I am a Geographer, specialising in the study of landscape (geomorphology) and climate change. I am Associate Professor in Geography, having moved to Cumbria to be Programme Lead for the new BSc Geography degree based at Ambleside. I studied at Royal Holloway University of London for my BSc Geography (1994) and my PhD "The last glaciation of the North Sea Basin" (1998) and have a PGCTHE from Oxford Brookes University (2001). I was first appointed as a lecturer at Oxford Brookes University (1997-2006), moving to Queen Mary University of London (2006-2018), before joining the University of Cumbria in 2018.
For me, Geography is the study of the global grand challenges that face humanity in the 21st Century, and being situated at the interface between the natural and social sciences allows Geographers a unique insight into how to address such issues as climate change, sustainability, human security, development and inequality.
Qualifications and memberships
- Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society;
- Quaternary Research Association;
- British Society for Geomorphology
- American Geophysical Union
- European Geoscience Union
- Could Appreciation Society (join this, and always take time to watch the clouds)
Academic and research interests
I trained as a geomorphologist and sedimentologist, and my research mainly examines the interactions between climate and landscape processes on short- to long-timescales. Increasingly, I apply novel techniques and approaches that I originally developed within complex glacial environments to different contexts, for example in coastal environments and peatlands. I am developing research that straddles the science-policy interface, particularly focusing on the communication of science, notably with respect to climate change and the concept of the Anthropocene, and how these frames relate to human interactions with the physical environment. Since 2014 I have been involved in funded research projects from high-profile funding bodies with a total value of ~£2.7M.
A: Micro-scale Analysis of Sediments:
My primary technical expertise relates to the development and application of microscopic analysis of sediments and soils. I have led developments in the production of thin sections of glacigenic sediments, developing standard criteria for discriminating between subglacial and glacimarine sediments. World-leading research using SEM and 3D X-Ray CT, and automated analysis of thin sections are yielding fundamental new information on the behaviour and implications of deforming sediments and soils. My research in glacial environments has highlighted the importance of 3D structure over sediment function and behaviour, and my more recent work has applied these novel techniques to other environments, including coastal salt-marshes, peatlands and other components of the critical zone.
B: Environmental Processes in the Critical Zone
The main environmental context for my research is the examination of Earth-surface processes operating in the critical zone; the narrow zone of the Earth system that sustains life. Since the start of my research career I have explored the processes associated with behaviour and dynamics of glaciers and ice sheets, both in the modern-day and past (Quaternary) contexts. Glaciers are considered by the IPCC to be the most sensitive indicators of climate change; they are also a key factor in driving climate instability and are a cause of significant uncertainty in predictions of near-term future climate change. More recently, my research in 3D X-Ray CT has demonstrated the importance of sediment structure over functional behaviour and has been applied to a wide variety of environments. I am now involved in research to explore the resilience of coastlines to erosion, the role of and interplay between biotic and abiotic components of the critical zone, and the structural context of key hydrological and biogeochemical processes.
C: Public Engagement with the Anthropocene
My research engagement and impact focuses on the interactions between the physical, social and cultural domains of Geography. My experience of witnessing dramatic glacier retreat in Iceland, and the increasing role of humans in disrupting Earth System structure and function have led me to explore how ‘wicked’ problems such as climate change can be explored particularly through the evolving conceptual paradigm of the Anthropocene. Evaluating bioremediation to enhance the structure of sediments in highly polluted mining tailings, the role of peatlands and coastal wetlands in carbon storage and climate mitigation and coastal defencs, my research increasingly explores the application of my scientific expertise to wider environmental issues such as carbon accounting and carbon savings, ecological restoration and the impacts of climate change. Developing collaborations with external companies and stakeholders (Deltares, The National Trust, Natural England, Barker & Bland Ltd) are enabling the translation of my academic research expertise into impacts on policy and practice with end-users and stakeholders. Working with educational researchers, social scientists, ecologists, philosophers and artists to co-produce research on how to value urban and rural woodlands with children and young people offers a new exciting, transdisciplinary dimension for my research.
Current major projects I am involved in include:
- NERC/AHRC/ESRC Future of UK Treescapes (2021-2024): Voices of the Future: Collaborating with children and young people to re-imagine treescapes
- IOSI (2019-2022): Bugs Veggie & Worms: Combining worms and vegetation to enhance dewatering of oil-sands tailings.
- NERC RESIST-UK (2018-2022): Response of ecologically-mediated shallow intertidal shored and their transitions to extreme hydrodynamic forcing in UK settings
- NERC-FLOCS (2016-2020): Understanding 3D Floc structure and dynamics.
I currently or have previously (co-)supervised 3 Post-Doctoral Research Associates:
- Dr Clementine Chirol (2018 – 2020); Post-doctoral Research Associate on NERC project UK-RESIST.
- Dr Jonathan Wheatland (2016 - 2020); Post-doctoral Research Associate on NERC project 3-Dimensional Floc Structure and Dynamics.
