Catchment and River Science

Based in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Centre for Research in Environment and Society, our research group undertakes timely, applied science relating to fluvial processes within catchments and river systems, ranging from our local catchments in south-west England to the rivers of the Andes. Our conceptual approach stresses the importance of linkages between hydrology and geomorphology to riverscape ecology, and ‘source-to-sea’ understanding of the aquatic system. Understanding such processes, over both short and long timescales, is a necessary step towards supporting catchments and rivers that are resilient to environmental change and hazards, and maximise the value of ecosystem services for society. Cross-disciplinary research (physical geography; environmental science, biogeochemistry, and human geography) within our group is targeted at understanding society-environment interactions, glacio-fluvial and fluvial-marine interfaces, ecosystem services, the maintenance of habitat for iconic species, perceptions of environmental quality and community resilience, and stakeholder viewpoints and conflict resolution within river basins. 

Recent research highlights include integration of environmental diagnostics and social science evidence to understanding soil erosion response to human and climatic factors, with outcomes feeding into co-design of sustainable land management strategies in Tanzania. We have conducted pioneering work on applying the concept of ecosystem services to riverine environments, and have used local rivers as natural laboratories to monitor restoration initiatives. Our work also spans the boundaries of catchment and glaciological science, focusing on both the impact of glacier retreat on freshwater resources in Latin America, and the role of atmosphere-cryosphere-hydrosphere interaction on accumulation and transport of anthropogenic contaminants. Furthermore, collaboration with coastal scientists permits a holistic approach to environmental challenges from catchment to coast. 

The catchment and river science research group is supported by and maintains outstanding ISO-certified analytical laboratories including the University of Plymouth Consolidated Radioisotope Facility (CORiF), underpinning the use of radionuclides and geochemical properties as forensic tracer tools (e.g. sediment fingerprinting and budgeting), in addition to analysis of water and sediment quality, amongst other applications. Access to extensive field monitoring equipment, including technology developed specially in-house, enables monitoring of a range of fluxes, including river flow, suspended sediment concentrations, and contaminant accumulation and transport.

National and international links

We have a strong international profile ​of research collaboration with researchers and organisations around the world, including Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Iran, Malaysia, Peru, Tanzania, and the USA. Our research group members also play central roles within a range of international research programmes, including the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The work of our research group members has been recognised through funding from competitive sources including UKRI (NERC, BBSRC), European Commission Horizon 2020; Newton Fund, and GCRF, in addition to support from professional organisations including the Environment Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural England, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. Our members also work in close and collaborative partnership with organisations in the UK such as the Westcountry Rivers Trust, the Devon Wildlife Trust, the River Restoration Centre, and South West Water, to support translation of research into policy and local impact.

Our people

Recently completed postgraduates: 

Maarten Wynants

Soil erosion and ecosystem services in East Africa (with NM-AIST, Tanzania and UGent, Belgium as external partners)