Browse our staff portraits to learn more about our Geography & Environment team, their research interests, how and what our team teaches, as well as some secret skills and coffee preferences.

Tavis Potts

Tell us about your role in Geography and Environment at UoA. I am Professor and Chair in Sustainable Development and current Director of the University of Aberdeen Centre for Energy Transition.

What is your main research focus? My focus is how communities, institutions and broader society navigates sustainable development, how it drives social innovation and how we govern our relationship with nature. I am particularly interested in coasts and ocean systems.

What research are you currently working on? Developing participatory methods in natural capital assessment; understanding the just transition concept and how it can deliver climate justice.

In your opinion, what's the best part of teaching? Direct engagement with students over sustainability issues, linking students with real work examples and practitioners.

What advice would you give to yourself as a brand new graduate? Do what you are passionate about and believe in. Everything else will follow.

What was the first thing you wanted to be when you grew up? A jet fighter pilot. And a knight.

What’s your favourite way to spend a day off? Going for a surf, pottering in the garden followed by some boardgames, a BBQ and a real ale. End the day with a great novel (sci fi/fantasy).

Do you have any secret talents or skills? I am a very good Dungeon Master and have extensive knowledge of Star Wars.

What can you cook or bake to perfection? I am a BBQ Master. This is the Way.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently? Tarkin (The History of Grand Moff Tarkin, StarWars)

Do you prefer cats or dogs? Both. We have 1 of each.

If you meet up with someone at Kilau coffee, what should they order for you? Flat white.

Brice Rea

Brice sampling a boulder for cosmogenic exposure age dating to reconstruct the deglaciation history of the Greenland Ice Sheet, Uummannaq Fjord, West Greenland.Tell us about your role in Geography and Environment at UoA. I am currently the Head of Geography so have a lot administration to do (and too many meetings to attend) but the positive of that is I get to speak with all of the Geography staff regularly and I hopefully help the smooth running of the Department. I also teach on a number of undergraduate courses and supervise undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations and when I have any time to spare undertake research into glaciers and ice sheets.

What is your main research focus? I am interested in the cryosphere in general but mainly focus on glaciers and ice sheets past and present and their links to climate, sediments, landforms and landscape, using a range of different techniques including plenty of fieldwork. As a result, I sometimes get to go to great places like Greenland, the Alps, Peru, Svalbard and I even once made it to the North Pole! Some of my current research is looking at the North East Greenland Ice Stream, glacier-volcano interactions and how to use glaciers that were around 12,000 years ago to understand atmospheric circulation patterns. 

In your opinion, what's the best part of teaching? The best part of teaching is interaction with students and I especially enjoy teaching in the field. We are currently facing major challenges due to climate change and I have knowledge and understanding which helps to contextualise those changes and hopefully my teaching helps students to better understand the complex earth system in which we live. It is hugely rewarding to watch students develop over their time at the University and hopefully I can help them, in some way, to reach their maximum potential.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever heard? Work out what you like doing and find a way to make a career of it. You will spend many years working for a living so if it is something you like to do, it more fun and infinitely more rewarding.

How would your 10-year-old self react to what you do now? Although not as good as being a professional footballer, my 10 year old self would think what I do is pretty cool, becasue everyone likes glaciers and ice sheets.

What’s your favourite way to spend a day off? A long cycle on my road bike getting up as many hills as I can, so I can go fast on the descents!

Do you have any secret talents or skills? Making jam and chutney.

What can you cook or bake to perfection? Curry (I think).

If you meet up with someone at Kilau coffee, what should they order for you? Fresh brewed FILTER coffee (no Americano) and carrot cake.

Paula Duffy

Tell us about your role in Geography and Environment at UoA. I’m a Lecturer in Human Geography, so the day job is as both a social researcher and educator. I teach on courses across our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes as well as supervise student research.

What is your main research focus? My main research areas are within social and population geographies, with a focus on population change, migration and residential mobilities and how this can be applied within the sustainable development paradigm. I have a particular interest in the demographic and social sustainability of coastal communities.

