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Monica Cole Research Grant

The Monica Cole Research Grant offers £1,000 each year to a physical geography undergraduate or postgraduate student undertaking original fieldwork overseas.

About the Award

Born in 1922, Monica Cole was a leader in the field of geo-botany. She held the position of Chair of Geography at Bedford College for many years. Shortly after her retirement in 1975, she received the Society's Murchison Medal for major contributions to the geography of South Africa and to the understanding of savannas.

Applicants must be registered at a UK Higher Education Institution.

Deadline: 3 February annually


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: Jennifer Snell (Newcastle University) The response and recovery of the glacier, proglacial lakes, and river system at Skeiðarárjökull, to the December 2021 jökulhlaup

A jökulhlaup occurred at Skeiðarárjökull, SE Iceland, with a peak discharge of
2,800m3/s on the 5th December 2021. The flood flowed through a cascade of proglacial lakes along the Gígjukvísl river and across Skeiðarársandur a recently decoupled proglacial system. This study will assess the impact of the jökulhlaup and subsequent recovery of the glacier, proglacial lakes and fluvial system at Skeiðarárjökull. This involves mapping the proglacial lakes,
glacier margin, icebergs and river channel using GIS software. Alongside this, bathymetric surveys of a proglacial lake and UAS surveys of the Gígjukvísl will be carried out, allowing for change to be quantified. 


2024: Joshua Abrahams (University of Leeds) The Impact of Wind Direction Variability on Glacier Melt

The increasing fragility and ongoing recession of glaciers worldwide pose problems for water supply, food security, and flood risk for millions of people across the globe. Mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet, in particular, has significant climatological ramifications. It is therefore crucial that reliable projections of glacier melt can be generated to help mitigate the environmental and socio-economic implications of glacier mass loss. This investigation seeks to establish the role of wind direction variability as a potential driver of variation in surface heat fluxes, in order to constrain uncertainty in glacial surface melt calculations. 


2023: Gwyneth Rivers (Sheffield Hallam University). 'Using transverse ridge morphometry to understand ice sheets in high spatiotemporal resolution'

Geomorphology and geochronology are critical inputs to constrain ice sheet reconstructions, and thus numerical ice sheet models. This project aims to significantly increase the spatiotemporal resolution of ice margin reconstructions for the deglaciation of part of the Fennoscandian Ice Sheet (FIS) by taking advantage of abundant, but hitherto overlooked, landforms: De Geer moraines (DGMs). DGMs potentially record annual ice margin positions over centuries of deglaciation. This project builds on geomorphological mapping already undertaken for ~annual margins, and will use (1) sedimentology and geophysics to better understand DGM formation, and (2) geochronology of erratic boulders to provide absolute age brackets.


2022: Maike Nowatzki (University of Oxford). 'Exploring morphological drivers of dunefields in southern Africa using deep learning, satellite imagery, and field-based approaches' 

Influenced by drivers such as wind, sediment supply, and topography, dune patterns reflect the climatic and geomorphic conditions throughout a dunefield’s evolutionary history. This work develops a deep learning framework using neural networks and satellite imagery to map dunes and quantify dunefield patterns. The model will be applied to dunefields in the Kalahari and Namib, and its results will be used to explore the relationship between detected patterns and their potential drivers. The assessment of the applicability and validity of the model and its results will be based on field data.


2022: Lucy Weidner (University of Edinburgh).

The IPCC identifies soil carbon sequestration as an effective option for mitigating rising CO2 concentrations; however the oxidation of soil organic carbon (SOC) due to erosion is a key pathway for augmenting CO2 in the atmosphere. It is crucial this release pathway is better understood given the importance of carbon cycling to climate science. Iceland, characterised by severe soil erosion, is a natural laboratory to study the relationship between soil erosion and organic carbon. This project aims to track the movement of carbon over the last few thousand years through the landscape around a well-studied archaeological site in southern Iceland.


2022: Diana Jerome (University of Edinburgh). 'The effect of forest management and climate change on boreal shrubs'

Climate change is impacting northern latitudes at faster rates than the rest of the world. In boreal forests, climate change has led to increased tree growth from warming in some areas and decreased tree growth from drought in others. However, there is little research on the effect of climate change on boreal shrubs. Cooler microclimates from tree cover can protect understory plants from climate change; clearcutting removes this buffer. Conversely, tree thinning preserves continuous cover. I will assess the effect of climate change on boreal shrubs in stands after clearcutting and in stands with continuous cover in Finnish boreal forests.


