Prof. dr. Peter Alan Burrough (1944-2009)

Prof. dr. Peter Alan Burrough

Wimborne, 26 August 1944 – Leiden, 9 January 2009

We are sad to announce that Prof. Peter Burrough passed away on 9 January 2009. A well known pedometrician and GIS expert that has pioneered and advanced pedometrics research.

Peter received his BSc (First Class Honours) in chemistry from the University of Sussex, Brighton in 1965, and his DPhil from the University of Oxford in 1969 for the thesis entitled ‘Studies of Soil Survey Methodology’. From 1970 until 1973, Peter was employed as senior research scientist at the Land Resources Division of the Ministry of Overseas Development, Tolworth, London, and during this period he worked on a major reconnaissance soil survey of the state of Sabah, Malaysia. In 1973, he went to Sydney, Australia to become Lecturer in Soil Science at the University of New South Wales and then in 1976 moved to The Netherlands where he became based for nearly three decades. He first worked in Wageningen as a Senior Research Scientist at STIBOKA (the Dutch Soil Survey) from 1976 to 1980, and then he moved to Wageningen Agricultural University, where he became Senior Lecturer in Spatial Analysis and Soil Science at the Department of Soil Science. Throughout this period in the UK, Australia, and Wageningen, Peter was engaged in the development and implementation of advanced computer and statistical methods for practical soil survey.

It was in September 1984, that Peter was appointed Professor of Physical Geography and Geographical Information Systems at the Geographical Institute of Utrecht University. Research activities at the Physical Geography department in Utrecht before then had mainly focused on geomorphology. Under Peter’s leadership, GIS, geostatistics, environmental modelling, and remote sensing were introduced to both the teaching curriculum of Physical Geography and the research agenda of the department. Between 1984 and 1994, he was the initiator and chairman of two major 5-year research programmes: LAMIRU (Landscape, Environment, and Land Use) from 1984 to 1988 and GISLA (Geographical Information Systems and Landscape Analysis) from 1988 to 1993.

Peter Burrough is probably best known for his landmark bestseller Principles of Geographical Information Systems for Land Resources Assessment, which he wrote during his first years at Utrecht University. This landmark book, first published by Oxford University Press in 1986, was the first complete textbook about GIS, and its accessible form ensured that it soon became a ‘must have’ book for libraries, researchers, and students alike. It not only gave an introduction to both the theoretical underpinnings and the more practical workings of a GIS but also uniquely provided an accessible introduction to geostatistics and environmental modelling, and it was thus used as a reference text by many working away from the field of geography. This 1986 book was updated in 1998 with a second edition, which was co-authored with Dr Rachael McDonnell from the University of Oxford, and had the shortened title Principles of Geographical Information Systems.

Besides this book, Peter’s contributions to pedometrics and the field of GIScience are reflected in more than 130 peer-reviewed papers and books, and numerous keynote lectures at international conferences across the world. In 1981, Peter had his first publication in Nature on the presence of fractals, scale invariance, in landscapes and in environmental shapes and processes, subjects that still reverberate around the literature today. This paper was typical of Peter’s work in that he took a new idea or advanced technology, often from other disciplines, and developed them in a geographical context. This still widely cited publication in Nature illustrated the potential Peter saw at that time in ideas of self-similarity in Geography. He also brought novel thinking on concepts such as natural variability, error propagation in spatial modelling, and fuzzy logic for landscape analysis into the geographical literature. One of the most groundbreaking areas of Peter’s research in the last decade has been the development of ideas for handling uncertainty in GIScience.

Peter has also made immense contributions in recognizing and developing concepts in modelling both the spatial and temporal domains of the environment. To this end, Peter was the initiator and guiding person for the Utrecht PCRaster group, which have developed the renowned generic, easy-to-use tools for spatial dynamic modelling, and geostatistics and error-propagation analysis. Today, PCRaster is being used in both research and operational settings throughout the world as a modelling tool in fields such as hydrology, soil erosion, ecology, and landscape evolution. It is in recognition of these various achievements that, in 1996, Peter was elected among the Top 10 People Crafting the Future of GIS by GIS World.

From:  Advances in the spatio-temporal modelling of environment and landscapes (in honour of Professor Peter A. Burrough) by M. van der Perk;  S. M. de Jong; R. A. McDonnell. DOI: 10.1080/13658810601063894

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