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Professor Des Walling

Professor Des Walling

Emeritus Professor


 01392 723345



Des Walling is a Hydrologist with particular interests in the field of erosion and sediment yields and catchment sediment budgets. He has a BA in Geography and PhD in Geography (Hydrology), from the University of Exeter. He was formerly Assistant Lecturer, Lecturer, Reader in Physical Geography and Professor of Physical Geography at the University of Exeter, before being appointed Reardon Smith Professor of Geography in 1998. He is also a Visiting Professor at the Academia Sinica Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environments in Chengdu, China. He is a Chartered Geographer and a Certified Professional Hydrologist of the American Institute of Hydrology. He received the Back Award of the Royal Geographical Society in 1985 and its Victoria Medal in 2000, the Vollenweider Award of Environment Canada in 1990, and the President’s Prize of the British Hydrological Society in 1995. In 2007 he was the recipient of three further prestigious international awards, namely, the Linton Award of the British Society for Geomorphology, the International Hydrology Prize awarded jointly by IAHS, UNESCO and WMO and the Chien Ning Award of the World Association for Sedimentation and Erosion Research and the Chien Ning Foundation. He is a past President of the International Commission on Continental Erosion (ICCE) and the International Association of Sediment Water Science (IASWS) and he is currently President of the World Association for Sediment and Erosion Research (WASER) and Honorary President of the International Commission on Continental Erosion. He is a member of the River Basin Science cluster within the Environmental Processes and Change Research Group.

Des Walling is heavily involved in national and international scientific activities related to his research area. He is currently President of the World Association for Sediment and Erosion Research, a member of the Steering Committee of the UNESCO International Sediment Initiative, a member of the Advisory Council of the International Research and Training Center for Erosion and Sedimentation in Beijing, a member of the steering committee of the IGBP-PAGES LUCIFS project, which aims to investigate land use and climate impacts on fluvial systems over the period since the development of agriculture, a member of the International Coordinating Committee on Reservoir Sedimentation (ICCORES), a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency Coordinated Research Project on Soil Erosion Assessment and a member of the Bureau of IAHS. Nationally, he was a member of the Steering Committee of the NERC LOCAR Community Research Programme and is currently a member of the UK National Committee for International Hydrology and the NERC Peer Review College. He is an editor of the international journal Hydrological Processes and a member of the editorial board of Catena, Geografiska Annaler, Journal of Sediment Research, Geografisk Tidsskrift, Ecohydrology and Hydrobiology and the Journal of Mountain Environments. He is an author or editor of 30 books and he has published more than 460 scientific papers and contributions to edited volumes.

Broad research specialisms:

Hydrology and Fluvial Geomorphology


BA (Exeter),
PhD (Exeter)

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Research interests

Des Walling’s research interests lie in the field of hydrology and fluvial geomorphology. He has a particular interest in erosion and sediment yield, catchment sediment budgets, sediment tracing, water quality and diffuse source pollution and catchment management.

Des Walling’s main research activity currently focuses on land erosion and the suspended sediment loads of rivers, catchment sediment budgets and sediment-related environmental problems. Work in this area is being undertaken in local catchments in the Exe basin, in other areas of the UK and overseas. In addition, this interest extends to world rivers more generally and to global patterns of erosion and sediment yield and their recent response to environmental change. Catchment studies have focused on establishing sediment budgets and quantifying sediment sources, sinks and outputs. This work has necessitated the development of specialised field instrumentation and measurement techniques and particular emphasis has been placed on the use of environmental radionuclides (i.e. Caesium-137, Lead-210 and Beryllium-7) as sediment tracers. Exeter has one of the best equipped gamma spectrometry laboratories for environmental measurements in the world (15 HPGe detectors) and is in the forefront of developing the application of environmental radionuclides to quantifying erosion and deposition rates in catchments, to establishing overbank deposition rates on river floodplains and to fingerprinting suspended sediment sources. Such information is central to the establishment of catchment sediment budgets.

Recent and current research has attracted substantial funding from a number of sources including NERC, MAFF, DEFRA, DFID, the Environment Agency, Raleigh International and the European Union. NERC funding has included involvement in the LOIS, Environmental Diagnostics and LOCAR Community Programmes. Close collaborative links are maintained with researchers in China, Poland, Russia, Spain, Italy, Norway, Chile and Brazil.

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