School of GeoSciences

About the School of GeoSciences

A description of the School and its aims.

On this page:

  • Who we are
  • Aims
  • Teaching
  • Research Institutes 
  • Management
  • Useful Links 

Who we are 

We are the largest and most successful interdisciplinary grouping of geoscientists and geographers in the UK, with a growing and cosmopolitan academic and research staff of more than 300 academic and research staff; more than 100 non-academic staff; around 470 postgraduates (half of whom are on taught masters courses), and over 1,100 undergraduates. 

The School was formed in 2002 through the merger of the former Institute of Ecology and Resource Management, the Department of Geography, the Department of Geology and Geophysics, the Institute for Meteorology and Environmental Chemistry from the Department of Chemistry - all of which have had a long history within the university, dating back to the eighteenth and nineteenth century, and influenced by an impressive selection of scientists and social scientists who have shaped the School’s core disciplines (ecology, environmental sciences, geography, geology, geophysics, meteorology, oceanography) and areas of expertise.

Since its formation, the School has continued its track record of excellence in teaching, research and innovation, attracting high calibre students and a high level of research funding.

In our whole-School submission to the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF) we were top-ranked for Research Power in ‘Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences’. We are ranked 12th and 22nd in the 2016 World QS subject rankings for ‘Geography and Area Studies’ and ‘Earth and Marine Sciences’; increased research grant income at over 9%/annum over the past six years to £17.8M/annum; and achieved an Overall Satisfaction rate of 88% in the 2016 National Student Survey.

The School has strong and growing student demand (UK and international) for its undergraduate and postgraduate programmes; has outstanding facilities; and hosts major National and International Innovation hubs including the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI) and its new (2015) Hong Kong office. This success has allowed the School to appoint over 35 new academic staff in the last three years, most of whom are early career.

A distinctive feature of the School is our combination of academic strength, breadth and societal relevance, including natural and social sciences, innovation and impact.  Our interdisciplinary research and teaching builds on well-established core disciplines which provide a variety of approaches to understanding the world including system-scale modelling, process studies and the development of urban and social theory. 

Our research covers fundamental ‘blue-skies’ questions, as well as having application to key societal challenges including inequality and vulnerability; urban precarity; nature and cultural meaning; development and sustainability; climate and environmental change; energy, food and water security; anthropogenic environmental change; natural resources; and natural hazards. 

The School is committed to supporting its core disciplines in creating an environment that encourages internal and external collaboration and enables all our staff and students to pursue work of significance, rigour and originality.   

Aims 

The School’s key goal is to lead in ways of understanding the world at a fundamental curiosity-driven level, and in order to support prescient decision-making at individual to global scales. Its aim is to undertake world-leading research; offer new ways of understanding the nature and drivers of change; provide inter-and trans-disciplinary innovation in finding solutions; and work in partnership to positively improve livelihoods and socially-equitable and responsibly-managed nature.

We have a number of strategic principles, all of which build on its diversity and use this as a critical and enduring strength. These principles include:

  • Quality:  we hold quality and rigour of research and teaching as paramount, spanning fundamental ‘blue-skies’ thinking that challenges existing frameworks through to applied work that addresses specific societal and environmental challenges, ensuring our students receive a rich and fulfilling educational experience.
  • Diversity: we support and celebrate our core disciplines and approaches which range from ‘lone-scholar’ to large inter-disciplinary teams. Our student body is diverse with around 50% of our Postgraduates and over 10% of our Undergraduates coming from Overseas.  
  • Collaboration and communication:  we support an environment that actively facilitates communication and collaboration across disciplinary boundaries, and beyond the academy.
  • Collegiality:  we seek to recruit and retain colleagues who value and contribute to the highest levels of collegiality. This collegiality extends beyond the Staff – our students are our most central and valued assets.
  • Strategic opportunities:  we actively work to identify priority areas for future investment and growth through consultation across the School and in the context of evolving academic and funding opportunities, and societal and student demand. 

 

The impacts of increasing global population, urbanisation, unprecedented rates of climate and environmental change, and finite natural resources pose formidable challenges for society.  The seriousness and urgency of these issues are recognised by national governments and international agencies.  Finding and implementing solutions requires new ways of thinking and working that connect the natural and social sciences and bring together the institutions of civil society, business and policy. The School is uniquely placed to explore and tackle these issues with expertise spanning the entire spectrum of natural and social sciences. 

Some strategic opportunities that take advantage of the wide range of disciplines within the School are:

Energy Futures

Our global over-dependence on hydrocarbon-based fossil fuels is driving dangerous climate change, ocean acidification, an air-quality health epidemic, and is sustaining unjustifiable inequalities in wealth. Technologies and policy interventions for renewable energy, carbon capture and storage and climate engineering are not yet able to provide secure, affordable and distributed solutions. The School can support the transition to a supply of secure, affordable, distributed and environmentally sustainable energy by building on its existing research and leadership in carbon capture and storage; subsurface imaging of resources and reservoirs; biomass production and management; assessment of the environmental impacts of renewable and non-renewable energy sources; Carbon Innovation; the societal take-up of energy options and sustainable cities.

