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.
In this blog post, Anna Self, who graduated with a BA Geography degree in 2018, reflects on her recent experiences of working with refugees in Greece, and how her studies at Liverpool helped to prepare her for the work she did there.
It’s been a little over a year since I graduated from the University of Liverpool and I have just returned from Samos, Greece where I’ve been working in a refugee camp home to 4,500 people. I have thought a lot about how I want to communicate with friends, family, and colleagues back in the UK regarding what is happening in Samos, and in refugee camps all over the world. Some people have asked me if I’ve had a ‘good time’, or if I ‘enjoyed myself’ and honestly, I can’t answer that question. The situation in Samos, a small island not too far from Turkey, is appalling. I think we are failing humanity by letting people live in the conditions that I have seen.
I’d like to think that the majority of my friends and family are aware and sympathetic about the refugee crisis we face in Europe, but if there are grandparents, friends, or colleagues out there that aren’t, then my experiences have made it clear to me that this conversation needs to be had. It might be difficult and uncomfortable, but one thing I’ve learnt is that ignorance is one of the biggest culprits in this situation. For example, tourists in Samos are blissfully unaware of the 4,500 people living in inhumane conditions less than 500 metres from the city centre. These lovely, innocent, hard-working people are living in tents, without access to toilets, showers, and basic amenities.
Here in Europe, we hold ourselves to a higher standard than other places, boasting that we have the best healthcare, education, and living standards in the world. Yet somehow, we are forgetting about over a million people who are fleeing to Europe to escape political conflict, famine, torture, and other atrocities that we cannot even imagine. I’ve seen people digging through rubbish bins looking for food to eat and children sleeping next to rats, and even women who have been discharged from hospital one day after giving birth, having to return to a one-man tent that is more suitable for Glastonbury than it is for living in with a newborn baby.
With the UK’s news agenda being dominated by Brexit, it’s easy to forget what is happening in the rest of the world. Despite the changes our own country is going through, I believe we have a responsibility to these people – many of whom come from countries we either colonised or in which we have contributed to the conflict. I’ve had uncomfortable conversations with people from Ghana, Sudan, and many other countries. After being asked where I’m from, the response was always the same; a reference to the British colonisation of their country. Although this colonisation happened generations before me, I’m still seeing the effects today, and we are all living with the consequences.
Greece is attempting to deal with the huge pressures of this migration, but we can help share the burden. Write to your local councillor, your MP, talk to your friends, start the conversation. Next time you catch yourself complaining about a delayed flight, an overpriced flat, or not enough paid holiday, think of the woman and her newborn baby living in a one-man tent with no NHS, no toilets, and no government to support her. The media might not be talking about it anymore, but the refugee crisis is still happening, and the situation is only getting worse.
Over the last few months, I have seen the worst of humanity, but I’ve also seen the best. I’ve been lucky enough to work with hundreds of individuals who come from all over the world, some of them refugees themselves. Doctors, lawyers, linguists, students, and politicians. Some from Europe, others from Syria, Afghanistan, Congo, and many others. I am constantly inspired by their compassion and drive to help strangers, friends, and neighbours, despite the hardship they are going through themselves.
Having studied BA Geography in Liverpool, I have been able to assess the situation in Greece with a unique lens. During my studies, I learnt about Europe’s responsibility towards the state of affairs in many countries across the globe. Be it from colonisation, or from current involvement in conflict in countries like Syria and Afghanistan. I have also thought critically about the roles of NGOs, particularly those who do not listen to the voices of refugees themselves, and compared them to those organisations who listen and care for the people they work with.
I’ve seen firsthand how a degree in Geography really can help you to help others. Being equipped with a critical mindset has allowed me to proactively solve problems before they arose, or to develop solutions and think on my feet. This involved things like trying to address the disruptive impact of the comings and goings of short term volunteers on refugees, or reducing the issue of gender inequality within the camp. Although it felt great to be doing something to address the problems I’d learnt about during my time in Liverpool, I’ve returned home ready for the next phase of my academic and professional career.
