The science of big boulders
  • Devonport Lecture Theatre, Portland Square Building, Plymouth University

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This inaugural lecture will be given by Anne Mather, Professor in Geomorphology.

As outstanding features in the landscape, boulders have long captured the imagination of humans. 

We have exploited them for shelter, weaponry and gold exploration. We have included them in our mythology and recreational pursuits and featured them prominently in cinema entertainment.

The name ‘boulder’ is thought to originate from the Scandinavian ‘bullersten’ (‘noisy stone’), with reference to large stones in rivers, and in the early stages of the development of the geosciences in the 18th century, large boulders were thought to be synonymous with biblical flood origins. As the science developed into the 19th century their linkage to ice transport was established. 

As the geosciences progressed into the 20th and 21st centuries so too our appreciation of the possibilities for landscape interpretation offered by the humble boulder developed. Today the presence and properties of boulders have been used to understand and reconstruct extreme flood events, glacial environments, landslide activity, tsunami events, storm-generated waves and earthquake activity on Earth as well as understanding processes on comets and planetary bodies such as Mars. Recent developments in geochronology have highlighted them as valuable archives for constraining how quickly our landscape evolves using techniques such as Cosmogenic dating.

Anne will examine how her field-based research involving boulders from tsunami, landslide and flood landforms and their deposits has contributed to our understanding of landscape change on a variety of temporal scales. 

These timescales include geomorphological processes on geological timescales in exceptionally preserved landscapes of the Atacama Desert and High Atlas Mountains of Morocco through to historic flood events in Spain. Consideration will be given to how this research can help us understand the engineering challenges of the future on our changing planet.

The lecture starts at 17:00 and light refreshments will be available afterwards. The event is open to all - to book a place, please email

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