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Dr Merryn Thomas

Dr Merryn Thomas

Research Associate

School of Psychology

Research summary

  • Climate change, sea-level rise, energy, shale  gas and oil development
  • Public and expert perceptions
  • Qualitative research, mixed-methods

My research is interdisciplinary and focuses on public  perceptions of environmental risks. I am currently working on the CoastWEB  project, using in-depth 'walking interviews’ to better understand the  connections between coastal habitats and human health and wellbeing. Prior to  this I was involved in a project with Professor Nick Pidgeon, jointly with the  Centre for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of Santa Barbara,  California, which used qualitative deliberative methods to explore public  perceptions of shale gas development in the UK and USA. I also carried out review-based  work for 'M4ShaleGas’, funded by European Union Horizon 2020. For my PhD, I used  a mixed-methods, mental-models approach to explore public and expert  perceptions of sea-level change on the Severn Estuary. In 2015, I ran a public  engagement exhibition 'SeaChange’, which built upon my PhD research, alongside  my own black and white images of the Estuary to explore visualisations of climate  change.

Teaching summary

I supervise Year 3/4 (level 6) research projects spanning  environmental psychology and risk perception. I also teach 'An introduction to  qualitative research methods’ in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, have  taught field and photography courses.

Undergraduate education

BA Geography, University of Oxford

Postgraduate education

MSc Science of Natural Hazards, University of Bristol
PhD Psychology, Cardiff University

Employment

February 2014-present: Research Associate, School of  Psychology, Cardiff University.
2011- 2014: Photographer, Merryn Thomas Photography,  Cardiff.
2008 - 2010: Researcher, Nature Picture Library and  Bluegreen Pictures, Bristol.
2007 - 2008: Researcher, Icon Films, Bristol.

2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2013

Research topics and related papers

CoastWEB: Valuing the  contribution which COASTal habitats make to human health and WEllBeing, with a  focus on the alleviation of natural hazards
Together with Professor Nick Pidgeon (Psychology) and Professor  Karen Henwood (Social Sciences), I am currently working on CoastWEB, an  interdisciplinary project funded by the UK’s Valuing Nature Programme. We aim  to better understand the connections between coastal habitats and human health  and wellbeing by exploring how publics perceive and value the coast. In order  to do this, we are carrying out 'walking’ interviews along the Welsh coastline.

Public perceptions of  shale gas in the UK and USA
Together with Professor Nick Pidgeon and a team from the University  of California in Santa Barbara (USA), we held in-depth deliberative workshops  to explore public perceptions of shale gas development in the UK and USA. The  United States has undergone a shale gas 'boom’ in the last few decades, and  more recently there has been a lot of interest in shale gas prospectivity in  the UK. Understanding public perceptions of these technologies is important  given the role that they may play in future decisions about them. This study  therefore aimed to qualitatively investigate public perceptions of shale gas  developments in Britain and the USA, in order to a) gain an understanding of  these perceptions and what influence them, and b) provide a comparison between  perceptions in a country where shale gas extraction is new, and where it is  more established.

Public and Expert  perceptions of sea-level change on the Severn Estuary
My interdisciplinary PhD research was based both in the  School of Psychology and the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Cardiff. I used  a mixed-methods, mental-models approach to explore and compare expert and  public perceptions of sea-level change on the Severn Estuary, a threatened  coastal environment in the southwest of the UK. A three-phase methodology was  adopted. First, expert perceptions were investigated through semi-structured  interviews, probability elicitations and cognitive mapping (N=11). Second,  public perceptions were investigated through mental models interviews that  included a semi-structured discussion, a picture sorting task, and a cognitive  mapping session (N=20). Third, perceptions raised during public interviews were  explored by way of a wider survey of members of the public living around the  Severn Estuary (N=359). These perceptions were then compared and contrasted  using both qualitative and quantitative methods.
Results showed areas of public understanding consistent with  expert understandings: most public respondents thought that sea levels will  rise, leading to increased flooding and property damage. However, the public did  not feel well informed about sea-level change, and there were a number of key  differences between expert and public perceptions. Perceptions were influenced  by many factors including information sources and the ways in which individuals  think about the future. Many findings were consistent with climate change  research more generally, for example: respondents tended to express low concern  about sea-level change in relation to other matters such as the economy; they felt  detached from the issue, seeing it as something that will happen in the future  to other people; and they perceived that neither the causes of nor responses to  sea-level change were their responsibility.

Flood inundation  modelling for the Isles of Scilly
My Masters research was supervised by Professor Paul Bates  at the University of Bristol, and part-funded by a Duchy of Cornwall grant. The  study used the LISFLOOD modelling environment to develop methods to estimate  probabilistic flood risk and determine their value in decision making for small  island environments.

Other research  experience

My other research experience includes work carried out for  the Developing the Sustainable Laboratory project (December 2011-June 2012; funded by Welsh Crucible), for which I  organised and conducted stakeholder interviews, qualitatively analysed the data  and wrote a summary report. I also assisted with 19 workshops for various  Understanding Risk Group research projects between 2011 and 2012.

Funding

CoastWEB: Valuing the contribution which COASTal habitats  make to human health and WEllBeing, with a focus on the alleviation of natural  hazards. Funded by the Valuing Nature Programme.

M4ShaleGas: Measuring, Monitoring, Mitigating, Managing the  Environmental Impact of Shale Gas. Funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020  Research and Innovation programme.

Public perceptions of shale gas in the UK and US. Funded by  the US National Science Foundation. Centre for Nanotechnology in Society at the  University of California, Santa Barbara (CNS-UCSB).

PhD: Public and Expert perceptions of sea-level change on  the Severn Estuary. Funded by a President’s Research Scholarship from Cardiff  University.

MSc: Flood inundation modelling for the Isles of Scilly.  Part-funded by a Duchy of Cornwall grant.

Research group

Understanding Risk Group
Climate Change Consortium of Wales (C3W)
Sustainable Places Research Institute
Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research