In your opinion, what's the best part of teaching? Getting out of the lecture theatre and into ‘the field’ with students is the best part for me, It’s always where I feel I really get a chance to get to know my students.  I like that it’s more relaxed, unscripted and interactive, and that creates some memorable teaching moments. Best of all it’s great to see students working together and learning through their own research skills. 

What advice would you give to yourself as a brand new graduate? The skills you have gained will last you a lifetime. So don’t be scared to try a few different careers until you find something you truly enjoy or that at the very least makes Mondays bearable.

What was the first thing you wanted to be when you grew up? I was obsessed with sea mammals and I wanted to be a marine biologist. So, I suppose Marine social scientist wasn’t too far off. I still get to work with coastal populations, but they are people and not even mer-people.

What’s your favourite way to spend a day off? At a music festival or gig with my friends, singing along (badly) to my favourite bands.

Do you have any secret talents or skills? I once wanted to be artist and was accepted into Edinburgh School of Art before choosing to do Geography. I still love wandering around art galleries admiring the talents of others and these days my own ’talent’ is confined to painting and drawing for stress relief. I love working with oils, and inks, and can occasionally be found working on portraits and life drawing.

What can you cook or bake to perfection? My cookie dough Brownies are legendary.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently? Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo.

Do you prefer cats or dogs? Dogs. I have a Labradoodle called Perra.

Flurina Wartmann

Tell us about your role in Geography and Environment at UoA. I'm a Lecturer in Geography and Environment. I teach on society-environment relations, human geography and GIS in a range of courses. Im also working on developing new research projects with collaborators in Aberdeen and internationally.

What is your main research focus? My research revolves around society-environment interactions, including landscape assessments, nature conservation, outdoor recreation and public attitudes towards landscape change. I use a range of methods from qualitative interviews, surveys, participatory GIS and social media analysis to explore how people relate to their environment. In the Scottish context, I'm particularly interested in public attitudes towards rewilding initiatives and marine protected areas.

What is your teaching style like? I strive to be engaging and interactive in my teaching. For example, in a lecture on Concepts in Human Geography students took a virtual excursion down Kilburn High road in London for them to compare their excursion with Doreen Massey’s writing and theories about place. For a lecture on green consumption, students went on a (virtual) shopping trip and compared prices for products with different green labels, and then discussed the social and ecological implications of consumption.

What advice would you give to yourself as a brand new graduate? Pursue what you are passionate about.

What was the first thing you wanted to be when you grew up? When I was little I wanted to become Indiana Jones. That came partially true. Thankfully the part about teaching at University, not the part with the snake pit.

What’s your favourite way to spend a day off? I enjoy a range of outdoor activities and living so close to the sea is great for surfing and freediving. If the conditions are good, you would probably find me chasing waves somewhere.

What can you cook or bake to perfection? Swiss carrot cake.

If you meet up with someone at Kilau coffee, what should they order for you? A latte in the morning, espresso in the afternoon. No matter the time of day – always a chocolate brownie to go with that.

Matteo Spagnolo

Tell us about your role in Geography and Environment at UoA. In recent years, I have been covering a number of school and university roles (e.g. Senator, PGR Director etc.). I also coordinate three Geography and Environment courses, at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and supervise Geography PhD and MSc by Research students.

What research are you currently working on? I am working on the interaction between glaciers and volcanoes, aiming to demonstrate that glaciers could be used as volcano thermometers and, as such, represent an ideal tool for the monitoring volcanic activity. I also work on the effect of climate change on Himalayan glaciers, and the use of ice stupas to alleviate the problem of water scarcity in high-mountain, arid regions.

Tell us about a highlight in your teaching experience at UoA. Despite teaching mostly remote sensing and GIS techniques, my real passion is field-based teaching. My best teaching memories are therefore all connected to fieldtrips, in particular those in the Alps, where students can finally see first-hand what I teach in class…and we can all enjoy lots of great Italian food!

What advice would you give to yourself as a brand new graduate? Follow your passion, wherever that takes you.

What was the first thing you wanted to be when you grew up? A 'ruscellaio', an Italian made-up word for someone who deals with the management/restoration of mountain creeks; I must have been an odd kid!