If you’re interested in finding out more about how to get involved, please feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr Geoff Thomas, formerly of the Department of Geography at the University of Liverpool, passed away peacefully in his sleep Tuesday 2nd July 2019 aged 76 after a 4 year battle with illness undertaken with customary joviality, panache and determination. Geoff as an academic and researcher was above all else a Quaternary geologist and geomorphologist renowned for his meticulous research on the stratigraphy, sedimentology and geomorphology of glacial deposits. At the Department of Geography and Planning at Liverpool we record his passing with great sadness, and celebrate his contribution during a ~40-year tenure at Liverpool from 1968 to 2007 and his lasting contribution to Quaternary Science.
Much of Geoff’s research was ahead of its time, with technological advances in elevation models and digital mapping arriving late in his career. It is testimony to his abilities and adaptability that he produced comprehensive assessments of glacial sediment (on the Isle of Man, in northwest Wales, southeast and western Ireland) coupled with fantastically illustrated geomorphological mapping in the paper era. Only then on retirement to transition to using digital elevation models and Geographical Information Systems to produce a state-of-the-art mapping of the Cheshire-Staffordshire-Shropshire lowlands, and Welsh borderlands. Geoff’s stratigraphical and geomorphological research underpinned, and was a cornerstone of the Natural Environment Research Council (2012-2018) Britice-Chrono Project work in northwest England, the Isle of Man, southeast Ireland and Connemara. He participated on Britice-Chrono field sampling trips in the English Midlands in 2013-14 logging sections and interpreting palaeoenvironmental models. He was also co-lead for the October 2013 Glacial Landsystems Working Group (GLWG) Field Meeting 14 focused on The Glaciation of the Cheshire-Shropshire Lowlands and adjacent areas. Even in failing health both he and his research has contributed to publications that continue into 2019.
Born and brought up in Cardiff, he gained his first degree and PhD from the University of Wales (Aberystwyth) in 1970 researching the Quaternary Geology of the Isle of Man. That research on the Isle of Man was a stellar contribution on Quaternary stratigraphy, and it was a matter of pride that the PhD research much underpinned the 2006 book A New History of the Isle of Man: evolution of the natural landscape some 36 years later. From 1969 to 2007 as Lecturer and Senior Lecturer at the University of Liverpool, Geoff was above all else an educator, introducing numerous undergraduates over 3 decades to their first taste of glaciology and glacial environments in Iceland and Norway. This commitment to field teaching extended into his late career, with him still leading student groups wild camping on the glacial forelands of Norway into his 60’s. Many PhD researchers and academics point to Geoff as having taught them a great deal in the fields of sedimentology, glaciotectonics, the glaciation of NW England and adjacent regions.
His legacy is that blending of sedimentary structures and geomorphology to understand our glacial history. He was an active and dedicated supporter of the Quaternary Research Association (QRA) serving on the Executive, leading the 1971, 1984 and 2004 excursions to the Isle of Man, contributing to numerous other QRA field excursions (North Wales, South Midlands and Welsh Marches, Western Ireland and Brecon Beacons). Geoff was awarded Honorary Membership of the Quaternary Research Association in 2009. For many the abiding memory of Geoff will be in the field, as James Scourse noted in the Quaternary Newsletter (2009: No 117) ‘… to see him draw and describe the evolution of sedimentary structure is to witness a profoundly perceptive intellect in which scientific insight is allied to artistic flair and an inner delight in the nature of sediments.’ For me he was simply brilliant company, fun and a true friend, he will be missed.
He will be greatly missed by his wife Patricia and his family. Geoffrey Stephen Powell Thomas, Physical Geographer, born 28th May 1943; died 2nd July 2019.
RC Chiverrell 7th July 2019
By Kathryn Ashton (BSc Geography Year 3)
Over the summer myself and 11 fellow students, along with lecturers James Lea and Rich Chiverrell, spent two weeks in Iceland for our 3rd year field course, conducting fieldwork and getting the chance to see a vast range of the amazing sites and landscapes Iceland has to offer. After managing to make our own way to Iceland, we spent the first night in Reykjavík, spending the evening exploring the colourful city and enjoying some food and drinks in the local restaurants and bars before the trip officially started.
