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Sustainability Resource Guide: Natural Resources

Information about sustainability resources, events and activities at Newcastle University: a collaborative guide from NIReS and the University Library


There are two basic conditions for a substance or feature to be classified as a natural resource. First, the resource must exist naturally in the environment; that is, not synthetically produced by human beings, such as in a laboratory or factor. Second, the resource must be able to be exploited by humans to directly satisfy a need or want - New World Encyclcopedia

( Image: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (2010) Lake Superior, Available at: 

Mining and Quarrying

Open cast mining allows for easy removal of useful raw materials. However, the mine itself causes destruction of the environment and leads to pollution. Are there alternative methods to mine raw materials?

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The variety of life on Earth is quantified by it's biodiversity. As species are threatened or face extinction by humans faster than evolution produces new species, biodiversity decreases.

The number of endangered species around the planet is increasing, often due to human influence on ecosystems. Conservation of wildlife is expensive, perhaps involving protecting entire habitats. What are the choices?

Many species of animals and plants have been greatly reduced in numbers and they will not survive for much longer if we continue to kill them for luxury items.

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Water Resources

Water is an valuable resource yet oceans cover 71% of the earth's surface. We must manage the percentage available to us for drinking, sanitation and industry. Click the link below to see how little water is available to us.

View: World Water Supplies

( Image:  by Geralt  Available at: 

One in nine people on Earth do not have access to a clean water supply. Following natural disasters in developing countries clean water is often in short supply.

Coastal erosion is the destruction and removal of land by tidal currents and waves. In coastal areas where the bed rock is made of relatively weak sedimentary rock, the rate of erosion is faster. Is there anything we can do to stop coastal erosion?

Erosion and polution cause build up of sediment in waterways, reducing the capacity of rivers. Following heavy rainfall, riverbeds can no longer transport water effectively, causing flooding. Dredging is the act of removing this build up of sediment, but is it as effective as other flood prevention methods?

The purification of saline water to produce fresh drinking water is known as desalination. Building desalination plants for dry coastal cities may seem like a solution for drought, but the process is expensive and complicated. How much further does the technology need to advance before it is accessible for all?

As the climate changes and sea levels rise, coastal regions are more likely to flood. An increase in rainfall in urban areas will also result in higher risk of flooding. What are the technologies available to society to, where possible, prevent the devastation flooding causes.

Irrigation is the diversion of natural waterways to aid crop hydration or satisfy urban requirements. With massive new infrastructure projects in developing countries designed to change the natural cause of rivers, does the system divert water to the highest paying customer?

In countries where waterways are not regulated and laws are not enforced, we find cases of water pollution.

See the Pollution Page

Sustainable drainage system (SUDS) is designed to reduce the potential impact of new and existing developments with respect to surface water drainage discharges.

When we flush the toilet, have a shower or wash our cars, where does all the dirty water, waste and chemicals go? Before waste water is released into the enviroment or recycled into clean drinking water it must be treated. How does it work?

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Natural Capital

Overexploiting Natural Capital can be catastrophic not just in terms of biodiversity loss, but also catastrophic for humans as ecosystem productivity and resilience decline over time and some regions become more prone to extreme events such as floods and droughts.

(Image: "Natural Capital Graphic" by Parkywiki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Animal Husbandry and Agriculture practices have been used for thousands of years and they are claimed to be the foundations of civilization. Sustainable principles have to be used in these activities to maintain the health of environmental, social and economic systems.

Environmental crimes encompass a broad list of illicit activities, including illegal trade in wildlife; smuggling of ozone-depleting substances (ODS); illicit trade of hazardous waste; illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing; and illegal logging and trade in timber.

Factor 10 ranges from 10 times the output of production for 10% of the environmental impact. With predicted rises in population and economic growth just to maintain the amount of pollution we generate at current levels we need a 10 fold increase in our efficient use of energy and materials.

Forests are not only important as suppliers of wood, but also especially as protectors of soil, water, and climate, as well as flora and fauna. As areas for recreation and relaxation for human beings, forests are indispensable.

Oceans and Seas can provide a massive amount of resources. They are often not used wisely and much of what they offer is ignored or wasted.

(Image: "Fish8420 - Flickr - NOAA Photo Library" by NOAA NMFS SWFSC Antarctic Marine Living Resources (AMLR) Program. (NOAA Photo Library: fish8420) [CC BY 2.0 ( or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

We are surrounded by minerals. Human beings have relied on the earth crust to produce all sort of materials for their everyday lives.

(Image: " Rareearthoxides" by Peggy Greb, US department of agriculture [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Rare earth elements (REE) are used in many new technologies. Whilst not always “rare” they may be hard and expensive to access. 

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