Professor David Thomas

Professor of Geography


Dave was a student at Hertford College from 1977-1984 at a time when Hertford began to be the leading collegiate player in Oxford Geography. In 1984 he completed his D.Phil under Andrew Goudie’s supervision, on long term environmental change in the Kalahari Desert, in under three years, and immediately took up a lectureship at Sheffield University. He rose to become Professor and Head of Department and, after 20 years there, returned to Oxford in 2004 as University Statutory Professor of Geography, which holds a Fellowship at Hertford. Dave was elected Head of the School of Geography and Environment (SoGE) in 2008, completing his term in 2012. He has been Vice-President of the Royal Geographical Society, President of the British Geomorphological Research Group (now the British Society for Geomorphology), and he was a member of the 2008 Geography and Environmental studies panel in the UK Research Assessment Exercise. He is presently a member of the UK  Research Excellence Framework (REF) panel for Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Studies, which reports in 2014.  In 2006 he was appointed as an Honorary Professor at the University of Cape Town in recognition of his contributions to geograpohic scinec in Africa, and in 2011 he received the Farouk El-Baz Award for Desert Research from the Geological Society of America.

Undergraduate teaching 

Dave lectures in the School of Geography and Environment on first and second year courses on geomorphology, environmental change and human interactions. In the Final Honours School he also contributes to options on Dryland Environments and Quaternary Environmental Change.

Postgraduate teaching 

Dave contributes to elective courses on Masters programmes in SoGE, and supervises doctoral students working on Quaternary and dryland projects around the world, especially in Africa.


Dave's research expertise focuses primarily on geomorphological aspects of environmental and climatic dynamics in drylands and deserts, at a range of temporal scales. He works on projects that investigate landscape responses to long term climate change as well as modern human interventions; aeolian process dynamics; the relationships between environmental change in the Quaternary Period and early human development and mobility; and on potential landscape and sedimentary interactions with climate change in the future. He has spent many field seasons working in the world’s dryland regions, especially in Africa but also in other areas including Arabia and the Middle East, placing particular emphasis on the value of rigorous fieldwork, backed up with appropriate laboratory, analytical and modelling methods. His interests in drylands have also led to research engagement with social scientists on topics such as desertification and, recently, the relationships between environmental change and human migration. Dave is currently Principal or Co-Investigator on three major research projects: Floods and droughts: Late Quaternary environmental dynamics in the Upper Zambezi Valley (funded by the Leverhulme Trust); Climatic hazards in the Gobi Desert (also funded by Leverhulme); and Dust Observations for models: Linking a new dust source-area data set to improved physically-based dust emission schemes in climate models (funded by NERC). From 2009 to 2012 he was also a Lead Expert on a UK Government Foresight project investigating the potential relationships between future environmental changes and human migration.


Dave has authored over 125 papers in international refereed journals, 30 papers in conference and other edited proceedings,  and 10 books. Recent outputs include:

Journal Articles


Thomas DSG. 2012. Reconstructing paleoenvironments and palaeoclimates in drylands: what can landform analysis contribute? Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. DOI: 10.1002/esp.3190.

Thomas DSG, Burrough SL, Parker A.2012. Extreme events as drivers of early human behaviour in Africa? The case for variability, not catastrophic drought. Journal of Quaternary Science 27,7-12.

Thomas DSG, Burrough SL 2012 Interpreting geo-proxies of late Quaternary climate change in African drylands: implications for understanding environmental and early human behaviour. Quaternary International. 253: 5-17. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2010.11.001 (2010).

Burrough SL, Thomas DSG, Davies L, Bailey R. 2012 From landform to process: morphology anf formation of lake-bed barchan dunes, Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Geomorphology 161-162: 1-14.

Holmes PM, Thomas DSG, Bateman MD, Wiggs GFS, Rabumbulu M. 2012. Evidence for land degradation from aeolian sediment in the western central Free State Province, South Africa. Land Degradation and Development DOI: 10.1002/ldr.2177

Stone AEC, Thomas DSG 2012 Casting new light on late Quaternary environmental and palaeohydrological change in the Namib Desert: a review of the application of optically stimulated luminescence in the region. Journal of Arid Environments.  In press.

Atkinson OAC, Thomas DSG, Goudie AS, Parker A. 2012 Holocene development of multiple dune generations in the northeast Rub’ al-Khali, United Arab Emirates. The Holocene 22, 179-189.

