Academic Profile

Heather Viles is a geographer with major interests in geomorphology and heritage science. Much of her research focuses on the application of science to heritage conservation. She is currently Professor of Biogeomorphology and Heritage Conservation, Head of the School of Geography and the Environment, Co-Director of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Science and Engineering in Art, Heritage and Archaeology, and Honorary Professor at University College London. She obtained an MA in Geography from the University of Cambridge, and a DPhil from the University of Oxford. Her D.Phil. thesis focused on the role of microorganisms in weathering limestone and was based on fieldwork on Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles. After completing her D.Phil. she undertook post-doctoral research on the contribution of acid rain to the deterioration of English cathedrals. Heather was awarded the 2015 Ralph Alger Bagnold Medal from the European Geosciences Union for her role in establishing the field of biogeomorphology.

Heather was Chair of the British Society for Geomorphology from 2012 to 2014, and is currently a member of the Executive Committee of the International Association of Geomorphologists. From 2008 to 2011, she was Vice-President (Expeditions and Fieldwork) of the Royal Geographical Society with IBG. She was on the advisory panel of the £6.5 million AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Programme from 2008-2012, and was also a member of the National Heritage Science Strategy steering group co-ordinated by English Heritage and charged with developing a UK-wide Heritage Science Strategy which will shape UK-wide policy over the next 25 years. Heather also represents the University of Oxford as a trustee of the Oxford Preservation Trust. She is also an Associate Researcher at the Oxford Biodiversity Institute.

Over the years, Heather has carried out field-based research in NW Australia, South Africa, Namibia, Washington State, the Atacama Desert in Chile, South Germany, the Sahara Desert in Libya, NW China as well as many places within the UK.

Examples of areas where geomorphology can contribute to the understanding and conservation of cultural and natural heritage - rock art on sandstone in Libya Examples of areas where geomorphology can contribute to the understanding and conservation of cultural and natural heritage - sandstone peak forest, Zhangjiajie, China

Examples of areas where geomorphology can contribute to the understanding and conservation of cultural and natural heritage. a) Rock art on sandstone in Libya, and b) Sandstone peak forest, Zhangjiajie, China.

Setting up a 2D resistivity transect to measure moisture levels in sandstone, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, South Africa Monitoring water permeate into sandstone in Belfast using a Karsten tube

Setting up a 2D resistivity transect to measure moisture levels in sandstone, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, South Africa (left), and monitoring water permeate into sandstone in Belfast using a Karsten tube (above).

Current Research

Prof. Viles' research is highly interdisciplinary and involves studies at the interface of geomorphology with ecology, engineering geology, environmental chemistry and materials conservation. In recent years she has focussed on three specific themes in her research, namely:

  • Biological contributions to geomorphology;
  • Weathering, geomorphology and landscape evolution in extreme environments (hyper-arid, coastal, cold, and Mars); and
  • Building stone decay and conservation.

She maintains a strong interest in developing and applying novel techniques and ideas to the study of these themes, including 2D resistivity surveys using Geotom equipment, and the Equotip hardness tester. Heather also has a strong interest in the practical applications of 'green' methods of conserving cultural heritage (using plants, animals and microorganism communities) and linking this to biodiversity conservation.

Heather runs the Oxford Rock Breakdown Laboratory Group (OxRBL) which has extensive laboratory facilities and a field test site at Wytham Woods near Oxford.

Walls built for the soft capping research project, part of OxRBL's Wytham Woods experimental field site.

Walls built for the soft capping research project, part of OxRBL's Wytham Woods experimental field site.

In recent years her research has been funded by EPSRC, AHRC, the Leverhulme Trust, University of Oxford Fell Fund, Historic England, the Royal Society and NASA.

Selected Research Projects

Teaching

Prof. Viles was Director of Undergraduate Studies from 2008-2011, during which time the department completely revised its undergraduate course. She contributes to the 'Geomorphology' lecture course of the 'Earth System Processes' core course for Prelims, as well as to the Geographical Research course in the Final Honour School. She also convenes the 'Heritage Science and Conservation' Option and teaches on the 'Desert Landscapes and Dynamics' option.

Heather welcomes applications from students wishing to undertake graduate research in any aspect of biogeomorphology and heritage conservation.

