Early Career Spotlight

Chris Hackney

Tell us about yourself:

Hi, in Chris Hackney, I'm a NUAcT fellow at Newcastle University in the UK. I received my PhD from the University of Southampton in 2013 and then went on to be a post-doc on a NERC funded project on the Mekong River in Cambodia. I moved to the University of Hull as a research fellow in 2016 where I've continued working on some of the world's largest river systems (Mekong, Irawdday, Mississippi). I moved up to Newcastle only a month ago, so I'm still finding my feet there. I have a young family which has completely changed my view on life and not just because I now regularly see the hours of 3am most days!

What is your research about?

My research is focused on understanding how the world's rivers and deltas move sediment and water through their systems. I'm interested in the role that varying flow stage plays in defining sediment transport pathways and what impacts this has for flood risk and delta growth. I'm also really interested in how our actions as humans alter the physical processes of sediment and water flow, and what this means for system stability, especially in the case of river sand mining which happens all over the world.

What excites you about your research?

I get to work in some really cool places with my research, mostly because there are no big river or delta systems in the UK! Combining that with exciting pieces of kit to measure and monitor bathymetry and flow makes for some really fun and enjoyable trips. Research wise it's always exciting to know that you might be discovering or understanding something for the first time. It's also really good to see that work and knowledge get out to the public.

What broader importance does your research have for society?

The world’s big rivers and deltas are the home to hundreds of millions of people world wide. Their livelihoods and communities are built on sedimentary deposits formed by the water and sediment carried down the rivers over hundred and thousands of years. Over the past 50, years or so we have dramatically changed the way these rivers behave which places these communities at risk. My research tries to understand exactly what these impacts are and how we might mitigate them so we can help protect the homes and livelihoods of these communities.

What inspired you to pursue a career in Earth science?

I've ways enjoyed being outdoors and spent most summer holidays as a child in the Lake District in the UK climbing mountains and hiking. I had a really inspiring secondary school geography teacher who made me go on to study this at university. Here it was field trips to the Alps where we undertook small group research projects that really made me want to pursue this career. That and the support and guidance I've had from friends, family and colleagues over the years.

What are you looking to do after you complete your PhD or postdoc?

Ideally find a permanent position somewhere (the holy grail!) that would mean I could continue to do the research that interests me and help inspire the next generation of earth scientists.

Given unlimited funding and access to resources, what is your dream project that you would pursue?

I would love to investigate how entire delta channel morphologies and flow patterns evolve simultaneously as a flood wave hits and then how they may respond as you alter the channel dimensions. Effectively some real time mapping of flow/form interaction at a delta scale. Clearly this would need a lot of man power and a lot of kit, but just think of the data...

What else do you do?  Any hobbies or interests outside of work?

I play football once or twice a week (not to any high standard) and I have run over ten half marathons (doing a full marathon is a dream one day) but having a year old son means I've not had much time (or energy) for long distance running recently...but does mean I've been able to spend time with my family which is fantastic.

Collecting GPS and ground truth data in the mangroves of the Red River Delta, Vietnam.