What’s your favourite way to spend a day off? Hiking.

Do you have any secret talents or skills? Singing.

What can you cook or bake to perfection? Risotto with porcini mushrooms.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently? Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

If you meet up with someone at Kilau coffee, what should they order for you? An Italian-style hot chocolate, if only it was on their menu!

David R. Green

Tell us about your role in Geography and Environment at UoA. I’m currently the Director of the MSc in Geographic Information Systems, the Aberdeen Institute for Coastal Science and Management (AICSM), and the Unmanned Airborne Vehicles (UAVs) Centre for Environmental Monitoring and Mapping (UCEMM). I’m also Post Graduate Taught School Director.

What research are you currently working on? I currently work on environmental applications (coastal and precision viticulture) of Geospatial technologies: remote sensing, GIS, cartography, digital mapping, UAVs, WebGIS, with special emphasis on UAVs.

Tell us about a highlight in your teaching experience at UoA. A day out in the field with the drones!

What advice would you give to yourself as a brand new graduate? Take advantage of ALL the opportunities offered to you at University.

What was the first thing you wanted to be when you grew up? A car designer.

What’s your favourite way to spend a day off? Spend a day at home, on my boat, cycling or in a vineyard (well in the winery as well!)

What can you cook or bake to perfection? Nanaimo Bars

Do you prefer cats or dogs? I have three cats (2 Siamese) but would like a dog again!

Lorna Philip

Tell us about your role in Geography and Environment at UoA. I’m a Senior Lecturer in Geography where my role combines teaching and research activities:  I teach undergraduate and taught postgraduate students, supervise research students and work on my own research (recent publications include impacts of COVID-19 in rural areas and I’m soon to commence work on a new project that brings together academics, policy makers and rural practioners from across the UK). I’m also the Depute Head of the School of Geosciences, which means I’m involved in the strategic and day-to-day operation of the academic unit Geography sits within, and I’m involved in University level governance in my role as convenor of a University Committee.

What is your main research focus? I’m a rural geographer and my research is concerned with processes of change in contemporary rural communities, including work on the impacts of demographic ageing, retirement transition migration as a driver of rural population change, digital rural society and digital inequalities. My work often uses a mixed-methods approach combining, for example, quantitative household survey data with qualitative interview material.  I’ve recently had an opportunity to undertake longitudinal qualitative research, returning to the same participants at regular intervals over a three year period to gain detailed insights into the long term impact of flooding in rural areas of Scotland.

In your opinion, what's the best part of teaching? I teach across the undergraduate curriculum and relish delivering the 4th year Rural Geographies course where I am able to bring my research interests to the fore.  I enjoy teaching on undergraduate and postgraduate research methods courses, giving students the skills they need to design and undertake their own independent dissertation research.

Tell us about a highlight in your teaching experience at UoA. Undergraduate residential fieldtrips have been enjoyable, providing an opportunity to get to know students and to visit some interesting places (including the Isle of Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde, Boston, USA and Gdansk, Poland).

How would your 10-year-old self react to what you do now? I’d think that it must be really scary speaking in front of so many people in a lecture theatre!

What’s your favourite way to spend a day off? Either pottering in my garden, sowing seeds, taking cuttings and, in summer and autumn, picking (and eating) the fruit I grow or, with the other members of the chamber choir I sing in, spending a few hours in a dress rehearsal getting repertoire perfected before giving an evening performance.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently? Tartan Noir is always a go to. Iain Rankin is a long standing favourite – his protagonist, Rebus, lives close to my old school in Edinburgh. I read a lot of historical fiction and recently enjoyed Shona MacLean’s Alexander Seaton quartet, centred in and around 17th century Marishal College and King’s College (Aberdeen’s two ancient universities which merged to create the University of Aberdeen in 1860). I’d also recommend Andrew Greig’s work including The Return of John MacNab, an entertaining reworking of John Buchan’s classic John MacNab.

Do you prefer cats or dogs? Dogs, Scottish Terriers specifically.

If you meet up with someone at Kilau coffee, what should they order for you? Flat white in the morning, tea (preferably Lady Grey) in the afternoon accompanied by a dark chocolate brownie (although I wouldn’t turn down a white chocolate and raspberry brownie if offered one!)

Timothy Mighall

Tell us about your role in Geography and Environment at UoA. I am a Reader in Palaeoecology and currently Director of Undergraduate Teaching and Learning for the School of Geosciences.

What is your main research focus? I reconstruct environmental changes (climate and human impact) during the Holocene using microfossils and chemical elements preserved in peat bogs and lake sediment cores. I examine pollen grains and chemical elements to provide reconstructions of vegetation change, dust and heavy metal pollution. This is important to provide a spatial and temporal perspective to contemporary environmental changes.

In your opinion, what's the best part of teaching? Teaching in the field and the interaction with our students. I have been lucky enough to teach aspects of physical geography with the Mont Blanc massif as a backdrop, in the vast semi-arid Karoo of South Africa and the unforgettable landscapes of North Wales and Scotland! Seeing students develop academically and as people is also fantastic and really rewarding.

What advice would you give to yourself as a student? Choose courses you will enjoy – by doing so you will perform better. Also do not be afraid to interact with the staff. If you do, it makes it much easier for staff to teach you and you will learn more! A win-win!

How would your 10-year-old self react to what you do now? He would not believe it and then he would ask what an earth is pollen analysis?

What’s your favourite way to spend a day off? Going to watch live football or attend a gig with friends is always fun and I love having a meal and/or good walk with my family.

Do you prefer cats or dogs? I have a cat called Pickle so I have to say cats although my mum’s dog Leo is very adorable!

If you meet up with someone at Kilau coffee, what should they order for you? Tea with oat milk. Where there is tea, there is hope…

Piotr Niewiadomski

Tell us about your role in Geography and Environment at UoA. I am a Lecturer in Human Geography and I am also the Director of the MSc Environmental Partnership Management – a degree that from September 2021 onwards will be transformed into MSc Sustainability Transitions.

What is your main research focus? As an economic geographer I am mainly concerned with the uneven geographies of globalisation processes and the uneven distribution of wealth across the world. More specifically, my research focuses on tourism – its worldwide development, its economic importance, and its economic, social and environmental impacts on host destinations. My research is motivated by a desire to contribute to the tourism industry becoming more sustainable, i.e. more economically even, more socially just and more environmentally sound.

In your opinion, what's the best part of teaching? The best part of teaching is the joy and satisfaction on students’ faces after I help them understand something new, challenging or academically difficult. For this reason I particularly enjoy fieldtrips – organising them, running them and teaching students in the field. There is no better way for geographers to learn than to go out to the field, see places and link what they see to what they read about.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever heard? 'Whatever you do, ensure you do it right and to the best of your ability. Don’t cut the corners and don’t cheat. If you cannot commit fully, it is better not to commit at all.'

What was the first thing you wanted to be when you grew up? A printed map of Europe was my first toy and I used to spend hours looking at it. And later on, I learned names of places from it - it seems I always wanted to be a geographer. In the meantime I also wanted to become a professional footballer, but I would have surely never become another Lionel Messi. I am therefore very happy to be a geographer.

What’s your favourite way to spend a day off? If the weather is fine, I like hillwalking, travelling, visiting places as a tourist, or doing some garden work. Before the pandemic I used to go to many gigs and concerts, but who knows when opportunities to do this come back… If it’s raining, then listening to music is my most preferred choice.

Do you have any secret talents or skills? I’m quite good at cooking. There are a few dishes which I can prepare to high standards and which everyone enjoys.

What can you cook or bake to perfection? Baked salmon + baked potatoes + steamed vegetables with garlic sauce… It seems it is my flagship dish which my friends and family members like the most.

Ed Schofield

Tell us about your role in Geography and Environment at UoA. I am a Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography. I teach across a wide range of our undergraduate modules, I supervise research (e.g. dissertations, PhDs) undertaken by both undergraduate and postgraduate students, and I conduct and publish research on past environments (more on that below).