Current Graduate Research Students

Lucie Fusade

Mitigating driving rain to historic buildings: the use of additives in lime-based pointing mortar

Michelle Lanzoni

Desert rain events: soil moisture and nutrient cycling around dryland plants

Scott Allan Orr

'Wet walls': developing 4D moisture monitoring techniques for stone masonry

Noreen Zaman

The role of soil as a method for conserving cultural stone ruins: effects of physical and chemical characteristics on stone weathering

Recent Graduate Research Students (since 2006)

Samin Ahmad
Completed DPhil in 2016

What controls algal greening of sandstone heritage? An experimental approach

Cristina Cabello Briones
Completed DPhil in 2016

Effects of open shelters on the preservation of limestone remains at archaeological sites

Katrin Wilhelm
Completed DPhil in 2016

Heritage stones - understanding deterioration processes by using non-destructive analysis

Shuaishuai He
Completed DPhil in 2015

Heritage conservation and urban revitalization in China

Jennifer Booth
Completed DPhil in 2014

Back to Nature: Geologically informed consolidates for stone museum artefacts

Lisa Mol
Completed DPhil in 2011

Sandstone weathering, electrical resistivity tomography, and the deterioration of San rock art in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, South Africa

Abigail Stone
Completed DPhil in 2009

Multi-proxy reconstruction of late Quaternary climate dynamics in western Southern Africa.

Bethany Ehlmann
Completed DPhil in 2007

Developing quantitative techniques for evaluating rock breakdown morphology: a case study of basalt boulders in the channelled scablands, Washington, USA

Satish Pandey
Completed in 2010
Dynamics of the transport, distribution and crystallisation of soluble salts in sandstone: implications for conservation of historic buildings. (Registered in RLAHA, Oxford)

Selected Publications

  • View Professor Heather Viles's ORCID profile
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Books

