Almeria Field Class 2013

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Post by Jonathan Dale and Laura Hardy, 3rd year BSc Geography

‘This must be just like living in paradise’ sang Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth in 1988. South East Spain used to be just like living in paradise, with relics like the one in the picture below remaining as a haunting reminder of this time.

Almeria 3

A relic of paradise in South East Spain


Ghostly constructions such as this well are scattered across the landscape, but for some imaging the villages, farms and livestock that once accessed a sufficient water supply to survive in what is now the driest part of Europe comes with extreme difficulty. Human influence has transformed this landscape on a scale beyond imagination to allow for agricultural development and, although it is not a dust-bowl to a ‘Grapes of Wrath’ extent, questions have to be asked regarding the sustainability of water management strategies in this region.

We spent two weeks in a landscape so different to any other seen on previous field classes investigating the influence of geomorphology, lithology, topography and anthropogenic activity on the SE Spain landscape with almost all conclusions suggesting water was the primary control. These investigations included measuring rates of erosion and the associated management strategies such as check dam construction (seen in the picture below) and afforestation.

A check dam constructed to reduce rates of erosion and stabilise the river channel.

A check dam constructed to reduce rates of erosion and stabilise the river channel.

We investigated the effects of these management practices on infiltration rates and connectivity of the landscape with the dry and barren river beds – yes that means we studied rivers without getting wet feet!! Furthermore, the temporal scale on which water influences the landscape is not just a recent thing. Water controls the geomorphological features we see around SE Spain, including large river terraces, alluvial fans and river captures which have resulted in mass movement events and the death of river channels. All this, without even seeing a drop of the wet stuff!

Knowing that the extraction of groundwater was suggested as a causative factor for a local fatal earthquake in 2011 and that a flood in September 2012 also lead to fatalities and destruction of everything in its path, it is obvious that an immediate solution to this water deficit and resultant water management practices is required. We spent some time questioning such solutions and we welcome any suggestions, but take our word for it there is no easy answer. For more information regarding possible field work in SE Spain contact Prof. Janet Hooke or for information on the ENVS380 Almeria Field Trip see Dr. Barbara Mauz.

Almeria 2

Jonathan Dale

Almeria 1

Laura Hardy


Blogging, public geographies and academic writing

Blog post by Dr Andy Davies, Lecturer here in Human Geography

Andy Davies's Blog

A discussion piece I wrote for Dialogues in Human Geography came out over the weekend. It’s useful to flag up here because the topic under discussion is the practice of academic blogging, and comes from a paper by some of the academics who write on the Ireland After NAMA blog. Dialogues in HG is also on a free trial period at the moment, so I think it should be available to those without a subscription.

I’ve not had a chance to read the other responses properly yet, but it looks like there are some interesting questions raised about the nature of ‘public’ geography, and the politics of knowledge circulation to link to only two.

This isn’t a type of writing I’ve really experimented with too much before, but its been a good experience, and it’s now interesting to see how others responded to the original paper, as well as…

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2nd year Lake District Field Class 2013

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Post by Kirsty Duffy, 2nd year BSc Geography student

Day 1

From Monday April 15th to Saturday April 20th, 34 2nd year BSc geography students and 4 members of staff travelled to the Lake District for this year’s field class module. After a short journey in the mini buses, the group arrived at the hostel and settled in after sorting out rooms. After a brief lunch break we were off out, togged up in warm and waterproof gear ready for all possible weathers. The group walked for about an hour as the staff familiarised us with the Langdale area. Richard educated us about the native trees of the Lake District and much to most student’s horror, Neil shared with us the dead sheep he had found by the river which also turned out to be a good indication of recent flooding. After the walk, we stopped off at the nearby pub for a drink or two. With no warning of the route back, several rather unfit students trekked up and over a very steep hill back towards the hostel; though some found it very easy and managed to run it. At our allocated time of 6.30, the group sat down to devour a very hearty three course meal followed by a relaxed evening spent in the hostel’s common room.

Richard talking about the trees as students take notes

Richard talking about the trees as students take notes

Day 2

On a very windy Tuesday morning we were up dressed and ready for the day by 9am. The staff drove us to Langdale Valley where we would partake in group activities that aimed to familiarise us with the field work equipment, as well as giving us some ideas for the forthcoming group projects. However, we were frequently disrupted by the high gusts of wind that meant most of the time was spent running after flying maps or notebooks, a few of which were salvaged from the river.  Nonetheless, the day was good and we managed to fill our notebooks with enough data ready for calculations later that day. After the field work we stopped off at the pub for a drink before heading back to the hostels – this time in the mini buses – for dinner. The evening was spent sorting out the group projects, ready for the next day. Students being students, we took full advantage of the well-stocked hostel bar before retiring to our rooms for some much needed shut eye.

Working in the field, getting used to the coring equipment

Working in the field, getting used to the coring equipment

Day 3 & 4

Wednesday started off in a light drizzle as the groups collected their equipment and headed off to their chosen field sites. There was a good range of projects including macro invertebrate study, mapping of the non-native sycamores and chemical analysis of lake samples. Over the two days of group work, the students got on well with their individual projects, most working up to the early evening.

