My professional profile is quite diverse and covers a range of inter-related disciplines and topics. This has had its advantages for understanding the scale and challenge of climate change from both a human and environmental perspective.
Initial research (PhD, University of Aberdeen, 1992) investigated abrupt climate changes at the end of the last ice age based upon an array of different scientific evidence (geomorphology, hydrology, soils, ecology, sedimentology etc.). This was quite an exciting time for this research as the realisation dawned that changes occurring then involved abrupt temperature changes and related impacts over a surprisingly short time period (often a few decades) as the climate oscillated between cold and warm periods. This realisation came from comparing evidence around the globe, including land and sea together with polar ice cores. An especially important influence was changes in Atlantic ocean currents, notably disruption of the Gulf Stream. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, growing concern also developed about human-driven climate change and especially implications of Gulf Stream stability for the climate of NW Europe. Therefore my research on the past became rather relevant in helping to contextualise present and future climate change and I also became involved in these issues.
At this time, I also became intrigued by the new possibilities provided by Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to integrate and analyse large digital spatial datasets. Therefore, I took up a post at the University of South Wales (1995-1999) to further explore these opportunities and especially to investigate how GIS could be used for 3D datasets such as for digital terrain models, the atmosphere (especially climate) and subsurface (geology/soils etc.), which also led to renewed interest in scientific visualisation and virtual reality.
My combined interests in climate change, environmental change, and GIS then led to a position at the newly-founded UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP: 1999-2003) managing data and projects. UKCIP was a government-sponsored programme aiming to bridge between science and decision makers, especially policymakers in the UK Dept. of Environment (later DETR then Defra). It was based at Oxford University and affiliated with the Environmental Change Institute. During this time, climate change quickly became a major policy issue, especially following the floods of autumn/winter 2000 and I managed a wide range of research projects and other initiatives including the UKCIP climate change scenarios.
Increased awareness of the policy process and needs of decision makers meant I became more interested in personally following up the developing agenda through further research. Therefore, I became a Senior Research Fellow at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research (2003-2005) based at the University of East Anglia, and with a specific remit to improve understanding of the multiple interacting effects of sea level rise and coastal change, including flooding and erosion risks. This involved looking at the prospects and challenges for managed retreat of the coastline to reduce increasing climate change risks.
After a short interval authoring a book I then moved to Scotland (2007-2016) to take up a position as Senior Scientist at the Macaulay Institute for Land Use Research which later became the James Hutton Institute (from 2011). This involved leading Scottish, UK, and EU research projects on integrated land use decisions in combination with climate change responses, including interactions with soils, water and ecology. I also became heavily involved in developing Land Capability assessment using bioclimate zonation in GIS to help understand changing land use options as the climate changed, as well as continuation of existing broad research interests and expansion to include other countries, notably Latin America. From 2009-2012 I also became heavily involved in the 1st UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) and then the 2nd CCRA (2014-2017). I was also a principle investigator for the Response Options of the National Ecosystem Assessment (2013-14) and a member of expert advisory/working groups for the UK Foresight Land Use Study, Land Use Strategy for Scotland, and the UK Climate Change Impact Report Cards.
A Senior Research Fellow position at the Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York followed (2016-2017) but I left this to pursue new opportunities. The narrow academic perspective and restrictions on funding were inadequate for responding to major cross-cutting issues exemplified by climate change. This impelled me to develop my own research and consultancy business (2017 – present) to give these issues the full attention they deserve.
I have recently acted as a Co-lead for the Natural Environment component of the 3rd UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (2018-2021), totalling over 300 pages of evaluation of current progress on climate change adaptation. During 2021, I was Land Use Catalyst for UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), which involved working with diverse stakeholders and the research community to scope out a large new research programme to improve knowledge of Land Use Systems. During 2022 and 2023 I led a study for UKRI/NERC to develop a science case for further research on a Sustainable Bioeconomy. For the Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Fund I was also involved in a project on Food Systems in a Changing Climate. I am also a regular evaluator for research programmes, including for the European BioDiversa programme (2015-16 ecosystem services and nature-based solutions; 2019-2020 climate change and biodiversity), and for the British Council (Newton Fund 2018, 2019).
I am currently an embedded researcher working with the Welsh Government to develop a new framework for Sustainable Management of Natural Resources and I am a Senior Research Fellow in the UNESCO Centre for Water Law, Policy & Science at the University of Dundee.