Professor Andrew Cunningham Scott

Andrew Cunningham Scott

Personal profile

Andrew C. Scott graduated with a B.Sc. in Geology from Bedford College, University of London in 1973. He then undertook his doctoral research in the Botany Department at Birkbeck College. University of London with Professor W. G. Chaloner FRS and was awarded his PhD in 1976 for his thesis "Environmental Control of Westphalian Plant Assemblages from Northern Britain" for which he received the University Science prize. Following post-doctoral research in the Department of Geology at Trinity College Dublin he was appointed as Lecturer in Geology in the Department of Geology at Chelsea College, University of London in 1978. In 1985 the department merged with that from Bedford College and Kings College in the University of London to form the new Geology Department at Royal Holloway, University of London. Andrew was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1989, Reader in 1993 and to Professor of Applied Palaeobotany in 1996. In 2002 he was awarded a London University D.Sc. for “Contributions towards our understanding of ancient terrestrial ecosystems.” Between 1998 and 2006 he was Director of Science and the Media then Science Communication. Andrew spent a sabbatical year (2006-7) in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University, as well as a visiting fellow of Berkeley College. Andrew is currently a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow. 

 

Andrew Scott has been a charted geologist (C.Geol) since 1991and Fellow of the Higher Education Academy since 2007. He is also a Fellow of: the Geological Society of London; Geological Society of America and the Royal Society of Arts. Andrew is an Honorary Professor at Jilin University, Changchun, China.

 

Andrew regularly participates in International conferences, as organizer, keynote speaker or as a participant. Recently he helped organize the 5th International meeting on Charcoal in Valencia in Spain in September 2011 (https://www.sapac.es/charcoal/index.php).

 

Andrew has a passion for communicating science and is a regular contributor to BBC radio (e.g. November 4th 2010, Sept 22nd 2011 Material World (Radio 4))(http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qyyb/episodes/player) and In Our Time Radio 4 (Jan 30 2014 and April 12 2012 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/iot)), advises on TV programmes (e.g. BBC The Earth that Made Us: Fire) and is currently producing podcasts about his research (e.g. on Fire see: http://planetearth.nerc.ac.uk/multimedia/story.aspx?id=871). He also helps in the production of geological issues of stamps for several countries.

His new Book 'FIRE ON EARTH' has just been published (see College website http://www.rhul.ac.uk/science/fireonearth/home.aspx and book website www.wiley.com/go/scott/fireonearth)

 

Research interests


General Areas of Research


Applied Palaeobotany and Palynology.  Coal Geology.  Modern Fire systems.  Fire in the Fossil Record. Terrestrial sedimentology.  Evolution of Coal-forming ecosystems. Terrestrially sourced oils.  Stable isotopes and geochemistry of plants.  Carboniferous stratigraphy.  Evolution of terrestrial communities.  Animal-plant interactions in the fossil record.  Diagenesis of fossil plants.  Volcanism and plant preservation. Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic  and Cretaceous of Europe, North America, China and Australia. Techniques in palaeobotany and palynology.  Geological communication. History of Geology.

 

Fire as an Earth System Process


Much of my research over the past few years has concerned the past, present and future of wildfires and their environmental effects and especially the role of fire in Earth Systems Processes. Research efforts have concentrated on modern and ancient fires, their products (charcoal) and effects. I am part of the International Pyrogeography Research Group (led by David Bowman, Tasmania). See http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=114657.

oxygenfiresWildfire: Work on recent fire systems has concentrated on fires in western USA and southern England.  I am particularly interested in interpreting wildfires from charcoal residues. Together with Deborah Martin and John Moody (US Geological Survey) and Pete Robichaud (US Forestry Service) I have been studying the 2002 Hayman Fire of Colorado. I have also bee studying the 2009 Taylor Fire in Arizona with Scott Anderson (Northern Arizona University) and the 2009 Jesuita Fire in California. In southern England I have been studying heathland fires with Margaret Collinson (RHUL). A podcast on some of this research is available to listen. I am currently also looking at charcoals with Stefan Doerr (Swansea) from the Victoria fires (Australia) of 2009.

Wildfire in Deep time: I have been studying a wide range of charcoal from throughout the geological column and across the world (in a range of projects that also involve Margaret Collinson). I am studying the rise of fire in the Devonian with Sue Rimmer (Southern Illinois University) and the evolution of late Palaeozoic fire systems with Ian Glasspool (Field Museum Chicago, USA) (see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/5180924.stm). My research has also been looking at evidence of fire in the Jurassic (with Leszek Marynowski (University of Silesia, Poland) and Cretaceous with William Bond (University of Cape Town, South Africa), Margaret Collinson, Ian Glasspool and my research student Sarah Brown. Evidence of fire at the K-P (=K/T) boundary had been studied with my former research student Claire Belcher (University of Edinburgh) and fire across the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), especially from the Cobham Lignite, has been undertaken with Margaret Collinson and our former post-doctoral assistant David Steart.

