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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

Respected river professor retires

Published: 24 September 2014

Paul Carling, Professor in Physical Geography is retiring from the University of Southampton after 14 years, but he will stay on to contribute his knowledge and expertise as an Emeritus Professor.

Much of his research during that time at Southampton has taken him to South East Asia, working on projects with the Mekong River Commission. Established in 1995 by the United Nations, the Commission reports to the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam and is responsible for the financing, management and maintenance of the 2,700 mile long Mekong and its banks which are home to more than 60 million people.

“The Mekong is biologically very diverse with 12,000 species of fish, many have yet to be fully described, and the dynamics of the river were poorly known,” he says. “I was brought in on a consultancy project in 2005 to assess the environmental and ecological impact of development including the building of some massive dams and have worked there ever since.”

With the aid of PhD students and grants from the British Council and the Natural Environment Research Council (EPSRC), Paul has described and modelled the complex flow through the multitude of Mekong river channels, and the development of the river through the last Ice Age. With Professor Steve Darby, the effects of monsoon flooding river bank erosion has been assessed to predict how development and environmental pressures could alter the patterns of erosion and help disaster management agencies bring in improved planning and systems.

“When I started there was very little research into the Mekong, one of the world’s largest rivers that drains 800,000 km2 of land, now scientists from many countries are at work there,” he adds. “Our latest research has examined the impact of sediment trapped upstream in the river dams on the delta region and we have published recommendations for engineers to pass sediment through dams to prevent environmental degradation.” More recently a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) funded project with Southampton’s Geodata Institute has considered management of the Indus river in Pakistan.

Paul joined Southampton in 2000 from Lancaster University and earlier held a post at the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Institute of Freshwater Ecology, Windermere. At Southampton, he is a member of the Earth Surface Dynamics Group involved in international geomorphological research. He has also worked on deciphering landscapes in southern Russia when water from glaciers at the end of the Ice Age flooded valleys and created lakes. Other projects have involved the sustainable management of UK forest soils and sustainable management of salmon and trout spawning areas in UK rivers.

Retirement will bring new challenges for Paul. A project on the management of the Yellow River in China is on the horizon, as are projects in the Severn estuary and these are expected to include opportunities for Southampton Geography PhD students.



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