King C, Thomas DSG. 2012 Monitoring environmental change and degradation in the Northern Sahara endorheic basins. Journal of Arid Environments. In press.

King C, Hope R, Thomas DSG.2012 Dates, degradation and development: international market effects on land and groundwater resources in the Nefzaoua Region, Southern Tunisia, 1994-2009. Land Degradation and Development. Revisions In press



Black R, Adger WN, Arnell NW, Dercon S, Geddes A, Thomas DSG. 2011. The effect of environmental change on human migration. Global Environmental Change 21S, S3-S11.

Atkinson OAC, Thomas DSG, Goudie AS, Bailey RM 2011 Late Quaternary chronology of major dune ridge development in the northeast Rub' al-Khali, United Arab Emirates. Quaternary Research 76, 93-105.

Newsham AJ, Thomas DSG 2011 Knowing, farming and climate change adaptation in North-Central Namibia. Global Environmental Change. 21, 761-770.

Thomas DSG 2011 Physical geography classics revisited; A.T. Grove’s 1969 ‘Landforms and climate change in the Kalahari and Ngamiland’. Progress in Physical Geography, 35, 263-266.

Sternberg T, Tsolman R, Middleton N, Thomas D 2011 Tracking desertification on the Mongolian steppe through NDVI and field-survey data. International Journal of Digital Earth, 4: 50-64.

Chase BM, Meadows ME, Scott L, Thomas DSG, Carr AS, Reimer PJ 2011 Late-glacial interhemispheric climate dynamics revealed in South African hyrax middens. Geology 39: 19-22.


Livingstone I, Bristow C, Bryant RG, Bullard J, White K, Wiggs GFS, Baas ACW, Bateman MD, Thomas DSG 2010 The Namib Sand Sea digital database of aeolian dunes and key forcing variables. .Aeolian Research, 2: 93-104.

Telfer MW, Bailey RM,Burrough SL,Stone AES, Thomas DSG, Wiggs GSF2010 Understanding linear dune chronologies: Insights from a simple accumulation model. Geomorphology, 120: 195-210.

Sternberg T, Thomas DSG, Middleton NJ 2010 Drought dynamics on the Mongolian steppe, 1970-2006. International Journal of Climatology DOI: 10.1002/joc.2195.

Osbahr H, Twyman C, Adger N, Thomas DSG 2010 Evaluating successful livelihood adaptation to climate variability and change in southern Africa. Ecology and Society 15, 2 online at

Stone AEC, Thomas DSG, Viles HA, 2010 Late Quaternary palaeohydrological changes in the northern Namib Sand Sea: New chronologies using OSL dating of interdigitated aeolian and water-lain interdune deposits. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 288: 35-53.


Thomas DSG, Bailey RM, Shaw PA, Durcan J, Singerayer JS 2009 Late Quaternary highstands at Lake Chilwa, Malawi: frequency, timing and possible forcing mechanisms in the last 44ka. Quaternary Science Reviews  28: 526-539.

Richards KA, Batty MB , Edwards KC, Findlay AD, Foody GE, Frostick LF, Jones KG, Lee RH, Livingstone DI, Marsden TJ, Petts JK, Philo CL, Simon DM, Smith SN, Thomas, DSG  2009 The nature of publishing and assessment in Geography and Environmental Studies: Evidence from the Research Assessment Exercise 2008. Area 41: 231-243.

Burrough SL, Thomas DSG, Singerayer JS 2009 Late Quaternary hydrological dynamics in the Middle Kalahari: Forcing and feedbacks. Earth-Science Reviews 96, 4, 313-326.

Chase BM, Meadows ME, Scott L, Thomas DSG, Marais E,  Sealy J, Reimer PJ 2009 A record of rapid Holocene climate change preserved in hyrax middens from southwestern Africa. Geology. 37, 703-706.

Burrough SL, Thomas DSG, Bailey, RM 2009 Mega-Lake in the Kalahari. A 250 kyr record of Palaeolake Makgadikgadi. Quaternary Science Reviews 28: 1392-1411.

Sternberg T, Middleton NJ, Thomas DSG 2009 Pressurised pastoralism in South Gobi, Mongolia: what is the role of drought? Transactions, Institute of British Geographers  NS34, 364-377.

