Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology (UoA 17)
Research Excellence Framework
The REF 2014 results have recognised that research in Geography is making world-leading and internationally recognised contributions to a number of important societal issues and academic debates including the nature of past climates; the economic development of the United States; the impact of pollution on heritage buildings; the consequence of lifelong deprivation on physical capability; understanding our social worlds through play; mothers as entrepreneurs and the implications of ethnic diversity for our communities.
The REF 2014 results recognise the world-leading excellence of our research and demonstrate that our work is important to the everyday lives of the general public. This has been showcased through two impact case studies: our work on the Smoking Epidemic in England and Scotland and our unique but user-friendly, free online database – The Vision of Britain (www.visionofbritain.org.uk).
Eleven of our staff were submitted into REF 2014 providing a total of 38 outputs representing work across our three research themes: Environmental Processes and Change; Geographies of Health, Well-being and Lifecourse; and Historical Geography and Spatial Analysis. Whilst some of this work builds on important research submitted in RAE2008, it has also been broadened and strengthened further by the excellent work of four early career researchers submitted in the REF. This is a solid indicator of a vibrant future for Geographical research at Portsmouth.
- Just over 42% of our publications have been classed as internationally excellent or world leading in REF 2014, compared to 34% in RAE2008. Around 90% of our publications are of international quality level.
- Our overall research profile has improved since 2008 with our grade point average increasing from 2.2 to 2.37 with 39% of our overall research being recognised as internationally excellent or world leading (compared with 30% in 2008).
- In terms of impact, 60% of Geography’s research has been classed as having outstanding or very considerable impacts in terms of its reach and significance. All of our impact has been recognised as ‘considerable’.
Research groups / Research themes
Environmental Processes and Change (EPC)
The 2008 RAE sub-profile made particular note of the high quality outputs arising from the EPC group. Strengthening and developing the substantive focus on paleo-environmental and climate research has been a strategic aim, with specific reference to three key agendas:
- The understanding of spatial patterns and impacts of more recent climate change, particularly in mountain and arctic, and urban/heritage environments. Research has quantified the impacts of climate change in mountain regions, particularly whether high mountain areas show enhanced warming in comparison to the rest of the globe.
- The validation and development of novel proxies and analytical techniques for terrestrial and marine sediment archives, including research on the use of X-ray fluorescence (XRF), infrared spectroscopy and other core scanning technologies for interpreting past environmental changes. Importantly, this work identifies shortcomings of other approaches. Research has also furthered the application of traditional diatom and charcoal analysis, and the conceptual basis of such reconstructions.
- The identification of limits and dynamics of ice masses via detailed geomorphological mapping and sedimentology, and understanding mass balance through current climate measurement and modelling. Understanding the response of the cryosphere to climate change is a critical component for understanding the response of the planet to past and present radiative forcing.
Geographies of Health, Well-being and Lifecourse (GHWL)
The 2008 sub-profile also made note of the high quality outputs surrounding the health and well-being agenda. Our strategy has been to build on this international excellence by creating more nuanced understandings of socio-spatial configurations of health-related behaviours and outcomes, to have a deeper appreciation of lifecourse/longitudinal aspects of well-being and to maintain policy relevance. These objectives have been achieved by:
- Focussing attention on more realistic definitions of risk behaviours; an acknowledgement of important co-behaviours and by broadening the conceptual understanding of well-being through an explicit focus on perceptions of community. This work has also developed and enhanced the multilevel small area synthetic estimation (MLSASE) techniques to address user-needs for small area data.
- Strengthening the focus on ‘lifecourse’ through innovative integration of longitudinal health and demographic datasets and through two new internationally recognised research agendas. First, empirically-grounded research on ‘Ludic Geographies’ argues that play is a lifecourse process and has critical and ethical potential for making the ways in which our everyday social worlds are constructed and enacted more visible. Second, the lifecourse agenda has been strengthened by research which concentrates on the life stages of entrepreneurial mothers (‘mumpreneurs’) - a key target group for economic/work policy makers.
- Engaging with end-users in designing, interpreting and reporting on our policy-relevant research, thus guaranteeing its real world applicability.
Historical Geography and Spatial Analysis (HGSA)
Formerly Historical and Contemporary Geographical Information Systems (GIS), this group was renamed to reflect common underpinning approaches and research goals associated with the compilation, analysis, storage and visualisation of large, complex historical datasets. The research strategy has been to focus on the themes of geo-semantic approaches to information management and resource discovery; railroads and regional industrial development in the 19th century USA; history of cartographic representations; military geography and quantitative ‘public historical geography’. The key achievements of this group are evidenced by:
- An extension of the existing railroad GIS for part of the North East USA to cover major eastern trunk lines, and the creation of a full scale data warehouse (DW) for 450 million data items from the US 1880 census.
