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 Associate Head (Research) for the Social Sciences Division, Professor of Biogeomorphology and Heritage Conservation; Oxford lead and Co-Director of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Science and Engineering in Art, Heritage and Archaeology (SEAHA); and Honorary Professor at the Institute of Sustainable Heritage, University College London. She leads the Oxford University Heritage Network.

Heather obtained an MA in Geography from the University of Cambridge, and a DPhil from the University of Oxford. Her DPhil thesis focused on the role of microorganisms in weathering limestone and was based on fieldwork on Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles. After completing her DPhil, 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 and the 2019 Melvin G. Marcus lifetime career award, Geomorphology Specialty Group, American Association of Geographers. In 2020 Heather was awarded the Founder's Medal by the Royal Geographical Society with IBG. She is also a Fellow of the British Society for Geomorphology.

Heather has considerable academic administrative experience, having been Director of Undergraduate Studies (2008-2011), Director of Research (2012-2015), and Head of the School of Geography and the Environment (2015-2019), as well as Vice Provost of Worcester College (2012-2014). She is now President of the British Society for Geomorphology (2019- ), having previously been Chair from 2012 to 2014. 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 to 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 one of the Senior Editors of Earth Surface Dynamics, having served for 6 years as an Associate Editor of Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, and is also on the editorial boards of Transactions, Institute of British Geographers and Atmospheric Environment.

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 and NW China, as well as many places within the UK.

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 Resilient Buildings and Landscapes lab (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

  • Built Heritage Research Initiative
    Funded by the Getty Trust, and carried out in partnership with the Science Department, Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, USA
  • Heritage Heads
    Funded by the University of Oxford's Diversity Fund and Van Houten Fund.
  • Science-based heritage conservation on the Silk Road: Learning from Nature
    Funded by EPSRC and the Royal Society, and carried out in partnership with Prof Qinglin Guo, Head of Conservation, Dunhuang Academy
  • Climate change, ‘greening' of masonry and implications for the decay of built heritage and new build
    Funded by the EPSRC and carried out in collaboration with Queen's University Belfast and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Find out more about the Conserving Stone Heritage project and view video resources.


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

Current Graduate Research Students

Tim Baxter

Biodiversity and bioprotection of historic maritime structures: a possible win-win? (jointly supervised by Dr Martin Coombes and Prof Heather Viles)

Dáire Browne

Breathing Stones - developing laser spectroscopic methods to study moisture uptake and release by historic limestone in polluted urban environments (jointly supervised with Prof Grant Ritchie, Chemistry)

Blen Taye Gemeda

A holistic approach to diagnosing the deterioration of rock-hewn structures in Lalibela, Ethiopia

Ian Maybury

From books to bricks: hyperspectral imaging for heritage

Kathryn Royce

Preservation of geological collections

Kenta Sayama

From datapoints to heritage recognition -establishing geoheritage and geocultural values of Quaternary palaeoenvironmental sites in South-east Arabia

Recent Graduate Research Students (since 2006)

Richard Grove
Completed DPhil in 2021

A Holistic Approach to Evaluating the Performance of Consolidants on Sandstone

Katherine Jang
Completed DPhil in 2021

'Moss on Rocks': Evaluating biodeterioration and bioprotection of bryophitic growth on stone masonry

Yinghong Wang
Completed DPhil in 2021

Studying deterioration of sandstone cave-temple in western China and preventive conservation strategies for its preservation

Michelle Lanzoni
Completed DPhil in 2020

Rain Events and Recharge Processes in the San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado

Martin Michette
Completed DPhil in 2020

Reigate Stone at the Tower of London: Mitigating Problem Stone decay in urban environments

Jennifer Richards
Completed DPhil in 2020

Learning from nature: evaluating site-based conservation approaches to mitigating climatic risks to earthen heritage sites in NW China

Lucie Fusade
Completed DPhil in 2019

Designing and evaluating repointing lime mortars for the conservation of historic buildings in highly exposed environments

Scott Allan Orr
Completed DPhil in 2018

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

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

Improving non-destructive techniques for in situ stone weathering research

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)
Bethany Ehlmann
Completed MSc by research in 2007
Developing quantitative techniques for evaluating rock breakdown morphology: a case study of basalt boulders in the channelled scablands, Washington, USA

Selected Publications

  • View Professor Heather Viles's ORCID profile
  • View Professor Heather Viles's Scopus profile
  • View Professor Heather Viles's ResearchGate profile
  • View Professor Heather Viles's profile
  • Google Scholar profile unavailable
  • ResearcherID profile unavailable


Journal Articles

Book Chapters

  • Wilhelm, K., Gulotta, D., Leslie, A., Krus, M., Thome, V., Kilian, R. and Viles, H. (2020) Reviving 'Asterixe': a unique long-term archive for built heritage research. In, Siegesmund, S. and Middendorf, B. (eds.) Monument Future: Decay and Conservation of Stone. Mitteldeutscher Verlag, Halle/Saale. pp. 351-356.
  • Baigent, E., Hann, C., Squibb, S. and Viles, H. (2019) Oxford Women Geographers. Chapter 2 in, Baigent, E. and Reyes Novaes, A. (eds.) Geographers: Biobibliographical Studies: Volume 38. Bloomsbury Academic. 248 pp. ISBN: 9781350127975.
  • 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.


  • Wood, C., Cathersides, A. and Viles, H.A. (2018) Soft capping on ruined masonry walls. Historic England Research Report, 88/2018 199 pp. ISSN: 2059-4453.
  • Coombes, M., Viles, H.A. and Cathersides, A. (2017) Ivy on Walls. Historic England Research Department Reports, 30/2017 127 pp. ISSN: 2059-4453.