Research

My research has been wide ranging, starting with a PhD examining land-atmosphere feedbacks influencing drought in the Sahel region of Africa, and moving into work on human vulnerability and adaptation to climate change, and past human-environment interactions. My PhD was conducted at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, a small research unit that was nonetheless so successful in its work that it later became the target of a concerted campaign by so-called “climate skeptics” bent on opposing the science of climate change.

My first post-doctoral position, at the University of Reading, involved the detection of archaeological sites and sites of palaeo-environmental interest in the Fezzan region of Libya, using satellite remote sensing. This work was aimed at providing information about environmental contexts for an archeological project examining the prehistoric cultures of this part of the Sahara, and the emergence of the Garamantes, a major power in the central Sahara during the Roman era.

Following my work at Reading, I moved back to the University of East Anglia, where I worked at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research on the development of indicators of human vulnerability to climate change, and a variety of other projects. In 2005 I left UEA, having spent far too much time pursuing my own research interests, which had developed out of my work in the Libyan Sahara, when academic career imperatives dictated that I should have been aligning my research interests more closely with those of key members of faculty. The Sahara was deeply unfashionable in academic circles, and there was no appetite for interdisciplinary research into how human populations responded to climate change in the distant past.

As a result of not playing the academic game, in 2005 I became a freelance consultant and carried on with my own research in between consultancy work, which is what I do now. This research has two main strands. One of these involves desk-based work on the links between environmental and cultural change in the Middle Holocene period, and the period from about 6400-5000 years before present in particular. The other involves archaeological and palaeo-environmental fieldwork in the disputed, non-self governing territory of Western Sahara, the aim of which is to cast some light on how climate change affected the prehistoric peoples of this region as the Sahara turned from well-watered savanna to desert. These two strands are linked – the desertification of the Sahara was one manifestation of what appears to have been the last systematic reorganisation of the global climate in the Middle Holocene.

For more information on these two aspects of my research, take a look at the website of the Western Sahara Project, and the Environmental Change in Prehistory Network website.

Increasingly, insights from my research into past human-environment interactions during periods of severe climate change are bleeding through into my work on contemporary climate change and adaptation, now conducted largely through consultancy activities. For example, most existing adaptation initiatives focus on the intensification of existing climate risks, and ignore risks associated with fundamental changes in climatic and environmental contexts. The former are familiar and tractable in conventional development contexts, but to find examples of the latter, and to see how they can affect human populations, we need to look to the more distant past.

To see the published outputs of my research (and some resulting from my consultancy work), see the publications page under the tabs above.

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