Accessibility statement

Malcolm Cresser
Emeritus Professor



I was appointed Professor of Environmental Science in the Department of Environment and Geography at the University of York in 1999, and became Head of Department for three years in October 2001. I moved to York from the University of Aberdeen, where I had been Professor of Plant & Soil Science since 1989 (Head of Department 1989-1990). Previously at Aberdeen I had been Reader in Plant & Soil Science (1988-1989), and Reader (1986–1988), Senior Lecturer (1982–1986), and Lecturer in Soil Science (1970–1982). I also spent brief periods working in the USA, as Visiting Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta in 1979, and as Visiting Professor at Villanova University, Pennsylvania in 1970, and at the Soil Institute of Iran.

Over the years I have contributed to the work of a number of committees. These include: AFRC/BBSRC GEC Funding Panel; AFRC Plant and Environment Grant Panel; AFRC Plant and Environment Studentship Panel; AFRC Member of the Soils Steering Group; Balmoral Estate Lochnagar Reserve Advisory Committee; Board of Governors, Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Aberdeen; DOE Review Group on Effects of Acid Deposition on Terrestrial Ecosystems; DOE Critical Loads Advisory Group; DOE Critical Loads Soils Sub-Group; Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee (RAWMAC); Irish EPA Critical Loads Advisory Group; NERC Committee for Air Pollution Effects Research; DOE Impact of N Deposition on Terrestrial Ecosystems (INDITE) Steering Group; DOE INDITE Soils Sub-Group (chairman); Council of the Analytical Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry; MAFF Soil Health Advisory Group; Scottish Agricultural Colleges Research Advisory Group; NERC GANE Steering Group; NERC Terrestrial Peer Review Committee; NERC Services Review Group; ESRC Transdisciplinary Research Seminar Competition Review Panel; Environmental Research Evaluator for an International Panel of the Irish Higher Education Authority; Evaluation Panel for Biosciences and Environment of the Academy of Finland.


2001-2004 Head of Department University of York
1999- Professor of Environmental Science University of York
1984 Royal Society of Chemistry 11th SAC Silver Medal  
1997 Fellow of the Institute of Biology, Chartered Biologist IoB
1989-1990 Head of Department University of Aberdeen
1988-1989 Reader in Plant & Soil Science University of Aberdeen
1986-1988 Reader University of Aberdeen
1982-1986 Senior Lecturer University of Aberdeen
1980 Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Chartered Chemist FRC
1970-1982 Lecturer in Soil Science University of Aberdeen
1970 PhD DIC Imperial College, London
1967 BSc (Hons.) Chemistry ARCS, Imperial College, London



My research centres around understanding and modelling of pollution effects on soil/plant/water ecosystems; strategies for formulation of pollution control policies; soil chemistry and biology; hydro-biogeochemical models for prediction of spatial and temporal variation in water quality at catchment and regional scales, especially for N species, base cations and alkalinity; sustainable use of soil and water resources; development of methodology for ecotoxicity testing and environmental quality assessment; incorporation of principles of environmental science into environmental economic models. This has been supported by research funding in excess of ca. £3.6 million, from SRC/SERC, BBSRC, ARC, NERC, Royal Society, SNH, UK DOE/DETR, British Council, Yorkshire Water; Seimens Environmental Systems; Aberdeen University and various instrument manufacturers. It has resulted in more than 290 research papers and nine books. Around 65 research students have successfully completed higher degrees under my supervision.

Initially I was trained as an analytical chemist at Imperial College, London. I obtained a PhD there in 1970, after working with Professor Tom West on the analytical chemistry of selenium and the then new technique of atomic fluorescence spectrometry. After a short period in 1970 as visiting Professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, I became a Lecturer in Soil Science at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. At that stage my research concentrated primarily on the development of novel and improved methods for the analysis of soils, plants and freshwaters, although my interest in chemical aspects of soil fertility and in hydrogeochemistry was starting to grow.

Of particular interest was the development and subsequent automation, with Peter Isaacson, and later Toyin Arowolo, of the completely new technique of Gas Phase Molecular Absorption Spectrometry for the analysis of traces of anions and ammonium in solution. I spent a brief, but fruitful, period as Visiting Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta in 1979, working with Professor Rick Browner on the development of new methods for aerosol sizing for atomic spectroscopy. This stemmed from the realisation that a cascade impactor could be used to fractionate solution aerosols, provided that the salt concentration was high enough to eliminate significant evaporation. I also at that time worked with Clare O’Grady and others on automated error detection systems in atomic spectrometry.

I remained in the Department of Soil Science at Aberdeen University, becoming Reader in Soil Science in 1986, and then Reader in Plant & Soil Science in 1988 following merger of the Departments of Soil Science and Plant Science at Aberdeen. I was awarded a personal chair in Plant & Soil Science in 1989. Over this period, and through the 1990s, my research interests expanded considerably, as I became increasingly convinced of the necessity to conduct interdisciplinary research to understand ecosystem functioning. This resulted in my involvement in as much biological research as chemical research (and award of a F.I.Biol., C.Biol. in 1997), and a further blossoming of my interest in hydrogeochemistry and biogeochemical cycling as I became increasingly interested in the effects of acid deposition on upland ecosystems.

