Andrew Cunningham Scott


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Personal profile

Personal profile

Andrew C. Scott graduated with a B.Sc. in Geology from Bedford College, University of London in 1973. He then undertook his doctoral research in the Botany Department at Birkbeck College. University of London with Professor W. G. Chaloner FRS and was awarded his PhD in 1976 for his thesis "Environmental Control of Westphalian Plant Assemblages from Northern Britain" for which he received the University Science prize. Following post-doctoral research in the Department of Geology at Trinity College Dublin he was appointed as Lecturer in Geology in the Department of Geology at Chelsea College, University of London in 1978. In 1985 the department merged with that from Bedford College and Kings College in the University of London to form the new Geology Department at Royal Holloway, University of London. Andrew was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1989, Reader in 1993 and to Professor of Applied Palaeobotany in 1996. In 2002 he was awarded a London University D.Sc. for “Contributions towards our understanding of ancient terrestrial ecosystems.” Between 1998 and 2006 he was Director of Science and the Media then Science Communication. Andrew spent a sabbatical year (2006-7) as visiting Professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University, as well as a visiting fellow of Berkeley College. Andrew was a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow 2012-2014 and was appointed Emeritus Professor of Geology in 2012. In 2019 he was reappointed as Distinguished Research Professor in Ancient and Modern Fire Systems.

Andrew Scott is a Fellow of: the Geological Society of London and the Geological Society of America. 

Andrew regularly participates in International conferences, as organizer, keynote speaker or as a participant.  He helped organize the Royal Society meetings on 'The Interaction of Fire and Mankind' for the Royal Society in September 2015.

Andrew has a passion for communicating science and is a regular contributor to BBC radio.

His Textbook 'FIRE ON EARTH: An Introduction' was published in 2014 

His Edited volume "The Interaction of Fire and Mankind" has been published by the Royal Society:

see: a

His book published in 2018 BURNING PLANET - The story of fire through time was published by Oxford University Press. see and is also avaiable as an audiobook.

A Spanish edition of the book "Planeta en Llamas" was published in February 2020 by Galaxia Gutenberg.

A Japanese Edition of his book was published in November 2022 to coinside with a major exhibition. see 

Fire: A very short introduction was published by Oxford University Press in June 2020.

Fire: A Very Short Introduction has had a short review in Nature, which describes it as a “Thoughtful, global introduction.”

The Review:

At the Crossroads of Time: How a small Scottish village changed history. Amberley Press. 256 pp. ISBN 9781445698328  was published in Feb 2020

Sir Billy Connolly wrote about the book:

"Andrew Scott’s book is an extraordinary piece of work, detailing the importance of Lesmahagow in the general scheme of things. His painstaking research covers millions of years of geological development and mingles it with educational history and anecdotal love for a place that sits rather shyly on the Scottish Borders.Scott’s personal touch turns this book, which would otherwise be a rather dry tome, into an alive story in the true sense".

He is a member of the England and Wales Wildfire Forum.

Research interests

General Areas of Research

Fire in the Fossil Record. Modern Fire systems. Applied Palaeobotany and Palynology.  Evolution of terrestrial communities.  Carboniferous and Cretaceous of Europe, North America, China and Australia. Geological communication. History of Geology.

Fire as an Earth System Process

Much of my research over the past few years has concerned the past, present and future of wildfires and their environmental effects and especially the role of fire in Earth Systems Processes. Research efforts have concentrated on modern and ancient fires, their products (charcoal) and effects. I am part of the International Pyrogeography Research Group (led by David Bowman, Tasmania). See

oxygenfiresWildfire: Work on recent fire systems has concentrated on fires in western USA and southern England.  I am particularly interested in interpreting wildfires from charcoal residues. 

Wildfire in Deep time: I have been studying a wide range of charcoal from throughout the geological column and across the world (in a range of projects that also involve Margaret Collinson). I am studying the rise of fire in the Devonian  and the evolution of late Palaeozoic fire systems with Ian Glasspool (see: My research has also been looking at evidence of  fire across the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) and the Early Eocene has been undertaken with Margaret Collinson. I have also been studying fire before and after human arrival in North America.

Fire and atmospheric oxygen: Biogeochemical modeling suggests significant variation of atmospheric oxygen in deep time. Together with Ian Glasspool I have developed a charcoal proxy for atmospheric oxygen over the past 350 million years. We see significantly high levels of oxygen in the late Palaeozoic and in the Cretaceous suggesting high levels of fire at that time (see:;jsessionid=9B1A21C7B872443AE79E680F2EE5D5BE

Fire and Plant Evolution: Together with William Bond I have suggested that the rapid spread of weedy flowering plants in the Cretaceous, around 100 million years ago was a result of high levels of wildfire that was a result of high atmospheric oxygen levels at that time. (see: (Spread of early flowering plants 'aided by fire'). II am currently working on the evolution of fire adaptations in plants.  