What is your main research focus? I am a palaeoecologist whose primary interests revolve around the reconstruction of past vegetation and environments using pollen analysis and associated proxies (e.g. microscopic charcoal and fungal spores). I am particularly interested in the impacts that Viking/Norse settlers had upon the landscapes of the North Atlantic islands, and projects that I have worked on under this theme have involved fieldwork in Scandinavia, the British Isles, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Newfoundland. I also hold more general interests in soils and sediments, environmental archaeology, biogeography and vegetation history.

In your opinion, what's the best part of teaching? This is undoubtedly the lab and field-based classes, where you get a chance to pass on your knowledge to students in a practical fashion. For geographers, the outdoors is often the classroom.

What advice would you give to yourself as a brand new graduate? Work hard, play hard.

What was the first thing you wanted to be when you grew up? I always had dreams of becoming a professional footballer, but unfortunately it was not to be. As a kid, I did have a trial for Huddersfield Town U11s.

Do you have any secret talents or skills? I can play the trombone – or at least I used to be able to; it’s been years since I picked up the instrument.

What can you cook or bake to perfection? Toast – but I can even burn that sometimes. Put it this way, you are unlikely to see me on a future episode of Masterchef. 

What’s the best book you’ve read recently? I am working my way through the Jack Reacher novels. My favourite so far is No Middle Name, which is a collection of short stories featuring the character. I am also a big fan of JRR Tolkien’s work. The Silmarillion is a particular favourite of mine.

David Haro

Tell us about your role in Geography and Environment at UoA. I am a Lecturer in Global Hydrology and Water Security and currently the GoAbroad Tutor for the department. I teach on undergraduate and postgraduate courses and supervise student research.

What is your main research focus? I focus on large water resources systems analysis, from the rainfall-runoff generation process to the water allocation among different water users (supply, irrigation, environment, etc). I am particularly interested in the hydrological and water allocation modelling for long-term planning and climate adaptation. Other aspects I have worked on have to do with drought management and stakeholder engagement for water management.

In your opinion, what's the best part of teaching? The interaction with students and the possibility to transfer to them my interest and passion for water resources. I find it especially rewarding when I learn some of them decided to pursue further studies on the field or that something I taught them helped them later in their careers.

What advice would you give to yourself as a brand new graduate? Do not expect to achieve your long-term objectives within a single blow. Work hard, be persistent and pave your road with small victories.

What was the first thing you wanted to be when you grew up? I never really knew what I wanted to be, but I knew I wanted it to be related to technology. The day I had to rank the degrees I wanted to apply for I chose the one with the longest name: Ingeniería de Caminos, Canales y Puertos, and did my degree in Civil Engineering.

What’s your favourite way to spend a day off? I enjoy quite a broad range of options, from outdoor sports like off-road biking and padel to indoor activities like playing videogames and painting wargaming miniatures.

What can you cook or bake to perfection? Paella is my specialty, but I enjoy cooking all sorts of recipes.

Do you prefer cats or dogs? I'm a cat lover. I have a Scottish Fold called Zara and a Persian called Himeko.

If you meet up with someone at Kilau coffee, what should they order for you? A double espresso or an americano will make me happy. No milk and no sugar.

 

Josie Geris

Tell us about your role in Geography and Environment at UoA. I’m a Senior Lecturer in Hydrology. This includes teaching across the undergraduate and postgraduate Geography programme. I also carry out research on several exciting projects with the ultimate aim to provide sustainable approaches for water resources management.

What is your main research focus? I’m interested in the way water moves through different parts of the landscape and how this contributes to generating flood and drought conditions. Specifically, I explore what the roles of land use and land management are in these processes. I use stable water isotope and other novel techniques to study hydrological flow pathways and the interactions between plants, soil and water. Water management applications range from coffee plantations in Mexico, to agricultural approaches in China, and to the distillery industry in Scotland.

In your opinion, what's the best part of teaching? It’s great to see students grow their knowledge, skills and confidence as they progress through the programme. I love to be part of those ‘aha’ moments in the classroom or in the field; when suddenly students are able to link different concepts or processes to understand more complex issues.

