RAE2001 logo



RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

The Department of Geography & Earth Sciences has fulfilled all of the expectations outlined in the last RAE submission and, in most cases, it has exceeded them by a substantial margin. In particular it has continued to develop the three established research groups so that their coherence and distinctive nature have been enhanced. The principal research achievements include:
· Strong improvement in both the overall quantity (>3-fold that in RAE 1996) and quality (>70% in international peer-reviewed journals) of published outputs (www.brunel.ac.uk/depts/geo/pubs).
· Major increases in external research income (>3-fold increase on RAE 1996 levels) and in particular substantial increases in support from OST research councils (>20-fold increase on RAE 1996 levels).
· Staff within the department play a major role in leading/guiding the research agenda via active participation in international (4 staff) and national (5 staff) research committees and the organisation of major conferences/symposia (29 in the last 5 years),
· A carefully planned appointment strategy has developed integrated research groups which actively participate in collaborative projects and this has further enhanced the dynamic research environment. Via this strategy the Department has attracted established researchers (e.g. Professor Leroy, Dr. Murray, Dr. Reasoner, Dr. Wright) and the number of research active staff has increased by 20%.
· The creation of a supportive research environment in which young staff have been able to develop into established practitioners (e.g. Dr. Smith & Dr. Cundy) whilst research students develop the skills essential for posts in academia. As a consequence all our graduating research students have moved into academic posts and some of our young staff have been attracted away by RAE5* rated departments.
· New accommodation has enhanced the quality of the research environment, in particular by providing dedicated laboratories to support the activities of the physical geographers.

The Department believes that during the past five years it has developed into an established centre where research of international and national excellence is being conducted. On the international scene, staff are playing a leading role in setting the research agenda for geography in the next decade (e.g. INQUA Commissions and RGS/IBG research committees), and all the indicators suggest that this input will be maintained in the years to come.

2.0 Research Strategy (1996-2001)

By the end of the 1996 RAE census period, the Department had realised its original research objectives by focusing its research activities into coherent and distinctive groups. This has been built upon by the current strategy (1996-2001) which can be summarised as follows:
· to strengthen the distinctive nature of existing research groups by selective staffing appointments;
· to enhance the national and international standing of existing research groups via active participation in a wide range of research activities (publication, conference participation & organisation, collaborative research projects);
· to improve the facilities available for research;
· to provide young staff with the opportunity to fully develop their research potential.

Via this strategy, the three established research groups (Neotectonics, Environmental Change, State & Society) have been strengthened by additional appointments. The research credentials of each group have been enhanced, as is evident by participation in National/International research projects/groups. Young staff (e.g. Smith, Batterbury, Cundy) at the start of the census period have achieved recognition for their research achievements and a new group of young staff (e.g. Ansell, Woodward) has been appointed and integrated into the research groups.

2.0 Contribution and Organisation of Research Groups

Each of the Department’s research groups is led by an experienced researcher and there is active collaboration between staff within individual groups and also between staff in different groups (e.g. Firth et al. 1996; Stewart et al. 1997; Kershaw & Rust, 2000). The internal research environment is thus dynamic, stimulating and supportive and is further enhanced by the staff taking a proactive role in collaborating with academics from other institutions (UK & overseas) as evidenced by joint publications.

2.1 Neotectonics Research Group (Dr. Stewart, Prof. Firth, Dr. Rust, Dr. Wright, & 4 research students). Neotectonics is a major international research field and Brunel’s group is the UK leader in this area. The group specialises in the study of active crustal movements, tectonic geomorphology and prehistorical earthquakes (palaeoseismology). Staff within the group collaborate in a number of research projects such as the current multi-disciplinary EU-funded CorSeis project . This integrated study of seismic hazard assessment in the Gulf of Corinth aims to improve the observational, experimental, and theoretical methodologies for seismic-hazard assessment. Brunel (Stewart & Firth) is the sole UK representative in CorSeis and is establishing the long-term chronology of earthquake activity in the region. It is noteworthy that Brunel is one of only two UK research institutions involved in the umbrella Corinth Rift Cluster project, one of the largest EU Environment programme's research initiatives. Brunel staff (Stewart & Firth) are also contributing expertise on coastal tectonics to the EU-funded DINAS-Coast project, a project led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research that will develop a suite of databases, models and methodologies for assessing the impact of and adaptation to sea-level rise. The recent major EU-funded research into sea-level change and volcanism (SEAVOLC Project) has been continued with participation (Rust) in the EtnaLink project, led by the University of Catania, in which ground movements on Mt. Etna are being monitored. Additional research (Firth, Stewart & Rust) is continuing on the identification of Holocene crustal movements and earthquake activity in Scotland. The recent addition of Wright to the group has ensured that it has the expertise to apply remote sensing to the analysis of tectonic and volcanic hazards.

