Max Holloway

Max's story

BSc (Hons) Geography, 2011

Into the deep

A love of sailing brought him to the University of Portsmouth as a sports scholar. In the years since, Max Holloway BSc (Hons) ’11 has channelled his passion for the sea into a fascinating career. 


‘I realised what an incredible resource we had out there,’ Max explains. ‘A lot of the work I’ve done has been around climate change. That is the big problem of our generation. I’m trying to feed information into policy and to have this be seen as a greater challenge, as it should be seen, so that the future direction is sustainable and greener.’ 

After completing his PhD, Max worked on modelling ice sheet stability in Antarctica. He looked at the effect melting ice sheets had on sea levels during historic warmer periods, to help predict the impact future warming might have. 

Today, as a Marine Physicist at the Scottish Association for Marine Sciences, Max says his work is ‘far more applied; research outcomes can feed into policy on a far quicker timescale.’

Max Holloway photo
Image from Matt Holloway, Geograhy alumni

Based in Oban on the west coast of Scotland, Max builds physical models for the ocean and collects observational data - ranging from temperature, to salinity, to the velocity of the water column - to test and validate his models. It’s a complex coastline, peppered with fjords and islands which have interesting effects on currents. 

Max’s work informs the effective development of tidal energy systems and evolution of marine industries. He and his colleagues provide feedback into policy around issues as diverse as aquaculture and tourism, including regulations for sustainability. 

Creating a solid scientific basis for policy means collaborating with experts in fields ranging from physics to geography to business to government. Max enjoys this interdisciplinary aspect of his work.

When sailing competitively as a teenager, Max found himself researching meteorology so he could better read wind and wave conditions. This led him to choose to complete a BSc (Hons) Geography at Portsmouth, which he credits as the bedrock of his career.

The physical geography route set me up with a really broad science basis for what I’d go on to do. It started my interest in hydro and fluid dynamics from the river morphology work we were doing.

Max Holloway, BSc (Hons) Geography

‘The physical geography route set me up with a really broad science basis for what I’d go on to do. It started my interest in hydro and fluid dynamics from the river morphology work we were doing. I’ve always found, since, that I’ve got a broad knowledge base and so I am able to interact with people from lots of different specialisms.’ 

Max’s sporting background, Antarctic experience and climate science expertise collided in an unexpected way recently, when he helped Lewis Pugh train for a swim in an East Antarctic supraglacial lake.

UN Patron of the Oceans, Lewis Pugh is famed for using swimming challenges to raise awareness of climate change. Max trained alongside him on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides: 

‘It was a ten day training camp of swimming and running twice a day. The waters were between four and seven degrees, so it was really intense but brilliant. He was so keen to learn more about the science behind climate change, and the ocean conservation side. So we’d get up at first light and do our run or swim, then we’d be back to try and warm up and talk about the science for hours before recovering to go and do it all again. It was really full on but a great experience.’ 

It was an experience Max will remember forever - and another milestone on his journey to help us all take better care of our seas. 

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