Meet our Director - Iain Stewart

Iain Stewart is Professor of Geoscience Communication and Director of the Sustainable Earth Institute at the University of Plymouth. What that means is he spends much of his time writing, talking and broadcasting to the public about the planet – how it works, its volatile history, and what all that means for those living on it.

Popular geoscience (TV and books)

Since 2003, Iain has partnered with BBC Science to make a suite of popular mainstream television documentaries about planet Earth. Major multi-part television shows presented by him include Journeys from the Centre of the Earth [2004], Journeys into the Ring of Fire [2006], Earth: The Power of the Planet [2007], How Earth Made Us [2009], How To Grow A Planet [2012], Volcano Live [2012]; and Rise of the Continents [2013].

As well as general Earth science programmes, Iain has explored the geological aspects of his Scottish homeland, such as Making Scotland's Landscape [2011], Men of Rock [2011], and Scotland's First Oil Rush [2016]. 

In addition, Iain has tackled controversial societal issues, notably climate change in Earth: The Climate Wars [2008] and Hot Planet [2009], and energy in Fracking - the New Energy Rush [2013] and Planet Oil [2015].

Iain is also the author of several popular books on Earth Science, including ‘Journeys from the Centre of the Earth (Century), ‘Earth: The Power of the Planet, ‘Earth: The Biography’ (National Geographic), and Plate Tectonics (Ladybird), and was scientific advisor on SuperEarth (Dorsley Kindersley).

<p>Iain Stewart - BBC documentaries</p>
<p>Iain Stewart - Volcano Live</p>
<p>Iain Stewart - Super Earth book</p>

UNESCO Earth Science

Iain has enjoyed a long-standing collaboration with UNESCO, working closely with their Earth Science Secretariat. He was co-leader of its International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) project 567 ‘Earthquake Archaeology (2007-2011) and served as theme leader for Geohazards on the Scientific Committee (2007-2016). 

His broad interests in applying Earth science to pressing societal concerns - climate change, geo-resources, geo-energy, disaster risk reduction - form the basis of his 2018 recognition as UNESCO Chair in ‘Geoscience and Society’. He currently leads the active IGCP project 685 ‘Geology for Sustainable Development’.

Find out more about the Geology for Sustainable Development project

International advocacy

Futures Congress, Santiago, Chile (January 2019)

As a global advocate for the Earth sciences, Iain’s work has been recognized with awards from international scientific bodies, including The Royal Geographical Society, the Geological Society of London, the American Geophysical Union, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the American Geosciences Institute, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the European Federation of Geologists and the Geological Society of America

Iain regularly delivers invited talks at international geoscience fora and industry conferences, and has supported the work of the British Council and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office in science communication capacity-building efforts overseas.

Engaging publics

Educational outreach and public engagement form a core part of Iain’s wider remit. He is President of both the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and of the Devon Wildlife Trust, as well as Patron of the English Riviera UNESCO Global Geopark, Scottish Geodiversity Forum. 

Iain has been a strong ambassador for geology and geography teaching in schools, with roles as Honorary President of both the Geographical Association and the Scottish Association of Geography Teachers. 

He is currently UK representative on the International Geocience Education Organisation. In 2013, he received an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to Earth science education. 

Presenting the RSGS Shackleton Medal to Christiana Figueres, co-architect of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement (with Mike Robinson [RSGS CEO] and Roseanna Cunningham [Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Scottish Government])

Risky research

An active research programme coordinated by Iain at the Sustainable Earth Institute explores how complex and contested Earth science issues can most effectively be shared with non-technical (public) audiences. 

Working with a team of doctoral students, Iain has forged novel research alliances with human geographers, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists to apply social and cognitive science perspectives on communicating risk and uncertainty around tricky geoscience problems.

Developing community-centred seismic risk dialogues in Istanbul, Turkey

The research programme includes understanding cultural responses to geo-hazard threats, examining how popular media (film and video games) can enhance disaster risk awareness, appreciating how lay publics ‘see’ the geological subsurface, and analyzing community and media attitudes to emerging geo-energy developments (geothermal and shale gas).

 With an increasing emphasis on actionable risk communication, Iain is currently Communications Lead for the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund Hub “Tomorrow’s Cities” ( targeting disaster risk reduction in rapidly urbanising environments. He is Executive Editor of the EGU Copernicus journal, Geoscience Communication.

Reporting on multi-hazard early warning at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Cancún, Mexico (May 2017)

Academic roots

 Iain’s academic background is in uncovering the geological traces of ancient earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, and understanding how these past events can help us address future disaster threats.

Those geo-risk interests began with undergraduate studies in geography and geology at Strathclyde University in Glasgow (1986) and a PhD at the University of Bristol on earthquake geology in the Aegean region (1990). He then taught Earth sciences at Brunel University in west London until 2002, when he left to devote more time to media projects around ‘popular geoscience’.

In 2004, Iain moved to south-west England to pursue his geoscience communication work at the University of Plymouth.

Sustainable Earth Institute 

The Sustainable Earth Institute is about promoting a new way of thinking about the future of our world.

We bring researchers together with businesses, community groups and individuals to develop cutting-edge research and innovative approaches that build resilience to global challenges. We link diverse research areas across the University including science, engineering, arts, humanities, health and business.

Find out more about the institute