Research Interests

I am interested in two overlapping subject areas; Natural hazards and Quaternary geology and geomorphology and a variety of issues in between.

Natural hazards

I have been focussing on natural hazard issues for the last few years, especially reconstruction of palaeojökulahlaups in Iceland. I am very interested in the the role of "catastrophic events" in forming landscapes (or otherwise), how we can understand future large-scale events by looking at how past events have progressed (their cause, extent and nature) from the records they leave in terms of geomorphology and sedimentology and also documentary accounts. Better understanding of the nature and flow characteristics of jökulhlaups, floods and debris flows (all the continuum between these) can improve our udenrstanding of future events.

Although the subject of human impact on the environment is an important topic I like the idea of turning this on its head and looking at the impact the landscape and environment has on people, their decisions and their lives, such as why people choose to live where they do and how natural processes influence the ways their lives turn out, and therefore of course, how people can avoid the worst impacts on natural events.

Natural hazard issues fascinate me mainly because they allow the practical application of geological knowledge. It is particularly important that this type of research contributes to ensuring preparedness for such events through hazard mapping and risk assessments and by providing clear, responsible communication of these results and interpretations to interested parties and communities. Natural hazard research and coherent, internationally-consistent hazard mapping practises are growing in importance worldwide. This awareness of the need for understanding past geological processes, combined with application of this knowledge in hazard management plans and risk assessments in such a way that it is accessible to all spheres of society is becoming widespread and is important for producing resilient communities in active natural environments.

Palaeoenvironment and present environmental processes: glaciers, rivers and volcanoes

Palaeoenvironmental research and environment-forming processes are also of great interest to me, in particular the Last Glacial Maximum and throughout the Holocene to the present day. I started my research career looking at Scottish glacial history. My work to date has focussed on ice-marginal and palaeoglacial environments and volcanism in the North Atlantic, particularly glacier fluctuations and jökulhlaups in Iceland, but also in Scotland and on collaborative projects in the Faroe Islands. This work has importance in understanding environmental change during the Holocene, climatic changes, changes to the human environment and interestingly environment-human-environment interactions.

My interests in environmental processes in the glacial, volcanic and fluvial environments tie in with natural hazard management interests through my studies of jökulhlaup routes and sediments. I am interested in, and have looked at over the last few years, how jökulhlaups are caused, how they are routed through the glacial hydrological system and how this can change as a results and then how a jökulhlaup event behaves as it travels from the glacier to the sea.

I started my PhD interested in palaeoenvironmental reconstruction and with a desire to turn glacial rivers an unnatural pink colour looking at the plumbing of glaciers. Though I´ve yet to achieve this dream (and perhaps will call it off) my studies of jökulhlaups have become much broader and more interesting from thinking about all the interlinking subjects from glacier physics to human-environment-human interactions.