The blog post this week pays tribute to the career of Professor Geoff Petts, an inspiring river scientist who sadly passed away in August 2018. Although I never worked with Professor Petts, this piece highlights recent research, reviews and reflections published to acknowledge his significant contribution to the field, before describing how his research has been a great inspiration to my own.

Professor Petts’ research initially focused on morphological changes below impoundments but rapidly expanded to encompass various branches of river science, including (but certainly not limited to) the role of vegetation as ecosystem engineers and how river flow regimes shape lotic ecosystems – the latter being of direct relevance to my personal research interests. For a detailed overview of Professor Petts’ career and research interests, I recommend people to two articles. First, Professor Ken Gregory, the PhD supervisor of Professor Petts, wrote the foreword to ‘River Science: Research and Management for the 21st Century’ (Gregory, 2016) – a book published in honour of Professor Petts celebrating the 30 years he served as Editor in Chief of the journal ‘River Research and Applications’ (formerly ‘Regulated Rivers: Research and Management’). Secondly, the editorial of the special issue recently published in River Research and Applications in memory of Professor Petts (Gurnell et al., 2019). The special issue comprises 21 research articles which encompass a broad range of river science topics, encapsulating the diversity of research Professor Petts undertook. A particularly key aspect of this Memorial Issue is the fact that it has been authored by 4 generations of river scientists, including (amongst many others):

Staff supporting Professor Petts’ PhD – Professor Ken Gregory (University of Southampton – PhD supervisor) and Professor Angela Gurnell (Queen Mary – PhD internal examiner).

Contemporary researchers of Professor Petts – Professor Ian Foster (University of Northampton) and Dr Patrick Armitage (Freshwater Biological Association).

Professor Petts’ PhD students – Professor Paul Wood (Loughborough University) and Professor David Gilvear (University of Plymouth).

Students of his PhD students – myself, Dr Matthew Hill (University of Huddersfield) and Dr Kate Mathers (EAWAG).

I was lucky enough to contribute towards two research articles within this special issue based on my research interests on riverine ecohydrological processes. The first examined freshwater invertebrate responses to river drying events, reflecting Professor Petts’ research interests on how flow regimes shape instream communities (White et al., 2019). The second paper examined how similarities and differences between contemporary and palaeoecological invertebrate data could be used to inform river restoration projects (Seddon et al., 2019). This reflected one of Professor Petts’ long-term research interests centred on historical changes within river systems.

Professor Petts’ research has not only inspired my recent studies, but also research undertaken during my PhD at Loughborough University where his seminal texts (including Petts, 2009) helped shape my studies on managing and conserving water resources for both natural and anthropogenic purposes. Within my own PhD thesis, I cited 9 of Professor Petts’ publications a total of 27 times, illustrating the value of his research in shaping and underpinning my own. It also highlights how the legacy of Professor Petts will continue to influence research of many others working in the field of river science into the future.

Thank you all for reading this week’s blog post about Professor Geoff Petts – a pioneer in river science.


Gregory, K (2016) Preface in Gilvear, D.J., Greenwood, M.T., Thoms, M.C. and Wood, P.J. (eds) (2016). River science: Research and management for the 21st century. John Wiley & Sons.

Gurnell, A., Foster, I., Gregory, K. and Wood, P. (2019), Professor Geoffrey Petts (1953–2018): An outstanding interdisciplinary river scientist. River Research and Applications, 35: 1075-1090.

Petts, G.E. (2009). Instream flow science for sustainable river management. JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 45(5), pp.1071-1086.

Seddon, E., Hill, M. J., Greenwood, M, T., Mainstone, C., Mathers, K. M., White, J. C and Wood. P. J (2019) The use of palaeoecological and contemporary macroinvertebrate community data to characterize riverine reference conditions. River Research and Applications, 35: 1302– 1313.

White, J.C., Armitage, P.D., Bass, J.A., Chadd, R.P., Hill, M.J., Mathers, K.L., Little, S. and Wood, P.J. (2019). How freshwater biomonitoring tools vary sub‐seasonally reflects temporary river flow regimes. River Research and Applications, 35: 1325– 1337.

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