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Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Mike Summerfield

(April - June 2007)

Professor Summerfield's primary research interests lie in the macroscale evolution of landscapes. He is Professor of Geomorphology at the University of Edinburgh and has served as head of the Department of Geography from 2000 to 2002. He has held a Royal Society of Edinburgh Support Research Fellowship and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2001. His recent research focus has been on the application of cosmogenic isotopes to quantifying long-term rates of landscape change, and together with Professor Tony Fallick of the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre he led a £4.5 million NERC-funded initiative to establish the infrastructure in the UK required for cosmogenic isotope analysis.

With various collaborators from a range of earth science disciplines, his strategy has been to apply the recently developed geochronological techniques of thermochronology and cosmogenic isotope analysis to assess the interaction of internal and surface processes in long-term landscape change, a problem first tackled in a systematic scientific manner by Darwin in his methodologically innovative theory of coral reef formation. His book Global Geomorphology (Longman, 1991) has become the major text in its field world-wide, and he has also edited Geomorphology and Global Tectonics (Wiley, New York, 2000), an interdisciplinary exploration of the interactions between internal tectonic and external surfaces processes in landscape evolution. 

Professor Summerfield has previously chaired the International Association of Geomorphologists Working Group on Geomorphology and Global Tectonics and currently serves on the NERC Cosmogenic Isotope Analysis Facility Steering Committee.


IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Darwin, Landforms and the Theory of the Earth

10th May 2007, 17:15 to 18:45, Debating Chamber, Palace Green

Professor Mike Summerfield, Edinburgh University This is part of 'The Darwinian Legacy: Earth, Life and Mind' Seminar Series

Both during the Beagle voyage and in the years immediately following his return to Britain, Charles Darwin's scientific interests were primarily geological. He made an immediate impact with his theory of coral reef development, and much of his present, somewhat limited, reputation as an 'earth scientist' is based on this specific contribution, together with the innovative methodology used to propose his model of reef development. But the much broader conceptual framework within which this work was situated is less widely appreciated. From his early observations of landforms and rocks, and his reading of contemporaries such as Lyell, Darwin embarked on a search for a coherent theory of the Earth of which the nature and causes of uplift formed a core issue. Although eclipsed for 150 years by other priorities, recent research in the earth sciences is again focussing on the causes and patterns of crustal uplift as a component of a holistic view of how the Earth functions. In reviewing some of these recent developments, it is evident that lessons can still be learnt from Darwin's original wide-ranging research agenda, his linkage of apparently unrelated phenomena, and his methodological innovations. Michael Summerfield is Professor of Geomorphology at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on using new geochronological techniques, especially cosmogenic isotope analysis, to quantifying long-term landscape history, and on the interplay between internal and surface processes in determining landscape evolution at large temporal and spatial scales. His publications include Geomorphology and Global Tectonics (2000). He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2001.

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