The next morning we all met with Rich and James at 8am – ready to embark on a 6 hour drive to our first site Skálafell, in the South East of the country, where we spent the first half of the trip. On the way we stopped at many of Iceland’s most famous and incredible sites. These included; Skógafoss, a 60m high waterfall where we all got rather wet walking up to its plunge pool, and Svínafellsjökull – which for many of us was the first time we had seen a glacier in real life and filled us with excitement for the rest of the trip. The drive gave us the opportunity to see the varying landscape Iceland has to offer, with expansive lava fields being a particular highlight. Our final stop was Iceland’s famous iceberg lake – Jökulsárlón, filled with icebergs stretching from the glacier front and out into the sea. Once we arrived at our hostel, we spent the evening cooking group meals, which we continued to do for the rest of the trip. We were also lucky enough to be able to see the northern lights whilst staying here, which we’d all been hoping for during the trip.
The next two days were spent at Skálafellsjökull and Heinabergsjökull, being introduced to the geomorphology of the area and trying out different fieldwork techniques which we could use when conducting our fieldwork later in the trip. We focused on the moraines within the sandur system to reconstruct past movement and extent of the glaciers, looked at how the landscape may have been shaped and changed by large events such as glacial floods and also at the contemporary processes occurring both within the glacier and at the ice margin, linked to its hydrology. We even managed to take part of an iceberg from the proglacial lake back to enjoy with our drinks at the hostel in the evening. After spending a morning discussing our ideas for our individual projects we split into groups and spent two days conducting pilot studies. Conducting fieldwork in such close proximity to the glaciers was an incredible experience unlike any fieldwork we had done before, and despite the slightly wet weather over these days they are ones which we all thoroughly enjoyed.
The second half of the trip saw us move to our next site based at Svínafell, on the way we stopped off at another amazing glacier and iceberg lake – Fjallsárlón. Here we spent the day admiring the glacier and icebergs, whilst also looking at the geomorphology of the area and discussing the possible history of the glacier. We even saw the glacier calving into the lake which was definitely a highlight and a very exciting way to end our day.
For the rest of the trip we were conducting our fieldwork at Virkisjökull-Falljökull. My group focused on the diurnal variations of the hydrology of Falljökull, which gave us the opportunity to work right at the ice margin, measuring the changes within the proglacial stream over 11 hours through the day to understand the dynamics of glacier melt. Another group was based in the moraine system, looking at the primary succession within the area and conducting lichenometry – measuring over 4000 lichens to map the timings of the retreat of the glacier. The final group were based in the outwash plains from previous Jökulhlaup events, measuring lichens and rock hardness, along with boulder sizes, to calibrate the ages of these events and the flow velocities of the floods.
The drive back to Reykjavík on the final day was equally as good as the drive down. We had the opportunity to walk around the immense Gullfoss waterfall, and had another quick stop at Jökulsárlón. We stopped off at Iceland’s famous geysers which we saw erupt multiple times, whilst also making the mistake of standing down wind of them and getting rather wet. We also saw and drove through the mid Atlantic ridge which was a brilliant way to end the trip.
Our field trip to Iceland provided us with first hand experience working in ice marginal areas of glacial systems and allowed us to fully immerse ourselves into the landscape to understand the many processes constantly changing the environment. Conducting this fieldwork was a fantastic experience and being able to work so closely to these active glaciers was a once in a lifetime opportunity, which we will never forget.
The discipline of Geography has long been intertwined with the use of computers. This close interaction is likely to increase with the embeddedness of computers and concomitant growth of spatially referenced data. To better understand the current situation, and to be able to better speculate about the future, this article provides two parallel perspectives: first, we offer an historical perspective on the relationship between Geography and computers; second, we document developments—in particular the nascent field of data science—that are currently taking place outside of Geography and to which we argue the discipline should be paying close attention. Combining both perspectives, we identify the benefits of tighter integration between Geogra- phy and Data Science and argue for the establishment of a new space—that we term Geographic Data Science—in which cross‐pollination could occur to the benefit of both Geography and the larger data community.
