Welcome to the University of Liverpool’s Geography Blog

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Welcome to the blog for Geography at the University of Liverpool. Follow this blog for regular updates on our work including our research activities, comments on news stories and updates on what our staff, postgraduate and undergraduate students and alumni are doing. We hope this will help give an insight into the dynamic world of geography at the University of Liverpool and that the blog will become a space for conversation about what we do. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment or email us.

Introducing James Lea: New Lecturer in Glacial Geomorphology

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Post by Dr. James Lea

I’m James Lea, and I’ve just started in the department as a new lecturer in glacial geomorphology.

My research looks at how glacial and geomorphic processes can aid our understanding of the past, present, and potential future behaviour of glaciers and ice sheets, though I also have more general interests in Quaternary environments, remote sensing, and numerical modelling techniques.

One of the main areas I research is the behaviour of tidewater glaciers (those that flow into the sea), since these are amongst the largest and fastest on the planet, and potentially the most likely drivers of future rapid sea level rise. I started to study these types of glaciers during my PhD at the University of Aberdeen, where I reconstructed the last 250 years of behaviour at the largest and most dynamic tidewater glacier in SW Greenland (the catchily named Kangiata Nunaata Sermia).

As part of this, I used a variety of information including satellite imagery, explorer’s photographs, geomorphology, and forgotten diaries of early Greenland colonists to reconstruct glacier positions. The result was the longest observation based record of tidewater glacier dynamics anywhere in Greenland, which I then was able to use to test whether a numerical model could adequately simulate the decadal to centennial behaviour of these glaciers.

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Following my PhD, I moved from Aberdeen to Stockholm University, Sweden to take a postdoc position looking at performing simulations of the former Svalbard-Barents Sea Ice Sheet (north of Scandinavia) that existed during the last glacial. During this time I was also researching how iceberg calving processes are incorporated into ice sheet models, with the aim of improving how this significant but poorly understood mechanism of ice loss is represented.

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In addition to these mostly model and remote sensing based studies, I also very much enjoy taking part in field-based research. Some of examples of this have included: nearly getting heat stroke in an Essex Quarry (Quantification of turbate structures through a subglacial till: dimensions and characteristics, Lea & Palmer, 2014); standing in a lake for 6 hours in the middle of the Swedish winter coring for sediments (Timing of the first drainage of the Baltic Ice Lake synchronous with the onset of Greenland Stadial 1, Muschitiello, Lea, et al., 2015); and hiking round Greenland for 4 weeks at a time carrying everything on my back (Terminus driven retreat of a major Greenlandic tidewater glacier during the early 19th century, Lea et al., 2014a; Fluctuations of a major Greenlandic tidewater glacier driven by changes in atmospheric forcing, Lea et al., 2014b).

If you have any questions just drop me an email (j.lea@liverpool.ac.uk), or call by my office (Rm404 in the Roxby Building) to say hello!

Responding to ‘civic vandalism’ – thoughts on the Liverpool Green & Open Space Review Board

Post by Dr Ian Mell

Over the past twelve months Liverpool City Council has been engaged in a review of how it funds the city’s green and open spaces. Due to an reported 58% decrease in funding from central government to the city, its Mayor and elected officials have been forced to rethink how they pay for statutory services, i.e. those services which are legally required, which has raised questions over the short and long-term financing of discretionary services. Liverpool’s parks, gardens, green paths and some of its waterways fall into the latter category and post-2016/17 there are concerns that the city will have no money to manage its landscape.

The Liverpool Green & Open Space Review Board was set up by Liverpool’s Mayor to find solutions to the lack of funding for the city’s landscape. Guided by an Independent Chair and a board of City Council officers/members and local experts the review aimed to gauge the feeling in city about the protection and in some cases the development of green and open spaces.