Sallu SM, Twyman C, Thomas DSG 2009 The multidimensional nature of biodiversity and social dynamics and implications for contemporary rural livelihoods in remote Kalahari settlements, Botswana. African Journal of Ecology 47 (Suppl. 1): 110–118. 101.        

Burrough SL, Thomas DSG 2009 Geomorphological contributions to palaeolimnology on the African continent. Geomorphology 103: 285-298.


Thomas DSG, Wiggs GFS 2008. Aeolian system responses to global change: challenges of scale, process and temporal integration. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms  33: 1396-1418.

Thomas DSG 2008 Are poverty and land degradation inevitable in desert-prone areas? Viewpoints. Natural Resources Forum 32: 77-80.

Telfer MW, Thomas DSG, Parker AG, Walkington H, Finch AA 2008 Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating and palaeoenvironmental studies of pan (playa) sediment from Witpan, South Africa. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 273: 50-60.

Holmes PJ, Bateman MD, Thomas DSG, Telfer MW, Barker CH, Lawson MP 2008 A Holocene late Pleistocene aeolian record from lunette dunes in the western Free State panfield, South Africa. The Holocene 18: 1193-1205.

Stone AEC, Thomas DSG 2008 Linear dune accumulation chronologies from the southwest Kalahari, Namibia: challenges of reconstructing late Quaternary palaeoenvironments from aeolian landforms. Quaternary Science Reviews 27: 1667-1681.

Burrough SL, Thomas DSG 2008 Late Quaternary lake level fluctuations in the Mababe Depression: Middle Kalahari palaeolakes and the role of Zambezi inflows. Quaternary Research  69: 388-403.

Stevens T, Lu H, Thomas DSG, Armitage SJ 2008. Optical dating of abrupt shifts in the late Pleistocene East Asian monsoon. Geology  36: 415-418.




Thomas DSG 2011 (editor) Arid Zone Geomorphology: process, form and change in drylands. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester. 624p. A fully rewritten 3rd edition.


Sporton D, Thomas DSG 2002 (editors) Sustainable livelihoods in Kalahari Environments: contributions to global debates.  OUP, Oxford.


Thomas DSG, Goudie AS 2000 (editors) Dictionary of physical geography. 3rd edition. Basil Blackwell, Oxford.


Middleton NJ, Thomas DSG 1997 World Atlas of Desertification.  Edward Arnold  UNEP. 182p. Greatly enlarged and fully revised 2nd edition. co -author of core text, editor of contributions to final section.

Thomas DSG 1997 (editor) Arid Zone Geomorphology: process, form and change in drylands.  John Wiley, Chichester 632p. A fully rewritten and greatly enlarged 2nd edition of the 1989 book.

Thomas DSG, Middleton NJ 1995 Desertification:  Exploding the Myth.  John Wiley, Chichester.

Thomas DSG,. Allison RJ 1993 (editors) Landscape Sensitivity, John Wiley, 350p  BGRG Symposia series.

Middleton NJ, Thomas DSG 1992 World Atlas of Desertification.  Edward Arnold  UNEP. 69p  (authors of the atlas text).

Thomas DSG, Shaw PA 1991 The Kalahari Environment, Cambridge University Press, 284p. Reprinted 2010.

Thomas DSG 1989 (editor) Arid Zone Geomorphology, Belhaven Press (UK), John Wiley, (USA), 372p.  Also author of five of sixteen chapters.  Paperback edition March 1991, reprinted 1992.



Thomas DSG 2012 Aeolian Palaeoenvironments of desert landscapes. Treatise on Geomorphology Vol. 11 Aeolian Geomorphology  Elsevier, Oxford.

Thomas DSG and Shaw PA 2012 Terminal basins: lacustrine and pan systems. in Holmes PJ and Meadows M (eds) Geomorphology of Southern Africa. Stuik, Cape Town.

Thomas DSG and Wiggs GFS 2012 Aeolian systems. in Holmes PJ and Meadows M (eds) Geomorphology of Southern Africa. Stuik, Cape Town.


Meadows ME and Thomas DSG 2009 Tropical savannas. In Slaymaker O, Spencer T, Embleto-Hamann C (eds)   Geomorphology and Global Environmental Change.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


Thomas DSG 2007. The challenge of global warming: Impacts on desertification in 21st century Africa. In King C et al. (eds). Desertification and the International Policy Imperative. United Nations University, Montreal: 290-295.