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Prof Mike Meadows is awarded UCT College of Fellows 2018. Congratulations!

23 Oct 2018 - 10:15

UCT College of Fellows 2018

Citation: Professor Michael Edward Meadows, Department of Environmental and Geographical Science

Professor Michael Meadows's research on the Quaternary palaeoenvironments of southern Africa has made significant contributions to an understanding of the changing climate and associated environmental conditions in the region.

Meadows is internationally recognised for his research based on the palaeoecological analysis of wetland sediment cores across southern Africa, extending northwards to Malawi and including Botswana and Namibia in addition to South Africa. His research over more than three decades, much of which focuses on the Western Cape, is frequently cited and forms a key body of work that has progressively resolved the nature and scale of environmental changes in the region over the last glacial-interglacial cycle.

In all, Meadows has published more than 160 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters that cover a wide range of subjects within the broader discipline of physical geography, including Quaternary science, palaeoecology, geomorphology and landscape change. In addition, he has a monograph and two substantial edited works along with several special issues of high-ranking journals.

Meadows has been instrumental in promoting research into two key localities in particular: our understanding of environmental changes at Verlorenvlei on the west coast. and the Wilderness Lakes on the south coast. has been especially important and recognised through the award of two major internationally-funded research projects on which he is co-principal investigator.

In recent years, in collaboration with Professor Brian Chase, a former postdoctoral student, Meadows has been active in extending the range of palaeoenvironmental proxies to include the rich potential of Hyrax midden deposits.

Meadows has worked with a wide range of collaborators who include his own graduate students as well as more senior scientists from Germany, France and the United States. and is also acclaimed for his insightful reviews and syntheses of current knowledge on southern African Quaternary palaeoenvironments. His work is widely cited (Google Scholar H-index = 33) and, notably, his jointly-authored synthesis paper in Earth-Science Reviews (Chase and Meadows, 2007) has been cited more than 370 times.

There have been some especially noteworthy findings, not least the paper published with one of his doctoral students that documents the first unequivocal evidence for the existence of a Younger Dryas climate anomaly in the southwestern Cape (Quick et al., 2011).

In recent years, Meadows has played an important role in stimulating and facilitating international researchers to work in South Africa; these efforts have added very substantially to the range of approaches and level of expertise in the Quaternary research community. There have also been some important contributions to the understanding of land degradation and land use change, and to the history of Quaternary science in southern Africa.

On a broader scale, Meadows's work is of global importance in its contribution to our understanding of long llterm climate dynamics.  The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2013) describes the importance of palaeoclimatic reconstructions in understanding natural fluctuations in Earth's climate and atmosphere. providing a baseline for evaluation of anthropogenic influences and climate change. Relatively little work of this kind has been done in the southern hemisphere; Meadows's papers form an important part of this corpus.

Meadows has been an  outstanding  and  inspiring  research  director  and,  as  head  of  Environmental  and Geographical Science (EGS) for 16 years, has seen the department rise to be one of the top 50 geography departments globally. Indeed, EGS is one of only two departments at UCT to enjoy such a high international ranking.

He has also been centrally involved in promoting his discipline and has occupied, or occupies, important leadership positions in international organisations in the field, in particular serving as the Vice-President (2008 to 2010) and Secretary-General and Treasurer (2010 to 2018) of the International Geographical Union. He is an elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Royal Society of South Africa and has held visiting professorships at the University of Cambridge and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Such appointments and achievements testify to his substantial international standing in his field. Michael Meadows is highly deserving of the Fellowship of the University of Cape Town.