I am a desert geomorphologist specialising in the physical processes controlling aeolian sediment transport and landform dynamics. My research interests focus on establishing the impact of environmental, climatic, and anthropogenic changes on sand dune dynamics, regional sand sea stability, desert dust emission, and agricultural wind erosion. I have specific expertise in quantifying airflow and sediment transport in dryland systems including cutting-edge research on the role of wind turbulence in desert landscape development, and determinations of erosion thresholds in natural and human-influenced aeolian systems. My research utilises field measurements, wind tunnel modelling, and mathematical simulations with projects spanning northern and southern Africa, the USA, Central Asia, China, the Middle East, Australia, and the UK. Major research grants are funded by NERC, EU Horizon 2020, Royal Society, National Science Foundation (USA), and Médecins Sans Frontières.
I am a Fellow, Tutor and former Dean at Brasenose College, Oxford, and have previously held positions as Reader and Senior Lecturer at the University of Sheffield, UK. At the School of Geography and the Environment at Oxford I have held key administrative roles including Director of Graduate Studies, Chair of the International Graduate School, Chair of the Final Honours School Examinations Board, Chair of the Preliminary Examinations Board, and Director of Undergraduate Admissions. I have represented the School of Geography at the Divisional Graduate Studies Committee, Divisional Teaching Audit Committee, and the ESRC Doctoral Training Centre Management Board.
Since 2019 I have been the Senior Responsible Owner and Chair of the Project Board for the £4 mill refurbishment of the Dyson Perrins Laboratories, a major extension of the buildings for the School of Geography and the Environment and housing the Environmental Change Institute from 2022. I am also on the Programme Board for Reuben College overseeing a construction budget of £37 mill.
I am on the Board of Directors of the International Society for Aeolian Research (ISAR), have Chaired the Distinguished Career Award Committee of ISAR, and Chair the Organising Committee for the next International Conference on Aeolian Research (ICAR 2022) to be held in Namibia.
Current and Recent Research
Dune dynamics and processes of aeolian sediment transport
The Origin of Aeolian Dunes (TOAD) - £1 mill NSFGEO-NERC. Whilst we have some understanding of sand dune dynamics and their response to environmental change, we know very little about the genesis of sand dunes and the specific controls on their initiation. Such an understanding is vital to determine environmental influences on sand sea and coastal dune development on Earth, and to help our interpretation of environments and dune forms on other planets like Mars. This project is a collaboration with colleagues at the Universities of Notre Dame and Illinois (USA), and Southampton and Loughborough Universities (UK). Investigations employ a combination of desert fieldwork with high resolution terrestrial laser scanning and sonic anemometry, and innovative flume experiments in the laboratory to quantify the role and importance of windflow, sediment transport and surface feedbacks on the emergence of sedimentary bedforms.
Postdoctoral researcher Pauline Delorme evaluating field monitoring sites for dune initiation experiments in high winds on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia.
Sand Mitigation around Railway Tracks (SMaRT) - £680k EU Horizon 2020. Investment in railway construction in desert regions is rapidly expanding. Countries in the Middle East have allocated around $US 259 billion to build 40,000 km of railway tracks up to 2030. However, railway infrastructure in deserts faces severe challenges in the form of windblown sand and migrating dunes which can result in rail burial, ballast contamination, and train derailment. This collaborative project with Politecnico di Torino (Italy) and Optiflow (France) uses mathematical modelling, fluid dynamics, and field testing to quantify the hazards and to develop effective engineering designs to mitigate against windblown sand and dunes around desert railways.
Doctoral student Ciaran Nash surveying the build-up of windblown sand around railway tracks in southern Namibia.
Securing Long-term Ecosystem Function in Lowland Organic Soils (SEFLOS) - £252k NERC. The East Anglian peat fenland is a major region of UK vegetable production with an estimated value of £1.2 billion annually. However, wind erosion in the dry climate and microbial breakdown of the peat results in significant soil loss that has been recognised as a major threat to soil security in the UK. The degradation of the peat also significantly contributes to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This project, collaborating with Bangor University, Leicester University, and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, aims to quantify the controls on soil loss under agricultural activity, and investigates management plans to reduce soil degradation.