- Dr Stephanie Mills (2008 - 2010): Post-doctoral Research Assistant on Royal Society Project Climate and glaciation in Southern Africa at the Last Glacial Maximum.
I have supervised 12 PhD/MPhil research students:
- Jack Brennand (2020 - present, Full-time PhD) Restoration of Cumbrian Peatlands: Quantifying the carbon benefits of different restoration approaches. European Regional Development Fund, Eco-Innovation NW funded, in association with Barker & Bland Ltd. Lead Supervisor.
- Thomas Lawrence (2015-2020, Full-Time PhD) Quantifying the micro-scale characteristics of flocculated sediment in order to better understand behaviour. NERC CASE award, in association with HR Wallingford. Second Supervisor.
- John Groves (2012-2017, Full-Time PhD) Quantifying Three-dimensional Fabric in Tills using X-ray Microcomputed Tomography. QMUL Principal’s Studentship, Lead Supervisor.
- Astrid Ruiter (2012-17, Full-Time PhD) The 3D architecture and structure of a tectonised glacigenic sequence in the Dogger Bank area of the Southern North Sea. Joint QMUL/BGS Studentship. Lead Supervisor.
- Jonathan Wheatland (2012-2016, Full-Time PhD) Novel analytical protocols for correlative, multi-scale image analysis of the structure of complex environmental materials. EPSRC studentship, Second Supervisor.
- Lucy Diggens (2012-13, Full-Time MSc by Research) Application of X-Ray CT to the investigation of hydraulic behaviour of de-embanked estuarine sediments. Principal Supervisor.
- Clare Boston (2008-2012, Full-Time PhD, QMUL) Patterns and timing of Lateglacial glaciation in the Monadhliath Mountains, central Scotland. NERC Studentship, Second Supervisor.
- Heather Channon (2007-11), Full-Time PhD, QMUL): Sediment strain at the boundaries of former ice streams: multi-scale analysis of the role and significance of subglacial sediment deformation. NERC Studentship. Principal Supervisor.
- Lorna Linch (2006-10, Full-Time PhD, QMUL): Micromorphology of iceberg scour-marks. NERC studentship. Second Supervisor.
- Peter Walton (2004-2010, Full-Time PhD, QMUL): The ‘added-value’ of eLearning in teaching environmental change in Higher Education. Self-funded project. Principal Supervisor
- Danielle Pearce (2003-10, Part-Time MPhil, QMUL): Glacier response to climate change: assessing the significance of glacier climate as a regional proxy. Self-funded project. Principal Supervisor.
- Christopher Coleman (2002-2007, Full-Time PhD, Oxford Brookes): The landscape response to rapid climate change: the Lateglacial of the Usk Valley, South Wales. Oxford Brookes University Studentship. Principal Supervisor.
- Chirol, C., Spencer, K. L., Carr, S.J., Möller, I., Evans, B., Lynch, J., Brooks, H., & Royse, K. R. (2021). Effect of vegetation cover and sediment type on 3D subsurface structure and shear strength in saltmarshes. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, December 2020, 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1002/esp.5174
- Phillips, E.R., Hiemstra, J.F., Carr, S.J., (2021) Micro-scale analysis. In Evans, D.J.A., Benn, D.I. (eds) A Practical Guide to the study of Glacial Sediments (2nd Edition). Quaternary Research Association, London. Chapter 6, 155-198.
- Spencer, K.L., Wheatland, J.A.T., Bushby, A.J., Carr, S.J., Droppo, I. (2021) A structure-function based approach to floc hierarchy and evidence for the non-fractal nature of natural sediment flocs. Scientific Reports 11, 14012
- Chirol, C. Carr, S.J., Spencer, K.L., Möller, I.M. (2021) Pore, live root and necromass quantification in complex heterogeneous soils using X-Ray Computed Tomography. Geoderma 387, 114898.
- Brooks, H., Möller, I., Carr, S.J., Chirol, C., Christie, E.L., Evans, B.R., Spencer, K.L., Spencer, T., Royse, K. (2021) Resistance of salt marsh substrates to near-instantaneous hydrodynamic forcing. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 46, 67-88. https://doi.org/10.1002/esp.4912.
- Carr, S.J., Spencer, K.L., Diggens, L.M. (2020) There’s no such thing as ‘undisturbed’ soil and sediment sampling: sampler-induced deformation of salt-marsh sediments revealed by 3D X-Ray computed tomography. Journal of Soils and Sediments 20, 2960-2976. https:// doi.org/10.1007/s11368-020-02655-7
- Wheatland, J.A.T., Spencer, K.L., Droppo, I.G., Carr, S.J., Bushby, A.J. (2020) Development of novel 2D and 3D correlative microscopy to characterise the composition and multiscale structure of suspended sediment aggregates. Continental Shelf Research 200, 104112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.csr.2020.104112
- Carr, S.J. (2020) The Brecon Beacons. In: Goudie, A.S., Migon, P. (eds) Landscapes and Landforms of England and Wales. World Geomorphological Series: Springer, Berlin.Chapter 30, 553-566. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-38957-4_30
- Hiemstra, J.F., Shakesby, R.A., Carr, S.J., Owen, G. (2019) Reply to John “Comment on “Caldey (‘Kald ey’ in Old Norse) was literally a ‘cold island’, but was it under Devensian ice?” by John Hiemstra” Quaternary Newsletter 149, 16-20.
