Professor John Howell

Professor John Howell
Professor John Howell
Professor John Howell

PhD (Geology), BSc(Hons), FGS

Chair in Virtual Geosciences

Email Address
Telephone Number
+44 (0)1224 272606
Office Address

School of Geosciences

Meston Building,

Kings College,



School of Geosciences


I am a geologist who focuses on the application of novel techniques for the aquisition of outcrop data. 

Originally from Wales, I studied for my first degree at the University of Cardiff, followed by a PhD at the University of Birmingham. I then spent 10 years in the University of Liverpool as a researcher and junior faculty member working with the StratGroup. In 2002 I moved to Norway and lived in Bergen until 2012. During that time I worked in the Department of Earth Sciences and UniCIPR where I founded the Virtual Outcrop Geology Group. I was also one of the founders of Rocksource ASA an independent Norwegian E&P Company. I worked  there as a member of the senior management team for 6 years.

Since 2012 I have been a Professor at the University of Aberdeen. Current research focuses on virtual geosciences, including the improved use of analogues for understanding the subsurface for the energy transition. In the past 30 years I have worked on outcrops from all over the World with special focus on the western USA. I have supervised 56 PhD students, published more than a 170 papers and edited 7 books. I am currently running and co-running 5 large JIPs including the fifth Phase of the SAFARI project. Over the past 20 years I have pioneered the use of virtual outcrops, collected using lidar and drones in the geosciences. 

I am passionate about outreach in the geosciences. I was a co-host on "The Big Monster Dig", a TV series on geology and palaeontology for C4 and Discovery. I also have numerous other TV and radio credits as a scientific expert. I co-founded the Virtual Outcrops sharing site V3Geo which now hosts over 400 virtual models from around the World.    



  • BSc Geology 
    1988 - Cardiff University 
  • PhD Geology 
    1992 - University of Birmingham 
    Sedimentology of the Rotliegend of the UK Southern North Sea

External Memberships

Fellow of the Geological Society of London

International Association of Sedimentologists (IAS) 

Society of Economic Petrologists and Mineralogists (SEPM)

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)


Prizes and Awards

Perce Allen Award (highest award of BSRG, 2018)

ExxonMobil Young Researcher Award (2000)

Alaister Pilkinton Award for Excellence in Teaching (2000) 


Research Overview

Current research areas include:

  • The development of digital field methods in the geosciences; especially terrestrial LiDAR, UAVs (drones) and photogrammetry
  • The development and implementation of virtual fieldtrips 
  • The collection of analogue data for better subsurface models for reservoirs, repositories (CCS and H2) and aquifers.
  • Large scale studies of modern depositional systems as a key to understanding the subsurface
  • Reservoir modelling of geological outcrops.
  • The geology of the Colorado Plateau, especially central and southern Utah.
  • Clastic sedimentology and sequence stratigraphy  
  • The Triassic of the North Sea and Mid Norway.

Research Areas

Geology and Geophysics


Current Research

Safari Project - Major industry JIP in its 5th Phase. Running since 2007. Current phase includes 2 PhD students and 2 post-doc researchers supported by 9 companies and the Research Council of Norway. Theme of Phase 5 is Analogues and the Energy Transition.

Deep Water Reservoir Analogues - JIP with Wintershall and Universities of Leeds and Manchester. Four year project studying deep water systems from across the world. Two postdocs and 1 PhD 

Triassic Reservoirs of the North Sea and Mid Norway. Two JIPs (UK and Norway) funded by 9 energy companies supporting 8 PhDs and 2 postdocs. Joint with Adrian Hartley 

Modern and ancient aeolian analogues for the German Rotliegend, PhD funded by Wintershall

Aeolian reservoirs in southern Norway and their Utah analogues. PhD funded by AkerBP. Joint with Keele University

Distal Rotliegend reservoirs and their Utah analogues. PhD funded by Shell.

Transgressive shallow marine systems and bedrock unconformities on intra-basinal highs. PhD funded by research council of Norway. 

Automated interpretation of virtual outcrops using machine learning. PhD SAFARI Phase 4 

Global distribution of grainstones through the Phanerozoic. PhD SAFARI Phase 4, joint with Alex Brazier 

Virtual Outcrop study of carbonate reservoir analogous for the Jurassic Hanifa. PhD, joint with Alex Brazier 

Sedimentology of the Triassic in the Ula Field. Funded by AkerBP, joint with Adrian Hartley 

Sedimentology of the Devonian of the Clare Field and analogue. Funded by BP, joint with Adrian Hartley 

Development and application of Virtual Fieldtrips, joint with Jess Pugsley and colleagues in Bergen 

Development of new tools for reservoir modelling (Geopard). Funded by Research Council of Norway. Joint with Norwegian Computing Center and University of Bergen.

Deep Reservoirs. Funded by Research Council of Norway. Joint with University of Bergen and University of Liverpool. 




Knowledge Exchange

Developed and Manage V3Geo - A public repository for Virtual Outcrop data which hosts over 500 models

Wrote and presented "Drone vs Volcano - Extreme 3D mapping" for Aberdeen University Youtube (375k views) 

Onscreen Expert - 1000 Years of Scottish History for Channel 4 

TEDx Aberdeen - Drone mapping volcanos

Onscreen Scientist and drone pilot - Worlds Deadliest Jobs. 1 x 1hr Discovery USA

Scientific consultant - The Burrowers for BBC 3 x 1hr for BBC

Presenter - Big Monster Dig 7 x 1hr Channel 4 and Discovery 

Onscreen Expert - Dinosaur Detectives 1 x 1hr for Channel 4 

Numerous TV and Radio appearances as expert 

Numerous public science lectures 




Current Collaborations

  • Simon Buckley and Nicole Naumann, Bergen. Virtual Outcrops and databases
  • David Hodgson and Aurelia Privat, Leeds. Deep water systems 
  • Steve Flint, Manchester. Deep water systems 
  • Atle Rotevatn and Christian Eide, University of Bergen, sedimentology and structural geology 
  • Ivar Midkandal and Alvar Braathen, University of Oslo, sedimentology 
  • Miguel Poyets-More, University of Barcelona, sedimentology 



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Books and Reports

Chapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings

Contributions to Conferences

Contributions to Journals

Contributions to Specialist Publications