A sustainable energy future

Professor John Underhill is a world-leading exploration geoscientist. His work has made a hugely significant contribution to the understanding of UK Continental Shelf geology, and tackles energy and applied geoscience issues to address fundamental energy and environmental challenges.  

With a long-standing track record of high impact papers and articles published in journals with national and international reach and significance, Professor Underhill’s research has occupied the forefront of North Sea and petroleum geology for over 30 years.  

Impacting policy, practice and international industry 

His expertise has supported the formulation and implementation of policy and enhanced the UK's science and innovation base, contributing to a variety of high level advisory groups and boards, including the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) Scotland's Energy Future Inquiry (2017-19); the UK Energy Minister's Technology Leadership Board (2015-18) and Exploration Task Force (2018-19); and NERC’s GeoEnergy Observatories Scientific Advisory Group (2015-19). 

In 2019 Professor Underhill joined the Scottish Science Advisory Council (SSAC) providing independent advice to the Scottish Government. The SSAC is Scotland's highest level science advisory body and provides recommendations on science strategy, policy and priorities to Scottish Government Ministers. He also promoted and helped to secure the City Deal for Aberdeen supporting the set-up of the Oil and Gas Technology Centre – a collaborative partnership between Robert Gordon University and Aberdeen University.  

Meeting the UK Government’s target of Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050 is critically dependent on anchoring a world-class geoscience skills base in the UK and the success of carbon storage projects. Professor John Underhill’s expertise is making a significant contribution to this agenda, both through his work to ensure that appropriate storage sites are selected (through systematic examination of their geology to determine if carbon can be safely stored over long, geological timescales), and through his leadership of the Centre for Doctoral Training in Oil and Gas. This pan-UK collaborative partnership between seventeen HEIs, two Research Council Research Centres and ten industry partners, is skilling up the next generation of technical geoscientific expertise for industry, government and academia.  

Contributing to energy transition 

Professor Underhill’s primary research interest lies in the use of geological fieldwork and geophysical methods to investigate the structure and stratigraphy of sedimentary basins. This work has had a significant impact on the petroleum industry’s exploration and extraction activity and is now leading understanding in energy transition to sustainable oil and gas resource management. Building understanding of the geoscience of the subsurface is vital to the decarbonisation agenda and Professor Underhill is currently a member of NERC’s Earth Science Advisory Group, which provides the technical insight and steer for the £30million UKGEOS project – the Energy Security and Innovation Observing System for the Subsurface that will be based at two sites in the UK, Cheshire and Glasgow. 

At Heriot-Watt, Professor Underhill leads the Centre for Exploration Geoscience and is the Lyell Academic Lead for Earth Science. He plays an essential role in building the University’s geoscience and geoenergy capacity and his research is helping to maximise the potential of subsurface storage, develop geothermal energy, and contribute to an important ‘sense check’ on remaining and potential resources. 

His world-class impact has been acknowledged through a number of awards including the Geological Society's Petroleum Group's top award, The Silver Medal, and the Edinburgh Geological Society's Clough Medal. Other awards include the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Distinguished Educator Award, and The Lyell Medal.