Whilst it was agreed throughout the review process that the City Council needed to rethink how it manages the city’s landscape, there were contrasting opinions across Liverpool regarding what and why parks and greenspaces should be protected. Over the course of the review the city’s approach to landscape management has been called ‘civic vandalism’, as members of the public have viewed the ‘call for sites’ as a developer’s charter undermining local objections to the redevelopment of parks. It was also clearly apparent that local communities wanted a greater say in how the city’s landscapes were being managed.

As expected several high profile sites including the proposed redevelopment of Walton Hall Park into the new Everton Football Club stadium and the redevelopment by Redrow on Setfon Park Meadows/ Park Avenue incidental space were prominent throughout the consultation process. However, it was the veracity of the support for smaller spaces in Clubmoor, Tuebrook and Childwall which illustrated the multi-functional nature of greenspace to the city’s population.

These spaces are used by walking, cycling, socialising and walking the dog. They are places like Princes Park and Score Law Gardens where families congregate to spend time together. Moreover, Otterspool Promenade and Croxeth Hall Park are places where the natural landscape of the city meets its urban boundaries.

Time and time again the city’s parks, gardens and greenspaces were discussed as provided essential social and ecological benefits to the city’s population. Spatial variations in quality and use though were discussed illustrating a lack of trust within north Liverpool of the council’s commitment to delivering high quality green and open spaces.

Unfortunately in spite of the vast public support for the retention of all green and open spaces in the city Liverpool City Council is having to rethink how it pays for the management of its landscape. The interim report of Green & Open Space Review brings to the fore the breadth of options open to the city and frames these alternative funding opportunities within a wider management context.

Could the sale of some sites be a good way to fund long-term maintenance? Could Community Asset Transfers to greenspace campaign groups provide local people with greater authority to manage their local landscapes? Would long-term corporate sponsorship or an endowment from the city’s two Premier League football clubs meet the annual costs of maintaining sports pitches throughout the city? And could the NHS provide funding for park maintenance as part of their healthy living programmes?

All of the above are options open to Liverpool City Council. What is clear though is that it cannot continue to look to central government to support funding for the city’s parks and gardens. What the Green & Open Space Review is doing is therefore innovative, as it is one of the first cities in the UK to undertake such a broad ranging assessment of how it funds it landscape under an austerity government. The interim findings and recommendations of the review were released in December 2015, with the final evaluation due for release in 2016. What is certain is that if Liverpool City Council are prepared to take positive steps to attractive funding from public, private and community sources is that the city’s greenspaces could be managed in a more sustainable way in the coming years.

A brief account of life as a Swedish student

You’ve decided to read my blog so thank you, but more importantly, I hope I show you how amazing studying abroad in Sweden is!

  1. Arrival Day/ Orientation period

August 18th 2015- The start of my biggest adventure to date; becoming an Erasmus student at The University of Lund. The university did its upmost to make all ‘newbies’ feel included. This included a relaxed orientation period, filled with parties, trips, such as to a wildlife park, and yes some work (but only an optional Swedish introductory course; so don’t worry you can avoid work at the beginning!).

 

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Lund University Library

 

2. Getting Around

As a student in Lund it is essential you can ride a bike. These can be picked up for less than £100 and sold back at the end of your semester. I will warn you in advance the police take not having bike lights very seriously as well as having more than one person riding a bike (£50+ fine). However if you can beat the record of 5 on a bike they’ll let you off the fine- if you manage that I’m very impressed, it’s a lot harder than it sounds.

3. Mentor Group 5

A good way to socialise and get to know your new surrounding was through the universities international mentor scheme. Mentors organised group activities, with students from across the globe. These included a trip to a nearby beach, as well as a traditional Swedish treasure hunt on a grand scale; 20 of us running around in search of clues all over Lund! A must for all new students!

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Treasure Hunt with Mentor Group 5!

