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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:

Work in progress

Previous Projects

1. (1992-98) Modelling Mediterranean Desertification processes
(EC MEDALUS project: MEDALUS I: 1992-93: MEDALUS II: 1993-95: MEDALUS III: 1996-98.) This project has been developed under the overall co-ordination of Prof J.B. Thornes (King's College, London). My main role is the development of models for soil erosion and land degradation which attempt to provide two major innovations, first explicit modelling of long term interactions and second scaling up to areas of 1,000-5,000 km². The critical long term interactions are seen as those between the physical hydrological and geomorphological systems, and biological systems associated with soil and vegetation. Over several decades, land use change, climate change and erosion can lead to progressive changes in soil properties which determine whether degradation takes place and whether it is irreversible. Scaling up to large areas is also vital to provide a link to scales which are relevant to both economic planning and to links with GCMs.

(EC DESERTLINKS project: 2001-2004: PI Anton Imeson, IBED, Univ Amsterdam, NL) Objectives: The project supports the UNCCD Annex IV National Committees and other stakeholders at the local, sub-national and national level in combating desertification. It brings the results of past research on the physical and socio-economic aspects of desertification to bear on the identification and use of desertification indicators at various geographical scales from the local to the European. It combines a range of indicator types into a desertification indicator system for Mediterranean Europe (DIS4ME).

(EC DESURVEY project: 2005-2010: PI Juan Puigdefabregas, CSIC, EEZA, Almeria) DeSurvey is a project funded by the European Commission under the Framework Programme 6 and contributing to the implementation of the actions 'Mechanisms of desertification' and 'Assessment of the vulnerability to desertification and early warning options' within the 'Global Change & Ecosystems priority'.

In spite of the relevance of appropriate actions to counter and to combat desertification, there is a lack of standardised procedures to perform them at operational scales. The DeSurvey project offers a contribution to fill this gap by complementing assessment of desertification status with early warning and vulnerability evaluation of the involved land use systems. In this context, the interactive effects of climatic and human drivers of desertification will be taken into account in a dynamic way.

The ambition of the DeSurvey consortium is to deliver a compact set of integrated procedures of desertification assessment and forecasting, with application and tutorial examples at the EU and national scales. The performance of DeSurvey in other desertification threatened areas of UNCCD regional Annexes will be also tested against other expertise and available procedures. Indeed, partners (and sites) from Maghrebian and Sahelian countries as well as from Chile and NW China are associate members of this project.

DeSurvey 39 partners representing 10 EU Member States and 6 Third Country States, integrate key research organisations and industrial companies with a wide range of skills. They develop an operational prototype that includes flexible procedures, with generic and case specific components to which users can adapt according their biophysical and socio-economic environments and their data availability. DeSurvey will support international, European, national and regional authorities, organizations and institutions in fulfilling their monitoring/surveillance and reporting obligations, and help them to increase the efficiency of desertification treatment policies.

The University of Leeds group (Mike Kirkby, Brian Irvine and Pippa Chapman) are working on Module 4.1 in the project: on Ground-based land condition assessment and forecasting:This module aims to provide assessments of land condition and its response to historic and scenario changes in climate and land use. Priority will be given to the direct forecasting of variables which can be derived from remote sensing, and the module will therefore focus primarily on vegetation and land cover, which provides the most important parameters that links models, ground based assessments and interpretations based on remote sensing. The objective of this module are:

  1. to develop, test and implement a methodology which brings models and field assessments of cover into forms which can be directly compared with vegetation images derived from remote sensing at both coarse and fine scales
  2. to compare model forecasts with historic and ongoing time series for vegetation derived from remote sensing, to calibrate and validate model response to climate, land use and other drivers, and to provide a proven capability to forecast responses to alternative global change and policy scenarios.
  3. to use the models to associate observable vegetation states with active desertification processes, and so quantify the use of changing vegetation cover to give prior warning of physical degradation processes, including soil erosion by water or wind , salinisation and loss of soil organic matter.
  4. to make direct cross-comparisons between fine (10 - 100m resolution) and coarse (250m 5km resolution) models to ensure that their respective conceptual bases are compatible and that differences in forecasts are resolved, both empirically and theoretically, to improve the convergence between different scale approaches.