 

Natural Hazards and Climate Extremes

Extreme events related to climate, weather and geological phenomena result annually in >30,000 deaths and £150B lost from the global economy. Such events are hard to predict with confidence, and the likelihood of some weather and climate events has already shifted due to climate change. Challenges arise in the scientific understanding of these phenomena in quantifying changes in their probability, and in better predicting them. An important challenge, which is often poorly addressed, is in linking scientific understanding to policy frameworks, business processes, and warning systems to build resilience and help mitigate the worst impacts. The School can grow its expertise in the scientific understanding, prediction and communication of climate change and extremes. and the understanding or forecasting of volcanic and seismic hazards and landslides to address these challenges.

 

Sustainable Lands and Seas

Marine and terrestrial ecosystems play a fundamental role for society by providing food and water, regulating our environment, and supporting our economies and our well-being. However, the accelerating rates of change in our natural environments, and the impacts consequent on the demands of human society pose significant challenges for the management of marine and terrestrial systems. The School can capitalise on its world-class expertise in the evolving research area of socio-ecological systems and ecosystem services, to understand the nature and value of terrestrial and marine systems in a changing world and to influence the key decisions that determine their proper and sustainable use by society.

 

Health, Environment and Inequality

Key metrics of human health show major and increasing variations at local, regional and international scales. Poor health, experiences of chronic and infectious exposure to disease and premature mortality all cause human suffering with major impacts on societies and economies. While some environmental and social risk factors are well established contributors to inequalities in health, our understanding of the inter-relationships is often too specific, too poor and ill-informed to provide the basis for effective policy making. The School’s existing capabilities in health geography, and its work relating to social inequalities and the experiences of urban life nationally and internationally provide an opportunity to pioneer the integration of qualitative and data-intensive social science research in the health and geographical sciences in order to better understand and quantify the determinants of health and healthy ageing.

Teaching 

The School’s teaching mission is to inspire, challenge and excite future generations to learn and think about how the Earth works and has evolved, and how it impacts on the prosperity and wellbeing of humankind. Staff are encouraged to enhance and innovate the learning environment, and we aspire to further the University's reputation in teaching excellence.

The School’s degree courses cover its well-established core disciplines (ecology, environmental sciences, geography, geology, geophysics, meteorology, oceanography) and benefit from being flexible with a variety of elective courses – producing students who are engaged in fundamental understanding as well as being informed by staff-led research. The School currently offers a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Earth Sciences, Ecological and Environmental Sciences and Geography disciplines, including online distance learning opportunities. Many programmes involve collaboration with local and international institutions, including Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), the University of Edinburgh Business School, British Geological Survey, Scottish Universities Environment Research Centre (SUERC), as well as Chinese and Canadian institutions. The School aims for its students to be future leaders who are equipped to assess critically at different levels of understanding across a range of topics, can identify research questions and can target approaches for providing insight across our core disciplines.

The School prides itself on its student-centred community, which includes students of all levels, backgrounds and nationalities, as well as its valued and extensive alumni network. The School recognises teaching excellence, and has a commitment to foster positive relationships through its personal tutor system, and through a number of School and University level awards. Staff are encouraged to develop through continuing professional developments programmes which are regularly recognised through University teaching awards that acknowledge the School’s passion and commitment to teaching.

Research Institutes 

The School has three Research Institutes, which span broad areas of research in which the School expects to have a focus over the next decade. Each member of academic staff is a member of a Research Institute, although many have interests spanning more than one Institute. Those Research Institutes are:

  • Geography and the Lived Environment Research Institute The Geography and the Lived Environment Research Institute (GLE) aims to generate agenda-setting research that improves understanding of the inter-relationships between people, society and the environment. GLE’s innovative research, seeks to investigate key areas of contemporary and historic societal concern including development, climate change, inequalities, land use change, ecosystem services, health and well-being and urbanisation.GLE is comprised of a number of research groups. 
  • Global Change Research Institute The Global Change Research Institute (GC)’s overarching aim is to improve the scientific understanding of past, present and future changes in the Earth system through measurements, theory and computational modelling. GC’s researchers are tackling some of the most compelling scientific challenges of the 21st century around climate change and weather extremes, carbon cycling and greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, land use and landscape change, natural hazards, pollution, ice sheet stability, and ocean acidification and de-oxygenation. GC is comprised of  a number of research groups

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences Research Institute The Earth and Planetary Sciences Research Institute (EPS) undertakes fundamental and applied research in how the Earth system works and has evolved. Researchers investigate chemical and physical properties of materials and their implications for planetary evolution, the history of life, the origin and history of pore fluids, minerals, rock assemblages, and magmas, and their interactions, at all scales within the Earth and other solar system objects. They also provide the knowledge to help address global challenges relating to resources, natural hazards and the environment and develop new geophysical methods to interrogate the Earth remotely for such information. EPS comprises  a number of research groups

Management 

The Head of School is accountable for developing and delivering the strategic aims of the School and is supported by the School’s Policy & Resources Committee (SPARC) which is the School’s major executive and strategic body and normally meets monthly. Membership comprises:

  • Director of Teaching – responsible for leading and developing learning and teaching strategy and policy in the School.
  • Director of Research – responsible for leading and developing research, innovation and knowledge transfer strategy in the School.
  • Heads of each of the Research Institutes – responsible for academic leadership and management of academic and research staff and contributing to overall School academic leadership.
  • Director of Professional Services – responsible for finance, administration, and support services.