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An arid landscape with tall, jagged rock formations. There are low shrubs and trees surrounding the foot of the formation.

Thesiger-Oman Fellowships

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

About the Award

The Thesiger-Oman International Fellowships offer two awards annually of £8,000 to post-doctoral researchers to advance geographical knowledge, involving fieldwork, in an arid or semi-arid environment. Preference will be given to research in the Middle East and other areas visited by Sir Wilfred Thesiger. One award is given for human and one for physical geography. These awards were founded with the support of the late Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said al-Said as a memorial to Thesiger.

Applicants must be Fellows or members of the Society with at least three years' post-doctoral experience. The Fellowships are open to applicants of any nation. Individuals or groups may apply for this award.

Deadline: 23 November


Apply now

All prospective grant applicants are encouraged to read our Advice and Resources pages, which include more information about the grants programme, its conditions, how to apply for a grant and what is expected if your application is successful. Please read this information carefully and send your application, or any enquiries, by email to


Previous recipients

2024: Professor John Wainwright (Durham University). 'Landscapes of Transformation: The Taș Tepeler of Southeast Türkiye' 

Southeast Türkiye contains records of critical change in the ways people interacted with their environments in the early Holocene. We will use remote sensing and map analyses to assess optimal locations for sampling sedimentary archives recording this change, and carry out fieldwork
to collect cores and other samples. The project will provide the samples required for detailed subsequent analyses and modelling approaches to understanding landscape evolution under human pressures in the Palaeoanthropocene.

2024: Dr Abi Stone (University of Manchester). 'RiVER Routes into Vleis: Environmental Reconstruction of conditions facilitating hominin occupation in the northern Namib Sand Sea'

How and why our ancestors inhabited the inhospitable Namib Sand Sea is likely to have depended on freshwater availability in now dry interdune pan sites, derived directly from rainfall, surface channels, groundwater, or some combination. This project will identify and map relict river courses in proximity to existing archaeology-rich pan sites using remote sensing, to guide targeted examination of sediments and sampling in the field. This allows us to evaluate if and how, landscape elements connected. In doing so this project will provide a valuable palaeoenvironmental record for greater moisture availability to understand the environmental dynamics of this now hyper-arid region.


2023: Professor Kathryn Fitzsimmons (University of Tübingen, Germany). 'Assessing the risk of sediment mobilisation in Central Asian drylands in the context of climate change'

Central Asia – dominated by high mountains and deserts - faces substantial challenges from future climate change by virtue of its physical setting and socioeconomic situation. This project addresses our gap in understanding of sediment mobilisation associated with desertification, and the role played by climate change. After analysing the recent climatic and hydrological setting of the Panj catchment on the Tajik-Afghan border, we will characterise the aeolian, fluvial and mass-movement sediments mobilised by these conditions. In doing so we aim to identify threshold conditions for sediment mobilisation, and to assess the risk of future mobilisation, in the context of climate change.

2023: Dr Samuel De Canio (King’s College London). 'Bedouin Civilization Project' 

This project interviews Bedouin in Saudi Arabia to create an archive of knowledge regarding Bedouin life. The project asks them about their customs and culture, preserving priceless knowledge about their daily lives. The project documents Bedouin culture both to further academic study and create a significant public resource for anyone interested in learning about Bedouin culture. The project relies upon Saudi citizens to interview Bedouin about their daily lives, customs, tribal structures, and their relationship with modern technology. The project also records Bedouin reciting their favourite poems and asking them about their meaning, offering insight into a rich oral heritage.


2022: Dr Samuel Derbyshire (University of Oxford). 'Managing uncertainty: a visual ethnography of pastoralism and environmental change in Turkana, northern Kenya​'

This project will explore how pastoralist communities in the remote, arid Turkana region of northern Kenya are managing heightened environmental uncertainty associated with climate change. It will do so by deploying a rare collection of Sir Wilfred Thesiger’s photographs as research tools amidst an exhaustive, multi-sited ethnographic research strategy spanning six months of fieldwork. By documenting regional perspectives, recollections and knowledges, the project will make critical contributions to scholarly debates about the relationship between drylands pastoralism and uncertainty. It will also seek to positively contribute to the regional development agenda in northern Kenya.


2020: Mark Moritz (Ohio State University). 'An Interdisciplinary Study of Grazing Pressure in the Dhofar Mountains of Oman' 

This research project aims to study grazing pressure in the Dhofar Mountains of Oman by tracking daily herd movements, documenting livestock distributions, and using remote sensing data on available forage resources. Using these data sets the project will examine whether
there is an ideal free distribution of grazing pressure over the available forage resources. The research will advance theoretical understanding of how pastoralists distribute themselves in relation to forage resources in mountain rangelands. A better understanding of
pastoralist management practices and livestock distributions is critical for developing sustainable and equitable rangeland management systems in the Dhofar Mountains.

2020: Matthew Jones (University of Nottingham). 'Holocene Environmental Change in Eastern Jordan' 

New cores from the unique sedimentary archive of the Qa Shubayqa in Jordan’s eastern desert will provide the first continuous record of environmental change during the Holocene for the region. Analysing sedimentation rates and the structure of material that filled this basin, coupled with hydrological and sediment transport modelling, will allow testing of hypotheses regarding the changing of this landscape and precipitation patterns through the Holocene. The results will inform discussion of the sensitivity of dryland, or drying-land, environments to changes in climate and the impact this can have on human populations aiming to exploit the water resources available.


2019: Dr Ash Parton (Oxford Brookes University). 'On the trail of Arabia’s early ancestors: using sedimentary ancient DNA (sedaDNA) to identify past environmental changes and demographic variability'

The study of ancient DNA (aDNA) from archaeological and geoarchaeological contexts provides critical information regarding key demographic events in human history. Situated at the crossroads between Africa and Eurasia, Arabia has witnessed pulses of dispersal to and from these regions in response to major climatic fluctuations. These transformed the ecology of the peninsula, allowing expanding populations to exploit new resources. Utilising the recent development of sedaDNA, this study proposes to obtain DNA from ancient sediments in southern Oman to provide unique quantitative data of past community changes and in so doing, provide an insight into early population responses to past environmental change.

2018: Pieter Vermeesch (University College London). 'A mass balance for mega-blowouts on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau'

The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau contains a number of enigmatic mega-blowout dune fields. Blowouts consist of a bowl-like deflation area and a parabolic aeolian deposition lobe. The proposed research will use a drone to generate a high resolution Digital Elevation Model of these closed aeolian systems. The volume difference between the deflation hollow and the depositional lobe will yield the amount of dust produced by the blowouts. Combining the resulting mass balance calculation with ongoing OSL dating efforts will constrain the dynamic evolution of the area, and offer valuable predictive power to landscape evolution models.


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: Professor 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): 'Into No Man's Land'

Beginning in the town of Nomansland in southern England, this expedition traced 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 culminated in the desert territory of Bir Tawil on the Egypt-Sudan border - the last unclaimed space on Earth. This project was also supported by Land Rover through the use of a Land Rover Discovery Sport vehicle. In June 2019, the team launched Portraits of No Man's Land with Google Arts & Culture.

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.