Dr Peter Downs
Associate Professor in Physical Geography
School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (Faculty of Science & Engineering)
I am a chartered fluvial geomorphologist (CGeog (Geomorph)) with teaching, research and consultancy interests focussed on the impacts of human activities on the dynamics of river environments and the role of geomorphology in promoting sustainable river management and restoration. Recent research has involved modelling cumulative impact assessment of land and river management activities on river channel morphology in the late Anthropocene, high-resolution monitoring and prediction of coarse bedload sediment transport, planning and monitoring of gravel augmentation downstream of dams, the development of spatially-explicit sediment budgets to help preserve salmon habitat, the role of baseline data in developing sustainable approaches to river restoration, and strategies for sediment management during dam removal.
My teaching interests at Plymouth are informed by my research expertise. My undergraduate teaching is focussed on the fundamental science of river environments, how natural catchment processes are influenced by human activities and how to restore environmentally-damaged rivers. At Masters level, I teach about how to use ecosystem services to achieve sustainability in river basin management. My classes include a combination of formal lectures, project-led coursework, and field-based practical assignments. I also contribute to undergraduate and postgraduate residential field classes.
My research and teaching is based on experiences gained during a career that includes both academia and professional practice: I was a lecturer at the University of Nottingham in the 1990s before spending a decade as a consultant scientist in California. Since joining Plymouth University in 2010, I have directed the IEMA-accredited Masters degree in Sustainable Environmental Management (2010-2017), and was the Honorary Secretary of the British Society for Geomorphology (2011-2014), working to promote geomorphology research and the professional status of geomorphology in the UK; I chaired the BSG's Annual Conference in Plymouth in 2016. In 2016-17, I was a EURIAS Senior Fellow, at the Collegium IAS, Universite de Lyon, France. In 2017, I was appointed as a conservation lead to the Environment Agency's South West Regional Flood and Coastal Committee.
2005: CGeog (Geomorph) [Chartered Geographer with Geomorphology focus] Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), UK
1992: Ph.D. Department of Geography, University of Southampton, UK
1988: B.Sc. (Hons) Geography. Department of Geography, University of Leicester, UK
July 2010 - Associate Professor (Senior Lecturer), SoGEES, University of Plymouth, UK
2002 - 2010: Senior Fluvial Geomorphologist, Stillwater Sciences, Berkeley, CA, USA
2000 - 2002: Senior Associate, PWA Ltd., San Francisco, CA, USA
1993 - 2000: Lecturer, School of Geography, University of Nottingham, UK
1991 - 1992: Teaching Fellow, Department of Geography, University of Southampton, UK
Member, British Society for Geomorphology (Honorary Secretary 2011-14; Chair of Annual Conference 2016)
Fellow, Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)
Member, American Geophysical Union
Roles on external bodies
Conservation lead, Environment Agency's South West Regional Flood and Coastal Committee
Project Advisory Group for Environment Agency R&D project 'Working with Natural Processes to Reduce Flood Risk' 2013-2014
Editorial Advisory Panel: Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Water Management, 2010-2013
Lead Scientist for California Bay-Delta Authority - Environmental Water Program, 2002-2005
Participant in ASCE Task Committee on Sedimentation Engineering for River Restoration, 1999–2000
Inaugural coordinator and institutional contact for Midlands Consortium for Graduate Research Training in Physical Geography, 1996–1999
GEES505 - Sustainable Management of Freshwater Environments (module leader)
Sustainable environmental planning of land and water resources in the EU requires an ecosystem approach to river basin management. We explore the inherent challenges to this approaches including the environmental legacy of earlier management approaches, how to work with natural catchment processes and flood regimes, and how to integrate diverse stakeholder viewpoints into a performance-based management framework.
GGP3200 - Restoring Freshwater Environments(module leader)
A legacy of historical mismanagement has degraded the environmental value of freshwaters worldwide, not only destroying aquatic habitat but increasing flood and drought hazards as well as threats to human well-being. The module develops a critical understanding of how humans have affected natural catchment processes and the techniques available for sustainably restoring such degraded environments. The module is particularly relevant to students seeking a career in environmental management.