Fire and atmospheric oxygen: Biogeochemical modeling suggests significant variation of atmospheric oxygen in deep time. Together with Ian Glasspool I have developed a charcoal proxy for atmospheric oxygen over the past 350 million years. We see significantly high levels of oxygen in the late Palaeozoic and in the Cretaceous suggesting high levels of fire at that time (see: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100802091125.htm
http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/gsl/cache/offonce/geoscientist/geonews/pid/8204;jsessionid=9B1A21C7B872443AE79E680F2EE5D5BE

Fire and Plant Evolution: Together with William Bond I have suggested that the rapid spread of weedy flowering plants in the Cretaceous, around 100 million years ago was a result of high levels of wildfire that was a result of high atmospheric oxygen levels at that time. (see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11298978 (Spread of early flowering plants 'aided by fire'). II am currently working on the evolution of fire adaptations in plants.  

Fire and climate: I have been studying the distribution and frequency of fire during times of climate change at several intervals in Earth History. Together with Jennifer Marlon (University of Oregon) and the palaeocharcoal working group have been interested in the changes in fire over the past 20,000 years. We have shown a string link between fire and climate with increased fire during periods of rapid climate change. (see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7854348.stm)

Fire and Man: I am studying the relationship between fire, climate and man and studying fires over the last 20k years in the California Channel Islands, on a National Geographic and NSF funded project (with Nicholas Pinter, Southern Illinois University and R. Scott Anderson, University of Northern Arizona) and in Western Europe.As part of the Pyrogeography working group I have produced a paper on the relationship between fire and humans. We offer an historical framework to help other researchers and managers develop a context for considering the relationships humans have with fire (http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/page10587.html).

 

The geological and archaeological uses of charcoal

Charcoal preserves the anatomy of the plants that have been burnt. We use scanning electron microscopy to routinely study their morphology and anatomy. I am researching not only the formation of charcoal by both natural and human agencies but also on the uses of charcoal. We have developed a method of obtaining temperature of charcoal formation using reflected light microscopy. This has implications for both studies of natural wildfires as well as for our understanding of the human use of wood and charcoal as a fuel. My former research student Laura McParland studied charcoals resulting from industrial process in the archaeological record and undertook laboratory and field reconstructions to develop methods for their study, especially using reflectance microscopy. Research was collaboration with Margaret Collinson and English Heritage (Gill Campbell). I am also working with Robyn Veal from the University of Sydney, Australia on charcoal deposits from Pompeii and with Amanda Claridge (RHUL) on charcoals from Roman Hypocaust systems. I am also working with Chris Roos, Southern Methodist University on Pottery firing by early North American Indian cultures.

 

The entombment and preservation of plants by volcanic processes

I am researching the preservation of plants in both modern and ancient volcanic rocks.  Recent research has concentrated on the occurrence of charcoals in volcanic pyroclastic flows particularly from Montserrat (in collaboration with Steve Sparks, Bristol) (see: http://www.scenta.co.uk/nature/volcanoes/cit/1714184/measuring-volcanoes.htm) and New Zealand (with Colin Wilson, Victoria University, New Zealand). These data may be used to constrain models of some kinds of volcanic eruption. Studies also include an investigation of the formation of lava trees in Hawaii (with Don Swanson, Hawaii).

 

Fossil fuels

 I have a long-term interest in the formation of fossil fuels. I have studied not only coal deposits worldwide but also petroleum source rocks. I am also interested in the development of new energy sources. Research student Victoria Hudspith, funded by NERC and RWE npower is studying the distribution of inertinite in Permian Coals, its geological significance and effects upon combustion behavior. This is part of a more general study on the distribution of inertinite (fossil charcoal) in coal being undertaken in collaboration with Ian Glasspool.


The evolution of vegetation and terrestrial ecosystems

I am interested in the evolution of terrestrial ecosystems over the past 350 million years in particular. Much of my research has concerned the Carboniferous Period (350-290 million years). This research concerns a number of sub-projects:

Early Carboniferous vegetation: Current studies include a study of charcoalified floras from the Mississippian of Scotland (with Jean Galtier, Montpellier).

