The IPA celebrates the Charles Harris Symposium

c_harris_symposiumA symposium that celebrated Professor Charles Harris’ contributions to permafrost and periglacial research was held on 25th September 2009 at UMR Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) 6143 “M2C” / University of Caen, France.

The outputs of the symposium as well as photo and video material from Charles Harris’ research are now available at:

Charles retired in August 2008, after a long and distinguished career of periglacial and permafrost research, and teaching at Cardiff University. His research has focused on periglacial slope processes, integrating field monitoring, laboratory experiments and Quaternary geology. More recently, he has led a major project on permafrost and climate in Europe (PACE), and for many years has been a leader of periglacial geomorphology in the UK and Europe. He is a past Vice-President of the International Permafrost Association, and is currently an associate editor of the journal Permafrost and Periglacial Processes.

The symposium was organized by Julian Murton and Marianne Font on behalf of the IPA Working Group on Periglacial Landforms, Processes and Climate and the British Permafrost and Periglacial Association. The symposium brought together more than 20 permafrost and periglacial scientists and friends from France, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Canada, Japan and the UK (see accompanying photograph). Absent friends from Svalbard, New Zealand, Canada and Wales sent messages of good wishes for Charles’ retirement.

By way of introduction, Hans Hubberten, on behalf of the IPA, thanked Charles for his contribution to permafrost science and the IPA. Toni Lewowicz then provided an illustrated summary of Charles’ research, spanning trips to Norway, Arctic Canada, Svalbard and the wilds of Wales.

The symposium comprised four themes that demonstrated the breadth of Charles’ research contributions:
Theme 1: Arctic Monitoring & Laboratory Modelling
•    Field-laboratory integration of solifluction processes (Charles Harris)
•    Solifluction modelling (Martina Kern-Lütschg)
•    Permafrost borehole monitoring in Scandinavia and Svalbard (Ketil Isaksen recording)

Theme 2: Mountain Permafrost
•    Rock falls from icy slopes (Wilfried Haeberli)
•    Setting up long-term monitoring of mountain permafrost (Dani Vonder Mühll)
•    Monitoring and modelling strategy of mountain permafrost in Norway and Iceland (Bernd Etzelmüller)
•    The shallow subsurface in mountain permafrost (Stephan Gruber)
•    Rock fissure experiments (Andi Hasler)

Theme 3: Instrumentation, Geophysics & Geotechnics
•    Combining visual and instrumental observations of periglacial soil movements (Norikazu Matsuoka)
•    New geophysical monitoring strategies on permafrost and interpretation models (Christian Hauck)
•    Geotechnical impacts of contemporary climate change on Siberian permafrost (Chris Martin)

Theme 4: Quaternary Science
•    Re-evaluating the origins of Quaternary ramparted depressions in Wales (Neil Ross)
•    Carno revisited – a detailed investigation of upland slope terrace features in mid-Wales (Adrian Humpage)
•    Identification of Younger Dryas outburst flood path from Lake Agassiz to the Arctic Ocean (Julian Murton)
A number of these presentations will be published in a special issue of Permafrost and Periglacial Processes dedicated to Charles.

After the talks, Charles was presented with a retirement cake by Della Murton. Following this, a tour of the cold-room facilities and introduction to recent periglacial experiments was led by Marianne Font & Andi Hasler. Charles has worked in the cold rooms since the late 1980s, carrying out a series of pioneering experiments in collaboration with colleagues from Caen, and it was very nice to celebrate this day with Jean-Pierre Coutard, Jean-Pierre Lautridou and Jean-Claude Ozouf. Afterwards, dinner was held in a local restaurant. In all, this was a stimulating and very happy occasion, and it was appropriate to share it with Charles’ colleagues from Caen and elsewhere. We all wish Charles and his wife, Sue, a long and happy retirement in South Wales.

Julian Murton and Marianne Font