2021: Velveth Perez (University of Glasgow). 'A geological and geographical study of Ljótipollur’s violent eruption: what to learn from the past and how to prepare for the future'

This project aims to understand the formation of an unusual volcanic feature that has involved both the violent destruction of existing landscape, and the construction of a new volcanic landscape. This will be achieved using a combination of GIS, drone mapping, logging of deposits, and field-based measurements. The primary outcome of this project will be a greater understanding of the hazards from a future eruption of this type. This new understanding will feed into a wider hazard mitigation plan that may save the lives of the increasing number of tourists who flock to this extraordinary landscape of exceptional natural beauty. 


2021: Sarah Easter (Aberystwyth University). 'Investigation into contaminant transport, mineral-microbe interaction and geochemistry within temperate glacier surfaces'

Supraglacial surfaces are sensitive to the changing climate. Under melt scenarios, dynamic porous ‘weathered’ layers develops. This permeable layer, with the presence of a water table, forms an aquifer-like system supporting both saturated and unsaturated ice crystal environments. The ‘weathering crust’ has capabilities to regulate the transportation, storage, and release of both natural and anthropogenic impurities and microbial communities to the wider glaciological hydraulic system and downstream environments. This undoubtedly has wide ranging implications, however, to date, the hydrological properties of the weathering crust in relation to the impurity and microbial contribution to the local environment is relatively underexplored. 


2020: Lauren Rawlins (University of York). 'Investigation into microchannel networks on the Greenland Ice Sheet' (subject to final approval)

Supraglacial channels are an integral component of glacial meltwater transport and are key to examining surface mass balance losses from the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) and its projected contribution to global sea level rise. Whilst Greenland’s large-scale surface hydrology is visible in satellite imagery, a smaller secondary system made up of microchannels, observable only from in-situ studies, operates within the ice sheets marginal regions. Individually these microchannels may look trivial, however collectively they form dense, widespread networks across the ice surface, which are yet to be quantified or explored across Greenland.


2019: Ruusa-Magano David (Durham University). 'Land transition and climate change: patterns, drivers and vulnerability of vegetation in southern Africa.'

Southern Africa is widely acknowledged to be particularly vulnerable to climatic changes, whereby the impacts are expected to exert significant influence on savanna vegetation abundance and biome degradation. It is therefore important to understand the effects and interaction of climate, terrain, and anthropogenic activities on vegetation distribution and how this is changing over time. This project seeks to unlock a 35-year archive of remote sensing imagery and climate data, enabled by recent developments in cloud-based computing, to build new models to quantify savannah vegetation change.


2018: Amy Holt (University of Bristol). 'Subglacial weathering: an overlooked control on silica export to polar oceans'

Biogeochemical cycling of silicon (Si) exerts an important control on atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), and hence the global climate. Over geologic timescales, high inputs of Si from terrestrial sources into oceans increases primary productivity, sequestering CO2. Previous perceptions have neglected cryospheric impact on the cycle. However, recent observations of the Greenland ice sheet show proglacial waters are enriched in Si. Therefore, in order to have a representative Si cycle, further confirmation of the controls on subglacial Si weathering are needed.


2018: Nicole Kühn (University of Oxford). 'Linking aboveground plant reponse to belowground traits in a drier South Africa'

This research looks at a potential plant strategy for coping with water stress: having deeper roots to access deeper water resources. The aim of the research is to determine the relationship between rooting depth and above ground plant response to water stress. South Africa is an interesting study location due to the major functional diversity within and amongst biomes and because the region is predicted to become hotter and drier, making adaptation to water stress an important feature for survival.


2017: Cathy Smith (University of Edinburgh). 'Wildfire in the savannahs of southern Belize: historical and contemporary perspectives'

Belizean pine savannahs evolved with recurrent anthropogenic fire, yet the current, near-annual, frequency of fires supresses pine regeneration. Using archival materials and charcoal sediment cores, this project looks at the historical role that fire has played in the Deep River Forest Reserve. Working with local organisations and communities whose livelihoods involve fire use, the project’s findings will be used to inform ecological management and a more sustainable level of fire use.


2015: Jayne Kamintzis (Aberystwyth University). 'Spatial variations in supraglacial runoff and their impact on glacial velocity at the beginning of the ablation season, Haut Glacier d'Arolla, Switzerland'

This research aims to explore spatial variations of supraglacial streams at Haut Glacier d’Arolla, Switzerland, with daily hydrological measurements establishing the impact of runoff fluctuations on stream evolution and ice velocity over short timescales at the beginning of the ablation season.


2014: Jonathan David Hassall (University of Southampton). 'Reconstructing Holocene palaeoclimate and tropical cyclone activity in the South Pacific from terrestrial sediment archives'

By collecting climate proxies stored within lake sediments in Samoa, this project seeks to reconstruct the magnitude and rate of past climatic changes across the South Pacific Convergence Zone. The data collected will be used to aid understanding of global energy fluxes, inter-hemisphere climate links and cyclone activity.


