Professor Heather Viles

Professor of Biogeomorphology and Heritage Conservation

Associate Head (Research) Social Sciences Division

Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College, Oxford

Director of the Oxford Resilient Buildings and Landscapes Lab

Member of the Environment Research Doctoral Training Partnership

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.

Teaching and Supervision

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

Selected Publications

BOOK
Geomorphology in the Anthropocene
Authors
Goudie, A.S. and Viles, H.A. (2017)
Cambridge University Press
ISBN:
9781107139961
Geomorphology in the Anthropocene
BOOK
Landscapes and Landforms of Namibia
Authors
Goudie, A. and Viles, H. (2015)
Springer
ISBN:
978-94-017-8020-9
Landscapes and Landforms of Namibia
BOOK
Landscapes and Geomorphology: A very short introduction
Authors
Goudie, A.S. and Viles, H.A. (2010)
Oxford University Press
ISBN:
0199565570
Landscapes and Geomorphology: A very short introduction
BOOK
Limestone in the Built Environment: Present-day Challenges for the Preservation of the Past
Authors
Smith, B.J., Gomez-Heras, M., Viles, H.A. and Cassar, J. (eds.) (2010)
Geological Society, Special Publication, 331, London
ISBN:
9781862395794
Limestone in the Built Environment: Present-day Challenges for the Preservation of the Past
BOOK
A Photographic Atlas of Rock Breakdown features in Geomorphic Environments
Authors
Bourke, M. and Viles, H.A. (2007)
Planetary Science Institute, Tucson
BOOK
The student's companion to geography
Authors
Rogers, A. and Viles, H.A.
Wiley
ISBN:
978-0-631-22133-3
The Student's Companion to Geography, 2nd Edition
BOOK
Understanding and managing stone decay
Authors
Prikryl, R. and Viles, H.A. (2002)
The Karolinum Press; Prague.
Understanding and managing stone decay
BOOK
Salt Weathering Hazards
Authors
Goudie, A.S. and Viles, H.A. (1997)
Wiley
Salt Weathering Hazards
BOOK
Coastal Problems: Geomorphology, Ecology and Society at the Coast
Authors
Viles, H.A. and Spencer, T. (1995)
Hodder Arnold
Coastal Problems: Geomorphology, Ecology and Society at the Coast
Sayama, K., Parton, A. and Viles, H. (2021).
1301897 - Protecting Quaternary palaeoenvironmental sites in...
Sanmartín, P., Miller, A., Prieto, B. and Viles, H. (2021) Science of the Total Environment, 770.
1162067 - Revisiting and reanalysing the concept of biorecep...
Goudie, A., Goudie, A. and Viles, H. (2021) AEOLIAN RESEARCH, 50.
1167808 - The distribution and nature of star dunes: A globa...
Wang, Y., Viles, H., Desarnaud, J., Yang, S. and Guo, Q. (2021) EARTH SURFACE PROCESSES AND LANDFORMS, 46(5), pp. 1055–1066.
1167760 - Laboratory simulation of salt weathering under mod...
Tooth, S. and Viles, H. (2021) EARTH SURFACE PROCESSES AND LANDFORMS, 46(1), pp. 5–11.
1150358 - Equality, diversity, inclusion: ensuring a resilie...
Goudie, A., Goudie, A. and Viles, H. (2021) AEOLIAN RESEARCH, 51.
1183033 - Dome dunes: Distribution and morphology
Viles, H., Goudie, A. and Goudie, A. (2020) Earth-Science Reviews, 213.
1147982 - Ants as geomorphological agents: a global assessme...
Michette, M., Viles, H., Vlachou, C. and Angus, I. (2020) Heritage Science, 8(1).
1169313 - The many faces of Reigate Stone: an assessment of ...