School of GeoSciences

School of GeoSciences



Dr. Mikaël Attal

Senior Lecturer in Geomorphology @ the School of GeoSciences - University of Edinburgh

Institute: Earth Science
Room: 1.05b
Address: Institute of Geography, Drummond Street, Edinburgh EH8 9XP
Phone: +44 (0) 131 650 8533
FAX: +44 (0) 131 650 2524


Publications: click here.

Why does teaching matters? See my blog post here.

Research interest: Within the Global Change research group, I am part of the Land Surface Dynamics research group (FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: I combine the analysis of real landscapes (collection of field data, topographic analysis) with numerical modelling and experimental studies to constrain the relationships between tectonics, erosion and the development of topography. My current research focuses on understanding the coupling between hillslopes and rivers, characterizing and quantifying fluvial erosion and transport processes in mountain rivers, and defining the role that sediments play in modulating fluvial erosion rates. My work can help extracting tectonic information from topography, with implication for assessing seismic and landslide hazard. Understanding the release and transfer of sediment can also help retrieving past tectonic and climatic signals in the geological archive (stratigraphy), as well as mitigating risks in sedimentary basins. The risks I am particularly interested in include flooding risk from in-channel sediment aggradation (e.g., response of Himalayan rivers to the recent Nepal 2015 earthquakes), and siltation and heavy metal pollution (e.g., new project on the environmental impact of nickel mining in the Philippines).

If you want to know more about me: Click here to see my CV. Follow me on Twitter:

The School of GeoSciences website:



PhD students:

- LAURA QUICK is investigating sediment dynamics at the front of the Himalayas, from Neogene to modern times.
- BORIS GAILLETON is looking at "post-orogenic evolution of the Carpathian mountain range".
- JUSTINE DOMINGO is investigating sediment and pollutant dispersion in mining-affected areas in the Philippines.
- EMMA GRAF has joined our Himalaya research team to constrain sediment transfer from source to sink.

Starting in 2018:  

- CALLUM STRONG will be investigating the effect of rock types on landscape morphology and the propagation of environmental signals. Location to be determined, probably somewhere with tumultuous rivers that can be paddled by crazy people on kayaks.
- MASOOD REHMAN will be assessing the feasibility of a community-based early warning system on the basis of vulnerability analysis in Balochistan, Pakistan.

Past students:  

- Dr CHRYSTIANN LAVARINI has been looking at "bias in the detrital record due to pebble abrasion". He is now working on geomorphological issues related to mining for Golder, an environmental consultancy in Brazil.
- Dr REBEKAH HARRIES has been "Unravelling climate and tectonic changes in the sediment record using the Jáchal region, South Central Andes as a natural laboratory". She is currently doing a postdoc at the CIGIDEN (Centro de Investigación para la Gestión Integrada del Riesgo de Desastres) in Chile.
- Dr LIZZIE DINGLE has been constraining "River dynamics in the Himalayan foreland basin". She is currently doing a postdoc at Simon Fraser University in Canada.
- Dr FIONA CLUBB has been "Modelling the competition between climatic and geologic control on the development of landscapes". She is currently doing a postdoc in Potsdam before moving to Durham in 2019 to start a Lectureship.
- Dr EDWIN BAYNES has been "Quantifying bedrock erosion during extreme flood events" in Iceland. He is starting a postdoc at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, in 2019.
See Ed's Icelandic videos: Iceland PhD fieldwork June 2012 ----- Iceland PhD fieldwork part 2, August 2012 ----- A field work saga, Iceland 2013 ----- Iceland: a research story.
Listen to Ed talking about his project on Radio New Zealand National (the interview covers many aspects of his project, it's very nice - don't get distracted by the opening sentence!): Podcast.
- Dr MARTIN HURST has been "Using hillslopes as recording devices to investigate how landscapes adjust to tectonic changes". He is now Lecturer at the University of Glasgow.


APPLY FOR A PHD PROJECT IN GEOSCIENCES - Sorry, deadline has passed...

To apply for a PhD or to browse the PhD projects available through the new E4 "Edinburgh Earth, Ecology and Environment" Doctoral Training Partnership funded by the NERC: Please check the deadlines and eligibility before contacting a potential supervisor (most of these projects are available only to UK students or students who have spent the last three years in the UK).

