The group is made up of mainly physical geographers, both staff and postgraduate students, but also welcomes members with an interest in the environment from across the University. A key focus for our work is the sensitivity of environmental systems to natural and anthropogenic change, at scales from the local to global.

Field Research Sierra HeladaWithin this broad theme we have many research interests. One focus builds on established strengths in hydrosystems, including fluvial, pluvial and coastal flooding, natural flood management, hydromorphology, water resource management and the role of climate change on changing water cycles. A further focus is that of environmental change dynamics, with the development of innovative methodological approaches (including modelling, remote sensing and in situ networks) to monitoring debris covered glaciers, climate change adaptation, natural hazards and biodiversity (terrestrial and freshwater).

Our work is supported by a variety of UK research councils and funding agencies, as well as stakeholders and partner organisations, such as Scottish Natural Heritage, local Councils and the UK insurance industry, demanding that our work is policy-relevant and providing an important end-user network to both inform and help shape our research.


Academic staff

  • Dr Nicole Archer - Surface water-groundwater hydrology; natural flood management
  • Dr Andrew Black - Hydrology and water resources
  • Dr Mark Cutler - Remote Sensing; biogeography
  • Dr Sue Dawson - Holocene sea-level change; tsunamis; diatom biostratigraphy
  • Professor Terry Dawson - Systems and earth systems science; remote sensing, GIS and environmental modelling
  • Professor Rob Duck- Coastal and estuarine processes; lacustrine systems
  • Dr Martin Kirkbride - Glacial geomorphology; palaeoclimatic reconstruction
  • Dr Alison Reeves - Estuarine processes; water chemistry
  • Dr John Rowan - Fluvial geomorphology; lakes and environmental management
  • Professor Chris Spray  - Managing aquatic ecosystems; avian ecology
  • Professor Alan Werrity (Emeritus)- Hydrology and fluvial geomorphology

Energy Balance Italian Alps

Research/Honorary Research Fellows

  • Dr Olivia Bragg - Mire systems and ecology; eco-hydrology of rivers and lakes
  • Professor David Crichton - flood hazards and insurance
  • Dr Hugh Ingram - mire ecology and hydrology
  • Dr Derek McGlashan - coastal processes, coastal law; sea level change

Research Students

We currently have an exceptional group of Postgraduates working within the ESRG engaged on a range of challenging research projects involving multiple external collaborators and funding partners.

Research Technicians

  • Craig Phillips - Environmental Diagnostics Laboratory Technician
  • Alan Long - Field Technician


Pb-210 Dating FacilityESRG has well-founded laboratory and fieldwork capabilities funded by projects from external sources including agencies NERC, JIF, SRIF, Durham Bequest, SNIFFER and SAGES. The Environmental Diagnostics Laboratory houses specialist equipment water, soil and sediment analysis (e.g. 210Pb and 137Cs radiometric dating by low-energy Ortec gamma spectrometers and particle size analysis using a Coulter LS13-320 laser granulometer).

High Flow ADC DeploymentLong-term catchment instrumentation programmes are on-going in the Tweed (HELP Programme) and the NERC funded River Feshie where water balance and hydrological pathway investigations are ongoing with disharge measurements using ultrasonic and Acoustic Doppler Current Profiling, water sampling using ISCO samplers and a network of automatic weather stations and precipitation gauges.
Glaciological, estuarine and limnological research make use of specialist equipment including Leica dGPS, Heucke steam ice drill, automatic weather stations, Campbell data loggers, microsensors and a range of boats and coring rigs. Research in remote sensing is supported by NERC's remote sensing facilities (field spectroscopy and airborne hyperspectral and conventional imagery) and the NERC-funded Dundee Satellite Receiving Station. Additional facilities for postgraduates include the Geodata Laboratory with dedicated image processing software, GIS and specialist modelling and statistical packages.


galapagos300.jpgGalapagos Marine Invasive Species: Prevention, Detection and Management

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) describes the effect of invasive species as the second most important reason for biodiversity loss worldwide. Invasive marine species are most likely to be introduced to the Galapagos is by the variety of boats from mainland Ecuador and around the world. Two new algae species with the potential to cause problems have been found in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, a World Heritage Site. There are also several species with a high potential of being introduced to the islands, such as the white coral Carijoa racimosa, which has already been reported in mainland Ecuador. These invasive species are characterized by competing for space and resources with other species of algae and native endemic corals.
The UK Darwin Initiative is supporting a project on Galapagos marine invasive species undertaken by Professor Terry Dawson, School of the Environment, University of Dundee in collaboration with the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and led by the University of Southampton. Other collaborators are the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS), the Navy's Oceanographic Institute (INOCAR), National Direction of Aquatic Spaces (DIRNEA) and the Ecuadorian Agency for Quality Assurance (AGROCALIDAD).
The project will:

