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School of Geography

Meet the researcher - Dr Mark Smith

Mark is a Lecturer in Water Research. His research interests lie in the fields of hydrology, hydraulics and process geomorphology. Mark is especially interested in the interaction of near-surface flows with the Earth’s surface.

1.   Why did you become interested in research?

I have a definite inquisitive streak and often look for explanations and answers. While this can occasionally bore friends and family, it is essential for research. We are always questioning things and asking: but why? In that sense research was a natural fit. While the study of distant universes or sub-atomic particles is interesting, the great thing about geography is that it’s all around you and very accessible for study. Sometimes holidays can get side-tracked for this very reason. 

2.    What are you currently working on?

One project I’m working on at the minute relates to the melting of Arctic glaciers. I spent two weeks camping near a small glacier in Arctic Sweden last summer with Dr Duncan Quincey. We used new surveying techniques to look at the roughness of the snow and ice surfaces and are seeking to understand the effect this has on melting rates. We are working up the data we collected at the minute. It’s the only survey I’ve ever done that captured a wild reindeer!

3.   What is the most important finding from your research to date?

I was involved in a big project in Tanzania looking at malaria transmission in a particularly badly afflicted valley. As a hydrologist and geomorphologist I was interested in the water bodies and their particular characteristics. The data we collected showed that the type of water body and its setting in the landscape (e.g. whether it is a puddle in a river bed or a bigger wet soggy area at the bottom of a hill) influenced the numbers of breeding Anopheles mosquitos and the timing of their emergence as adults. It was great to work in an interdisciplinary team on such an important problem. 

4.   What has been the highlight of your career so far?

We get to travel to such interesting places! One particularly good day ‘in the office’ recently involved leaning out of a gyrocopter to take aerial pictures as part of a topographic survey of eroding badlands in Spain. It was just like being in ‘Little Nellie’ from the James Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice’. Plus, we got some fantastic data from it. 

 5.   What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a research career in your field?

Follow your nose! Study what interests you, because if you don’t, you won’t have the passion needed to get through those awful wet and rainy field days. 

6.   What is the most common question you are asked by non-researchers?

What has geography got to do with….?’. Many people have only experienced geography at school (i.e. oxbow lakes) and that bears little resemblance to the topics that we teach and study at university. The great thing about geography is that it crosses all the disciplines and so can contribute to many of the world’s big challenges. 

7.   What is your favourite hobby?

I’m a big fan of the outdoors and a long-distance runner so I’m often running the trails and fells nearby. In fact that’s where I’m off to right now. 

For more on Mark's research and publications visit his homepage

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