Peter Sutcliffe was born and educated in Pretoria. He obtained BSc and MSc degrees in physics from the University of Pretoria in 1964 and 1968 respectively. During 1965 and 1966 he worked at the South African Weather Bureau and served in the South African Navy. From late 1968 to early 1970 he was a member of the SA National Antarctic Expedition where he served as geomagnetist for the Hermanus Magnetic Observatory (HMO). On his return he joined the HMO as a researcher; his first research was to apply the newly discovered technique of Maximum Entropy Spectral Analysis to the study of geomagnetic pulsations, which earned him a PhD in physics from Potchefstroom University in 1975.
Peter has spent his working life at the HMO in Hermanus; however, in 1979 he spent a post-doc year at the University of Alberta in Canada and in 1989 was a visiting researcher at the Max-Planck Institute for Aeronomy in Germany. During the period May 2000 to September 2007 he was Manager of the HMO, first under the CSIR and then under the NRF. After his retirement in 2009 he was appointed as a Research Associate.
Peter has carried out research in the fields of magnetospheric and ionospheric physics, much of it in collaboration with researchers at other organisations worldwide. Most of this research has been in the field of ultra-low frequency (ULF) waves, the magnetic signatures of which are commonly known as geomagnetic pulsations. One of his most successful research collaborations was with Dr A W V Poole at Rhodes University, during which time a model was developed to account for the ionospheric signatures of geomagnetic pulsations. During the 1980s he set up arrays of induction magnetometers in southern Africa to study the characteristics of Pc3 pulsation field line resonances and collaborated with researchers at Nagoya University, Japan, to demonstrate the cavity mode nature of Pi2 pulsations at low latitudes.
Over the past 15 years Peter has used magnetic field data from low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites to study Pi2 cavity mode and Pc3 field line resonances in collaboration with researchers in Germany and Hungary. During his research career of more than 45 years Peter has authored or co-authored over 70 papers in international peer-reviewed journals.