Dr Peter Downs
Associate Professor (Senior Lecturer) in Physical Geography
School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (Faculty of Science & Environment)
I am a chartered fluvial geomorphologist (CGeog (Geomorph)) with teaching, research and consultancy interests focussed on the impacts of human activities on the dynamics of river environments and the role of geomorphology in promoting sustainable river management and restoration. Recent projects have involved research into high-resolution monitoring of coarse sediment transport in a lowland river, planning and monitoring of gravel augmentation downstream of dams, the influence of historical land and river management activities on river channel morphology, the development of spatially-explicit sediment budgets to help preserve salmon habitat, the role of baseline data in developing sustainable approaches to river restoration, and strategies for sediment management during dam removal.
My teaching interests at Plymouth are informed by my research expertise. My undergraduate teaching is focussed on the fundamental science of river environments, how natural catchment processes are influenced by human activities and how to restore environmentally-damaged rivers. At Masters level, I teach about how to use ecosystem services to achieve sustainability in river basin management. My classes include a combination of formal lectures, project-led coursework, and field-based practical assignments. I also contribute to undergraduate and postgraduate residential field classes.
My research and teaching is based on experiences gained during a career that includes both academia and professional practice: I was a lecturer at the University of Nottingham in the 1990s before spending a decade as a consultant scientist in California. I returned to academia at Plymouth University in 2010 where I am the programme coordinator for the IEMA-accredited Masters degree in Sustainable Environmental Management. I was recently the Honorary Secretary of the British Society for Geomorphology (2011-2014) working to promote geomorphology research and the professional status of geomorphology in the UK, and will chair the BSG's Annual Conference in Plymouth in 2016.
2005: CGeog (Geomorph) [Chartered Geographer with Geomorphology focus] Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), UK
1992: Ph.D. Department of Geography, University of Southampton, UK
1988: B.Sc. (Hons) Geography. Department of Geography, University of Leicester, UK
July 2010 - Associate Professor (Senior Lecturer), SoGEES, University of Plymouth, UK
2002 - 2010: Senior Fluvial Geomorphologist, Stillwater Sciences, Berkeley, CA, USA
2000 - 2002: Senior Associate, PWA Ltd., San Francisco, CA, USA
1993 - 2000: Lecturer, School of Geography, University of Nottingham, UK
1991 - 1992: Teaching Fellow, Department of Geography, University of Southampton, UK
Member, British Society for Geomorphology (Honorary Secretary 2011-14)
Fellow, Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)
Member, American Geophysical Union
Member, Geological Society of America
Roles on external bodies
Honorary Secretary, British Society for Geomorphology 2011-2014
UK National Delegate to the International Association of Geomorphologists
Project Advisory Group for Environment Agency R&D project 'Working with Natural Processes to Reduce Flood Risk'
Editorial Advisory Panel: Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Water Management, 2010-2013
Participant in USBR Subcommittee of Sedimentation: Science and Policy for Dam Removal (Federal Advisory Committee on Water Information), 2008-
Lead Scientist for California Bay-Delta Authority - Environmental Water Program, 2002-2005
Participant in ASCE Task Committee on Sedimentation Engineering for River Restoration, 1999–2000
Inaugural coordinator and institutional contact for Midlands Consortium for Graduate Research Training in Physical Geography, 1996–1999
Physical Geography editor for collation of list of British Scientific Literature on Geography 1992-1996 for Council of British Geography for distribution at 28th International Geographical Congress, The Hague, 1996.
Book Review Editor for Physical Geography, Area, 1995–1998
Book Review Editor for Physical Geography, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 1995–1998
Editor / Managing Editor, The East Midland Geographer, 1994–1998
MSc / MRes Sustainable Environmental Management
EAR5111 - Integrated River Basin Management (module leader)
This Masters-level module focuses on the philosphy, development and practice of integrated river basin management, relating knowledge of human influences on river basin processes to objectives for sustainable resource management and restoration. The module includes invited lectures from notable industry experts.
GGP306 - Catchment Science and Management (module leader)
Disruption to natural processes of sediment erosion, transfer and deposition is the primary cause of many problems in environmental management. This module develops a critical undersanding of human impacts on catchment sediment dynamics in the context of approaches to sustainable catchment management and river restoration. Teaching uses a combination of lectures, student presentations and a practical field project. This module is particularly relevant to students seeking a career in environmental management.
GGP206 - Fluvial Environments
This module explores the principal hydrogeomorphological processes that take place in river catchments. Using a combination of lectures and several practical field projects, the module explores hydrology and soil erosion on hillslopes, flow and sediment transport processes in river channels, and the development of fluvial landforms in temperate, alpine and semi-arid environments.