Over the last 5 years, this groups outstanding contributions to research have been:
· The publication of several major edited research volumes that promote new interdisciplinary research fields; volcano-climate interactions (e.g. Firth & McGuire 1999); coastal geodynamics (Stewart & Vita-Finzi 1999), glacio-tectonic dynamics (Stewart et al. 2000) and geohazard archaeology (McGuire et al. 2000)
· To drive the research agenda in Neotectonics through leadership of major international committees and organisation of high-profile research conferences/symposia.
· The identification of a causal link between volcanic activity and Quaternary sea-level changes (Firth et al. 1997)
· The recognition that the nature and extent of volcano instability at Mt. Etna has implications for seismic hazards in eastern Sicily (Rust 1998, 2000; Firth et al. 1996; Stewart et al. 1997)
· The rejection of the prevailing idea that northern Britain experienced major crustal faulting following the decay of late Quaternary ice cover (Stewart et al. 2000, Firth & Stewart 2000)
· The determination of rapid Holocene tectonic uplift rates in the western Gulf of Corinth (Greece) that reflect the area's heightened seismic activity (Stewart 1996, Stewart & Vita-Finzi 1996).
Future developments: The group has four key strands to its future research plans; (1) UK Neotectonics - integrating field data into geophysical models of glacio-tectonic deformation in northern Britain and investigating evidence of neotectonics and palaeoseismicity in southern Britain; (2) 'Earthquake stratigraphies' - applying palaeoenvironmental techniques and methodologies to reconstruct earthquake histories from Holocene coastal and lacustrine sediment sequences in tectonically active areas (Greece, Turkey); (3) developing integrated seismo-volcanic hazard models for Mount Etna; and (4) The use of remote sensing in the evaluation of volcanic and seismic hazards.

2.2 State & Society Research Group (Dr. Smith, Dr. Ansell, Ms. Buckingham-Hatfield, Dr. Murray, Dr. Binnie (A*), Dr. Patterson, 2 R.As. & 4 research students). The group’s theoretical work is showing how geographical relationships and human behaviours are transformed by socio-economic change, and how social relationships (particularly concentrating on gender and childhood), and access to resources and services are strongly linked to institutional change in government and civil society.

The group is distinguished by its strong commitment to applied and policy related research, and by its shared methodological concerns, which include an emphasis on participatory methodologies, which are innovative in their involvement of the researched in the research process. Both Research Council and contract-funded research have closely involved end-users (including local and central government departments, quangos, charities and NGOs). Recent funding includes major ESRC awards (>£150,000) as well as grants from government departments (DfEE, Department for International Development (DFID)), contracts and consultancies. The high profile outputs have focused on issues of practical concern for human welfare, environmental quality and social justice.
Recent appointments (Ansell, Murray) have extended and broadened the expertise formerly provided by Batterbury to ensure the group is able to explore the impact of socio-economic and institutional change in a global context (Oceania, South America, southern Africa). These staff are building on their established research profiles and integrating their findings and potential projects into the group’s strategic plan. For example Ansell has already identified a new research project (the impact of AIDS/HIV upon child migration in southern Africa) and attracted substantial funds (£46,400) from the DFID to support this work.

The major contributions of the group have been:
· The forging of new research directions and agenda within human geography by participating in and leading research groups, and through the organisation of a number of sessions at national and international conferences.
· Groundbreaking work on children’s geographies, which has included pioneering methodological developments involving children as active participants in the research programme. The ESRC project (part of the Children’s Programme) has been helping to shape the development of children’s geographies over the last four years (Smith 1999, 2000). This research has also raised the profile of geography to the non-academic community resulting in a number of high-profile projects (e.g. the evaluation of the National Childcare Strategy for the New Opportunities Fund) and contributions to the Government’s planning guidelines on Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships (HMSO, 1998, p78). This work has led to Smith being the only geographer invited to participate in the UK’s Childcare Commission (chaired by Harriet Harman MP), which is shaping childcare policy at the national level.
· Research and evaluation of sustainable development practice in local government has been undertaken in a number of environmentally different areas which include: a national evaluation with the Improvement and Development Agency which has informed the Government’s Sustainable Development policy (White Paper on Sustainable Development); innovative analysis of gender, participation and sustainable development (Buckingham-Hatfield 1999a, 2000; Buckingham-Hatfield and Matthews 1999b).
· The comparative research on the Chile and New Zealand fruit industries (Murray 1997, 1998, 1999) has contributed to a major New Zealand government project looking at the impacts of globalisation on the fruit sector.
· Research on the geographies of sexuality has been undertaken which has made a major contribution to the development of this growth area within the discipline (Binnie 2000). This research has also had a significant impact outside the discipline (e.g. Binnie 1997).

