Invitation to a public lecture on Wetlands in the highlands and the lowlands: reinterpreting African landscapes through Quaternary palaeoecology.

Royal Society of South Africa and the Academy of Science of South Africa invite you to a free public lecture by Prof Michael E Meadows, Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, University of Cape Town, South Africa, and Department of Geographic Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China, on Wetlands in the highlands and the lowlands: reinterpreting African landscapes through Quaternary palaeoecology.



Reconstructing environmental change in Africa presents particular challenges due to the fact that sedimentary sequences are relatively rare, unevenly distributed and difficult to interpret.  In a research career spanning four decades, the author has grappled with these challenges and, through a combination of good fortune, collaboration with excellent researchers and students coupled with dogged determination (this latter attribute learned from his supervisor), has been able to reproduce credible environmental histories spanning the last glacial and interglacial cycle in localities that hitherto had not produced any.  In this lecture I explore some of the archives and methods that have proved most useful in improving scientific understanding of the changing nature of south-central and southern African environments and the factors that have driven such dynamics.  These methods range from the more conventional, such as analysis of the usual well-known palaeoecological proxies on sediment cores extracted from lakes and wetlands, to less widely applied types of evidence based on accumulations of fossil dung and urine.   The emerging complex picture of south-central and southern African environmental history during the geologically recent past emanating from these studies remains difficult to interpret, but reinforces the need to keep searching for longer and more continuous records that will enable us to address key questions about climate forcing mechanisms, reliable answers to which are essential to understanding how the region may respond to global climate change in the future.   The evolving relationship between people (prehistoric, historic and modern) and landscape is an additional and important incentive to continuing to seek reliable answers to questions about the nature of environmental history in in the region. 


About the Speaker

Prof Mike Meadows is in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Science at the University of Cape Town and was Head of Department from 2001-2017.  He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Sussex and a PhD from the University of Cambridge.  Meadows has authored or co-authored more than 150 peer-reviewed research articles and edited several special editions of international journals.  Major works include the co-edited Southern African Geomorphology (Sun, 2012) and Geomorphology and Society (Springer, 2016).  His research interests lie in the broader realm of physical geography, more specifically concerning Quaternary environmental change and the geomorphological and biogeographical impacts of natural and human-induced climate change.  In his reconstructions of past southern African environments, Meadows has engaged with a range of proxies, including pollen, diatoms, biomarkers, stable isotope geochemistry and sedimentology, using evidence from lakes, wetlands and, more unusually, accumulations of faecal and urine material deposited by Hyrax capensis. Professor Meadows was Secretary-General and Treasurer of the International Geographical Union from 2010-18 and is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, of the Royal Society of South Africa and of the Society of South African Geographers, and of the University of Cape Town.  He holds a Distinguished Professorship at East China Normal University, and is visiting Professor at the Institute of Geographical Research and Natural Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Date:     Wednesday 20 February 2019

Time:    17h00 (Tea will be served from 16h30)

Place:    South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) Auditorium, Observatory Road, Observatory*

*Directions to SAAO Auditorium : From the N2, turn off to the M57 – Liesbeek Parkway; turning in the direction of Cape Town and continue until the traffic lights with Hartleyvale (hockey and football) on your left. Turn right at traffic lights into Observatory Road, pass the River Club; the S A Astronomical Observatory is next on the left. Once through the security gates bear left following the SALT signs to the auditorium i.e. last building on the left (white with stoep & ramp). PLEASE DO NOT PARK IN FRONT OF DRIVEWAYS