Monitoring agricultural wind erosion on peat soils in East Anglia, UK.
Dust Observations for Models (Do4 Models) - £1.2 mill NERC. Windblown dust is a major global export from the world's deserts playing a critical role in the Earth's land-atmosphere-ocean-biosphere system. It has been shown to have a crucial influence on the radiation balance and climate modulation, iron fertilization of the ocean, long-distance nutrient transport and soil geochemistry, and human health. Yet the complex controls governing the emission of dust and the dynamics of individual dust emission events remain poorly understood. Such uncertainties in characterising dust source behaviour lead to significant challenges for the development of models representing dust emission into the atmosphere. This project, and much recent allied research, aims to fill this data gap by measuring dust emission processes, including atmospheric and surface controls, at the source of emission. Fieldwork has included several major deployment campaigns in dry lake beds and ephemeral river channels in Botswana and Namibia since 2015.
The research team setting-up equipment to monitor aeolian dust emission from the surface of Etosha Pan in northern Namibia.
I contribute to the Preliminary Examination lectures on 'Geomorphology' for the 'Earth System Processes' core course. I also lecture on the 'Earth System Dynamics' core course and the 'Desert Landscapes and Dynamics' Option for the Final Honours School.
My research interests include: measuring and modelling aeolian processes in deserts with an emphasis on aeolian sediment transport; sand dune dynamics; emission and dynamics of windblown dust; desert geomorphology; aeolian hazards; and low latitude environmental change. Research techniques focus on fieldwork and modelling of aeolian processes in all desert environments including southern Africa, the Middle East, USA, China, Australia, and South America.
Enquiries from prospective DPhil students concerning any aspect of desert geomorphology are welcomed.
Current Graduate Research Students
Modelling landscape response to environmental change in susceptible drylands
Determining controls on aeolian dust emissions: analysis of dynamic processes at Etosha Pan, Namibia
Recent Graduate Research Students (since 2006)
Completed DPhil in 2022
Numerical simulation of the internal structure of aeolian sand dunes using cellular automaton modelling
Completed DPhil in 2020
Sand mitigation along railway tracks - evaluation of sand hazards and field testing of mitigation measures
Completed DPhil in 2017
The role of windblown dust from ephemeral river valleys in the fertilisation of the Benguela Upwelling System
Completed DPhil in 2017
Development and testing of a coupled vegetation / sediment-transport model for dryland environments
Completed in 2018
|Quantitative evaluation of landscape dust emission in northern China|
(School of Geography and Ocean Science, Nanjing University, Nanjing, China)
|Johannah von Holdt|
Completed in 2018
|Aeolian dust emission dynamics across spatial scales: landforms, controls and characteristics|
(Environmental & Geographical Science, University of Cape Town, South Africa)
- Richards, J., Burrough, S., Wiggs, G., Hills, T., Thomas, D., Moseki, M. (2021) Uneven surface moisture as a driver of dune formation on ephemeral lake beds under conditions similar to the present day: a model-based assessment from the Makgadikgadi basin, northern Botswana. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 46(15)(3078-3095).
- Delorme, P., Wiggs, G.F.S., Baddock, M.C., Claudin, P., Nield, J.M. and Valdez, A. (2020) Dune initiation in a bimodal wind regime. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 125(1). e2020JF005757.
- Li, C., Sonke, J.E., Le Roux, G., et al. (2020) Holocene dynamics of the southern westerly winds over the Indian Ocean inferred from a peat dust deposition record. Quaternary Science Reviews, 231.
- Cui, M., Lu, H., Wiggs, G.F.S., Etyemezian, V., Sweeney, M.R. and Xu, Z. (2019) Quantifying the effect of geomorphology on aeolian dust emission potential in northern China. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 44(14): 2872-2884.
- von Holdt, J.R.C., Eckardt, F.D., Baddock, M.C. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2019) Assessing Landscape Dust Emission Potential Using Combined Ground-Based Measurements and Remote Sensing Data. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 124(5): 1080-1098.
- Baddock, M.C., Nield, J.M. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2018) Early-stage aeolian protodunes: bedform development and sand transport dynamics. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 43(1): 339-346.