Blog post by Rosa Blakelock, who graduates next week with a BA (Hons) in Geography
It is often said that university is the best time you’ll have, that you meet your “friends for life” and create memories that the rest of your days will struggle to live up to. These things are often said by those who are looking back, and no doubt some of these things are true, but memory is unreliable and this may not be the whole truth, and may mask parts of university life that re challenging and unhappy, stressful and upsetting memories. The truth is that university can be fun but can also be a very isolated place, which is strange to think, that you can feel lonely whilst surrounded by 25,000-odd people of your own age. When asked to write this blog post as a recently graduated Geography student, I was wary of exhibiting a cynical, Scrooge-like vibe, making readers feel disillusioned, but I am even more wary of contributing to the culture of not talking about issues faced by students, which helps paint a picture of university as clear as dishwater for those who are yet to come. Major organisations such as the NHS (where I now work) have reams of information about student mental health and Student Minds, which is a student mental health charity that provides information for students to look after their health, support others and create change. If you want to find stories written by other students, Imperial has a great blog section on mental health.
I think one of the things that is painfully ironic about university is that when you’re going through a hard time, it is so easy to think you’re alone because everyone around you looks as they’re having a ball. But the reality is that every single person, if not now, then in the not-too-distant past, has been through something very similar. From feeling homesick to feeling too dim to make it through the year, from discretely battling depression and having no energy to get up in the morning, to paranoia and anxiety developing, coming to terms with a newly diagnosed STI…what do all these things share, apart from being astonishingly common among the student population? They are hardly talked about.
Coming back to university after being sectioned in my second year (put in a psychiatric hospital for a few weeks), I felt more alone than ever in my life. I still had my wonderful friends who had stuck by me through the hell I went through, but they were now graduated and I was placed in a brand new year group…like a latecomer to a party where everyone has been hanging out for two years. I am generally a friendly person, easy to get along with you might even say, but man, my confidence plummeted hard during my last year in this new year group. I spent my days sitting on my own in lectures, not talking to anyone, isolating myself from a group of people I was convinced, had it together. Naturally I was given therapy and counselling after my episode and it wasn’t until a few weeks in, sitting in the overcrowded waiting room at the university counselling service that I realised, it’s not just me. The reason waiting lists are so long and appointments are so distant is because so many people apply for counselling that the services just can’t cope. A YouGov survey showed that 27% of British uni students report having a mental health problem whilst studying. And that’s only the people that actually spoke up about having one, I am confident that the percentage would be a lot higher if we were all honest.
Feeling alone is the worst thing in the entire world, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. But, if the fact that I am now graduated, married and in a full-time job bestows me with any wisdom whatsoever, I want to relay that anyone feeling down, anxious, lonely or a combination of the three, is certainly not alone. Your own mental health is more important than anything – good grades, friends, money, popularity, jobs, clothes, drugs, a flat stomach, approval from your parents…anything. So if any of these things are causing you to feel bad, I urge you, make changes, ask for help, take it from someone who’s been through hell and back because of bad choices, it’s just not worth it. Asking for help can be awkward but it is surely not shameful. After I took a year out of university from getting seriously ill, I lost all my confidence, and eventually realised that if I didn’t ask for help, my life would continue to be difficult for the rest of my degree. I sought guidance and advice from my tutor, who I will forever thank as the reason I made it to graduation. She told me that people like me, who have problems that affect their work, sometimes need a bit of extra help to push them forward to the starting blocks everyone else races from. Otherwise I would not only be battling through uni, I would be carrying the weight of my problems too, and no one needs that. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your friends or even your family, there are so many resources made specially for you! A quick chat with your GP will provide you with some general guidance, and although the university counselling services are stretched, they have drop in sessions and hundreds of leaflets with information that can help. Another good place to visit is the student support department, who have drop-in sessions tailored to give advice and help students out, because they know uni can be a really hard time. One thing that you can’t think is that nothing or no one can help. Initially reaching out for help is the hardest part, I promise. I used to think that getting help was giving me an unfair advantage, but actually, the help is there to give everyone an equal chance.
Anyway, to end on a lighter note, the person you will be when you graduate will be unrecognisable from your former self and for the best possible reasons. University teaches you to look at life pragmatically, develop into a mature version of yourself, and if you’re lucky, you’ll end up making friends that will be the godparents to your children one day.
Post by Simon Barton, year 2, BA Geography
In September 2017, I embarked on a semester abroad program for four months at the University of Calgary in the beautiful province of Alberta, Canada. After saying my goodbyes to friends and family, I departed from Manchester Airport at 9am on 4th September 2017 on a flight bound for Toronto, before catching a flight from Toronto to Calgary. After 13 hours of travelling, I reached my destination, the Hotel Alma situated on the university campus, this was my temporary base until I collected the keys for my accommodation.
