The Venice Lagoon is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Morecambe Bay and the Forth Estuary. But this week it was announced that St Andrews University coastal specialist David Paterson will investigate all three as part of a European project aimed at preventing La Serenissima from sinking into the sea.
Professor Paterson is head of St Andrews' sediment ecology research group, more popularly known as "the mud group". He will lead a £240,000 project at St Andrews within the European Commission's Fifth Framework programme Tidal Inlets Dynamics and Environment (Tide) scheme, analysing changes in the three areas' coastal systems using remote-sensing techniques and satellite images.
Marco Marani of the University of Padua in Italy, who is coordinating the nine-institution project, said: "We were eager to tap into Professor Paterson's internationally renowned expertise and experience in the study of tidal microbial ecology."
Professor Paterson said the mud group had great experience in the ecology of threatened coastal zones and would examine plans to help slow down or halt harmful changes. These include constructing new mudflat and salt-marsh areas, and using fresh sediment to protect existing marshes. Attempts to construct artificial salt marshes have had mixed results, with no reliable means of establishing a marsh that has a healthy ecosystem.
St Andrews appointed Professor Paterson to a chair of coastal ecology in 2000. He first studied botany, graduating from Glasgow University with a BSc honours in 1980. He then moved on to a PhD in microbiology at Bath University, and won Natural Environment Research Council funding for postdoctoral work at Bristol University.
Professor Paterson came to St Andrews in 1993 as a lecturer in environmental biology in the Gatty Marine Laboratory, and was promoted to reader three years later.