- Dansie, A.P., Thomas, D.S.G., Wiggs, G.F.S. and Munkittrick, K.R. (2018) Spatial variability of ocean fertilising nutrients in the dust-emitting ephemeral river catchments of Namibia. Earth surface processes and landforms, 43: 563-578.
- Dansie, A.P., Wiggs, G.F.S. and Thomas, D.S.G. (2017) Iron and nutrient content of wind-erodible sediment in the ephemeral river valleys of Namibia. Geomorphology, 290: 335-346.
- Dansie, A.P., Wiggs, G.F.S., Thomas, D.S.G. and Washington, R. (2017) Measurements of windblown dust characteristics and ocean fertilization potential: The ephemeral river valleys of Namibia. Aeolian Research, 29: 30-41.
- Mayaud, J.R., Bailey, R.M. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2017) A coupled vegetation/sediment-transport model for dryland environments. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 122(4): 875-900.
- Mayaud, J.R., Bailey, R.M. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2017) Modelled responses of the Kalahari Desert to 21st century climate and land use change. Scientific Reports, 7(3887): 1-12.
- Mayaud, J.R., Bailey, R.M., Wiggs, G.F.S. and Weaver, C.M. (2017) Modelling aeolian sand transport using a dynamic mass balancing approach. Geomorphology, 280: 108-121.
- Mayaud, J.R., Wiggs, G.F.S. and Bailey, R. (2017) A field-based parameterisation of wind flow recovery in the lee of dryland plants. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 42(2): 378-386.
- Thomas, D.S.G., Durcan, J.A., Dansie, A. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2017) Holocene fluvial valley fill sources of atmospheric mineral dust in the Skeleton Coast, Namibia. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 42: 1884-1894.
- von Holdt, J.R., Eckardt, F.D. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2017) Landsat identifies aeolian dust emission dynamics at the landform scale. Remote Sensing of Environment, 198: 229-243.
- Mayaud, J., Wiggs, G. and Bailey, R. (2016) Characterising turbulent wind flow around dryland vegetation. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 41(10): 1421-1436.
- Mayaud, J.R., Wiggs, G.F.S. and Bailey, R. (2016) Dynamics of skimming flow in the wake of a vegetation patch. Aeolian Research, 22: 141-151.
- Nield, J.M., McKenna Neuman, C., O’Brien, P., Bryant, R.G. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2016) Evaporative sodium salt crust development and its wind tunnel derived transport dynamics under variable climatic conditions. Aeolian Research, 23(A): 51-62.
- Nield, J.M., Wiggs, G.F.S., King, J., Bryant, R.G., Eckardt, F.D., Thomas, D.S.G. and Washington, R. (2016) Climate-surface-pore-water interactions on a salt crusted playa: implications for crust pattern and surface roughness development measured using terrestrial laser scanning. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 41(6): 738-753.
- Haustein, K., Washington, R., King, J., Wiggs, G., Thomas, D.S.G., Eckardt, F.D., Bryant, R.G. and Menut, L. (2015) Testing the performance of state-of-the-art dust emission schemes using DO4Models field data. Geoscientific Model Development, 8(2): 341-362.
- Nield, J.M., Bryant, R.G., Wiggs, G.F.S., King, J., Thomas, D.S.G., Eckardt, F.D. and Washington, R. (2015) The dynamism of salt crust patterns on playas. Geology, 43(1): 31-34.
- Livingstone, I., Baas, A., Bateman, M.D., Bristow, C., Bryant, R.G., Bullard, J.E., Nield, J.M., Thomas, D.S.G., White, K.H. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2014) A prospectus for future geomorphological investigation of the Namib Sand Sea. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, 69(3): 1-6.
- Holmes, P.J., Thomas, D.S.G., Bateman, M.D., Wiggs, G.F.S. and Rabumbulu, M. (2012) Evidence for land degradation from aeolian sediment in the west-central Free State Province, South Africa. Land Degradation and Development, 23(6): 601-610.
- Wiggs, G.F.S. and Weaver, C.M. (2012) Turbulent flow structures and aeolian sediment transport over a barchan sand dune. Geophysical Research Letters, 39(L05404).