EAR5107 - Sustainability: Issues and Debates
EAR5101 - Research Methods (MSc fieldtrip convenor)
EOE3109 - Geohazards
GGX3156 - Work-based learning (tutor)
GGX2109 - Ireland Fieldtrip
Basic, applicable, and applied research in geomorphology and environmental science that contributes towards sustainable and equitable approaches to integrated river basin management
Disentangling natural from human influences in river channel morphodynamics
Distributed sediment budgets as an indicator of cause-and-effect based catchment change
Potential impacts of climate fluctuations on river channel changes
Habitat impacts of river flow and morphology changes in urban environments
River channel sensitivity as a risk-based approach to river management
Use of targeted biophysical impacts in river management and engineering
River restoration: baseline assessment, design, and the improvement of future practice through monitoring and evaluation
The role of ecosystem services in river basin management and planning
Research degrees awarded to supervised students
As primary or secondary supervisor:
Anna Wood 2001 ‘A Geomorphological Analysis of Bank Toe Processes: the fate of failed blocks in the basal zone of incised channels’
Philip Soar 2000 ‘Channel Restoration Design for Meandering Rivers’
Kevin Skinner 1999 ‘Geomorphological post-project appraisal of river rehabilitation schemes in England’
Grants & contracts
At Plymouth University
Westcountry Rivers Trust, 2014-15, Gravel augmentation planning and monitoring on rivers impacted by dams in South West England
Seale-Hayne Educational Trust, 2011-13, Coarse sediment dynamics of rivers rising on Dartmoor National Park: implications for conservation and rural land management, with R. Hartley, P. Ganderton
River Restoration Centre, 2012. Rehabilitation potential of the Marsh Mills reach of the Long Brook, Plymouth.
Plymouth University VC Research Community Award, 2012-13, Wrong connections: water quality problems in urban nature reserves, with W. Blake, A. Taylor, H. Smith, K. Solman
At Stillwater Sciences
California Department of Fish and Game, 2009-10, Watershed Geomorphic Assessment and River Bains Plan: Santa Rosa Creek, San Luis Opispo County, CA
Los Angeles County Department of Public Works / US Army Corps of Engineers, 2009-10, Watershed Geomorphic Processes and Sediment Yield Assessment: Upper Santa Clara River, Los Angeles County, CA
Association of Bay Area Governments, 2008-10, Watershed Sediment Budget: Lagunitas Creek, Marin County, CA
California Department of Fish and Game, 2006-08, Watershed Geomorphic Processes and Channel Stability Assessment: Santa Paula Creek, Ventura County, CA
California Coastal Conservancy, 2004-07, Watershed Geomorphic Processes and Channel Morphodynamics Response Assessment: Lower Santa Clara River, Ventura County, CA
Marin County Department of Public Works, 2006-07, Watershed Sediment Delivery Assessment: Lagunitas Creek, Marin County, CA
California Bay-Delta Authority - Ecosystem Restoration Program, 2003-07, Baseline Physical and Biological Monitoring and Restoration Design Development: Lower Merced River, Merced County, CA
Golden Gate National Recreation Area (National Parks Service), 2003-04, Process-based Historical Sediment Budgets: Redwood Creek, Marin County, CA
California Bay-Delta Authority - Environmental Water Program, 2002-05, Flow Acquisition Planning for Adaptive Management-based Ecosystem Restoration: Central Valley, CA.
At University of Nottingham
Otago Regional Council, New Zealand, 1999, Watershed Geomorphic Processes Assessment and Rehabilitation Planning: Water of Leith, Otago, New Zealand
Environment Agency, Midlands Region, 1994-2000, Restoration Design Development and Post-project Monitoring: River Idle, Nottinghamshire
University of Louisville, Kentucky, 2000, Geomorphological Appraisal of River Restoration Schemes
US Department of Agriculture, National Sedimentation Laboratory, 1998-2000, Geomorphology of Bank Stability Processes in Incised Channels and Related Management Issues, with A. Simon and S.J. Bennett
National Rivers Authority/ Environment Agency, 1995-98, Geomorphological and Hydraulic Impacts of Environmentally Aligned Flood Defence Measures, with C.R. Thorne
National Rivers Authority, 1996, Geomorphological Approaches to River Management: Research & Development Project 661, with C.R. Thorne, M.J. Clark, D.A. Sear and M.D. Newson
University of Nottingham New Lecturer Research Grant, 1993-96, Spatial Variability in River Channel Adjustments: Drainage Basin Characteristics and Morphological Criteria
Key publications are highlightedJournals