(EC DESIRE Integrated Project, under contract negotiation 2007-2011) - Desertification Mitigation & Remediation of Land: a global approach for local solutions

Collaborators: Alterra (Netherlands); Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium); University of Leeds (United Kingdom); University of Wales Swansea (United Kingdom); Centre for Development and Environment; University Bern (Switzerland); Estacion Experimental de Zonas Aridas (Spain); University of Aveiro (Portugal); CNR Research Institute for Hydrogeological Protection (Italy); Agricultural University of Athens (Greece); Eskisehir Osmangazi University (Turkey); University of Mohamed V, Chair UNESCO-GN (Morocco); Institut des Regions Arides (Tunisia); Institut for Soil and Water Conservation (China); Wageningen University (Netherlands); Democritus University of Thrace (Greece); BothEnds (Netherlands); ISRIC (Netherlands); Escola Superior Agrária de Coimbra (Portugal); CARI (France); University of Botswana (Botswana); ITC (Netherlands); IRD (France); Cornell University (USA); Deakin University (Australia); MEDES (Italy); MSUEE (Russia); and Sahelian & South American institutions TBC.

Project Description: Fragile arid and semi-arid ecosystems are in urgent need of integrated conservation approaches that can contribute significantly to prevent and reduce the widespread on-going land degradation and desertification processes, such as erosion, flooding, overgrazing, drought, and salinization. The DESIRE project will establish promising alternative land use and management conservation strategies based on a close participation of scientists with stakeholder groups in the degradation and desertification hotspots around the world. This integrative participatory approach ensures both the acceptability and feasibility of conservation techniques, and a sound scientific basis for the effectiveness at various scales. DESIRE employs a bottom up approach such as is favoured by the UNCCD: i) degradation and desertification hotspots and stakeholder groups will be identified in all countries surrounding the Mediterranean, and in 6 external nations facing similar environmental problems, ii) desertification indicator sets will be defined in a participatory approach and a harmonized information system will be constructed to organize socio-economic and geoinformation data and tools for active dissemination; iii) new and existing conservation strategies will be defined with the stakeholder communities; iv) these strategies will be implemented in the field, and monitored and modeled to quantify their effectiveness at various scales; v) the results will be extrapolated using indicator sets, geoinformation data, and integrated modeling systems combining socio-economic and environmental aspects; vi) finally the results will be translated to a series of practical guidelines for good agricultural practices and environmental management, which will be disseminated to practitioners, agricultural extensionists, governmental authorities, policy makers, NGOs, land users, land owners, and local communities.

2. EC PESERA project (PI Gerard Govers, KU Leuven; 2000-2004)
The PESERA project created a model which had been evolved through a series of previous projects, to forecast soil erosion for Europe on a 1 km grid. ThePESERA model is physically based, using data for climate, soils, land use and topography, and is designed to estimate soil loss from the land, summed over the frequency distribution of large and small rainfall events.

3. EC tempQsim project (PI Jochen Froebrich, U. Hannover; 2002-2006) Ephemeral and seasonal streams are widespread in southern Europe, and represent particular problems for water quality forecasts. The biggest difference from humid strams is in the seasonal or repeated flushing of sediment and solutes when floods occur in previously dry rivers. A series of models have been incorporated into the tempQsim model, which estimates losses of water, sediment and solutes from the land (SWAT, HSPF, PESERA) and routes them through the channel network (MOHID, CASCADE). In addition the U.Leeds group (Mike Kirkby, Brian Irvine and Pippa Chapman) are responsible for a coarse scale regional model (PESCAS) which combines PESERA output with spatial network routing.

4. NERC Connect B Upper Wharfedale project (PI Stuart Lane; 2001-2004)
Integrated modelling of water, water quality and sediment delivery for best practice in upland environments.

