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Cardiff Character: Merryn Thomas

It is unlikely that you’ll often find the worlds of science and art together. But sitting in a café bar at the Gate Arts Centre, Dr Merryn Thomas talks about her work on natural hazards and sea level change whilst her photography hangs on the walls around her. The two worlds couldn’t be more intertwined than in this moment.

Merryn Thomas

Science and the sea

Merryn studied Geography at Oxford University before doing an MSc in the Science of Natural Hazards at Bristol.

“I did flood modelling of sea level rise”, explains Merryn. “That was all mathematical modelling and I’m not really a mathematician”, she comments, “so that was an experience!” The silver bangles jingle on her wrist accompanying the music coming from the rehearsals in the studio next door.

However, it was her interest in sea level change that led her to do a PhD at Cardiff University for 5 years, which she discovered she said by typing into Google ‘public perceptions of sea level rise PhD’. She is a now a Research Associate at the University.

This interest in sea level change partly stemmed from the close tie Merryn has felt to the sea. She even admits herself; “I don’t think I’ll ever be properly happy unless I’m next to the sea.”

Merryn grew up next to the sea in Plymouth but considers the Isles of Scilly as home. But despite working in Cardiff, she now lives in Swansea with her partner; a move she says was partly influenced by the desire to be closer to the sea.

Photography the hobby

Although fully invested in researching perception of sea level change, Merryn also has a love of photography.

Between completing her masters at Bristol and doing her PhD at Cardiff, Merryn worked at The Nature Picture Library, an agency for nature and wildlife photographers. It was here she learnt photography skills that allowed it to become a hobby for her.

“I don’t think I’ll every be properly happy unless I’m next to the sea.”

“One of my colleagues”, explains Merryn, “taught me how to edit photos and got me into photography. I started doing wedding photography in my spare time.”

Merryn now supplies the Picture Library with her own pictures. So, did she ever consider doing photography professional?

“So far no,” she says, shaking her head. “I’ve always wanted to keep photography in my back pocket because it’s really interesting to have. But no I really love my job and don’t envisage doing photography as my main job.”

Fusing art and science

As Merryn sits in the Gate café, her SeaChange exhibition is next door displaying her black and white photographs of the Severn Estuary along with quotes from local people whom she interviewed during her research. The SeaChange exhibition itself is based on her PhD research about perception of sea level change in the Severn Estuary from the local people who live there. It fuses Merryn’s three major influences: her PhD, the sea and photography.

“It’s also an experiment on how to engage people”, she says, “I’m hoping to write a paper from it.”

Merryn Thomas

Merryn next to one of her photographs of a pregnant lady looking out across the Severn Estuary.

Although Merryn wasn’t surprised with people’s detachment from rising sea levels, she admits she wasn’t expecting to find out how close people were to the estuary and how her own perceptions of it changed.

“When I first moved to Cardiff, I must admit, I was one of those people that thought it was just a muddy and a bit boring”, reveals Merryn.

However this is certainly not the case anymore as the SeaChange exhibition proves the striking and varied scenery of the estuary.

“It’s beautiful, it’s powerful”, says Merryn smiling. “That was initially surprising but then once you get to know the estuary you kind of see what they mean.”

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8q3r-54b2dw[/youtube]

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