4. Student ‘Nations’

Lund University is unique from British Universities, because it has student ‘nations’, which you join within your first month at the university. The nations are almost as old as the university itself, originating from 1668 onwards. There are over 10, with varying associations including food and music. Nations are difficult to describe to ‘non-students’, but think of them as social societies, not associated to your academic side of university. They are run by students, and provide the cheapest food and drinks in Lund (so yes you can drink on a budget). All nations have club nights, so there’s no getting bored of the party scene here. While on the subject of alcohol, you can’t legally buy alcohol from shops in Sweden unless you’re 20 (annoying), but you can buy it when out from the age of 18. Once you’re 20 your new best friend might just be ‘Systembolaget’- yes Sweden still has what is essentially an off licence and the only place you can buy alcohol above 4% from.

5. ‘Novisch’ Period

The nations also run a month long ‘Novisch’ period. During this time many events are organised to introduce new members. This event is ended with a traditional Swedish ‘sittning’. A sittning is a 3 course dinner, including lots of alcohol, singing and speeches made by the nation presidents, and ends with a club event- I can highly recommend!

6. The work begins- Lectures

Although there is a lot of socialising here, it’s not all fun and games, we all have to work too. At Lund, each semester you will take up 2 courses. These run for 2 months each, one after the other. Although a physical geographer, I took classes in Quaternary Geology while here. My first was glacial geology and the latter palaeoecological methods and environmental analysis. Contact time is much greater than Liverpool, with lectures beginning at 9.15 everyday and usually ending at 4 or 5 (I know we all complain at one 9am in Liverpool, but you get used to it). Compared to Liverpool the geology courses here are more field intensive- in just 3 months I’ve been on 6 trips! Plenty of opportunity to see what Sweden has to offer. The highlight for me had to be the first field trip to Finse, Norway. This was a 6 day excursion in which 17 of us, lead by Per Moller (an experienced mountaineer and all round inspiring professor), summited the Hardangerjøkulen ice cap. During the trip he even took us ice climbing down a crevasse, although afraid of heights I had to do it, but I’m so glad I did! Swedes certainly don’t worry about health and safety like they do in the UK…

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My Class at the summit of Hardangerjøjulen ice cap! (All credit to Per, far right)

7. Travels

So maybe you’re beginning to think it’s all work and no play, but that is certainly not the case.  Train travel is cheap in Sweden compared to the UK, so it is a great excuse to travel. The highlights for me have been Gothenburg and Helsingborg- both cities with unique history and culture. Closer to Lund and just 10 minutes by train is Malmo, a great place to go for some retail therapy. It also has an ice hockey arena, which has to be a must see for the complete Swedish experience. Across the border in Denmark you also have Copenhagen under an hour away, a fantastic city, especially at Christmas.

8. Common Misconceptions

  • ‘Alcohol is expensive’- Somewhat true if you drink out, pints average at £4, but if you drink at a nation you can buy one for less than £2!
  • ‘Swedes are naturally blonde’- look closely and most are from a bottle.
  • They love Abba- disappointingly its hardly ever played!
  • Everyone drives Volvos- mostly true, but you do see other cars.

Top 10 facts about Sweden

  1. Get used to being greeted with the words ‘Hej hej!’.
  2. Swedes live for ‘fika’, essentially coffee and cake or more commonly the Kanelbulle-Cinnamon bun’.
  3. Lunch is always 12pm sharp.
  4. Its bikes you have to look out for not cars.
  5. Once you’ve said pardon, Swedes will happily speak to you in English.
  6. You know somethings gone wrong when the swedes in your group speak Swedish between each other.
  7. Swedes love ‘ecological’ food, basically organic.
  8. They love to recycle, minimum 5 bins in every room.
  9. It really does get dark by 3.
  10. Just like us brits the Swedes also love to complain about the weather, which may I add is very similar to the UK; wet, windy and cold most of the time.

So I hope this brief account of life as a Swedish student has persuaded you that Sweden is the place for you. I can honestly say I’ve been having the time of my life.

By Diana Lilley (Year 2 BSc Geography)

 

Study Abroad: A semester in Sweden

By Isobel Beech (Year 2 BSc Geography)

In the middle of August I arrived in Sweden as a flustered exchange student laden with suitcases and I could never have predicted what the next 6 months studying in this country would hold.

