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Thesiger-Oman Fellowships

The Thesiger-Oman International Fellowship offers awards of £8,000 annually for geographical research in the physical or human dimensions of arid and semi-arid environments.

Recipient of the 2012 Thesiger Oman Fellowship Mike Morley, undertaking high-resolution Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) topographic survey on the Southern Nejd Plateau, Oman

The Fellowships fund post-doctoral researchers with an outstanding research proposal, that involves fieldwork in an arid environment. Research within the Middle East and other areas visited by Thesiger, will be given priority.

Applicants must be Fellows or members of the Society.

The grant is open to applicants from any nation.


23 November (each year)


  Thesiger-Oman Fellowship guidelines (PDF) 
  Code of Practice for the Grants Programme (PDF)

Thesiger-Oman Fellowships recipients

 2017: Professor Anne Mather (Plymouth University). ‘Bedrock landsliding - a near and present danger: Implications for hazard assessment in the NW Sahara (Morocco).’

Despite the potential value of landslide surveys to inform on both hazard and changing environmental conditions, landslides in arid and developing regions such as North Africa are significantly underreported and thus their potential hazard underestimated. The aim of this project is to assess the relative significance of the geology and climate on arid landscape bedrock landslide distribution in the higher relief areas of the NW Saharan margin, Morocco, in order to create the first landslide inventory for the arid eastern High Atlas and Anti Atlas Mountains.

 2017: Professor Charlie Bristow (University College London). ‘Deltas of the Green Sahara’

This study aims to improve the chronology of the Holocene lake highstand and investigate the rate at which the palaeolake MegaChad level fell at the end of the African humid period. In addition, the project aims to date older shorelines to determine whether the lake was filled during previous humid phases. The results will help to constrain the timing and duration of humid phases within the Holocene and late Pleistocene in northern Africa.

 2016: Paul Carling (University of Southampton). 'Initial Motion of Boulders in Arid Zone Bedrock Channels: Implications for Hydrology and Geomorphic Evolution of Desert Wadis'         

In desert streams, flood transported boulders are often the only clue to the size of ungauged floods. Boulder transport equations often are used to back-calculate the size of prior floods. However, published equations are poor predictors, mainly because they do not adequately parameterise the drag coefficients and friction coefficients of variably shaped boulders. This proposal seeks to develop improved equations and to test them using data from contrasting desert streams.

 2015: Dr Alasdair Pinkerton (Royal Holloway University of London) and Dr Noam Leshem (Durham University)

Beginning in the town of Nomansland in southern England, this expedition traces the historical  and political geographies of the No Man's Land from its medieval origins, through the militarized No Man's Land of the Western Front, along the route of the Iron Curtain and the UN Buffer Zone that divides Cyprus. The expedition culminates in the desert territory of  Bir Tawil on the Egypt-Sudan border - the last unclaimed space on Earth. The expedition is also being supported by Land Rover through the use of a Land Rover Discovery Sport vehicle.

 2015: Dr Nick Lancaster (Desert Research Institute). 'Stratigraphy and chronology of dunes in the Rub' Al Khali, Saudi Arabia'

A field investigation of dune stratigraphy and sedimentology will be conducted in the Shaybah area of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the first phase of a multi-year investigation of dune morphology, chronology, and sediments in the Rub’ Al Khali. Fieldwork will be conducted January 2016.

 2014: Dr Sarah Boulton (Plymouth University). 'Palaeo-elevation and uplift of the Moroccan High Atlas mountains'

This project will apply novel applications of stable isotope geochemistry to calculate the mean catchment altitude of the High Altlas Mountains in Morocco, where the timing of formation of the modern topography is still widely debated. This will be achieved through analyses of Mid-Late Miocene sediments from the Ouarzazate basin.

  2013: Dr Rob Hosfield (University of Reading). 'Palaeohydrology of the Nile in Sudan: a geoarchaeological survey of palaeochannels west of Khartoum'

The importance of the Nile system for the dispersal of hominins from Africa, although often inferred, remains uncertain, due to the current scarcity of data documenting early archaeological sites and associated palaeoenvironmental conditions. The Palaeolithic archaeological records for Sudan, in particular, are very sparse, despite the country’s size and the presence of the Nile as a major arterial routeway across the Sahara from south to north. The project seeks to address this data shortfall through a geoarchaeological survey of palaeochannels associated with the Nile drainage, evaluating the antiquity of ancient fluvial surfaces and identifying modes of lithic technology present.

  2012: Elizabeth Watson (University of Cambridge). 'The Difference a species makes: Converting to Camels in Northern Kenya'

Pastoralism is at a crossroads in the drylands of northern Kenya. Climate change is making weather patterns more unpredictable, and the region is currently experiencing its driest period for 60 years. One adaptation to the current challenges has been that pastoralists who used to keep cattle have switched to keeping camels. The research explored the profound implications of the switch for social, economic, environmental, political and cultural lives.

  2012: Mike Morley and Ash Parton (Oxford Brookes University). 'Late Pleistocene Climatic and Environmental Change in Southern Arabia: Implications for the Dispersal of Modern Human Populations out of Africa'

There is growing evidence that modern humans dispersed out of Africa via the Arabian Peninsula. Late Pleistocene palaeoenvironmental records indicate that southern Arabia periodically experienced humid climatic conditions conducive to human migration and colonisation. The project explored the possibility that the southern Nejd Plateau was not only traversed by a rich network of river systems during pluvial episodes, but was also a landscape favourable enough to act as a refugium during the intervening phases of aridification.

  2011: Richard Walker (Oxford University). 'Ten thousand years of environmental change and human habitation in NE Iran'

A study with a focus on the effect of environmental change on human populations in the desert

  2011: Troy Sternberg and David Thomas (Oxford University). 'Human-Hazard Interaction – documentation, social exposure and system resilience in the Gobi Desert'

The project will provide, for the first time, an integrated analysis of the nature and impact of hazards on societies in the Gobi Desert of northern China and southern Mongolia

  2010: Giles Wiggs and Richard Bailey (Oxford University). 'Stressed deserts: identifying tipping points in vegetation and wind erosion in response to increasing environmental pressure'

A field and aerial survey analysis of the semi-vegetated SW Kalahari Desert, to calibrate a newly developed vegetation distribution model which predicts vegetation cover as a response to environmental stress.

  2010: Abigail Stone (Oxford University). 'Rainfall in the desert sand: groundwater recharge rates and palaeoenvironmental reconstruction in the southern Kalahari'

Predicted reductions in rainfall in southern Africa will reduce groundwater recharge rates and may contribute to dunefield reactivation. This study quantified average recharge rates over 1000 years to provide the first chronology of relative moisture changes.

  2009: Dr Mike Rogerson (University of Hull). 'Understanding the Libyan Monsoon'

The project team visited two caves (Rhar Djebel Serdj and Rhar Nefza) from which they recovered a total of eight speleothem and four drip-water samples and a range of cave climate data. Rhar Djebel Serdj was found to be especially well decorated.

  2009: Dr Henning Bjornlund (University of Lethbridge and University of South Australia). 'An analysis of institutional arrangements of the falaj irrigation systems in Oman'

An exploration of the distinctive institutional settings of the Omani falaj system, developed within a closed society, and the consequential demand for water as a result of the modern technology.

  2008: Dr Phil Hughes (University of Manchester). 'Pleistocene climates of the Northwest Sahara Desert: evidence from the glacial record in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco'

Glaciation in these mountains has major implications for understanding moisture transfer between the North Atlantic Ocean and the Sahara Desert during Pleistocene cold stages.

  2008: Professor Andrew Smith (Dowling College, USA). 'Agricultural practices in the desert environs of Wadi Araba, Jordan: Exploring new, sustainable approaches to modern economic development'

A study of the region's depleting aquifers, tapped for agricultural irrigation in response to economic development. Of interest is whether ancient dry-farming techniques could be a more sustainable approach.

  2007: William Rowe (Louisiana state University). 'An analysis of the economic and environmental resurgence of the historic region of Herat, Afghanistan and its desert environs after twenty-five years of conflict'

An analysis of the different levels of local society at the city, village, and nomadic levels to determine the impact of years of conflict and occupation.

  2007: Mark Powell (University of Leicester). 'Channel morphology and sedimentology in upland dryland environments, Negrev, Israel: characteristics and controls'

Characterisation of the morphological and sedimentological characteristics of upland gravel beds in the Negrev Desert to provide genetic explanations for the distinct channel morphologies identified.

  2006: Dr Conall Mac Niocaill (University of Oxford). 'Characterising the history of mountain building in North East Iran'

A study of the history and topographic evolution of the desert region in response to the uplift of the region at the northernmost part of the Arabian-Eurasia continental collision.

  2005: Professor David Thomas (Oxford University Centre for the Environment). 'Arabian quaternary climate changes'

 2005: Dr Heba Abdel Aziz (Ministry of Tourism). 'Reconstructing Omani Nomadic landscape'

The project assessed the impact of tourism on the nomadic lifestyle existing in the eastern province of Oman, following a significant increase in tourist numbers: Which resulted in a higher demand on the cultural and natural assets of the region represented by the indigenous nomadic communities and their habitats.

About the Award

By the kind generosity of His Majesty Qaboos bin Said al Said, Sultan of Oman, the Society offers two annual Fellowships, as a memorial to Sir Wilfred Thesiger.

The annual Fellowships reflect Thesiger’s interests in the peoples and environments of the desert. Thesiger travelled in arid environments extensively, both during his service in World War Two and for research. There are several books documenting Thesiger’s adventures; Arabian Sands (1959) recounts his travels in the Empty Quarter of Arabia between 1945 and 1950 and describes the vanishing way of life of the Bedouins.

The annual Fellowships were established in 2005.

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