Fire and climate: I have been studying the distribution and frequency of fire during times of climate change at several intervals in Earth History. Together with Jennifer Marlon (University of Oregon) and the palaeocharcoal working group have been interested in the changes in fire over the past 20,000 years. We have shown a string link between fire and climate with increased fire during periods of rapid climate change. (see:

Fire and Man: I am studying the relationship between fire, climate and man and studying fires over the last 20k years in the California Channel Islands, on a National Geographic and NSF funded project (with Nicholas Pinter, Southern Illinois University and R. Scott Anderson, University of Northern Arizona) and in Western Europe.As part of the Pyrogeography working group I have produced a paper on the relationship between fire and humans. We offer an historical framework to help other researchers and managers develop a context for considering the relationships humans have with fire (


The geological and archaeological uses of charcoal

Charcoal preserves the anatomy of the plants that have been burnt. We use scanning electron microscopy to routinely study their morphology and anatomy. I am researching not only the formation of charcoal by both natural and human agencies but also on the uses of charcoal. We have developed a method of obtaining temperature of charcoal formation using reflected light microscopy. This has implications for both studies of natural wildfires as well as for our understanding of the human use of wood and charcoal as a fuel. My former research student Laura McParland studied charcoals resulting from industrial process in the archaeological record and undertook laboratory and field reconstructions to develop methods for their study, especially using reflectance microscopy. Research was collaboration with Margaret Collinson and English Heritage (Gill Campbell).

The evolution of vegetation and terrestrial ecosystems

I am interested in the evolution of terrestrial ecosystems over the past 350 million years in particular. Much of my research has concerned the Carboniferous Period (350-290 million years). This research concerns a number of sub-projects:

Early Carboniferous vegetation: Current studies include a study of charcoalified floras from the Mississippian of Scotland (with Jean Galtier, Montpellier).

Pennsylvanian ecology: Research is continuing on the evolution of mires on the Palaeoecology of the Upper Carboniferous Joggins Fossil Forests in Nova Scotia, Canada (with J. Calder, Nova Scotia).

Carboniferous Cave Deposits

Research concerns the palaeoecology of Carboniferous cave deposits, including palynological studies (with Roy Plotnick University of Illinois Chigago, and Ian Glasspool, Colby College USA). We have already demonstrated that such cave deposits can contain exceptionally preserved fossils, both plants and animals ( These preserve their three dimensional nature as well as some of their original chemistry. The deposits also provide evidence of multiple fire events.

Geological Communication.

I am passionately interested in ways to communicate geology. In addition to traditional media work, especially on radio I am using art to communicate my science. I am very interested in the impact of geology on art and art on geology and especially on the creation of Pietre Dure. I have a long-term collaboration with artist Nick Shewring ( working on geological stamp designs and have worked on issues for a number of countries including the Solomon Islands, Barbados, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cuhna.

Plants and Minerals in Byzantine Popular Pharmacy. A New Multidisciplinary Approach

Barbara Zipser (History, Royal Holloway) Robert Allkin, Mark Nesbitt (Kew Gardens), Andreas Lardos (Switzerland) and Andrew Scott (Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway).

In a funded Research project by the Wellcome Trust (2019-2022) we propose an innovative multidisciplinary approach towards the identification of pharmaceutical ingredients used in Byzantine Greece, with a particular focus on popular medicine in late 13th century Cyprus. Our case study is based on one source, John the Physician’s Therapeutics, along with a comparative study of other scholarly and non-scholarly texts. Our main goal is to develop a new, documented and transferable methodology to address a key, unresolved challenge when working with such texts, namely our ability to identify with confidence the individual ingredients – primarily plants and minerals - cited. This is an essential step in analysis of pharmaceutical practices. We will also focus on the understudied burnt substances and minerals that were added to medication. Ingredients identified will be mapped onto their current pharmaceutical uses thus exploring potential interest to pharmacological research. Our multidisciplinary team consists of experts from the field of philology, botany, ethnopharmacology and geology from Royal Holloway, University of London, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Zurich and Haifa. Our output and data will be made available open access to maximise impact and reach. Two workshops will enable us to test our methodology and results among experts outside our team, and help promote their use by others.

History of Geology and Palaeontology.

I am particularly interested in the early history of geology and especially palaeobotany. I have been researching the studies undertaken by Prince Federico Cesi, the Duke of Aquasparta and founder of the Accademia dei Lincei between 16010 and 1630. I have worked on the drawings in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle as part of the Cassiano dal Pozzo Paper Museum ( and have published a catalogue raisoneé. I am continuing to research the work of Cesi and his fellow Lincean, Francesco Stelluti, especially their early work using the microscope that was given to the society by another member, Gallileo Gallilei. Aspects of the history of geology were discussed in a BBC radio 4 programme 'In Our Time' broadcast on April 12 2012 (

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land

Education/Academic qualification

Palaeoecology, DSc, Contributions towards our understanding of ancient terrestrial ecosystems, Royal Holloway University of London

Award Date: 28 Feb 2002

Palaeobotany, PhD, Environmental control on Westphalian plant assemblages from Northern Britain, Birkbeck College, University of London

1 Oct 197330 Sept 1976

Award Date: 30 Sept 1976

Geology, B.Sc (Hons), Bedford College, University of London

12 Sept 197015 Jun 1973

Award Date: 30 Jun 1973


  • Fire
  • Coal
  • Fossil Plants
  • Microscopy
  • Organic geochemistry
  • History of Science

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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