- Baddock, M.C., Wiggs, G.F.S. and Livingstone, I. (2011) A field study of mean and turbulent flow characteristics upwind, over and downwind of barchan dunes. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 36(11): 1435-1448.
- Weaver, C.M. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2011) Field Measurements of mean and turbulent airflow over a barchan sand dune. Geomorphology, 128(1-2): 32-41.
- Livingstone, I., Bristow, C., Bryant, R.G., Bullard, J., White, K., Wiggs, G.F.S., Baas, A.C.W., Bateman, M.D. and Thomas, D.S.G. (2010) The Namib Sand Sea digital database of aeolian dunes and key forcing variables. Aeolian Research, 2(2-3): 93-104.
- Nield, J.M., Wiggs, G.F.S. and Squirrell, R.S. (2010) Aeolian sand strip mobility and protodune development on a drying beach: examining surface moisture and surface roughness patterns measured by terrestrial laser scanning. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 36(4): 513-522.
- Telfer, M.W., Bailey, R.M., Burrough, S.L., Stone, A.E.C., Thomas, D.S.G. and Wiggs, G.S.F. (2010) Understanding linear dune chronologies: Insights from a simple accumulation model. Geomorphology, 120(3-4): 195-208.
- Vermeesch, P., Fenton, C.R., Kober, F., Wiggs, G.F.S., Bristow, C.S. and Xu, S. (2010) Sand residence times of one million years in the Namib Sand Sea from cosmogenic nuclides. Nature Geoscience, 3: 862-865.
- Thomas, D.S.G. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2008) Aeolian systems responses to global change: challenges of scale, process and temporal integration. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 33(9): 1396-1418.
- Baddock, M., Livingstone, I. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2007) The geomorphological significance of airflow patterns in transverse dune interdunes. Geomorphology, 87(4): 322-336.
- Livingstone, I., Wiggs, G.F.S. and Weaver, C.M. (2007) Geomorphology of desert sand dunes: A review of recent progress. Earth Science Reviews, 80(4): 239-257.
- Garvey, B., Castro, I., Wiggs, G.F.S. and Bullard, J.E. (2005) Measurements of Flows Over Isolated Valleys. Boundary Layer Meteorology, 117(3): 417-446.
- Livingstone, I., Wiggs, G.F.S. and Baddock, M. (2005) Barchan dunes: why they cannot be treated as 'solitons' or 'solitary waves'. Surface Processes and Landforms, 30(2): 255-257.
- Thomas, D.S.G., Knight, M. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2005) Remobilization of southern African desert dune systems by twenty first century global warming. Nature, 435: 1218-1221.
- Bennion, P., Hubbard, R., O'Hara, S.L., Wiggs, G.F.S., Wegerdt, J., Lewis, S., Small, I., van der Meer, J. and Upshur, R. (2004) The impact of airborne dust on respiratory health in children living in the Aral Sea region. International Journal of Epidemiology, 36(5): 1103-1110.
- Knight, M., Thomas, D.S.G. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2004) Challenges of calculating dunefield mobility over the 21st century. Geomorphology, 59(1-4): 197-213.
- Parsons, D.R., Walker, I.J. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2004) Numerical modelling of flow structures over idealized transverse aeolian dunes of varying geometry. Geomorphology, 59(1-4): 149-164.
- Wiggs, G.F.S., Atherton, R.A. and Baird, A.J. (2004) Thresholds of aeolian sand transport: establishing suitable values. Sedimentology, 51(1): 95-108.
- Wiggs, G.F.S., Baird, A.J. and Atherton, R.A. (2004) The dynamic effects of moisture on the entrainment and transport of sand by wind. Geomorphology, 59(1-4): 13-30.
- Wiggs, G.F.S., O'Hara, S.L., Wegerdt, J., van der Meer, J., Falzon, D. and Hubbard, R. (2003) The dynamics and characteristics of aeolian dust in dryland Central Asia: possible impacts on human exposure and respiratory health. The Geographical Journal, 169(2): 142-157.
- Wiggs, G.F.S. (2002) Desert dune processes and dynamics. Progress in Physical Geography, 25(1): 53-79.