- Identifying fundamental flaws in 19th century US population and manufacturing censuses, which involve coding, reporting and classification problems. These data discoveries and the development of resources above are facilitating new analyses that challenge the Krugman and Fogel models of US economic development.
- The addition of historical electoral boundaries to the acclaimed Vision of Britain (VoB) on-line system, and an extension to parts of Europe.
- Introducing a new usability theme to the group by focusing on open source GIS and geo-visualization tools. The ‘Bombsight’ web resource for example, developed with the National Archives, has witnessed major public engagement and media interest.
Impact case studies
Enabling access to local historical information for everywhere
The Great Britain Historical Geographical Information System (GBHGIS) has computerised geographical surveys of Britain, including Ordnance Survey mapping and all censuses 1801-1971, integrating them into a consistent, innovative geo-spatial and geo-semantic information architecture, and disseminated data via many channels including the UK Data Service, direct work for government agencies (e.g. DEFRA, National Archives), and our own very popular web sites that are used extensively by genealogists and the general public with over 1.8 million unique users per annum. Impact of the technical innovation is mainly on non-UK academics, but within the UK we have made it vastly easier to place modern local issues in long-run perspective – and lots of people and organisations have.
The smoking epidemic in England and Scotland: shaping public health policy and planning
We have achieved significant and far reaching impact in the field of public health outcomes, policy and practice. For the first time, age/sex disaggregated estimates of smoking and ex-smoking prevalence were made available for approximately 7700 electoral wards in England and around 1000 postcode sectors for Scotland. The information has influenced national tobacco control policies (e.g. the ban of smoking in enclosed public spaces in England) and has impacted on national smoking-related health inequalities by targeting delivery of cessation services where they are most needed. Findings have also informed anti-smoking campaigns led by health authorities, charities and pressure groups.
Infrastructure and facilities
Research is the major driver in staff recruitment, and all new appointments add or complement to Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology’s existing research strengths. The department’s goal has been, and continues to be, the recruitment of academic staff with international research recognition as well as early career researchers on a trajectory to such recognition. Staff turnover and strategic investment of internal funds have allowed the department to focus attention of recruiting staff with specific expertise in monitoring, modelling and reconstructing past environments that complement the expertise of existing staff, resulting in the creation of a group that is well-placed to publish and compete for research funds. New academic staff receive a research seedbed fund and protected time to establish their research presence in Portsmouth. Researchers are supported by the University-wide Environment Network (UPEN), which draws together over 40 Principal Investigators and postdoctoral researchers, as well as 70 research students. The main aims are to promote and facilitate excellence in environment-related research, across all areas of the University, and strengthen environment-related collaborations within the University community and help to develop new links between academics, businesses and communities at local, national and international levels.
The Department specialises in equipment for measurement and monitoring environmental processes, both in the real world, and through laboratory simulation. The Environmental Monitoring and Modelling laboratory contains an extensive pool of dataloggers and sensors (Campbell Scientific, Onset) including an automatic weather station, sonic anemometer, and radiometers. This is regularly employed in environments from the Arctic to the tropics, enabling creation of large real-time environmental datasets. The Physical Geography Laboratory contains extensive analytical and experimental equipment (e.g. atomic absorption spectrophotometer, laser particle size analyser, ion chromatographer) and tools for laboratory simulation (flume, rainfall simulator). Since RAE2008, considerable investment in this aspect of research infrastructure has been made, both labs having undergone a major refurbishment. Internal funds have matched some of the external monies awarded to purchase data loggers for Pepin’s work on the climate of Kilimanjaro. Faculty has also invested in an environment cabinet to support Inkpen’s work on stone weathering. A key tool for analysis of temporal and spatial patterns of environmental change is GIS. The departments has invested in specialist GIS/digital photogrammetry equipment, including a 5 micron Vexcel Ultrascan photogrammetric scanner, a scanning total station, 2 differential GPS and a 20 micron 3D digitising laser scanner. Photogrammetric software includes BAE Systems Socet Set, the Leica Suite, and extensive GIS and image processing tools. To support historical GIS work, an Enterprise Class ORACLE database implementation, with full data warehousing and data mining capabilities, runs in a virtual server environment on the University's 'private cloud', interfaced to an ultra-high-performance fibre channel disk array. Additional standard and virtual servers host the Vison of Britian and Bombsight 'public-facing' services. The Department also has access to equipment elsewhere within the University, including a scanning electron microscope with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, Inductively-Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer (with laser ablation capacity), X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer, QuAAtro nutrient autoanalyser and Gamma-Ray Spectroscopy, SEM equipped with EDS and CL, and access to a rock mechanics laboratory for geomorphological application.