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The University of Southampton
Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

Research Group: Earth Surface Dynamics

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The ESD group undertakes internationally-leading geomorphological research. Our core aim is to understand how land surface systems respond to past, present and future environmental change.

Tracking retreating glaciers

The ESD group comprises a nationally leading group of fluvial geomorphologists, with complementary strengths in glacial, periglacial, marine and dryland environments. Our current research priorities include:

  • Understanding the relationships between climate forcing (monsoon intensity, tropical cyclones), river channel morphodynamics, and sediment efflux from the Asian mega-rivers (Ganges-Brahmaputra, Mekong, Indus);
  • Understanding how deep-sea turbidity currents shape submarine meandering channels and build up their associated shelf and abyssal deposits;
  • Development of cellular automaton modelling tools to simulate ecogeomorphological processes in dryland environments;
  • Investigations of the relationships between glaciers and climate change, subglacial processes, till genesis and glaciotectonic deformation;
  • Employing wireless environmental sensor networks to provide unique insight into subglacial processes associated with rapid retreating glaciers in Iceland and Norway. The same technologies are also being applied to mass movement processes monitoring and prediction in Tijuana, Mexico;
  • Investigations of landscape dynamics at the marine-terrestrial interface, using landscape evolution modelling tools to reconstruct palaeo-environments, predict the impacts of climate change, and to link catchment processes to their sedimentary products

Our research often involves the application of novel methodological approaches that integrate high-resolution, field and laboratory data acquisition with numerical and physical modelling. In numerical modelling we have international leadership in river bank erosion and meander mechanics (both in terrestrial and marine environments), coupled physical and biological modelling of salmonid spawning habitats, and reduced complexity modelling of aeolian landscapes. In-field based research we have expertise in sediment transport and hyporheic zone process measurements, Terrestrial Laser Scanning, and we are internationally leaders in our use of wireless environmental sensor networks to characterise subglacial processes on rapidly retreating glaciers.

The ESD group enjoys access to facilities that are unique in the UK in including both a nationally important research catchment (New Forest Research Catchment), and a recently revamped hydraulics laboratory at Chilworth (Chilworth Hydraulics Facility). Recent investment has provided a landscape modelling computer cluster in a new GeoComputation Suite, and developed a high-resolution geodetic surveying capability (dGPS, Total Stations, Terrestrial Laser Scanners). These are supplemented by field equipment pools to support environmental hydraulics and sediment transport (aDcp, ADV, smart tracers), and glacial process (Kärcher HDS1000DE hot water drill, borehole cameras, borehole sediment samplers, ice augers) research. We have a strong collaboration with Electronics and Computer Science in the development and deployment of ‘smart’ environmental sensor networks. Please contact us if you would like to access our laboratory and/or experimental facilities (e.g. Chilworth flume, Terrestrial Laser Scanner).

Our research falls within the funding remits of NERC, EPSRC and ESRC as well as numerous other grant-giving bodies (Royal Society, Leverhulme Trust, DFID), and we have an excellent track record of success with these bodies. We also have a long standing commitment to applied research and knowledge transfer activity as an outcome of, and complement to, our ‘blue-skies’ work. This is particularly focussed on the underpinning science for sustainable river management and restoration, in which we are international leaders . 

The ESD group is outwards facing and dynamic, and we actively seek collaborations with postgraduate students, early career researchers and distinguished scholars alike. We particularly welcome individuals seeking a host institution for NERC Fellowships and/or Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowships. If you wish to visit, use our facilities, give a seminar (or simply attend one), or collaborate in any other way, then do please contact us.

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