Celebrating staff: Dr Gunnar Mallon

March 2019

Gunnar MallonWhat do you do?

I primarily teach, and fit my research around my teaching. I have a 90% teaching contract, which takes up most of my time. I teach on almost all of the programmes, particularly in Physical Geography, Environmental Science and the postgraduate International Development masters. My background is Environmental Science and I have always been interested in connecting the physical with the social. One without the other does not make a great deal of sense – so we need to be able to bridge them. Throughout my research career, I have looked at natural climate change over the last 10,000 years, so that we can understand what the natural variability of climate change brings to current debates, and acknowledge the extent to which humans have made climate change worse. But I am also find myself going back to my roots in Environmental Science more and more. I have just secured a grant (with Dr Pering) from the GCRF to examine how communities rebuild post-cyclone water management infrastructure and how this links to natural environmental change, such as volcanic eruptions, in Vanuatu. This asks the physical questions of environmental quality alongside the societal questions about building new infrastructures. I am particularly interested in this interface between the human and the physical of geography. That said, I am also the Sheffield-lead on another funded project on Ilkley Moor looking at the ecology of peatland restoration and pockets of refuge.

What have you done recently in your job that you found rewarding?

Two things. First, I organised a big international conference and workshop on Svalbard in the Arctic for the LOWPERM project (with Professor Hodson). I bought together 20 scientists from all over – Alaska, Siberia, and Europe. The aim was to bring together researchers interested in different aspects of the Arctic, and for processes based researchers, modellers and social scientists to discuss how to best quantify and communicate uncertainty in Arctic science. It was an important moment of working across disciplines and between different scales. It took a lot of work in the run up and a few sleepless nights, but when it all came together it was a tremendously productive few days and felt extremely rewarding. Second, I find teaching highly rewarding, especially when students ‘get it’. When students take what you have taught them, are inspired by it, go and read more, ask more questions, and come to office hours to discuss ideas, it shows that I have done my job.

What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

I love to learn, no matter what it is. I really love gaining new knowledge so that I can build a more holistic picture of how everything fits together. Knowledge is what drives me and I constantly want to learn new things.

What are you looking forward to in your job?

I have some really exciting fieldwork coming up this year. So far, my work was primarily in the High Arctic and the boreal forests of Canada and Scandinavia. This year I am off to Galapagos, Tanzania, Vanuatu, and potentially Colombia. Moving from the cold areas to the warm tropics! This opens up a whole exciting world of new collaborations, of new exciting projects, and of meeting new institutional partners. These are the things I am really looking forward to.