Iain Stewart

Rocks star

28 February 2011

Dr Iain Stewart brought geology to the masses when his series 'Journeys from the Centre of the Earth' hit screens in 2004. Since then, his TV career has taken him to all corners of the planet — from the frozen lakes of Serbia to the freezing lochs of Scotland.

Worth the gamble

Geology and risk. For most people, these are not two things that often go hand in hand. But for geologist Iain Stewart, a healthy approach to risk has been a common theme throughout his career.

While many academics would be content with a position as a lecturer, Iain left his post at Brunel University to pursue a career in television. It was a bold move, but one that's paid off. Since 2004, Iain has made several documentary series including 'Earth: The Power of the Planet', 'Hot Rocks' and, most recently, 'Making Scotland's Landscape' and 'Men of Rock'. Now he's got the best of both worlds - juggling his TV work with an academic position as Professor of Geoscience Communication at the University of Plymouth.

But Iain has continued to take risks - including abseiling into a live volcano for one of his documentaries. In fact, he's passionate about the more dramatic aspects of his science and much of his research focuses on earth hazards and natural disasters - in particular major earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions in the Mediterranean.

"There's more to geology than just rocks. In four and a half million years of history, a lot of things have happened - earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, dinosaurs... all very exciting stuff."

But it's not just the big events in the history of the earth that interest Iain. He is also fascinated by the subtler ways in which geoscience affects how the planet works - and the implications this has for us as society: "Geology is about looking at what happened in the past so that we can get an understanding of what's happening now - and in the future."

In his series, 'Climate Wars', for example, Iain explored the history of climate change and how it impacts the planet today - an area he's particularly interested in exploring further. And the Met Office is the first place he turns for advice on the subject. As he says, when it comes to climate change: "People don't listen to academics, they listen to the Met Office."

A sense of adventure

As a child, Iain dreamt of becoming an explorer. And his documentary work has allowed him to do just that, travelling to many far-flung places.

He's visited the volcano Erta Ale in Ethiopia - with its giant pools of moving lava - which, as Iain puts it, shows in miniature how the whole planet works. And he's seen for himself the frozen lakes of Siberia, which leak methane and shoot out jets of flame.

His latest series, however, was based a little closer to home - in his native Scotland. During the six months of filming, Iain trekked around the country, rediscovering places he once visited as a child on family holidays.

Iain's nostalgic trip made him appreciate his homeland all the more - so much so that he's planning to holiday in Scotland with his own family. But that might have to wait, as his next series is taking him round the globe once again - to discover how plants have changed the world. This is geology. But not as we know it.

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