Future Developments:To maintain the rising profile in applied research and associated theoretical and methodological developments and to extend this into a number of new areas. Research associated with children’s geographies will be extended to involve greater interdisciplinary collaboration both within the University and globally (Smith & Ansell). Intradepartmental collaborative work on participative methodologies and on geographies of citizenship will be facilitated by a series of seminars (www.brunel.ac.uk/depts/geo/conf.html) which will also consolidate and extend existing work in the group (Barker, Buckingham-Hatfield, Smith). In addition research into changing modes of governance and its implications for service delivery and sustainable development has already begun (Patterson & Murray).

2.3 Environmental Change Research Group (Professor Leroy, Dr. Reasoner, Dr. Kershaw, Dr Woodward, Dr. Collins. 1 RA. & 3 research students). Staff have specialist expertise in reconstructing high-time-resolution environmental change by using palaeoenvironmental indicators (e.g. palynology, diatoms, geochemistry). Their interests cover a wide range of environments and timescales (Holocene, Pleistocene, Pliocene, Palaeozoic). Current investigations include reconstructing the environmental history of maar lakes in the Jilin Province, with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Leroy); providing an environmental history associated with Bronze Age settlements in Samara, Russia (NSF Grant, Leroy with the Anthropology Department of Hartwick, New York State); determining lake level fluctuations, palaeoseismic events and the palaeoecological evolution of Lake Manyas (NATO grant, Leroy with the University of Ankara) and tracing Younger Dryas tree-line flucuations in terms of high precision dating of specific organic compounds in lacustrine sediments from the Rockies and the Austrian Alps (Reasoner with the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, Colorado and Innsbruck University). In addition carbonate sedimentology and organic reefs (Kershaw) are being used to re-evaluate relative sea level changes in the Gulf of Corinth and ground-penetrating radar (Woodward) is being used to reconstruct the chronology of glacier surges. The group also has links (Leroy) with the Europole Mediterraneen de l’Arbois (lake level fluctuations in Caspian Sea – INCO-Copernicus), Belgium Musee de l’Afrique centrale (homogenites and human impact in lake Issyk-Kul, Kirghistan), the ELDP-ESF working group within PAGES, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Kershaw).

Recent staff appointments has resulted in the group reassessing its focus and direction. The use of multi-proxy environmental indicators combined with interests in the identification and impact of ‘catastrophic’ events have been identified as the focal points of the research group. A dynamic research environment is to be maintained by collaboration in selected projects. For example a project (Leroy, Reasoner, Collins, Kershaw, Woodward), undertaken in collaboration with the Neotectonics Research Group (Stewart, Firth) is to identify palaeoenvironmental evidence for the destruction of the classical Greek city of Helike by an earthquake & tsunami (www.brunel.ac.uk/depts/geo/Helike). Another (Leroy, Collins, Rust) aims to identify seismites in lakes along the south coast of the Sea of Marmara

The major contributions of the group during the last 5 years have been:
· Defining the Pliocene-Pleistocene boundary and recognising the Milankovitch forcing on vegetation successions (Leroy, 1997a, 1997b).
· Defining the magnitude and duration of the Younger Dryas oscillation in North America and Germany (Reasoner, 1997, 1998; Leroy, 2000).
· Establishing the impact of tectonic movements on the growth of organic reefs (e.g. Kershaw, 2000)
· Leading/guiding the research agenda through participation in international research projects and organisation of international conferences (INQUA, PAGES, ESF-ELDP).

Future Developments: 1) To further develop the use of palaeoecological indicators in the identification of catastrophic events and to examine their effectiveness in determining the impact of such events and rates of ecological recovery. 2) To develop high-time-resolution environmental reconstructions to detect human impacts on the environment in association with archaeologists, historians and economists. 3) to improve chronologies derived from specific organic compounds (AMS, 14C). 4) to extend the use of ground-penetrating radar to the identification of catastrophic events in sedimentary sequences. It is also anticipated that the range of expertise will be expanded to include additional proxy indicators of environmental change.

