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Professor Geoff Petts



Geoff Petts is a river scientist with interests at the interface of hydrology, geomorphology and ecology, which evolved from a focus on the environmental effects of dams and flow regulation. He studied Physical Geography and Geology at Liverpool University (1971-74) before undertaking his PhD at Exeter and Southampton universities (1974-78). He was appointed to the University of Loughborough in 1979 and promoted to Professor of Physical Geography (1989) and Head of the Geography Department (1990-1994). He moved to the University of Birmingham in 1994 to establish a multi-disciplinary Centre for Environmental Research and Training and in 2001 became Pro Vice Chancellor. In 2007 he was appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of Westminster. The same year he was awarded the Busk Medal of the Royal Geographical Society for contributions to river research and conservation and in 2009 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for River Science. He retired as Vice Chancellor in 2018.


Research Interests:

Geoff’s approach is grounded in the geographical tradition of field observations. Understanding the dynamics of fluvial systems has progressed by research that elucidated geomorphological and ecological responses to changes in flow regimes below dams over a range of timescales. In 1984 Geoff published "Impounded Rivers: Perspectives for Ecological Management", in the Environmental Monographs and Symposia Series, John Wiley and Sons (reprinted 1988) and in 1985 he founded a new international journal ‘Regulated rivers: research and management’ (Wiley, now called ‘River Research and Applications’) as the focus for an international forum. Other research contexts explored hydro-ecological changes downstream from retreating glaciers and in response to major floods in sediment-loaded Mediterranean rivers, as well as morphologically ‘restored’ reaches. He has led multi-institution projects funded by the EU and NERC, and supervised 19 PhDs.


Recent papers

  • Yin, Xin’an, Yang Z-F, Petts GE and GM Kondolf “A reservoir operating method for riverine ecosystem protection, reservoir sedimentation control and water supply. J Hydrology, 2014, 512, 379-387.
  • Yarnell S.M., Petts G.E., Schmidt J.C., Whipple A.A., Beller E.E., Dahm C.N., Goodwin P and J.H.Viers, 2015. Functional Flows in Modified Riverscapes: Hydrographs, Habitats and Opportunities. BioScience Advanced Access, 2015, 65, doi: 10.1093/biosci/biv102.
  • Harper, SE, Foster IDL, Lawler DM, Mathers KL, McKenzie M, and GE Petts. “The complexities of measuring fine sediment accumulation within gravel-bed rivers”. River Research and Applications 2017. DOI: 10.1002/rra.3198
  • Petts GE. “Perspective: river science for dryland river regulation”. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, 2017, 7pp. DOI: 10.1080/03721426.2017.1376774
  • Neachell E and G Petts. “George Baxter: Pioneer of environmental flows”. Progress in Physical Geography, 2017, 12pp. DOI: 10.1177/0309133317732922

Highly cited papers                                                                                 

  • Petts, G.E. "Complex response of river channel morphology subsequent to reservoir construction", Progress in Physical Geography, 1979, 3, 3, 329-362
  • Milner, A. and G.E. Petts "Glacial streams: physical and ecological characteristics" Freshwater Biology, 1994, 295-308.
  • Petts, G.E. "Allocating water to meet in-river needs" Regulated Rivers, 12, 1996, 353-365.
  • Gurnell, A.M., Petts G.E., Hannah D.M., Smith B.P.G., Edwards P.J., Kollmann J, Ward J.V. and K. Tockner “Riparian vegetation and island formation along the gravel bed Fiume Tagliamento” Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 2001, 26, 31-62.
  • Gurnell A.M and G.E. Petts “Changing riverine landscapes” Freshwater Biology, 2002, 47, 581-600.
  • Naiman R.J., Bunn S.E. Nilsson C., Petts G.E., Pinay G. and L.C. Thompson “Legitimizing Fluvial ecosystems as users of water: an overview” Environmental Management, 2002, 30, 4, 455-467.
  • Gurnell, A.M., Tockner K., Edwards P. and G.E.Petts “Effects of deposited wood on biocomplexity of river corridors. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment 2005, 3, 7, 377-382.
  • Petts, G.E. and A.M. Gurnell “Dams and geomorphology: research progress and future directions”. Geomorphology, 2005, 71, 27-47.
  • Gurnell, A.M. and G.E.Petts “Trees as riparian engineers: the Tagliamento River, Italy.” Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 2006, 31, 1558-1574.
  • Pinay, G., Gumeiro, B., Tabacchi, E., Tabacchi-Planty, A.M., Hefting, M.M., Burt, T.P., Black, V.A., Nilsson, C., Iordache, V., Bureau, F., Vought, L., Petts, G.E., and H.Decamps. “Patterns of denitrification rates under various hydrological regimes in European alluvial soils”. Freshwater Biology, 2007, 52, 252-266.

Public Engagement

  • President, British Hydrological Society 2015-17
  • Chair, Board of Trustees, London Higher 2014-18
  • President, International Society for River Science 2011-13
  • 2010-13 Chair, Board of Podium. Responsible for engaging and coordinating support from universities and FE colleges across the UK for London 2012 Olympic Games.
  • (Founding) Editor-in-chief of "River Research and Applications" an International Journal devoted to River Research and Management, published by John Wiley and Sons, Chichester (1985-2016).


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