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School of Geography

Mike Kirkby Prof Mike Kirkby

Contact details

School of Geography
University of Leeds
University Road
Leeds LS2 9JT   UK


+44 (0) 113 34 36758

Student hours:

Research overview

There are a number of distinct themes in my work, though with strong overlaps between them. All are concerned with the understanding and modelling of landscape processes and its impact on landscape form. Models are generally seen as a thought experiments which are intended to demonstrate the consistency of general understanding, rather than as specific forecasting tools.

1. Detailed understanding of hillslope sediment transport processes
My Ph.D work on soil creep has been followed by other detailed work on soil erosion, soil weathering profiles, talus development and mass movements, particularly their cumulative impact over long time spans.

2. The relationship between hillslope process and form
Also initiated within my Ph.D, this has been the main theme of my research throughout my career. Recent developments have been towards explicit dynamic linkages between geomorphological processes and the development of vegetation and soil cover. A second significant theme has been theoretical work on the controls on drainage density.

3. Hillslope and network hydrology
This work was initiated with R.J. Chorley in 1967, and led to contributions in Water, Earth and Man, and later to publication of the now-standard text on Hillslope Hydrology. Another significant contribution has been the development of the TOPMODEL methodology with Keith Beven, who has since brought the model to very widespread acceptance. A third valuable approach has been involvement in developing the importance of network hydrology. Current work is also concerned with developing innovative models for peat/ mire hydrology and evolution.

Some recent work has been concerned with examining the role of partial contributing areas and connectivity in semi-arid areas, particularly in SE Spain (Murcia/ Almeria). Much of this work has been done in collaboration with Louise Bracken (Geography, U. Durham), and has involved two PhDs, Sim Reaney (1999-2003) and Erling Dalen (2004-).

4. Development of peat growth/ hydrological models
with colleagues Pippa Chapman and Pauline Kneale. This collaboration was initially based on the development of a new model combining hydrological and biological aspects of peat growth and decay. More recent work has been on Nitrogen cycling at the Moor House National Nature Reserve (NW England). Alan Cundill is currently supervised by Mike, Pippa, Louise Heathwaite and John Adamson.

5. Landscape and regional scale models
Over the last decade, further work has focused on the important problems of scaling up models from hillslopes to large catchments and regions. One component of this work is associated with network hydrology, but another, more important element is the effort to simplify our understanding of processes at the hillslope scale, so that their essence is preserved while progressive advances in computing allow the development of effective models for regional areas of interest to both planners and GCM modellers. Collaborative work with sedimentologists, related to a longer time scale, is creating models for the interaction between geomorphology and tectonics. At a coarser spatial scale, some work is also being published on global scale models to provide regional estimates of erodibility, peat growth potential and mass movement hazard. This is relevant to both current global change concerns, and to interpreting the ocean sediment and solute record.

One important strand of this work has been to create a coarse scale erosion model, which has been referred to as the CSEP, RDI (Regional Degradation Indicator) and more recently as PESERA (Pan European Soil Erosion Assessment), which has been developed through a series of publications (Kirkby & Neale, 1987; de Ploey et al, 1991; Kirkby & Cox, 1995; Kirkby et al, 2000; Kirkby et al, 2004 [a & b]), several EU funded projects (MEDALUS, MODEM, DESERTLINKS, tempQsim), and is currently being extended in other projects (DESURVEY, DESIRE, RELU) to incorporate water quality, wind, fire and grazing effects, to increase comparability of the vegetation outputs with remotely senses data. and to scale down from the original 1 km resolution to finer scales (50 - 250 m resolution) and other areas, particularly in North Africa.



  • The relevance of coarse scale erosion modelling for upland Britain: Modelling overgrazing at fine and coarse scales,
    BHS Regional Meeting, Lancaster June 2006, Mike Kirkby, Brian Irvine and Pippa Chapman [PDF FILE]
  • Delivery of water and sediment from hillslopes to the channel network,
    RIDES, Paris, June 2006 [PDF FILE]
  • Modelling Water Quality for temporary waters - some issues and recommendations,
    tempQsim Final Project Meeting, Montpellier, May 2006, Pippa Chapman, Brian Irvine and Mike Kirklby [PDF FILE]
  • Overland Flow Generation and Catchment Headwater Response,
    EGU Session on Theory in Hydrology, Vienna April 2006 [PDF FILE]
  • Weathering Limited or Transport Limited removal in Bedrock Channel Systems ? [PDF FILE]
    IAG, Zaragoza September 2005, Mike Kirkby and Garry Willgoose
  • Semi-Arid Runoff and Soil Erosion: Processes and Models,
    EGU Session on Soil Erosion, Vienna April 2005 [PDF FILE]
  • Soil creep, bulk density and TOPmodel (Abstract) [PDF FILE]
    BGRG, Leeds Sep 2002
  • Catchment Erosion and Evolution: GEOG2520, U. Leeds [PDF FILE]