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UWI hosts Professorial Lecture on Climate Change

For Release Upon Receipt - March 3, 2010

St. Augustine

The University of the West Indies (UWI) will host the Professorial Inaugural Lecture of Professor Paul Shaw on Wednesday 17th March, 2010 at 5:30 p.m. at Lecture Theatre 1, Block 13, Faculty of Engineering.

Professor Shaw, who is Professor of Geography in the Faculty of Science and Agriculture, will deliver a lecture on climate change, titled, “Out of Africa: Perspectives on long-term climate change in the Tropics.” Professor Shaw is a physical geographer, and coordinator of the Geography programme in the Faculty of Science and Agriculture, UWI St. Augustine. His lecture will focus on the importance of terrestrial records from selected regions of Africa and the Caribbean.

“The records from Lakes Ngami (Botswana) and Chilwa (Malawi) are sufficiently detailed to create a regional view of climatic change, including the response of this southern hemisphere land mass to global climatic perturbations, such as Heinrich Events, which occur when the ocean circulation breaks down,” Professor Shaw said.

Professor Shaw’s audience at the Inaugural Lecture is expected to include Professor Clement Sankat, University Pro Vice Chancellor and St Augustine Campus Principal, and Professor Dyer Narinesingh, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Agriculture. Other interested persons are invited to attend. The event is free of charge and open to the public.


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Abstract of Lecture

Quaternary Science is the extraction of climatic or environmental information from the environment on timescales ranging from the historical (decades and centuries) to near-geological (10-1000 ka). It is reliant on the identification of climatic proxies—features that can be identified as potentially yielding climatic data, and the use of techniques to both interpret and date the proxy. It is a well-established and fast moving field, with long-term (1-100 ka) global records created from proxies such as oxygen isotopes from ‘big’ science projects such as marine and ice cores.

Terrestrial records from the Tropics have been much harder to come by, firstly because of the poor preservation of sedimentary (especially organic) sequences on land, second because of the late development of appropriate chronological methods. These issues are particularly acute in the humid tropics and in deserts. In the Kalahari region of Southern Africa studies over the past 30 years of lakes, valleys, dunes, caves, chemical sediments and the Okavango Delta hydrological system have shown their potential as climatic proxies, whilst the development of new techniques, such as dating by optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and chemical analysis by mass spectrometry, have pushed back the research frontiers in chronological control and resolution. Thus SIMS analysis of cave stalagmite laminae have allowed the creation of temperature and rainfall records at an annual to sub-annual level, whilst dating of lake shorelines by OSL has led to the reconstruction of lake budgets over the last 200 ka.

The Caribbean offers less potential for palaeoclimatic study. However, landforms such as the caves of Trinidad offer clues to the response of the Caribbean to the same climatic peturbations. Using the 8.2 ka event as an example, it is probable that the climate of the Caribbean has a potential for aridity that lies beyond the present envelope of historical metereological records. Given the intensity of the current drought it is a factor that our planners should consider.


About Professor Paul Shaw

A British citizen, he grew up in Cyprus and Singapore before returning to the UK for secondary education at the Duke of Yorks Royal Military School. He subsequently attended the University of Leicester (BA in Geography 1968) and Bedford College, University of London (MSc in Coastal Geomorphology 1970) before setting out to put geography into practice as a merchant seaman, lorry driver, tour leader and teacher. In 1976 he moved to Guyana to teach at Queens College, where a conversation with the cricketer Roger Harper, then a year 13 pupil, persuaded him that a return to academia would be a good move.

Paul taught at the University of Guyana for three years, completing a PhD on the Geomorphology of the South Rupununi Savannas, submitted to the University of London, in 1984. Meanwhile he had moved to the University of Malawi, and then on to the University of Botswana for a period of 12 years, ending up as Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Environmental Science. Here Paul began a wide ranging programme of research on the geomorphology and environmental history of the Kalahari, which culminated in the publication, with Professor David Thomas (now of Oxford University) of The Kalahari Environment by the Cambridge University Press in 1991. This research, which looks at landforms as diverse as lakes, caves, sand dunes, sand rivers and chemical sediments, continues to the present day, and now extends over most of southern Africa.

In 1992 he returned to UK with his family to take up a post at the new University of Luton as Professor of Geography, departmental head and associate dean. He also continued traveling – to southern Africa and southern Europe on research projects, to China to develop collaborative degree programmes and to the world’s deserts for academic liason  - for a number of years he was the UK National Correspondent for International Geological Correlation Programme (IGCP) 413 – “Environmental Change and Human Impacts in Drylands”. During this period he also became increasingly involved in the executives of various learned societies (British Geomorphological Research Group, Southern African Society for Quaternary Research, Committee of Heads of Environmental Science), as a member of editorial boards (Journal of Arid Environments), as an assessor for the UK Quality Assurance Agency and as an external examiner at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

In 2004 Paul left Luton to work as a part-time visiting professor at the Universities of Oxford, Sheffield, Leicester, Brighton and Northampton, and in 2006 took up the challenge of creating a new geography unit at UWI St Augustine, returning to the Caribbean for the first time in almost thirty years. His current research, due to be competed this year, involves the creation of a database all of the caves of Trinidad & Tobago, with an assessment of their scientific potential.

Paul is the author of two books, ten book chapters and around eighty refereed papers, most of which focus on the world's drylands, in particular the Kalahari of southern Africa.

About UWI

Over the last six decades, The University of the West Indies (UWI) has evolved from a fledgling college in Jamaica with 33 students to a full-fledged University with over 40,000 students. Today, UWI is the largest and most longstanding higher education provider in the English-speaking Caribbean, with main campuses in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, and Centres in Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Christopher (St Kitts) & Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent & the Grenadines. UWI recently launched its Open Campus, a virtual campus with over 50 physical site locations across the region, serving over 20 countries in the English-speaking Caribbean. UWI is an international university with faculty and students from over 40 countries and collaborative links with over 60 universities around the world. Through its seven Faculties, UWI offers undergraduate and postgraduate degree options in Engineering, Humanities & Education, Law, Medical Sciences, Pure & Applied Sciences, Science and Agriculture, and Social Sciences.