Within the School we host annual lectures in Geography and Geology, given by distinguished speakers in their field of research. These lectures are open to all.
Bennett (Geology) Lecture
The Bennett Lecture is named after Dr F W Bennett, a local practitioner and man of standing and influence in the city of Leicester. Dr Bennett was also a keen amateur geologist, and his generosity to the University is recognised both in the naming of the Bennett Building and in this annual lecture.
The Bennett Lecture is a prestigious annual public event, given by a distinguished earth scientist on a topic of their choice. It should be of broad interest and should particularly enthuse and inspire tomorrow's scientists in studying the natural world.
The audience normally includes current staff and students, as well as members of the public.
Former Bennett lecturers have included Ron (now Lord) Oxburgh, Professor Dan McKenzie, Stephen Jay Gould, Sir Crispin Tickell, Professor Michael Russell, Professor Dr Schmid, Dr Harry Dowsett, Professor Andrew T Fisher, Professor Jenny Clack, Professor Tim Lenton, Professor Simon Wallis, and Dr Sue Loughlin.
Explosive volcanic eruptions and asteroid impacts
Professor Michael J. Branney
Professor of Volcanology
School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, University of Leicester
Tuesday 29 November 2022
Giant explosive eruptions and asteroid impacts are the most cataclysmic events to affect the Earth’s surface, abruptly obliterating entire landscapes and devastating the wider environment. Yet they are a fundamental part of planetary evolution, and perhaps more common than generally appreciated. So how can we find out what actually happens during these very brief events?
Mike Branney explains how forensic techniques developed to investigate smaller, historic and present-day volcanic eruptions can be applied to larger, ancient examples. Layer by tiny layer, ash deposits are used to reconstruct what happened in the minutes and hours of a rapidly unfolding catastrophe you wouldn’t wish to witness first-hand. Using examples from disasters at Fuego (Guatemala) in 2018, Pompeii in AD 79 and Pinatubo in 1991, Mike shows how to start to piecing-together what happened during these, and then staggeringly large super-eruptions, such as at Yellowstone-Snake River, where vast regions (>20,000 km2) of the US were obliterated overnight.
Mike’s group are applying the same approach to discover just what happens when Earth is hit by a large asteroid. At the impact site the Earth’s crust is pulverized, partly vaporised and partly melted. It sends out a vast ground-hugging density current: searing hot gas with fragments and droplets of melted rock. As at a volcanic super-eruption, this radial current swiftly sterilizes and then buries the entire landscape under a blanket of ejecta. We know this happens: several such ejecta sheets have been discovered. There's much more to understand but at least we are now learning how to decipher the rapid-fire sequence of events that accompany their genesis.
Image credit: Mt. Pinatubo eruption was taken on Jun 15, 1991 by Filipino photographer Alberto Garcia, Manilla Bulletin.
‘Touch and Go’: Climate Futures and the Deep History of Childcare
The next scheduled Geography Annual Lecture has now been rescheduled.
Professor Nigel Clark
Chair of Social Sustainability, Lancaster University
Thursday 3 November 2022
Young activists are at the forefront of a climate politics that challenges us to think anew about the energy we use and what we use it for. In the bigger picture, this raises issues about how different generations relate to each other in the context of a planet that is going through rapid and profound changes. To approach this question, I set out from a project I’m involved in that looks at how people carry their small children. From there we turn to the long, deep, history of human childcare. I am interested in the argument made by evolutionary anthropologists that human infants have evolved to attract attention and seek care not just from their mothers or fathers but from multiple potential caregivers.
From a geographical and geological perspective, I’m equally curious about the way that early human co-operative childcare seems to have emerged in the context of ongoing climatic instability – amidst the rugged but fertile landscapes of the East African Rift Valley. Picture a human or ‘hominin’ infant, a million years ago, strapped to its caregiver’s back, learning to read signals in the faces and gestures of others. But also imagine this child being carried through a complex, changeable 3-D landscape, replete with plants, animals, rivers, cliffs, fires, and volcanoes. How does thinking about the evolution of human love, care and curiosity in such a world cast light on the current climate crisis, I ask, and how might it help us dream up ways of living on a damaged planet that go beyond simply surviving at all costs?