  1. Collect and produce baseline information on marine invasive species;
  2. Implement a monitoring and early warning system mainly for the islands ports, which are the sites most sensitive to the introduction of species;/li>
  3. Study the distribution, abundance and interactions of introduced species that are already established in Galapagos;
  4. Conduct a risk assessment using ocean circulation models, dispersal capability and habitat requirements of potential invasive species;
  5. Train staff of the Galapagos national Park Service, AGROCALIDAD and national students in monitoring techniques, taxonomy and data analysis;/li>
  6. Establish a program to disseminate information about threats, impacts and preventive measures for different users of the Galapagos marine reserve

2009 River Earn FloodsFlood Risk and Sustainable Flood Management

A number of projects have been undertaken by members of the ESRG into fluvial, pluvial and coastal flooding.

Examining sustainable solutions to flood management and developing better understanding of the social dimensions of flooding have been defining elements of recent projects. ESRG group members include Tom Ball, Alan Werritty, Rob Duck, Chris Spray and Andrew Black. A recent example of this work examining coastal flood risks in Scotland can be found at www.sniffer.org.uk which takes into account storm surge likelihood, glacial isostatic changes and future sea level rise. It looks at current management practice among coastal stakeholders and future options for managing the risk. 

Field work in French Alps

Alpine Glaciers and Climate Change

‌A series of projects in this area have been funded by NERC, the Royal Society, the British Council and most recently the EC FP7 Project ACQWA. Research aims include mapping of supraglacial debris extent and thickness using thermal remote sensing, glacier energy and mass balance modelling of 'clean' and debris-covered glaciers and forecasting meltwater flows from alpine basins using climate model outputs. ESRG researchers leading this work include Ben Brock, Mark Cutler, Martin Kirkbride and Tim Reid.

MC_image2-300.jpgRemote sensing is also a critical tool for monitoring the responses of alpine glaciers to climate change, with work by Martin Kirkbride and Mark Cutler using remotely sensed data to map supraglacial debris extent and thickness, estimate ablation and changes to glacier mass balance in the European Alps.  This work has been supported by the Royal Society and NERC, with additional hyperspectral and lidar data collection by NERC’s ARSF and GEF facilities. Critical to the success of this work is collaboration with international partners, including The Universities of Milan (Italy), Massey (New Zealand), and Savoie (France).

International collaborators also include the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (Switzerland) and Centro de Estudios Científicos in Valdivia (Chile). Fieldwork is currently active in several countries including Italy, France, Iceland, Chile and New Zealand. 

Lake Habitat Survey Training

Hydromorphology of Lakes and Rivers

This area has attracted significant amounts of funding (JNCC, BSi, SNIFFER) for the development of the science-base and decision-support tools required to implement the European Water Framework Directive. Collaboration is on-going with UK and European environment and conservation agencies , including EA, NIEA, SEPA developing new methods for assessing the physical condition (structure and hydrological regime) of lakes and rivers - such as the Lake Habitat Survey (Rowan et al., 2006) and hydrological regime alteration and environmental flow analysis (Black et al., 2005; Bragg et al., 2005).

Related work includes soil erosion, sedimentation and sediment provenance investigations using uncertainty-inclusive sediment fingerprinting (Duck and Herbert, 2006; Reeves et al., 2008).

Environmental Regulation

There is an important cluster of work which examines the interactions between natural scientists and lawyers in the formulation of policy, management guidelines and environmental regulations (cf. Kirk et al., 2007). Areas of work include legal definitions of coastline and the implications this has for management and conservation, managing diffuse sources of pollution and new directions will look more critically at natural resource management and societal resilience, environmental protection and environmental crime.

Northern Corries - Ice History

New glacial history of the Cairngorm Mountains

Field mapping has revealed a more complex sequence of deglaciation than hitherto recognised, including ice-sheet readvance, ice-dammed lake formation and multiple moraine stages. A new relative dating method (Kirkbride, 2005) allows bouldery deposits dating from the Younger Dryas Stadial to be distinguished from older deposits. The suite of landforms observed has been related to the emergence of summit plateaux from a thinning allochthonous ice sheet.