The project developed generic understanding and modelling methods to assist in the development of best practice in upland environments.seeking to develop an integrated modelling strategy to allow the consequences of a range of upland management decision to be assessed in terms of a range of potential impacts. Specifically the research has coupled a distributed hydrological model for hillslopes, an ID routing model for the channel network, a 2D model of floodplain inundation, a sediment transfer model and a water quality model. The model is being applied and tested in the Upper Wharfe.

5. Research Councils UK. Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU). Sustainable Upland Management for Multiple Benefits 2006-2009. (PI Klaus Hubacek, School od Envrionment, U. Leeds)

The purpose of this research is to develop a framework that can help people find new ways to detect and harness rural change to enhance environmental, economic and social sustainability. It focuses on UK uplands, which are highly valued (e.g. as a carbon store, potable water source and for conservation, farming, tourism and game) but threatened by historic (e.g. pollutant deposition) and current (e.g. land use and management) practices. A range of uncertain and potentially significant socio-economic and environmental changes are anticipated in response to future policy drivers such as CAP reform, WFD implementation and Kyoto funding. The management of such complex and dynamic socio-environmental systems in the context of uncertainty requires close collaboration between research disciplines, policy-makers and stakeholders at all levels to strike a balance between different perspectives and objectives. This research will develop an adaptive learning process that can rapidly and effectively integrate knowledge from stakeholders and researchers from different disciplines to:

i) identify sustainable rural futures that are desired by different stakeholders;

ii) identify drivers of change and model likely future scenarios;

iii) develop innovative adaptive management and policy options that could facilitate multiple sustainable rural futures under different scenarios;

iv) model the environmental, economic and social implications of these options; and

v) develop sustainability indicators to monitor and further adapt management and policy to achieve sustainable multiple land use.

The project addresses each of the RELU research themes and questions, and provides opportunity for interdisciplinary capacity-building and knowledge transfer through collaboration between academics, practitioners, communities and policy-makers.

The SoG group (Pippa Chapman, Joe Holden, Brian Irvine & Mike Kirkby) is working on biophysical modelling and water quality issues, using developments from the PESERA model to contribute to (ii), (iv) and (v) above.

5. COST 623: (1998-2003) Soil Erosion and Global Change (Chair John Boardman, ECI, U. Oxford, UK). The main objectives of the Action are to make realistic predictions of the impacts of changes in land-use and climate on soil erosion across a range of temporal and spatial scales; to identify critical thresholds in the landscape and soil profile which lead to irreversible changes in the rate and style of soil erosion, and also to develop indicators that forecast irreversible change; to identify, assemble and make available datasets pertaining to historic and current erosion.

6. A follow-on COST 634 action (2004-2008) is On- and Off-site Environmental Impacts of Runoff and Erosion (Chair Veronique Auzet, CNRS-IMFS, ULP Strasbourg).
Runoff and soil erosion are among the major environmental threats related to agricultural land use in Europe. Whereas the off-site damages of soil erosion are often effective at the catchment scale, the actual soil erosion risk is determined by decisions on agricultural management practices taken at the farm scale. Therefore, farm scale management plays a key role in combating soil erosion through implementation of good management practices. Nevertheless, soil protection and conservation measures on agricultural lands have to fit within the farm organisation, which involves the simultaneous consideration of various technical, social, economic and environmental concerns.

The main objective of the proposed action is to coordinate and synthetise European soil erosion research in the contexts of land management and policy formulation so as to limit runoff, to improve soil protection and to reduce on- and off-site environmental impacts of runoff and erosion in Europe. To achieve this goal, the many barriers hindering the implementation of runoff prevention and soil protection in Europe have to be identified and analysed on all levels, including the scientific, political, administrative and management level. In simultaneously addressing these different levels involved in land use decision making and soil conservation, network participants will help to identify and solve conflicts and foster integrated solutions for soil protection and land management that can be accepted by all interest groups. Such an approach is consistent with the principles of the Water Framework Directive and of the planned Soil Protection Policy.