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After an emotional farewell at Manchester Airport, Patrick, Diana and I (my fellow Liverpool students) departed for Sweden. The day we travelled to Sweden was the official arrival day for Lund University with 1100 exchange students arriving. After sorting out some essentials such as picking up the keys for my accommodation, I was taken to my halls ‘Greenhouse’ in a mini bus. It was on this journey I realised the distance of my accommodation to the main town which meant getting a bike became one of the first things on my to do list. Greenhouse is very isolated and located in the centre of Swedish countryside, this holds some disadvantages but these all disappear when watching autumn sunrises while cycling to your 9am lectures! The accommodation houses a small group of international students whom have become a tight knit community over the semester with many social events and everyday shenanigans.

The first two weeks in Lund consisted of an orientation period allowing time to settle into the new environment before classes commenced. During this period we were introduced to our international mentor groups lead by student mentors who arranged activities for the new exchange students such as a tour of the town, a trip to the beach and other activities to get to know people and explore the new surroundings. The orientation also included a Swedish language crash course and an obligatory trip to Ikea to sample some of those iconic meatballs.

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Lund is a small picturesque town located in southern Sweden with university as the focal point. The campus stretches across the whole town with a number of flagship buildings including ‘the whithouse’, the AF Castle and the university library. Nations are scattered across the campus which are student organisations hosting a full weekly programme of activities including meals, pubs, clubs, sporting opportunities and more.  Nations have a noivsch period at the start of the semester where you are put into mentor groups and compete against each other. This Novisch period ended with the Novicshfest which was traditional Swedish dinner party known as a sittning, this included ceremonious speeches, awards, singing and of course a little bit of drinking too. During my time here I have become very accustomed to the Swedish practice of fika which is a break in the day marked by coffee accompanied with pastries; I think I’ll be continuing this daily ritual back in Liverpool!

The Swedish university system varies compared to the UK. Only one module is studied at a time here, with a lot more contact hours. The class sizes are also significantly smaller ranging from 15-20 people.  Modules consist of lectures and exercises with assessments in both group work and individual assignments. The courses are also very dependent on fieldwork and excursions which was a great way to explore Sweden. While in Sweden I decided to study geology modules, focusing on quaternary geology which has strong links to physical geography. The first module focused on glacial geology and this course began with a fieldtrip to Norway which was an unforgettable experience and undoubtedly a highlight of my study abroad semester. The trip included climbing up the Blåisen glacier to the plateaux and to Jökullhytta glacier. This required climbing equipment and training which had taken place the previous week at university by hanging from a tree outside the geology department and practising the procedure if we fell down a crevasse!  The views on the glacier trek were incredible and quite unforgettable. Another highlight of the trip was abseiling down a crevasse and climbing back up using crampons and an ice axe. The second module I am studying is focused on palaeoecological methods and environmental analysis. This module involves analysing cores which we took in groups in Pilevad in Southern Sweden and ultimately creating a poster showing our findings.

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In addition to university and everyday life in Lund I have had the opportunity to travel around a little. So far I have made trips to Gothenburg, Copenhagen and Helsingborg. In Sweden a child is classed up to the age of 19 which meant travelling to these places was relatively cheap. I also hope to make it to Stockholm before the end of my time here.

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To summarise my time so far, I have made great friends, embraced the Swedish culture and created unforgettable memories. To any first year students thinking about applying for study abroad I would without hesitation encourage you to do so. I am now 4 months into my study abroad adventure and excited to see what my last 2 months in Sweden will hold. The winter is fast approaching with plummeting temperatures as low as minus 2 degrees, Christmas decorations are appearing round the town and I am looking forward to celebrating Christmas Swedish Style before my return to Liverpool in the New Year.

Isobel Beech (Year 2 BSc Geography)

‘Knowing me, Knowing you’

 By Mark Green

I have just joined the department to take up a Lectureship in Health Geography here at the University of Liverpool.

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Mark himself!