- Wiggs, G.F.S., Bullard, J.E., Garvey, B.G. and Castro, I.P. (2002) Interactions between airflow and valley topography with implications for aeolian sediment transport. Physical Geography, 23(5): 366-380.
- Atherton, R.J., Baird, A.J. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2001) Inter-tidal dynamics of surface moisture content on a meso-tidal beach. Journal of Coastal Research, 17(2): 482-489.
- O'Hara, S.L., Wiggs, G.F.S., Wegerdt, J., van der Meer, J., Small, I., Falzon, D. and Hubbard, R. (2001) Dust exposure and respiratory health amongst children in the environmental disaster zone of Karakalpakstan, Central Asia: preliminary findings of the ASARD project.: 71-82.
- O'Hara, S.L., Wiggs, G.F.S., Mamedov, B., Davidson, G. and Hubbard, R.B. (2000) Exposure to airborne dust contaminated with pesticide in the Aral Sea Region. Research letter to The Lancet, 335: 627-628.
- Wiggs, G.F.S. (2022) Dune Morphology and Dynamics. In, Shroder, J.F. (ed.) Treatise on Geomorphology, 2nd edition (Volume 7). Elsevier. ISBN: 978-0-12-818234-5.
- Wiggs, G.F.S. (2019) Desert Dunes: Form and Process. Chapter 6 in, Livingstone, I. and Warren, A. (eds.) Aeolian Geomorphology, a new introduction. Wiley Blackwell. pp. 133-155. ISBN: 9781118945643.
- Bauer, B.O., Walker, I.J., Baas, A.C.W., Jackson, D.W.T., Neuman, C.M., Wiggs, G.F.S. and Hesp, P.A. (2013) Critical Reflections on the Coherent Flow Structures Paradigm in Aeolian Geomorphology. Chap. 8 in, Venditti, J.G., Best, J.L., Church, M. and Hardy, R.J. (eds.) Coherent Flow Structures at Earth's Surface. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 111-134. ISBN: 978-1-119-96277-9.
- Wiggs, G.F.S. (2013) Dune Morphology and Dynamics. 11.11 in, Shroder, J.F. (ed.) Treatise on Geomorphology (Volume 11). Elsevier Inc. pp. 201-218. ISBN: 978-0-08-088522-3.
- Boardman, J., Hoffman, M.T., Holmes, P.J. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2012) Soil erosion and land degradation. Chapter 11 in, Holmes, P. and Meadows, M. (eds.) Southern African Geomorphology: Recent Trends and New Directions. African Sun Media. pp. 307-328. ISBN: 978-1-920382-02-5.
- Thomas, D.S.G. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2012) Aeolian Systems. Chapter 6 in, Holmes, P. and Meadows, M. (eds.) Southern African Geomorphology: Recent Trends and New Directions. Sun Media, Bloemfontein. pp. 141-166. ISBN: 978-1-920382-02-5.
- Washington, R. and Wiggs, G.F.S. (2011) Desert dust. Chapter 20 in, Thomas, D.S.G. (ed.) Arid Zone Geomorphology: Process, Form and Change in Drylands, 3rd Edition. Wiley. 648 pp. ISBN: 9780470519080.
- Wiggs, G.F.S. (2011) Geomorphological hazards in drylands. Chapter 23 in, Thomas, D.S.G. (ed.) Arid Zone Geomorphology: Process, Form and Change in Drylands, 3rd Edition. Wiley. 648 pp. ISBN: 9780470519080.
- Wiggs, G.F.S. (2011) Sediment mobilisation by the wind. Chapter 18 in, Thomas, D.S.G. (ed.) Arid Zone Geomorphology: Process, Form and Change in Drylands, 3rd Edition. Wiley. 648 pp. ISBN: 9780470519080.
- Wiggs, G.F.S., O'Hara, S.L. and Mamedov, B.K. (2003) Wind erosion and dust deposition in the Aral Sea region: possible consequences of unsustainable human activity. In, Alsharhan, et al. (ed.) Desertification in the Third Millenium. Swets and Zeitlinger. pp. 291-298.