I collected my keys the next day, entering an apartment of four people. I met my flatmates, which included two international students from China and Japan respectively and a Canadian from Edmonton, a city situated further north than Calgary, which is the capital of Alberta. I familiarised myself with my home for the next four months, before catching the Calgary transit (the public transport system) to explore the city centre. During my orientation week, I took part in activities which included ice skating on the famous Olympic Oval, situated on the university campus, which hosted speed skating at the 1988 Winter Olympics held in Calgary and watching the annual Canadian football kick off match for the Dinos, the team which represents the university in various sports.
The rest of September saw me settle into university life by getting to grips with a different academic system and establishing relationships with Canadian students who were from Calgary and other Canadian provinces. A highlight of this month was a day visit to the popular tourist destination of Banff, situated within the Canadian Rockies. The trip was organised by the Global Friendship Group at the University, which aimed to help International Students immerse themselves in all Canada has to offer! The trip involved the unforgettable experience of taking the Banff Gondola (cable car) to the top of Sulphur Mountain to observe the stunning scenery of the area. I met many exchange students from all over the world during the trip, and became good friends during my semester abroad.
October brought snow! I woke up on the second day of the month to find the university blanketed with a white sheet. I couldn’t contain my excitement, I immediately proceeded to take pictures when walking to class, to the bemusement of onlookers. However, this month also meant midterms. Midterms, being an entirely new concept to me, these are exams taken in October of the first semester, assessing everything you have learned since the start of September. Despite being ill in October, catching flu which seemed to be sweeping its way through my halls of residence and led to my hospitalization on two occasions, I managed to get through the month with the help of the lecturers and Study Abroad Teams in Calgary and Liverpool. October and November certainly seemed to be the months with the highest workload, with midterms, group projects and individual essays. I didn’t let this stop me managing my academic and social life to allow me to immerse myself in Canadian culture whether it be watching Hockey on TV on a Saturday night or ice skating with exchange students and University of Calgary students.
December brought the end of the semester with final exams held just before the Christmas break. Along with my roommate Mike and friends Tom and Jasper, I watched a live ice hockey match! Taking the transit to Stampede Park, home to the world-famous rodeo and festival known as the Calgary Stampede held every July, we walked to the Saddledome, the home of the Calgary Flames who are one of seven Canadian teams to compete in the National Hockey League (NHL). Kitted out in my Calgary Flames jersey, a gift from my new friends Tom and Jasper, I cheered on the team in what was a derby match against the Vancouver Canucks. Despite conceding an early goal, the Flames won the match 4-2 to the roar of the crowd. Having had a great time in Banff in September, my friends and I decided to visit the area once again. We drove along the Trans-Canadian highway to the town we had become so familiar with. After a rest from our long journey, we grabbed a bite to eat and explored the town. We then proceeded to Lake Louise, the famous lake named after Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter. The lake was busy with tourists taking pictures, skating and having fun. It was a fantastic end to a day I will never forget.
I certainly wouldn’t hesitate twice to apply for a study abroad program. I was very fortunate to have an amazing time in Canada. The experience allowed me to gain an insight into a different academic system, building up new ways of working and learning about issues facing people living in Calgary and Canada.I made friends for life, meeting Canadian students from different backgrounds and exchange students from all over the world. Although it can at first appear daunting and I was certainly nervous before I went, it is an unmissable experience. Coming home, you can look back on an incredible past few months! Grab every opportunity, go on apply for a Semester Abroad, Summer Abroad, Year in China or a Year 2 at XJTLU.
Simon Barton is a current second year BA Geography student, he spent his first semester of year 2 at the University of Calgary, Canada. Simon applied for a semester abroad via the University of Liverpool Study Abroad Team after attending the Study Abroad Fair held on November 2016.
More information on study abroad:
Further details regarding international opportunities available to students can be found online: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/goabroad/. Use the online Study Abroad search tool to find out the international opportunities available to your programme. Deadline: 19th February 2018 for Semester Abroad, Year 2 @ XJLTU and Year in China Applications and the 15th March for the Summer programmes