Journal Articles

Book Chapters

  • Goudie, A. and Viles, H. (2015) Vegetation, Fauna and Humans. In, Goudie, S. and Viles, H.A. (eds.) Landscapes and Landforms of Namibia. Springer. Commissioned by World Geomorphological Landscapes 2015. pp. 47-51. ISBN: 978-94-017-8020-9.
  • Viles, H.A. (2013) Microbioerosion and Bioconstruction. In, Schroder, J.F. (ed.) Treatise on Geomorphology (Volume 12). Elsevier Inc. pp. 261-270. ISBN: 978-0-08-088522-3.
  • Viles, H.A. (2013) Synergistic Weathering Processes. 4.2 in, Schroder, J. F. (ed.) Treatise on Geomorphology (Volume 4). Elsevier. pp. 12-26. ISBN: ISBN: 978-0-08-088522-3.
  • Mol, L. and Viles, H. (2012) Conserving History in Changing Arid Environments: a Geomorphological Approach. 11. in, Mol, L. and Sternberg, T. (eds.) Changing Deserts: Integrating People and Their Environment. White Horse Press, Cambridge. 346 pp. ISBN: 978-1-874267-69-0.
  • Viles, H.A. (2011) Biogeomorphology. In, Gregory, K.J. and Goudie, A.S. (eds.) The SAGE Handbook of Geomorphology. SAGE, London. pp. 246-259. ISBN: 9781412929059.
  • Viles, H.A. (2011) Physical geography in a changing world: helping to integrate conservation of cultural heritage, geodiversity and biodiversity. In, Fassmann, H. and Glade, T. (eds.) Geographie für eine Welt im Wandel. Vienna University Press, Vienna. pp. 37-52. ISBN: 978-3-89971-912-3.
  • Viles, H.A. (2011) Weathering systems. Chapter 6 in, Thomas, D.S.G. (ed.) Arid Zone Geomorphology: Process, Form and Change in Drylands, 3rd Edition. . 648 pp. ISBN: 9780470519080.
  • Gomez-Heras, M., Smith, B.J. and Viles, H.A. (2010) Oxford stone revisited. Chapter 10 in, Prikryl, R. (ed.) Natural Stone Resources for Historical Monuments. Geological Society, London. pp. 101-110. ISBN: 978-1-86239-291-5. GSL Special Publications.
  • Sass, O. and Viles, H.A. (2010) Two-dimensional resistivity surveys of the moisture contents of historic limestone walls in Oxford, UK: implications for understanding catastrophic stone deterioration. In, Limestone in the Built Environment: Present-day Challenges for the Preservation of the Past. Geological Society, Special Publication 331. pp. 237-250. ISBN: 9781862392946.
  • Smith, B.J., Gomez-Heras, M. and Viles, H.A. (2010) Underlying issues on the selection, use and conservation of building limestone. In, Limestone in the Built Environment: Present-day Challenges for the Preservation of the Past. Geological Society, Special Publication 331. pp. 1-13. ISBN: 9781862392946.
  • Goudie, A.S and Viles, H.A. (2008) Weathering processes and forms. Chapter 5 in, Burt, T.P., Chorley, R.J., Brunsden, D., Cox, N.J. and Goudie, A.S. (eds.) The History of the Study of Landforms or the Development of Geomorphology, Vol. 4: Quaternary and Recent Processes and Forms (1890-1965) and the Mid-Century Revolutions. The Geological Society, London. pp. 129-164.
  • Thornbush. M.J. and Viles, H.A. (2007) Photo-based decay mapping of replaced stone blocks on the boundary wall of Worcester College, Oxford. In, Prikryl, R. and Smith, B.J. (eds.) Building stone decay: from diagnosis to conservation. Geological Society Special Publication, 271. . pp. 69-75.
  • Viles, H.A. and Wood, C. (2007) Green walls? Integrated laboratory and field testing fo the effectiveness of soft wall capping in conserving ruins. In, Prikryl, R. and Smith, B.J. (eds.) Building stone decay: from diagnosis to conservation. Geological Society Special Publication, 271. . pp. 309-322.
  • Smith, B.J. and Viles, H.A. (2006) Rapid, catastrophic decay of building limestones: Thoughts on causes, effects and consequences. In, Fort, R. et al (ed.) Heritage, weathering and conservation. Taylor and Francis, London. pp. 191-198.
  • Viles, H. and Pentecost, A. (2006) Tufa and travertine. Chapter 6 in, Nash, D.J. and McLaren, S.J. (eds.) Geochemical Sediments and Landscapes. Blackwell Publishing. 488 pp. ISBN: 978-1-4051-2519-2.
  • Thornbush, M.J. and Viles, H.A. (2005) Use of portable X-ray fluorescence for monitoring elemental concentrations in surface units on roadside stone at Worcester College, Oxford. In, Fort, R. et al (ed.) Heritage, weathering and conservation. Taylor and Francis, London. pp. 613-620.
  • Viles, H.A. (2005) A divided discipline? In, N. Rogers, A. and Sherman, D. (eds.) Questioning Geography. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Viles, H.A. (2005) Can stone decay be chaotic? In, Turkington, A.V. (ed.) GSA Special Publication, Stone Decay in the Architectural Environment. . pp. 11-16.
  • Mottershead, D.N. and Viles, H.A. (2004) Experimental studies of rock weathering by plant roots: Updating the work of Julius Sachs (1832-1897). In, Mitchell, D.J. and Searle, D.E. (eds.) Stone deterioration in polluted urban environments. Science Publishers Inc, Plymouth.
  • Thornbush, M.J. and Viles, H.A. (2004) Surface soiling patterns detected by integrated digital photography and image processing on exposed limestone in Oxford, England. In, Saiz-Jimenez, C. (ed.) Air pollution and cultural heritage. London: Taylor and Francis. pp. 221-224.
  • Viles, H.A. (2003) 'The writing's on the walls': On style, substance and selling physical geography. Chapter 12 in, Trudgill, S.T. and Roy, A. (eds.) Contemporary Meanings in Physical Geography: From What to Why?. Edward Arnold.
  • Viles, H.A. (2002) Implications of future climate change for stone deterioration. In, Siegesmund, S., Vollbrecht, S.A. and Weiss, T. (eds.) Natural stone, weathering phenomena, conservation strategies and case studies. Special Publication 205. Geological Society of London. pp. 407-418.
  • Viles, H.A., Groves, C. and Wood, C. (2002) Soft wall capping experiments. In, John Fidler (ed.) English Heritage Research Transactions. Stone. pp. 59-73.

Other Academic Publications

Conference Papers

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