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. 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 (left), and monitoring water permeate into sandstone in Belfast using a Karsten tube (above).
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.
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
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
Biodiversity and bioprotection of historic maritime structures: a possible win-win?
Breathing Stones - developing laser spectroscopic methods to study moisture uptake and release by historic limestone in polluted urban environments
Mitigating driving rain to historic buildings: the use of additives in lime-based pointing mortar
|Blen Taye Gemeda|
Understanding the impact of moisture on the degradation of porous and clay-bearing, monolithic stone structures: Lalibela, Ethiopia
Improving the evaluation of conservation treatments for deteriorating sandstone in built heritage
'Moss on Rocks': Evaluating biodeterioration and bioprotection of bryophitic growth on stone masonry
Rain Events and Recharge Processes in the San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado
From books to bricks: hyperspectral imaging for heritage
Reigate Stone at the Tower of London: Mitigating Problem Stone decay in urban environments
Learning from nature: evaluating site-based conservation approaches to mitigating climatic risks to earthen heritage sites in NW China
Mineral instability within the museum environment
Studying deterioration of sandstone cave-temple in western China and preventive conservation strategies for its preservation
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)
|Scott Allan Orr|
Completed DPhil in 2018
'Wet walls': developing 4D moisture monitoring techniques for stone masonry
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
Completed DPhil in 2016
Improving non-destructive techniques for in situ stone weathering research
Completed DPhil in 2015
Heritage conservation and urban revitalization in China
Completed DPhil in 2014
Back to Nature: Geologically informed consolidates for stone museum artefacts
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
Completed DPhil in 2009
Multi-proxy reconstruction of late Quaternary climate dynamics in western Southern Africa.
Completed DPhil in 2007
Developing quantitative techniques for evaluating rock breakdown morphology: a case study of basalt boulders in the channelled scablands, Washington, USA
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)|