My research interests lie in two interconnected areas. Firstly, I am interested in how body weight and physical activity vary within the UK population, as well as their association to various health outcomes. Secondly, I am interested in examining how neighbourhoods influence health outcomes and behaviours. I also have a broad interest in social inequalities in health and in understanding the processes through which they persist.

I joined the department having previously been based at ScHARR (School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield), where I was a Research Associate in Public Health (2013-2015). I was attached to two large research projects during this post:

  • The Yorkshire Health Study: A survey of residents of Yorkshire collected every three years which began in 2010-2012. The aim of the survey is to better understand the health needs of the population of Yorkshire, as well as investigate the associations between a variety of personal, social and behavioural factors to long term health conditions. The study was funded by the NIHR CLAHRC for Yorkshire and the Humber.
  • An analysis of the associations between the density of different types of shops which sell alcohol and alcohol-related admissions to hospitals at a small geographical scale (2002/03 to 2013/14). The study was funded by Alcohol Research UK.
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Mark is involved in the Global Burden of Disease study, which estimates worldwide trends in health. This figure is of the prevalence of overweight and obesity (source: Ng et al., 2014, Lancet, 384: 766–81).

Despite having a Public Health background, I am a Geographer by trade. I completed my PhD in Geography at the University of Sheffield (2010-2013), entitled ‘Death in England and Wales: Using a classificatory approach for researching mortality’ (supervised by Dr Daniel Vickers and Prof. Danny Dorling). My PhD explored the clustering of mortality patterns at a small scale for England and Wales through the creation of an area classification. I also have a MSc and BA(Hons) in geographical-related disciplines both from the University of Sheffield.

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Mark’s PhD created an area classification of mortality patterns for England and Wales. Of course, as a geographer he loves maps! (Source: Green et al., 2014, Health & Place, 30, 196-204).

A list of my publications can be found here. If you have any questions or fancy a chat, feel free to pop by my office (Room 602c in the Roxby Building), or email me.

Reflections on the MSc fieldclass of 2015: environmental changes in Cumbria

9th to the 16th October 2015

Each the MSc programmes in Climate and Environmental Change and Environmental Sciences begin with a 7 day fieldclass to the English Lake District. The programme involves a research training in techniques of Environmental Reconstruction and Characterisation focused on coastal (saltmarsh), lacustrine and wetland environments. The following slide-shows showcase the field activities

Day 1 the late glacial climate and environmental changes at Hawes Water (Lancashire)

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Day 2 climate histories from lowland raised mires (Leven Estuary)

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Day 3-4 sediment dynamics and environmental changes at Brotherswater

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Day 5 saltmarsh evolution and radionuclides in the Irish Sea (Walney Island)

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Days 6 and 7 involve small group work on individual projects presented on the last evening, before home and some deserved rest……

MSc class of 2015

MSc class of 2015

Lorca Field Class 2015

Lorca 2015

Post by Hannah Delohery and Chloe Dawes, Year 2 BSc Geography students

Days 1 and 2:
Days one and two of the six days that we had in sunny Lorca, Spain were our orientation days. They were completed with the purpose of introducing us not only to the area that we would be working in, but also to get our minds (somewhat fresh from the summer holidays) thinking about the key points and processes that we would be examining as part of that work.

Day 1: ‘Castillo de Lorca
After a morning of searching for local bakeries and stockpiling the supermarkets’ supplies of biscuits, bread and water, having bought out Hotel Felix’s bar of Amstel and any other available beers the night previous, day one of Lorca Field Trip 2015 was underway as we made the short journey to the ‘Castillo de Lorca’ via the trusty field trip coach.

As we made the ascent towards the historical site of the 13th century castle; strategically located atop a hill due to its military origins, the history of the area became immediately noticeable in the increasing number of buildings with a more traditional architecture; the arch ways and pillars being highly distinguishable from the very clean cut white walls of the more contemporary builds.