2013: Ana Prohaska (University of Oxford). 'Ecological responses of the lowland rainforests of Southeast Asia to past climatic changes: new lessons for conservation'

Traditionally, conservation response has been hindered by poor understanding of the biological consequences of large changes in temperature and precipitation. To address this important knowledge gap, this project pioneered the investigation of the vegetation response of Southeast Asian lowland rainforests to past rainfall shifts, and applied findings toward advancing modeling predictions of rainforest dynamics under future climate scenarios.


2012: Christopher John Thorpe-Dixon (University of Plymouth). 'Conservation along the Indian Western Ghats'

The project aimed to meet the needs defined by the Indian Government in its Fourth National Report to the Conservation of Biodiversity and of its working party the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) to establish baseline data for the designation of areas for protection.


2011: Rocio Beatriz Urrutia (University of Oxford). 'Carbon productivity in millennial Fitzroya cupressoides (Molina) Johnston forests in Southern Chile, its climatic controls and projections under climate change scenarios'

The project was undertaken in the temperate rainforests of Southern South America assessing the endangered species of Fitzroya cupressoides, specifically observing the unique species` productivity, as well as evaluating the main climatic and environmental factors driving its production.


2010: Sarah-Jane Phelan (University of Exeter). 'Quantification of the impact of climate change on landscape evolution as mediated by plant community dynamics'

This project quantified the impact of climate change on the physical landscape as mediated by interactions between vegetation cover and catchment erosion rates.


2009: Dorothy Sanders (Durham University). 'Kosovo’s poisoned generation? : Peri-urban agriculture as a pathway for the human uptake of heavy metal pollution from the Zvečan smelter, Trepca Mine Complex, Kosovo'

Exposure to heavy metal pollutants from smelting processes represents one of the most dangerous environmental health hazards globally, resulting in a large number of deaths and disabilities. The project conducted a systematic investigation of heavy metal pollutants in peri-urban agriculture, addressing knowledge gaps surrounding the degree, sources and dispersal pathways of pollution, and the nature of subsequent human exposure through ingestion of crops.


2008: Kate Armstrong (University of Edinburgh). 'Testing Wallace's Line as a biogeographical barrier for the pantropical tree manilkara (Sapotaceae)'

Manilkara is a genus in the Sapotaceae consisting of c. 81 species distributed throughout the tropics (30 South and Central American, 37 African and 14 SE Asian and Polynesian). Its distribution in Asia stretches from India to Samoa. The Indonesian species of Manilkara are central to understanding the group’s speciation and biogeographical history in the region. The project investigated the effect of Wallace’s Line as a biogeographical barrier for Manilkara and its implications for biodiversity and geography in SE Asia.


2007: Natasha Barlow (Durham University). 'Isostasy, eustasy and tectonics in Southern Alaska'

The project sort to unravel the complex history of relative sea level fluctuation in Southern Alaska during the last 1000 years, particularly researching the special variations of crustal response to glacier loading.


2004: Dominique Chaput (University of Oxford). 'Dynamics of microbiological weathering communities in a high Arctic ecosystem'

This project addressed the knowledge gaps surrounding the dynamics of biological weathering communities in cold environments. It investigated the responses of such communities to changes in physical parameters, focusing on shifts in community composition (and thus in weathering type and severity) that may accompany climate warming.


2001: Helen Bray (University of Oxford). 'Late quaternary palaeoenvironmental reconstruction of the Arabian peninsula'

This study established a precise chronology and explanation for Late Quaternary dune mobility and humid phase deposits of the Arabian Peninsula. Most explanations for changing dune systems cite altering wind conditions as a major factor, placing less emphasis on parameters such as sediment supply and age, in determining dune field structure. This research investigated uncertainties regarding the factors of importance in the formation of dune systems.


1998: Anne-Marie Nuttall (University of Bristol)'Assessing the impact of superimposed ice formation on the glacier mass balance of north west Svalbard'

On many glaciers in the Arctic, superimposed ice (SI) forms at the base of the snow-pack during winter and spring by refreezing of meltwater. It is believed to form a significant proportion of the mass balance budget for Svalbard glaciers. Traditional methods of measuring mass balance do not take into account this accumulation of SI. This project sought to further understanding of SI formation and its significance for mass balance measurements on Spitsbergen through the combination of a field and laboratory study and numerical modelling.


1995: Sarah Selby (University of Edinburgh). 'Groundwater salinity and its relationship with plant composition and distribution on a wetland/savannah transition in the Rio Bravo Conservation Area, north west Belize'

Research attempted to ascertain the importance of soil and water salinity in contributing to plant composition and distribution in wetland and savannah areas within the Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area in North West Belize. The results led to a proposal for long term monitoring in the area which contributed to conservation management plans.