Results of early studies with some excellent PhD students (especially Murray Reid, John Creasey and Tony Edwards) stimulated an interest in the development, initially with Mike Billett in 1992, and later with Richard Smart, Andy Wade, Colin Neal (at IOH), Tony Edwards and Simon Langan (at MLURI), and Ken Pugh and colleagues at SEPA, of models for predicting water chemical quality from catchment characteristics. Two models were developed, both using flow-weighted riparian zone characteristics, one using soil chemistry and the other using underlying geology for predictive purposes. At this time my group at Aberdeen (particularly Ute Skiba, Shimna Gammack, Catherine White, Deborah Barton, Hassan Radhi-Sanyi, Laila Yesmin, Carol Smith and Luke Sanger) also did some excellent and internationally important work on predicting acid deposition chemical and biological effects on peats. We developed a method, subsequently adopted for UK critical loads maps, for quantifying critical loads for these very acidification-sensitive soils. This was subsequently used in Ireland, and is being actively considered in Alberta, Canada.

Another fascinating research avenue explored at this time, in close collaboration with (and stimulated by the enthusiasm of) Prof. Ken Killham, and Drs. Anne Glover and Graeme Paton at Aberdeen University, was DETR- (then DOE) and BBSRC- and industry-funded research on the diagnostic applications of bioluminescent micro-organisms. These were used both for studying migration rates of organisms through soils and for ecotoxicity testing. The latter aspect was linked to my interest in chemical speciation of heavy metals in soils in joint work with Drs. Janet Cotter-Howells and Jenny Hall, and three research students, Nishanta Fernando, Charoon Sarin and Puchong Wararatananurak.

The research on upland soils gave me a particular interest in the importance of sea salt deposition on upland soils. For peat soils in particular, where mineral weathering inputs of base cations are negligible, atmospheric deposition chemistry is crucial to soil fertility. For peats, precipitation and drainage water both equilibrate with the soil. Thus base cation ratios in precipitation and river water for a catchment should be very similar. In the UK, they are both highly sodium dominant. However if weathering is important in the catchment soil, sodium becomes less dominant and calcium relatively more dominant. With Marc Stutter, Catherine White, El-Tijani Elias, Richard Smart and others, we have used this to establish the use of the sodium dominance index for quantitative prediction of weathering rates, alkalinity, susceptibility to acid flushes, and critical loads of upland catchments. Work in this area is still continuing at York.


2002-2005 NERC £188,099 Evaluation of Multi-Element Analysis to Aid Archaeological Interpretation. A collaborative project with Professor Donal Davidson (University of Stirling). The project will elucidate mechanisms for accumulation of trace elements at sites of abandoned buildings from different periods.
2000-2003 NERC GANE £173,000 + NERC studentship Application of Catchment Scale Data to the Quantification of Soluble Organic- and Inorganic-N Fluxes within and from UK Upland Soils. A collaborative project with Dr. Pippa Chapman (University of Leeds) and Dr. Tony Edwards (MLURI). The project is investigating the factors regulating the solubility of ammonium, nitrate and organic nitrogen in soil solution, and the transport of these N species via drainage water to surface waters. Models of N solubility and transport are being developed which make predictions of seasonal changes in N species concentrations and fluxes from readily available catchment data. Particular attention is being paid to soil N storage capacity and slope processes.
2000-2002 NERC GANE £131,278 Modelling of Responses of Calluna-dominated Ecosystems to Elevated N Deposition. A collaborative project with Prof. Mike Ashmore (University of Bradford) and Dr. Sally Power (Imperial College). This project, which is predominantly based at the University of Bradford, is attempting to model the response of Calluna-dominated ecosystems over time to elevated nitrogen deposition from the atmosphere.
2001-2004 DETR NERC Umbrella Contract £115,000 Terrestrial Effects of Acid Pollutants – Phase VI; N Deposition Effects on Upland Catchments: Factors Influencing N Mobility. This project is a field-based investigation of the reasons for differences in N species leaching from upland soils of minimally managed ecosystems. The ultimate goal will be modelling of N species mobility from such soils into lakes and rivers.
1998-2001 DETR NERC Umbrella Contract part transfer of £131,551 contract from Aberdeen Terrestrial Effects of Acid Pollutants – Phase V; N Deposition Effects on Organic Upland Soils. This project aims to quantify and explain the impacts of excess N and acid deposition on the growth characteristics of Calluna vulgaris growing on peat soils, and the ability of peat soils damaged by atmospheric pollution deposition to recover and support healthy Calluna. Effects of N and acid deposition on Scots pine growing on acidification-sensitive mineral soils are also being studied. The study also includes an investigation of the impacts of pollutant load on the germination of Calluna seedlings.
1998-2000 NERC part transfer of £99,584 contract from Aberdeen Use of Atmospheric Sea Salt Deposition Effects to Quantify Relative Weathering Rates in UK Upland Soils. Collaborative project with Dr. Sarah Woodin (U. Aberdeen), Dr. Janet Cotter-Howells (U. Exeter) and S. Langan (MLURI). In this project the development of the sodium dominance index for quantification of catchment weathering rates has been examined. The index has also been applied to the prediction of annual alkalinity fluxes in rivers and river critical loads under diverse flow regimes.
1996-1999 NERC £260,600 Prediction of Spatial and Temporal Variation in the Solute Chemistry of a Major River System from the Integration of Models of Terrestrial and Hydrological Processes. Collaborative project with Prof. C. Soulsby (U. of Aberdeen), S. Langan (MLURI) C. Neal (CEH). This project was based on the application of the ASH model to increasingly large and complex catchments in N.E./ Scotland. A novel variation of ASH, G-BASH, based upon catchment flow routing-weighted riparian zone geology has been developed, and shown to be highly successful for prediction of key river water parameters from readily available catchment characteristics. The model works well under diverse flow regimes and patterns of land use, for both upland and lowland catchments.
1999-2000 AMEC £17,900 Impact of a Gas Pumping Station. Collaborative project with Drs. Mark Young, Graeme Paton and Sarah Woodin (U. of Aberdeen). This contract was to evaluate the impact of effluent discharge from a gas pumping station on the burn into which the effluent was discharged. Both chemical and ecotoxicological characteristics were investigated, alongside impacts of the burn biota.