The Castillo, or castle, placement gave our group of avid and definitely not hungover geographers, incredible panoramic views of the valley beneath and the city within, as well as the mountain ranges that encased the two.

The warm but clear conditions that had set in already, that we were to become accustomed to and given t-shirt tans by, made features of the area such as the variable topography, sporadic vegetation and anthropogenic installments easily identifiable. The view and introductory talks given by Janet Hooke, master of the microphone and Andy Morse provided a perfect introduction to the field trip and made it very clear that the damp streets of our lovely Liverpool and of course the equally as damp walls of ‘The Raz’ were far behind, and that we were about to put our first year knowledge to the test as we stepped into second year, in the sun.

Puerto Lumbreras-Nogalte River Channel
Our next instalment of orientation day one took us to an area within the city ‘Puerto Lumbreras’ that had unfortunately fallen victim to multiple serious floods. As we stood within the dry ‘Rambler de Nogalte’ river channel, Janet informed us why two particularly devastating flood events had come to pass, described the effects and impacts upon the local people and showed us the visible examples of flood management that had been introduced since. As unfortunate as the results of the flood events were, visiting this site gave not only an interesting overview of some of the geographical issues of the Lorca area but a reminder of the importance of why geographers do what we do.

Nogalte Channel:
Stops 3 and 4 of day one were both key points of the Nogalte Channel, which has in a relatively short amount of time, experienced some severe changes that made them a must see. The ‘lecture in the field’ talks at these locations elaborated on some of the themes that had been introduced earlier in the morning including channel morphology, hazard management and introduced other key themes such as the concern of climate change and local land use. The first of these two sites also gave us an insight into the research that Prof. Hook has and still is conducting concerning primarily flow rates.

Puentes Dam:
Whether you’re a keen Geographer or not or simply a fan of large-scale construction, Puentes Dam was a site to behold.

The huge dam before us, built in 2000 complete with helipad, represented the CHS’s most recent efforts with damming at Puentes, after developments were first installed at the end of the 18th century. It is in the CHS’s opinion, this most modern dam has indeed saved Lorca from the significant flooding event of 2012 and that without it we might not have had a Lorca to visit today!

Gully:
The final stop of the day may not sound particularly exciting, but for those of you that don’t know, a gully is a major form of soil erosion and land degradation-both topics that physical geographers unashamedly get excited about! This site was a great example of why a considerable amount of research is being performed on gullies at present and for want of a better description, brought the explanation of their development to life in a way no Blackwell’s textbook could.

Buenos Noches:
At the end of the day and after dinner, provided by the wonderfully friendly staff of Hotel Felix, whose service was fantastic throughout and massively contributed to what was a great experience…dedicated research into local past-times and liquor was of course continued by most students.

Day 2:

Day two of orientation was just as insightful and interesting as day one and followed the same format. We visited some truly beautiful places and as a result I’ll take this opportunity to show you, rather than describe it – they do say a picture says a thousand words. (It’s a shame that doesn’t apply to word counts in coursework though eh!)

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Day 3

Waking to temperatures of just under 30 degrees and hearing the rumours of the newly discovered sandwich shop, was a great start to the guided projects day. After travelling to El Muerto, we split into 5 smaller groups. We had 5 demonstrations, each on different topics including; meteorology, slopes and soils, infiltration, vegetation statistics and geomorphology. These mini–experiments provided us with an insight on what factors we might research in our individual reports.

Day 4 – Nogalte & Day 5 – El Muerto

We spent the next two days focusing on our individual projects.

Day 5 - El Muerto Day 4 - Nogalte

Finishing in the field at 4, allowed us to spend a few hours exploring Lorca’s bars and pubs before sitting down for our evening meal at the hotel. With Prosecco on the table at dinner curiosity of the hotel and only a short walk to the Irish bar – O’Neils, the last night was a night to remember (or to forget)!

Day 6 – Departure

Up early, we headed straight to the airport. After rinsing the duty free of what looked to non-students like a year’s supply of Smirnoff, we landed back in rainy Manchester.