- Hiemstra, J.F., Shakesby, R.A., Carr, S.J., Owen, G. (2019) Caldey (‘Kald ey’ in Old Norse) was literally a ‘cold island’, but was it under Devensian ice? Quaternary Newsletter 148, 21-31.
- Dale, J., Cundy, A. B., Spencer, K. L., Carr, S. J., Croudace, I. W., Burgess, H. M., & Nash, D. J. (2019). Sediment structure and physicochemical changes following tidal inundation at a large open coast managed realignment site. Science of the Total Environment, 660, 1419–1432. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.12.323
- Phillips, E., Spagnolo, M., Pilmer, A. C. J., Rea, B. R., Piotrowski, J. A., Ely, J. C., & Carr, S. (2018). Progressive ductile shearing during till accretion within the deforming bed of a palaeo-ice stream. Quaternary Science Reviews, 193, 1–23.
- Phillips, E.R., Cotterill, C.J., Johnson, K.R., Crombie, K., James, L., Carr, S.J., Ruiter, A.S. (2018) Large-scale glacitectonism in response to active ice sheet retreat across Dogger Bank (southern central North Sea) during the Last Glacial Maximum. Quaternary Science Reviews, 179, 24-47.
- Carr, S.J., Hiemstra, J.F., Owen, G. (2017) Landscape evolution of Lundy Island: challenging the proposed MIS 3 glaciation of SW Britain. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, in press: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pgeola.2017.06.005
- Spencer, K.L., Carr, S.J., Diggens, L.M., Tempest, J., Morris, M.A., Harvey, G.L. (2017) The impact of pre-restoration land-use and disturbance on sediment structure, hydrology and the sediment geochemical environment in restored saltmarshes. Science of the Total Environment 587-588, 47-58.
- Taylor, H.F., O’Sullivan, C., Sim, W.W., Carr, S.J. (2017) Sub-particle-scale investigation of seepage in sands. Soils and Foundations 57, 439-452: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sandf.2017.05.010. Awarded “Best Paper of 2017” by the journal Editorial board.
- Spagnolo, M., Phillips, E., Piotrowski J.A., Rea, B.R., Clark C.D., Stokes, C.R., Carr, S.J., Ely, J.C., Ribolini, A., Wysota, W., Szuman, I. (2016) Ice stream motion facilitated by a shallow-deforming and accreting bed. Nature Communications 7:10723, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10723.
- Boston, C.M., Lukas, S., Carr, S.J. (2015) A Younger Dryas plateau icefield in the Monadhliath, Scotland, and implications for regional palaeoclimate. Quaternary Science Reviews 108, 139-162.
- Bendle, J.M, Palmer, A.P., Carr, S.J. (2015) A comparison between thin section and micro-CT analysis of Lateglacial glaciolacustrine varves from Glen Roy, Scotland. Quaternary Science Reviews 114, 61-77
- Carr, S.J., Hiemstra, J.F. (2015) (Lack of) Sedimentary Evidence for the Glaciation of Lundy. Quaternary Newsletter.
Recent external roles
2019 – Present: Editorial Collective: ‘Geography, the journal of the Geographical Association’.
- 2019 - present: External Examiner, BSc Geography programmes, Keele University
2018 - present: RGS-IBG NW Regional Committee.
- 2018 - 2019: Lake District National Park - State of the Park, Working Group on Soil and Water. This group informs the 5-year statutory reporting for the National Park on the environmental pressures, and I represented the University of Cumbria as one of the LDNP Stakeholders.
2014 - present: External Examiner, BSc Geography/Physical Earth Science programmes, Swansea University.
2015 2018: RGS-IBG Council: Council Member, Trustee, Honorary Secretary: Expeditions and Fieldwork Committee. Elected position.
2012 - 2018: RGS-IBG Expeditions and Fieldwork Committee: reports to the council of the RGS-IBG on matters relating to expeditions and fieldwork. I was a member of the Steering Group for the RGS-IBG Field Research Programme (Migrants on the Margins), which involves ca. £1M of fundraising.
2012 - 2016: External Stakeholder Advisory Group, Pearson Edexcel: I was one of two advisors representing Higher Education for the revision of the Pearson Edexcel GCSE Geography curriculum. This group advised on development of the GCSE curriculum within the context of DfE and OfQUAL benchmarking and subject specifications.
2009 - 2014: Fforest Fawr GeoPark Strategy and Planning Committee: Strategic oversight for UNESCO/EU funded designated area of the Brecon Beacons National Park.