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The John Hunt Lecture 

Wednesday October 22, TC001, Francis Close Hall, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, 5.30pm.

John HuntBringing environmental issues to life through numerous newspaper and radio interviews locally and nationally, Dr John Hunt’s expertise are wide ranging, from examining the impact of the CSG chemical explosion incident at Sandhurst, to researching layers of volcanic ash in ocean sediments. He is also a leading expert on tephrochronology, or the analysis of volcanic ash.

A familiar face in county life, he’s been president of Tewkesbury and District Friends of the Earth (1998-2005), chair of the Cheltenham Climate Change Forum, and a leading anti-road campaigner.

Dr Hunt, 43, retired last year following a serious stroke, and having joined the institution in 1993, the Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography’s enthusiastic contribution to the University of Gloucestershire is sorely missed by colleagues and students.

On Wednesday October 22 they’ll be celebrating his achievements with two research talks by Professors John Matthews and Alasdair Skelton, followed by a presentation to Dr Hunt.

“John had an exceptional and natural talent for teaching in the lecture room and in the field. His tremendous enthusiasm for his subject rubbed off onto his students. I’m expecting up to 100 people to attend, many of whom are ex-colleagues, but also more than 30 former students,” said friend and colleague David Milan, Senior Lecturer in Physical and Environmental Sciences.

“I’m convinced he’s had a big influence upon their perception and understanding of issues such as climate change, and also stimulated many to undertake research, or pursue careers in the general field of physical geography and environmental science. His work has seen him publish more than 30 papers on climate and past environmental change and lead numerous expeditions to Iceland, the Arctic and Atlantic Islands. The evening should be a fitting tribute to mark the achievements of a great academic.”

Prof John Matthews, from the University of Wales, will be presenting The Jotunheimen Research Expeditions 1970-2008 and Beyond. He was Dr Hunt’s lecturer when he studied in Cardiff. Dr Hunt’s fellow research student, Prof Alasdair Skelton, from the University of Stockholm, will be presenting Coupling of Seismic Activity and Groundwater Chemistry in Northern Iceland.

Dr Hunt was a founder member of the university’s Centre for Environmental Change and Quaternary Research (CECQR), established in 1995 to co-ordinate and promote the research of colleagues in environmental change during the current geological period, the Quaternary.

John became leader of an INQUA (International Quaternary) Commission Group on microanalysis, and has contributed as author to more than 25 research papers these areas.

Dr Hunt led two major international interlaboratory geochemical analytical standardisation programmes involving researchers and laboratories as far afield as New Zealand, Japan, Iceland, East Germany and the USA.

His PhD research involved the finding of layers of volcanic ash in ocean sediments. The volcanic ash layers, called tephra, can be identified geochemicaly. If the same layer is found in separate cores from different locations, it can be used to correlate and date the climate change and environmental change indicators in each core. This uses tephrostratigraphy, the sequence of layers, and tephrochronology, to date the sediments.

With Dr David Lowe (New Zealand) he introduced the term ‘cryptotephra’ (hidden ash) to define volcanic ash layers not visible by the naked eye, but detected only through use of microscopes.  With fellow scientists Dr John Daniell and Professor Frank Chambers of the CECQR, John participated in two European Commission funded international projects: ‘TIMECHS’ (Timing and Mechanism of Environmental Change), led by Prof. Michael O’Connell, National University of Ireland, Galway, and ‘ACCROTELM’ (Abrupt Climate Changes Detected Over The European Land Mass), led from the University of Gloucestershire by colleague Prof. Frank Chambers.  In TIMECHS, the combination of John Daniell’s microscopy and John Hunt’s geochemical expertise allowed the identification of volcanic ash layers from a currently quiescent volcano on the North Atlantic island of Jan Mayen to be detected far away in a deep lake on an island in Galway Bay, western Ireland—this is the ‘Craggy Island’ that features in the opening title sequence of the TV series ‘Father Ted’.  This was the first time that far-travelled ash from Jan Mayen had been found that dates to historical times, suggesting that the volcano is not as quiescent as had been supposed, and that, if the volcano became active again, the emitted ash could pose a serious threat to aviation.

When suffering his stroke, John was working on a technical guide to tephra, for scientists of the UK-based Quaternary Research Association.  It is hoped that scientists from Royal Holloway, University of London and elsewhere will take on the task soon, to ensure its completion.  When finished, it is expected that the volume will be dedicated to John, in recognition of his international research contribution to Quaternary Science.

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