Skip to main content

Welcome from the new Director

Left to right: Rich Pancost, Sir John Beddington, Paul Bates
I became the second Director of the Cabot Institute on the 28th of July, taking over from Paul Bates and planning to continue making Cabot one of the world’s premier environmental institutes. The past month has been rather exhilarating in terms of the breadth and quality of my interactions. My experiences have cemented my reasons for assuming this role - the Cabot Institute represents hundreds of brilliant people, working together and working with equally brilliant government, NGO and industry partners to better understand our environment, our relationship to it and the challenges of our co-dependent future. The central aspect of my job as Director is to continue to support those individuals and especially those collaborations.

My first month also confirmed that we have vital, illuminating and challenging ideas to share and we will all benefit from improved communications. Hence, this blog post and the many to follow it.  There are many buried treasures, both clever insights and mature wisdom, on the Cabot Blog, and I encourage new visitors to explore those past posts.  For example, see recent posts on Food Security by Boo Lewis and Energy Markets by Neeraj Oak.  As for me, I’ll be bringing in a combination of personal observations and insights arising from discussions with Cabot partners, as well as ideas emerging in my own discipline.

Penn State University
As a bit of an introduction, I grew up in on a dairy farm in Ohio, and attended Case Western Reserve University, where I dithered back and forth between majors in political science and astrophysics before realising my heart was in Geology.... life decisions are complicated for all of us. I obtained my PhD from Penn State University , using geochemical tools to study past climates, and then continued that work as a post-doctoral researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. And in 2000 I joined the Organic Geochemistry Unit  in the School of Chemistry here at Bristol.  Along the way, I played a fair bit of Ultimate (Frisbee ).
Ultimate frisbee GB masters beach team (2007)

I examine organic compounds in a wide range of materials, from soils and plants to microbial mats to ancient rocks. Those organic compounds can be exceptionally well preserved for long periods of time, allowing us to investigate aspects of how the Earth’s biological and chemical systems interact on time scales from tens to millions of years. The topics of my research range from understanding the formation and fate of methane to reconstructing the climate history of the planet (especially during times when carbon dioxide levels and temperatures were higher than those of today). It requires working with a diverse group of people, including climate modellers, mathematicians, social scientists and petroleum geologists.  Those themes will become more prominent in this blog over the coming months, especially as I report back from a few conferences and around the release in late September of the Fifth Report from IPCC Working Group 1: The Physical Basis of Climate Change. But I will also be discussing Environmental Uncertainty and Decision Making: what it means, my personal perspectives on it, and why it is at the heart of the Cabot Institute’s mission.

Finally, this is meant to be an interactive forum.  Do use the comments section and do suggest future topics.  We especially welcome suggestions from our fellow Bristolians for potential visitors and events we could organise in our home town.

Cheers,
Rich

This blog was written by Professor Rich Pancost, Cabot Institute Director, University of Bristol
Rich Pancost

Popular posts from this blog

Bristol Future’s magical places: Sustainability through the eyes of the community

“What is science? Why do we do it?”. I ask these questions to my students a lot, in fact, I spend a lot of time asking myself the same thing.

And of course, as much as philosophy of science has thankfully graced us with a lot of scholars, academics and researchers who have discussed, and even provided answers to these questions, sometimes, when you are buried under piles of papers, staring at your screen for hours and hours on end, it doesn’t feel very science-y, does it?

 As a child I always imagined the scientist constantly surrounded by super cool things like the towers around Nicola Tesla, or Cousteau being surrounded by all those underwater wonders. Reality though, as it often does, may significantly differ from your early life expectations. I should have guessed that Ts and Cs would apply… Because there is nothing magnificent about looking for that one bug in your code that made your entire run plot the earth inside out and upside down, at least not for me.

I know for myself, I…

Will July’s heat become the new normal?

For the past month, Europe has experienced a significant heatwave, with both high temperatures and low levels of rainfall, especially in the North. Over this period, we’ve seen a rise in heat-related deaths in major cities, wildfires in Greece, Spain and Portugal, and a distinct ‘browning’ of the European landscape visible from space.

As we sit sweltering in our offices, the question on everyone’s lips seems to be “are we going to keep experiencing heatwaves like this as the climate changes?” or, to put it another way, “Is this heat the new norm?”

Leo Hickman, Ed Hawkins, and others, have spurred a great deal of social media interest with posts highlighting how climate events that are currently considered ‘extreme’, will at some point be called ‘typical’ as the climate evolves.
In January 2007, the BBC aired a special programme presented by Sir David Attenborough called "Climate Change - Britain Under Threat".

It included this imagined weather forecast for a "typical s…

Dadaism in Disaster Risk Reduction: Reflections against method

Reflections and introductions: A volta The volta is a poetic device, closely but not solely, associated with the Shakespearean sonnet, used to enact a dramatic change in thought or emotion. Concomitant with this theme is that March is a month with symbolic links to change and new life. The Romans famously preferred to initiate the most significant socio-political manoeuvres of the empire during the first month of their calendar, mensis Martius. A month that marked the oncoming of spring, the weakening of winter’s grip on the land and a time for new life.
The need for change Having very recently attended the March UKADR conference, organised by the Cabot Institute here in Bristol, I did so with some hope and anticipation. Hope and anticipation for displays and discussions that conscientiously touched upon this volta, this need for change in how we study the dynamics of natural hazards. The conference itself was very agreeable, it had great sandwiches, with much stimulating discussion …