3.0 Resources, Staffing Policy and Research Culture

Enhanced research facilities associated with a move into new accommodation (1996) includes laboratories for palynological research, 210Lead dating, image processing, GIS, and magnetic susceptibility. In addition there is an excellent computer network and extensive equipment for the collection and analysis of sediment cores. The Department also has access to the Experimental Techniques Centre which houses electron microscopes and an XRF. Over the coming year the departmental facilities will be enhanced further with the upgrade of the research laboratories.

3.1 Departmental Support
The Department works within a devolved budgeting system and has selectively utilised its resources to support specific research activities. Support has included:-
· Appointment of two full-time research officers to support human and physical geography. These research officers ensure that the academic staff have constant access to well-trained, motivated research assistants. As a consequence new research projects can develop quickly and produce results promptly. These staff actively engage in the development and dissemination of the research (e.g. Smith and Barker, 1999, 2000) and thus enhance the research environment.
· Additional departmental support is provided to all staff, although emphasis is placed upon helping young staff whose activities often require pump-priming. The support includes covering the costs associated with fieldwork, basic research materials, technical support, purchase of commercial radiocarbon dates, and attendance at national and international conferences.
· The Department particularly encourages staff to apply for external funds that will involve collaboration between staff and in projects that are interdisciplinary in nature.
· Over the census period the Department has been able to attract some £250,000 of external research income, the majority of this being associated with ESRC and EU-funded research projects. Other sources of support have included NERC (flight time), the London Borough of Richmond, Kids Club Network/Nestle, Swansea Council, National Opportunities Fund, Scottish Natural Heritage, Nirex and the Department for International Development.
· The Department realises that time is one of the major constraints on research active staff. As a result, each semester at least one staff member is relieved of teaching duties in order that concentrated periods of research activity can be undertaken. All the staff in post at the start of the census period have benefited from this scheme and it is anticipated that every staff member will gain such support during the next five years. The policy has lead to increased productivity of the staff and has enhanced the research environment of the Department.
· The Department runs a weekly research seminar series in which staff, research students and visiting academics present their latest research findings. These seminars ensure that all staff are familiar with the research undertaken within the department and it fosters an active research culture which is helping multi-disciplinary work to expand.

· The Department recognises that research students are an essential feature of a thriving research culture and as a result bursaries have been made available from departmental funds.

3.2 University Support
The University has assisted the research development of the Department by:
· Pump priming the activities of 3 young researchers (£24, 700).
· Providing the first years funding to support the appointment of a Professor in Environmental Change (£50,000 plus £25,000 for equipment).
· Providing funding to support research projects with international potential (£54, 000 – which lead to securing funds from the EU).
· Supporting the development of a seminar series on Geographies of Citizenship and the international conference, Environmental Catastrophes and Recovery in the Holocene (£5,000).
· Funding the initial appointment of two new members of staff (Wright & Woodward) to allow the Neotectonics and Environmental Change Research Groups to broaden their research interests (£33,000).

4.0 Young Research Staff & Students: Support and Development

· The Department has a policy to invest in young staff and give them the opportunity to develop their research potential. Appointments of this nature during the current census period consist of Ansell and Woodward.
· During their first few years young staff are encouraged to collaborate in research projects being undertaken within the Department and with staff at other institutions. They also identify the resources required to support a new research topic. At the same time they are given the opportunity to jointly supervise research students with established members of staff.
· This policy has proved to be very successful since it has helped our young staff to quickly and effectively develop a postdoctoral research programme. For example Dr. Smith, who was appointed directly from her PhD during the last census period has secured major ESRC funds and has been identified as one of the pioneers in her research field. Similarly, Dr. Cundy, who again was appointed directly from his PhD studies, was able to rapidly develop his research profile through collaborative projects until he was attracted away to the RAE 5* rated Oceanography Centre in Southampton.
· Equal care is given to the development of postgraduate research students, who are given an equal status to academic staff in the department in terms of access to resources and attendance at conferences. They actively participate in the departmental seminar series and contribute to the dynamic research environment. The Department fully complies with the QAA guidelines associated with research students.

The success of the department’s PhD training programme is illustrated by the fact that all the graduates have moved into research (Dr. Turner-University of Exeter, Dr Theobald-South Bank University, Dr. Buck-British School in Athens). Completing PhD students have also taken up ressearch posts (Aldridge-formerly QMW, Dewez-USGS, Pearson – British Geological Survey).

Users of this website should note that the information is not intended to be a complete record of all research centres in the UK

Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

[ Home | About the RAE2001 | Results | Submissions | Overview reports | Panels | Guidance for panel members
| Guidance for institutions | Publications  ]