Iain Stewart

Iain Stewart is Professor of Geoscience Communication at the University of Plymouth, UK, and Director of its Sustainable Earth Institute. His academic interests in applying Earth science to pressing societal concerns – climate change, geo-resources, geo-energy, disaster risk reduction – form the basis of his 2018 recognition as UNESCO Chair in ‘Geoscience and Society’.

Iain’s academic roots are in active tectonics and geohazards. After completing a BSc in Geography and Geology at Strathclyde University (1986), and a PhD in earthquake geology at the University of Bristol (1990), he taught Earth sciences at Brunel University, west London, until 2002. In 2004, he joined the University of Plymouth, where he developed his interdisciplinary interests in ‘geo-communication’.

His geo-communication activities build on a 15-year partnership with BBC Science, making popular mainstream television documentaries about planet Earth. Major multi-part television series presented by him include Journeys from the Centre of the Earth [2014], Journeys into the Ring of Fire [2016], Earth: The Power of the Planet [2007], How Earth Made Us [2009], How To Grow A Planet [2012], Volcano Live [2012]; and Rise of the Continents [2013]. As well as general Earth science programmes showcasing how the planet works and what it means for those living on it, Iain has explored the geological aspects of his Scottish homeland, such as Making Scotland’s Landscape [2011], Men of Rock [2011], and Scotland’s First Oil Rush [2016]. In addition, he has tackled controversial societal issues, notably climate change in Earth: The Climate Wars [2008) and Hot Planet [2009], and energy in Fracking – the New Energy Rush [2013] and Planet Oil [2015].

This ‘popular geoscience’ has led to an academic interest in how best to convey complex and contested Earth science to non-technical (public) audiences. Working with a team of doctoral students, Iain has forged novel research alliances with human geographers, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists to apply social and cognitive science perspectives on communicating risk and uncertainty to Earth science problems. The work includes understanding cultural responses to geo-hazard threats, examining how popular media (film and video games) can enhance disaster risk awareness, appreciating how lay publics conceptualise the geological subsurface, and analyzing public and media attitudes to geo-energy (geothermal and shale gas).

Iain is a global advocate for the Earth Sciences, receiving an MBE for services to UK geoscience in the 2013 and recognized with awards from The Royal Geographical Society, the Geological Society of London, the American Geophysical Union, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the American Geosciences Institute, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the European Federation of Geologists and the Geological Society of America. He regularly delivers plenary addresses and keynote talks on ‘communicating contested geoscience’ at international geoscience fora and industry conferences, as well as specialist technical workshops on geoscience communication. He is the Executive Editor of the EGU’s academic journal, Geoscience Communication.

He is an active champion of geography and geology in schools, being the UK council representative on the International Geoscience Education Organisation as well as a former President of the UK Earth Science Teachers Association (ESTA) and former Honorary Vice President of the Geographical Association (GA) and the Scottish Geography Teachers Association (SAGT). Currently, as well as being Patron of the Scottish Geodiversity Forum and The English Riviera GeoPark, he is President of the Devon Wildlife Trust and of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. In 2017, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.