Second Life lecture

A professor of geography will today give what is thought to be the first lecture by a CambridgeUniversityacademic in a virtual world.

Professor Philip Gibbard, from the department of geography, will speak for half an hour to an audience he himself cannot see using the 3D internet world, ‘Second Life’.

Second Life is an online environment in which people create virtual versions of themselves, known as ‘avatars’. These then inhabit the internet world and act as they might in the real one, shopping, playing games and even trying to make money.

For what is thought to be the first time, cyber-scholars will be able to gather in a designated space on the internet to hear a live lecture from a Cambridge academic – or at least a custom-designed computer version of him.

The real Professor Gibbard will meanwhile be in a studio and will deliver his lecture straight into a computer, before then taking questions from the other avatars in the audience.

The lecture has been arranged by the journal Nature and is the third in a series of virtual presentations by various scholars from different universities.

‘My initial reaction when they approached me was that it all sounded a bit far-fetched, but then I thought why not give it a go?’ Professor Gibbard said. ‘It seems slightly strange to be giving a talk live to an audience I can’t even see, but it could be a great opportunity to encourage more people to take an interest in the research – particularly those who might not otherwise consider finding out about it.’

The talk is entitled ‘How Britain became an island’. It will describe recent research in the English Channel that has revealed evidence for two catastrophic ‘megafloods’ thousands of years ago which led to the creation of Britain as we know it today.

The English Channel is a very shallow valley that becomes flooded in interglacial periods – such as the present era – when sea levels rise. Professor Gibbard will describe how recently-discovered evidence shows that this valley formed as a result of two megafloods between 500,000 and 125,000 years ago, caused by a build-up of glacial lakes that overflowed into the valley.

This evidence, which includes the shape of the valley itself, grooves in its surface and the morphology of its bedrock, are similar to those found at LakeMissoula in the US, where there was also a huge prehistoric flood. The Channel floods, however, would have been larger and had more profound consequences than those at LakeMissoula – and may indeed by the largest ever identified.

The effect they had on the valley, causing profound and sudden erosion, sealed Britain‘s geographical future. They meant that during high sea-level periods such as our own, it would always be an island. In between, as for example was the case 20,000 years ago, the Channel becomes a valley with a huge river running up its axis, draining tributaries such as the Thames, Rhine, Meuse and ScheldtRivers into the Atlantic Ocean. The impact of the megafloods would also have had radical implications for natural life in Britain and the climate of the north Atlantic, as Professor Gibbard will discuss.

The lecture will take place in Second Life this evening at 7pm and will last for about 30 minutes, including the question and answer session. More information can be found here: