shown how important the sediments are in reducing climate change impacts by storing a lot of our carbon.

Why do you think teaching about the sustainability and the environment is important?

I believe it is important that graduates are equipped with holistic knowledge as we face global challenges, such as climate change, and move towards a multi-disciplinary workplace. There needs to be an awareness of the wider issues outside of solid scientific understanding, and we can only tackle global challenges with a multi-faceted approach.

What projects/research will you be undertaking in 2020?

We are planning to work closely with colleagues in South Africa to understand the pressures and challenges that coastal communities in South Africa and the UK face, particularly in relation to climate change. We aim to understand their research priorities, implications for society and economy, and ascertain how best to mitigate these changes for the future, whilst addressing the same issues here in the UK, and have recently been awarded funding to understand the role of coastal habitats in the UK and SA. We have also been awarded a NERC grant for understanding the role of man-made structures, and implications of decommission of these on the seabed.