Recent former students

  • Ishaq Ahmed Mian, Evaluation of factors regulating nitrogen species transformations in soils: Diagnostic potential of the transformation dynamics.
  • Sophie Green, The disruption of C and N biogeochemical cycling in roadside soil by road salting and its impact upon surface water quality.
  • Muhammad Riaz, Effects of environmental pollution on nitrate production throughout soil profiles.
  • Tizbe Arteaga Reyes, What is the role of estimating the economic value of water for determining water pollution abatement policies and managing water?
  • Dong Jin Kim, Modeling diffuse pollution loads to a lake by use of land cover maps and analysis of its impacts on eutrophication; a case study in Korea (joint supervision with Colin McClean).
  • Chang Chiung-Ting (jointly supervised with Charles Perrings), Mitigation of food risks; the economic problem PhD awarded 2006.
  • Andrew Crowe (jointly supervised by Colin McClean), A critical evaluation of methodology for quantifying nitrogen and carbon storage in UK soil, with some causes of its spatial variation PhD awarded 2004.
  • Ai Sakata, Storage of C&N in Scottish soil: Quantification and controlling factors. PhD awarded 2004.
  • Rhys Rowland-Jones, Beyond environmental management to quantifiable pollution management. PhD awarded 2003.
  • Shafiul Alam, An investigation of N and S deposition effects on Scots pine growing on acidification-sensitive soils. PhD awarded 2002.
  • Waleed Bin Braik (currently at Aberdeen University and jointly supervised by Prof. Dave Robinson, Plant and Soil Science, Aberdeen), An investigation of aspects of irrigation and groundwater contamination in the UAE. PhD awarded 2002.
  • Joinal Abedin, An investigation of the effects of arsenic in irrigation water on the growth and composition of paddy rice. PhD awarded 2001.
  • David Orr (jointly supervised by Dr. Anna Deletic, Engineering, Aberdeen), Modelling particulate and solute runoff from urban asphalt surfaces PhD awarded 2001.
  • Puchong Wararatananurak, Fractionation of chromium toxicity in water. PhD awarded 2000.
  • Charoon Sarin, A lux-based bioassay of heavy metal contamination of organic wastes. PhD awarded 2000.
  • Peter Chikombo Mulenga, Effects of applied micronutrients and liming on grain yield and plant composition of three ferralsols of north western Zambia. PhD awarded 1999.
  • Osmund Duodu Ansa-Ansare, Do diurnal dissolved oxygen cycles have a diagnostic value for assessing pollution status in lakes? PhD awarded 1998.
  • Helmut Ernstberger, The fate of terrestrially derived phosphorus in estuaries. PhD awarded 1999.
  • W.A.R. Nishantha Fernando, A study of cadmium speciation and soil ecotoxicity in sewage sludge-amended soil. PhD awarded 1997.
  • Shona Smith, Characterisation of phosphorus fractions in soil solution from an organic horizon of an upland soil. PhD awarded 1997.
  • Cheng-Sheng Tsai, Dynamic inter-relationships between biomass, respiration and ATP, with particular reference to decomposition of selected organic substrate. PhD awarded 1997.
  • Abubakar Umar Dikko, An evaluation of some procedures for assessing the long-term capacity of soil minerals to replenish nutrients lost and the effects of acid deposition. PhD awarded 1997.
Cresser, Malcolm

Contact details

Professor Malcolm Cresser
Emeritus Professor
Department of Environment and Geography
University of York
YO10 5NG