What advice would you give to yourself as a brand new student? Enjoy the ride! University is an amazing place to discover more about the things you’re interested in. Do your best, but don’t worry so much about this one exam or piece of assessment – it always works out and it’s not that important in the grand scheme of things.

What was the first thing you wanted to be when you grew up? A geologist, although I didn’t know it was called that way until much later. On our family holidays I’d collect rocks and fossils for my very own ‘rock museum’.

What’s your favourite way to spend a day off? I have two very young children, so I spend most of my time outside work with my family. Together, we love exploring the Aberdeenshire beaches and countryside, and meeting up with friends.

What can you cook or bake to perfection? I once won a prize for my Dutch appeltaart (apple cake). This was in the category ‘other’ as part of a baking competition for charity, so whether this was ‘to perfection’ I don’t know!

If you meet up with someone at Kilau coffee, what should they order for you? No need to order as the staff know my choice by heart: a cappuccino (without any chocolate or cinnamon on top).

Katrin Prager

Tell us about your role in Geography and Environment at UoA. I teach UG and PGT on agriculture and the food system, rural & environmental policy, research methods and team management. I also direct the Master of Land Economy programme and undertake research to make the management of the farmed environment more sustainable.

What research are you currently working on? I’m working with 25 European partners in the Contracts2.0 project to find out what contracts and agreements are best suited to pay farmers for environmentally friendly management of our natural resources – that’s the public goods such as biodiversity (farmland birds, wildflower meadows), clean water, soils that store carbon and surplus water, and the landscape we’d like to see.

In your opinion, what's the best part of teaching? The interesting questions students ask, and seeing students develop.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever heard? Do what you are passionate about. Talk to loads of people about it.

How would your 10-year-old self react to what you do now? Cool – you get paid for being curious and talking to people!

What’s your favourite way to spend a day off? Gardening and horseback riding.

Do you have any secret talents or skills? I used to teach the piano.

If you meet up with someone at Kilau coffee, what should they order for you? A piece of cake. I can’t ever decide on the coffee.

Jean-Christophe Comte

Tell us about your role in Geography and Environment at UoA. I am a Senior Lecturer in Hydrogeology. I teach and coordinate undergraduate and postgraduate courses across the departments of Geography & Environment and Geology & Geophysics on topics related to hydro(geo)logy, environmental geophysics and physical geography. I carry out research relating to the characterisation and sustainable management of groundwater resources which also involves supervision of Postdoctoral researchers, PhD and MSc students.

What is your main research focus? My research focus on the understanding of how water flows in the subsurface, what is known as groundwater in aquifers, and how to adequately manage these groundwater resources in a context of increasing demand and climate change. I combine field and modelling approaches to quantify aquifer properties and groundwater flow processes, with particular focus on the integration of geophysical methods, and collaborate with related disciplines in surface hydrology and social sciences to improve the management of groundwater resources and groundwater security in developing countries. Applications range from saltwater intrusion in coastal and island aquifers (Africa, Indo-Pacific, Europe, North America), groundwater flow and resources in fractured rocks (Europe, Africa), and the sustainable use of groundwater resources for supporting increasing demand and the resilience to hydrological extremes (Africa, Asia).

In your opinion, what's the best part of teaching? The field. When relating the abstract concepts (especially in hydrogeology!) taught in the class to landscape geological features and field data. I particularly enjoy and find it rewarding when students get to relate their own outdoors practical experience and explain it with the knowledge and understanding gained.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever heard? If you have a passion, go for it! If not (yet) do what you enjoy and it will grow in you!

How would your 10-year-old self react to what you do now? He would ask a lot of questions to try imagine what it is that I am actually doing: what is hydrogeology? can I see groundwater? but how do you know there's groundwater if you can’t see it? where does it come from? and where are all those exotic places? Etc. etc…

What’s your favourite way to spend a day off? Hiking in the mountains – but for now for proper ones I have to be patient until my boys are a bit older!

What can you cook or bake to perfection? Omelettes, according to my partner.

If you meet up with someone at Kilau coffee, what should they order for you? An espresso. Those who know me best know when to order a single or a double.