For details on our FACSIMILE-sponsored PhD project entitled "Field testing of numerical models of landscape evolution using the fluvial archive: case study in the Rio Bergantes, Spain":



The Land Surface Dynamics group has released a package to do topographic analyses, including the "chi-analysis" (see Perron and Royden, 2013) which has the advantage of not being sensitive to the noise inherent to topographic data (i.e., slope-area data tend to be very noisy because of steps in river profiles). The paper presenting the tool and its application is available: click here. Simon Mudd and his team of hackers have designed a book in addition to the package. Both can be found on Github: the book and the package. Feel free to try it and give some feedback!


Lectures "Eroding Landscapes" (feel free to browse, use and/or give some feedback):

Lecture 1: Feedbacks between mountain building, erosion and climate (with focus on the Himalayas): Part 1 and Part 2.

Lecture 2: Morphology and dynamics of mountain rivers: Lecture.

Lecture 3: Numerical models of landscape evolution: Part 1 and Part 2.

Lecture 4: Sediments and bedrock erosion: Lecture.

Lecture 5: Quantifying erosion in mountainous landscapes: Part 1 and Part 2.


Geology and Landscapes:  

- NEW!!! 12.5-m resolution DEM data now available (ALOS PALSAR DEM)! See tutorial there: Link. The site with the data is there:
- Downloading ASTER or SRTM ~30-m resolution DEM data of anywhere in the world. This handout presents the procedure to download the data and import them in ArcMap; there is also some additional information on georeferencing documents in ArcMap: ASTER-SRTM handout 2015 update. For more detailed instructions about georeferencing and 3D visualisation using ArcScene, see the end of this handout (1st year practical): Georeferencing - ArcScene handout.
- Preparing a base map for field work with ArcMap: Base map handout.
- Topographic analysis handout, including how to perform basic topographic analysis with ArcGIS, extract river profiles and visualise topography and geology in ArcScene: Topographic Analysis.
- Geological maps and cross-sections handout, presenting basic information on how to read a map and how to build a geological cross-section: Maps and cross-sections handout.
- Downloading 10-m resolution DEM data of the UK using the Digimap service. This handout presents the procedure to download the data and import it in ArcMap (note that access to Digimap is restricted): Digimap handout.
- Link to the geological version of Google map by the BGS (click on "map" then "simple view"):
- Link to Simon Mudd's video page (the videos of debris-flows are particularly spectacular):
- Video of a sudden flood triggered by what is believed to be a dam lake outburst in the Himalayas (video made in Pokhara in May 2012):
- Cool video of flash floods in Utah (don't camp in dry valleys):
- Link to the inspiring EGU 2011's Arthur Holmes Medal Lecture by Bill Dietrich: Three grand challenges in geomorphology: rock, climate, and life:
- NEW! Cycling around the geology and geomorphology of Midlothian. Discover the geology and landscapes of Midlothian with a 52-km cycle loop starting from Edinburgh: Midlothian Geocycle handout.


Determining sediment grain size distribution (GSD):  

You will find here a handout and a series of useful files explaining how to determine a sediment GSD using photographic methods (and the software ERDAS IMAGINE) and volumetric methods (digging and sieving): Handout and Useful files.


Himalaya paper repository:  

You will find here relevant papers by contributors to the Royal Society – Indian Department of Science and Technology meeting on “Long-term Controls on the Rivers of the Ganges Plains: Defining the Trajectory of Future Change” (Dehradun, India, April 2013):


Video of the Inchnadamph field trip (NW Scotland):  

This is a lovely video made by Simon Jung about the two-week field trip that third year students in Earth Science attend. A nice taster of Scotland and its amazing geology and landscapes (to me, this is one of the most beautiful places in the world):


SteepestDescent talk, 3rd May 2014:  

SteepestDescent is "a day of focused interactions and networking between people interested in surface dynamics" happening on the Saturday after the EGU conference, in the spirit of the Gilbert Club following the AGU conference. If you are interested in my talk: SteepestDescent.ppt.


Really cool: the Geological Society's 100 great geosites: click HERE for the interactive map and exciting pictures.  

I am a bit disappointed the Helmsdale Boulder beds are not featured...


INFLUENCE OF WOLVES ON RIVERS, beautifully illustrated and narrated: click HERE  



The Gravel Bed Rivers conference 8 just took place in Kyoto and Takayama, Japan, on the theme "Gravel bed rivers and disasters". The conference takes place every five years and leads to the production of a book presenting the work shown in the talks. You can find the list of talks (and therefore, incidentally, book chapters) there: GBR8 Programme. The talks have been recorded and can be seen there: GBR8 talks (my talk is in session 7, starting at ~30 minutes). The book is now available here. In the meantime, if you are interested in my talk on "Linkage between sediment transport and supply in mountain rivers", here is the ppt: Part 1 and Part 2.