GGP2201 - Catchment and River Environments
GEES519 - Research Methods (MSc fieldtrip convenor)
GEES1001PP- Natural Hazards
GGX3203 - Work-based learning (tutor)
Basic, applicable, and applied research in geomorphology and environmental science that contributes towards sustainable and equitable approaches to integrated river basin management
Disentangling natural from human influences in river channel morphodynamics
Distributed sediment budgets as an indicator of cause-and-effect based catchment change
Potential impacts of climate fluctuations on river channel changes
Habitat impacts of river flow and morphology changes in urban environments
River channel sensitivity as a risk-based approach to river management
Use of targeted biophysical impacts in river management and engineering
River restoration: baseline assessment, design, and the improvement of future practice through monitoring and evaluation
The role of ecosystem services in river basin management and planning
Research degrees awarded to supervised students
As primary or secondary supervisor:
Anna Wood 2001 ‘A Geomorphological Analysis of Bank Toe Processes: the fate of failed blocks in the basal zone of incised channels’
Philip Soar 2000 ‘Channel Restoration Design for Meandering Rivers’
Kevin Skinner 1999 ‘Geomorphological post-project appraisal of river rehabilitation schemes in England’
Grants & contracts
At Plymouth University
Westcountry Rivers Trust / Wessex Water 2017-18, Monitoring the dynamics of gravel augmentation of Sutton Bingham Dam, with D. Gilvear.
Santa Clara River Trustee Council 2017, Thinking outside of the reach: how new science might improve the sustainability of river management, with T. Dudley, B. Orr.
EU Marie Curie EURIAS Senior Fellowship 2016-17, Rivers in the Anthropocene: an integrated analysis of cumulative historical human impacts on fluvial systems and their management implications.
Westcountry Rivers Trust / Southwest Water 2016-18, Evaluation of biophysical status alterations caused by gravel augmentation on dam-impacted rivers in south-west England, with D. Gilvear
Westcountry Rivers Trust / Wessex Water, 2016, Gravel augmentation feasibility study, with D. Gilvear.
Westcountry Rivers Trust / Southwest Water, 2014-15, Gravel augmentation planning and monitoring on rivers impacted by dams in South West England.
Seale-Hayne Educational Trust, 2011-13, Coarse sediment dynamics of rivers rising on Dartmoor National Park: implications for conservation and rural land management, with R. Hartley, P. Ganderton.
River Restoration Centre, 2012. Rehabilitation potential of the Marsh Mills reach of the Long Brook, Plymouth.
Plymouth University VC Research Community Award, 2012-13, Wrong connections: water quality problems in urban nature reserves, with W. Blake, A. Taylor, H. Smith, K. Solman
At Stillwater Sciences
California Department of Fish and Game, 2009-10, Watershed Geomorphic Assessment and River Bains Plan: Santa Rosa Creek, San Luis Opispo County, CA
Los Angeles County Department of Public Works / US Army Corps of Engineers, 2009-10, Watershed Geomorphic Processes and Sediment Yield Assessment: Upper Santa Clara River, Los Angeles County, CA
Association of Bay Area Governments, 2008-10, Watershed Sediment Budget: Lagunitas Creek, Marin County, CA
California Department of Fish and Game, 2006-08, Watershed Geomorphic Processes and Channel Stability Assessment: Santa Paula Creek, Ventura County, CA
California Coastal Conservancy, 2004-07, Watershed Geomorphic Processes and Channel Morphodynamics Response Assessment: Lower Santa Clara River, Ventura County, CA
Marin County Department of Public Works, 2006-07, Watershed Sediment Delivery Assessment: Lagunitas Creek, Marin County, CA
California Bay-Delta Authority - Ecosystem Restoration Program, 2003-07, Baseline Physical and Biological Monitoring and Restoration Design Development: Lower Merced River, Merced County, CA
Golden Gate National Recreation Area (National Parks Service), 2003-04, Process-based Historical Sediment Budgets: Redwood Creek, Marin County, CA
California Bay-Delta Authority - Environmental Water Program, 2002-05, Flow Acquisition Planning for Adaptive Management-based Ecosystem Restoration: Central Valley, CA.
At University of Nottingham
Otago Regional Council, New Zealand, 1999, Watershed Geomorphic Processes Assessment and Rehabilitation Planning: Water of Leith, Otago, New Zealand
Environment Agency, Midlands Region, 1994-2000, Restoration Design Development and Post-project Monitoring: River Idle, Nottinghamshire
University of Louisville, Kentucky, 2000, Geomorphological Appraisal of River Restoration Schemes
US Department of Agriculture, National Sedimentation Laboratory, 1998-2000, Geomorphology of Bank Stability Processes in Incised Channels and Related Management Issues, with A. Simon and S.J. Bennett
National Rivers Authority/ Environment Agency, 1995-98, Geomorphological and Hydraulic Impacts of Environmentally Aligned Flood Defence Measures, with C.R. Thorne
National Rivers Authority, 1996, Geomorphological Approaches to River Management: Research & Development Project 661, with C.R. Thorne, M.J. Clark, D.A. Sear and M.D. Newson
University of Nottingham New Lecturer Research Grant, 1993-96, Spatial Variability in River Channel Adjustments: Drainage Basin Characteristics and Morphological Criteria
Key publications are highlightedJournals