The University of Brighton has secured funding of £325,000 to support its research into the health impacts of climate change – including longer, hotter summers in the UK – on vulnerable groups.
The award from the Wolfson Foundation will be used to expand research carried out at the university’s pioneering Environmental Extremes Lab. A new, dual capability environmental chamber will allow researchers to simulate extremes of temperature ranging from -20 to +50 °C, and simulating altitude close to the height of Kilimanjaro, while measuring the effects of physical activity on a range of key health indicators.
The research team, based in the university’s school of sport and health science, aims to translate its sport performance research into solutions to help vulnerable populations who are adversely affected by extreme temperatures, or who are respiratory compromised and display responses similar to those individuals who ascend to altitude. These groups include children, older people and those with long term health conditions.
Research into the impacts of extreme temperatures is increasingly important as the climate changes and as growing numbers of people visit and live in more extreme and often hot, and/or high altitude environments. Dual capability environmental chambers allow both temperature and altitude to be changed, thereby offering more opportunities for research and replicating real environmental conditions better.
In 2022, there were 3271 excess deaths in the UK, 6% above the five year average in the UK during the five heat periods between June and August. During 30 May to 4 September 2022 there were 61,672 heat related deaths recorded in Europe.
Dr Neil Maxwell, reader in the school of sport and health sciences, said: ‘Climate change is the single greatest challenge of our times. It is absolutely critical that we prioritise new and sophisticated research to find solutions that prepare our communities for the unprecedented consequences of climate change on our health and wellbeing. We believe physical activity and health are integral components when considering the impact environmental extremes have on people.
‘Receiving such significant funding from the Wolfson Foundation to support the Environmental Extremes Lab’s vision of translating science to advocacy for greater health and wellbeing in environmental extremes is incredibly important for the University of Brighton.’
Dr Maxwell said that the facilities also present an opportunity for students: ‘The new dual chamber will also be used by the students, from a teaching perspective but also research projects. Education is at the heart of our vision and therefore we must educate students on the challenges of environmental extremes across different populations so they themselves can be ambassadors and advocate as our graduates the importance of how research can help better prepare communities.’
University of Brighton’s Environmental Extremes Lab is a multidisciplinary team of researchers with a 25 year proven track record of creating impactful change, particularly in sport performance. It has also previously investigated health orientated consequences of environmental extremes; from older people during heat waves, through to repeated severe exposure of firefighters, outcomes of which have gone on to alter policy and guidance.
Dr Maxwell said, ‘I am incredibly proud of what we have accomplished thus far and feel privileged to be working with such a motivated and supportive team. We are excited for this next chapter in the Environmental Extremes Lab’s journey and are confident we can continue making a difference to communities locally, nationally and more globally through our research, knowledge exchange and importantly, education!’
Director of philanthropy and alumni engagement Marnie Middlemiss said, ‘We are thrilled with the philanthropic award made by The Wolfson Foundation in support of this important translation of the university’s world leading sport research into the impact of climate change on clinically vulnerable and older people, and those working in jobs in environments increasing impacted by climate change.
‘Our goal is to seek further philanthropic, research and partnership funding for a second chamber, which would enable the team to undertake research and teaching simultaneously.’
Paul Ramsbottom, chief executive of the Wolfson Foundation, said: ‘Testing and understanding the body’s response to extreme environmental conditions has been a mainstay of sports science at the University of Brighton for many years. With the seven hottest years on record occurring since 2015, the threat of climate change to wider population health is clear; we are delighted to fund this new chamber, which will allow the Brighton team to expand into new areas of health related research.’