Coring in North Ford, South Uist

Coastal and Estuarine Processes

The principle participants in this cluster include Reeves, Duck, McGlashan and Dawson. The research features a range of studies ranging from the application of acoustic methods of remote sensing and their application to coastal and estuarine sediment transport studies; investigating the sedimentology, hydrodynamics and environmental management of the Tay Estuary, Scotland; developing best practice for ICZM in Scotland inclusive of coastal geomorphological processes and UK legislative systems and work on tsunami hazards (see (Loh et al., 2008; McGlashan et al., 2009; Mörner et al., 2008).

Remote Sensing

There has long been a tradition of remote sensing research at Dundee, and this continues across many of the ESRG research themes.

MC_image1-675.jpgEnhancing research into lake hydromorphology, climate change and water regulation, Mark Cutler leads the Dundee contribution to the NERC-funded Globolakes project (with John Rowan and Terry Dawson).  This project is developing a remote sensing based observatory to determine the sensitivity of 1000 of the largest lakes worldwide to changes in climate, looking particularly at changes to water temperature, chlorophyll and water quality.  Dundee is playing a leading role in in this exciting project by analysing lake catchment properties and their impact upon how lakes respond globally.

MC_image3-300.jpgOther remote sensing research focuses on the use of remote sensing techniques for estimating the biophysical and biochemical properties of plants, including tropical forest environments (Mark Cutler) and cereal crops (Ph.D. research in collaboration with staff at the James Hutton Institute, Invergowrie).  Additionally, the use of novel remote sensing methods (e.g. InSAR and lidar) for monitoring coastal geomorphological change in Eastern Scotland and the sustainability of forestry in Nepal, is being investigated by international Ph.D. researchers.

Further Research:

Building upon substantial experience in natural resources management in developing countries, T. Dawson has been Co-PI and Co-I on 3 research Projects funded under the NERC Ecosystem Service and Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) Programme, which are (i) Poverty and Ecology: developing a new evolutionary approach awarded £250K and led by the University of Southampton, 2010-2012; (ii) Attaining Sustainable Services from Ecosystems through trade-off Scenarios (ASSETS), awarded £2.4M (Consortium grant), led by the University of Southampton, 2012-2016, and (iii) Which Ecosystem Service Models Best Capture the Needs of the Rural Poor? (WISER), awarded £500K, led by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), 2013-2017.

(i) Poverty and ecology: developing a new evolutionary approach

This is a two year project (2011-2013) funded through the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) programme and based in the lower Yangtze valley in China. The overarching objective of our project is to empower the rural poor with the information needed to make appropriate choices for the sustainable management of landscapes. We take the standpoint that poverty alleviation in rural communities demands accurate information about the complex dynamics and interactions of ecological processes and services in the region, particularly the feedbacks and thresholds within the system. Only then can sustainable practices for landscape management be properly defined and deployed. Research outcomes have included a high-profile open-access publication in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), see: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/04/10/1118263109.full.pdf

(ii) ASSETS: Attaining sustainable services from ecosystems through trade-off Scenarios

The project aims to quantify the linkages between ecosystem services that affect – and are affected by – food security and nutritional health for the rural poor at the forest-agricultural interface. It brings together a large number of International partners with the aim of improving food and nutrition security for the 500 million people living at the forest-agriculture interface. Research is taking place in Malawi, Peru and Colombia using a range of methods including participatory rural appraisal, household surveys and food diaries, ecosystems modelling, and scenario building and testing. Project website is espa-assets.org for more details.

(iii) WISER: Which Ecosystem Service Models Best Capture the Needs of the Rural Poor?

Policy and interventions to manage and improve the provision of ecosystem services (ES) to the rural poor require accurate spatial information on ES and their use by people. Simplistic mapping methods are likely to provide inaccurate and insufficient information. Process-based ES modelling frameworks have great potential to fill this knowledge gap, but the levels of model sophistication and data that are required to deliver policy-relevant information are poorly understood. In WISER we will use novel approaches to identify what constitutes the simplest adequate ES modelling framework to inform policy and management interventions for poverty alleviation. We will achieve this with a project team that has expertise in a variety of ES modelling frameworks and access to data for a range of studies across sub-Saharan Africa. Our findings will determine the capabilities of current models for use in poverty alleviation and suggest paths for model improvement (project due to start Jan 2014).