Pennsylvanian ecology: Research is continuing on the evolution of mires on the Palaeoecology of the Upper Carboniferous Joggins Fossil Forests in Nova Scotia, Canada (with J. Calder, Nova Scotia).

Cretaceous: I have a number of Cretaceous projects including several in Canada. My research student Sarah Brown is working on late Cretaceous charcoalified plants from the Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, aided by Dennis Braman of the Royal Tyrell Museum.

Cenozoic: Vegetational and environmental change across the Paleocene-Eocene boundary (with Margaret Collinson). Our work concerns a study of the Cobham Lignite in particular that crosses the onset of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) a period of raid global change. A significant proportion of the research is now published. See;
http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/gsl/geoscientist/geonews/page2923.html
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v449/n7160/edsumm/e070920-09.html

 

Carboniferous Cave Deposits

New research concerns the palaeoecology of Carboniferous cave deposits, including palynological studies (with Roy Plotnick and Fabien Kenig, University of Illinois Chigago, Ian Glasspool, Field Museum Chicago, Cortland Eble, Kentucky Geological Survey and Bill Chaloner). We have already demonstrated that such cave deposits can contain exceptionally preserved fossils, both plants and animals (http://www.livescience.com/animalworld/070504_chicago_cave.html). These preserve their three dimensional nature as well as some of their original chemistry. The deposits also provide evidence of multiple fire events.

 

The geological record of plant-arthropod interactions.

I have studied extensively the interaction of plants and arthropods through time, using especially the traces of animal feeding on plants. I have studied examples from most periods of the late Palaeozoic to recent and am currently working on coprolites, especially termite s (modern material from Darrin Wu: http://www.termiteweb.com) from the Pleistocene. This is mainly in collaboration with Margaret Collinson.

 

The preservation and fate of plants and animals in the fossil record

I have been researching the preservation of plants in the fossil record for a number of years including the chaemistry of spores with Bill Chaloner (RHUL) and former student and Post-Doctoral Fellow Alan Hemsley (Cardiff) and the preservation of plant leaves with Margaret Collinson. Current research also includes study of the biogeochemistry and taphonomy of animals, arthropods in particular. Studies on the chemistry of plants is being undertaken with Derek Briggs (Yale University), Neil Gupta and Margaret Collinson. Projects on the decay of charcoal in the field and in the laboratory is being undertaken with Michael Bird (Townsville, Australia), Phillipa Ascough (SURCC, East Kilbride) and Debbie Page (US Forest Service). Charcoal and ash characterization from modern fires is being undertaken with Deborah Martin (USGS). Studies on the cemistry of arthropod cuticles is being undertaken with Derek Briggs (Yale) and George Cody (Carneigie Institution for Science (http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/page9335.html )

 

Microscopical techniques.

Over many years I have been interested in the development of new microscopical techniques. I have shown the use of scanning acoustic and scanning laser microscopy in geology and developed ways in linking microscopy and chemistry. Currently work is being undertaken at the Swiss Light Source, together with Margaret Collinson and Selena Smith (University of Michigan), using the TOMCAT beam lines (with Marco Stampanoni and Federica Marone)(see: http://www.psi.ch/sls/tomcat/tomcat) on charcoal using synchrotron radiation computerized micro-tomography. This technique allows us to observe the internal anatomy of charcoalified plants in a non-destructive way and at a very high resolution.

 

Geological Communication.

I am passionately interested in ways to communicate geology. In addition to traditional media work, especially on radio I am using art to communicate my science. I am working on a photography book with Alan Macintyre (http://www.allanmacintyre.com/) from Princeton University on volcanic landscapes and hope to have a book published soon. I am very interested in the impact of geology on art and art on geology and especially on the creation of Pietre Dure. I have a long-term collaboration with artist Nick Shewring (http://www.stamps-illustrations.co.uk/) working on geological stamp designs and have worked on issues for a number of countries including the Solomon Islands, Barbados, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cuhna.

 

History of Geology and Palaeontology.

I am particularly interested in the early history of geology and especially palaeobotany. I have been researching the studies undertaken by Prince Federico Cesi, the Duke of Aquasparta and founder of the Accademia dei Lincei between 16010 and 1630. I have worked on the drawings in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle as part of the Cassiano dal Pozzo Paper Museum (http://warburg.sas.ac.uk/pozzo/index.html) and have published a catalogue raisoneé. I am continuing to research the work of Cesi and his fellow Lincean, Francesco Stelluti, especially their early work using the microscope that was given to the society by another member, Gallileo Gallilei. Aspects of the history of geology were discussed in a BBC radio 4 programme 'In Our Time' broadcast on April 12 2012 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/iot).

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