Group measuring carbon capture of a woodland area

Group measuring carbon capture of a woodland area

Day 5

The last full day of the field class and by now the groups had collected their data and were busy preparing their presentations for the evening. Another great dinner cooked by the hostel staff, topped off with an irresistible sponge pudding, and we were ready for the graded oral presentations. A system of ‘tallest goes first’ – courtesy of Richard, the groups took turns to present their findings across the 2-3 days’ work. After about 2 hours of presenting and listening, everyone was looking forward to an evening of socialising and relaxing. Not forgetting a drink to celebrate a great week in the lakes… or two… or three.


QWeCI Final Project Meeting – Barcelona

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Post by Andrew McCaldon

I am the Project Secretary for the EU–funded, QWeCI Project: Quantifying Weather and Quantifying Weather and Climate Impacts on Health in Developing Countries. The project is coordinated by Professor Andy Morse of the Department of Geography and Planning, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool.

QWeCI held its final annual project meeting in Barcelona, Spain, from 16th–18th May 2013 and over 40 academics and researchers were in attendance. Speakers from across the 13 participating European and African institutions presented papers covering, not only the progress of the individual work packages, but the cutting–edge science that QWeCI had produced.

In addition, the project was glad to welcome a distinguished team of external reviewers including: Jan Polcher from the Catalan Institute of Climate Sciences; Laragh Larsen from Trinity College, Dublin; the University of Burgundy’s Nadège Martiny; and Nick Ogden of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Dr Larsen said, “I really enjoyed hearing more about QWeCI project” and Dr Ogden said, it is clear the “project has been well–managed” and the “highly qualified personnel will be a legacy of the QweCI Project”.

The meeting was a great success and an excellent opportunity to showcase the world leading science QWeCI has produced.

Science presentations can be found here and the conference programme can be downloaded here.

In the QWeCI Project, researchers across 13 European and African research institutions work together to integrate data from climate modelling and disease forecasting systems to predict the likelihood of an epidemic up to six months in advance.  The research, funded by the European Commission Seventh Framework programme, focuses on climate and disease in Senegal, Ghana and Malawi and aims to give decision–makers the necessary time to deploy intervention methods to help prevent large scale spread of diseases such as Rift Valley fever and malaria.

More information on the QWeCI Project can be found here and you can follow us on Twitter: @QWeCI_FP7

Sea level is rising: get out of the way!

Sea level 1

Post by Dr. Claire Mellett

In April this year The Geological Society of America and American Geophysical Union joined together to hold the first Penrose/Chapman conference in Texas, USA, under the theme of; Coastal processes and environments under sea-level rise and changing climate: science to inform management. The meeting’s main objective was to raise awareness of the vulnerability of coastal environments to climate and sea-level change and to bridge the gap between science and policy to ensure informed management of the coastal environment. The meeting brought together 80 scientists (including myself) from around the world to discuss the impacts of sea-level rise, climate change, storms and human activity on the coast.

The meeting kicked off with a number of talks looking at records of past sea level. In the past sea-level rise was not linear and there was some degree of natural variability. However, recent rates of sea-level rise are higher than they have been during the last 2000 years. Whilst globally sea-level is currently rising (eustatic), the effect of this rise on the coast varies locally depending on whether the land is rising or falling (isostatic). In the Gulf of Mexico, lowering of the land (subsidence) due to the extraction of oil, gas and water, sediment loading and sediment compaction means that in this area the coast is experiencing even higher rates of sea-level rise making it more vulnerable to the impacts of storms. Here human activity is exasperating the impact of sea-level rise on the coast and billions of dollars are spent trying to protect or repair infrastructure in these low lying areas. The question facing policy makers now is will the economy be able to sustainably support such investment in coastal protection in the future?

Galveston, Texas

Whilst sea-level rise is a major threat to the future of coastal environments, a number of talks highlighted other environmental variables of equal importance. Of these, variations in sediment supply appeared the most significant. In areas where high amounts of sediment are being delivered to the coast, the coast may be able to keep up or even grow despite rising sea-levels. However, in many places humans are interfering with the sediment budget by damning rivers (e.g. Yangtze River, China) or nourishing beaches (e.g. The Netherlands). The meeting highlighted the delicate relationship between sea-level and sediment supply in determining how a coast will respond.

As the meeting drew to close, we were working towards a consensus based on the best available science to present to governments and policy makers outlining the biggest challenges for coastal environments in the future. My personal interpretation of this consensus is that sea-level rise and the impact of climate change at the coast are not something to worry about in the future but something that is happening now. I feel the perception that sea-level rise will slowly encroach the coast at a snail’s pace is misguided. A more realistic view when trying to visualise the impacts of sea-level rise is to think of episodic events such as storm surges and hurricanes which have instantaneous and devastating effects on the coast (and economy). It is therefore important to recognise that in order to secure a sustainable future at the coast, society must learn to adapt to (or get out the way of) rising sea levels.

Weekly radio show

Cat Wilkinson at KCC LIVE

Cat Wilkinson at KCC LIVE

Post by Cat Wilkinson – 1st year PhD student
On Wednesday (22nd May) I start a weekly radio show on local station KCC LIVE. I will join Rob Tobin to present a three hour show every Wednesday from 10am – 1pm. I’m doing this as part of my PhD in Geographyat the University of Liverpool, researching how a community youth-led radio station can connect communities and create social capital in times of social, economic and political uncertainty.

My PhD is funded by the ESRC NWDTC and is a collaborative (CASE) studentship with KCC LIVE as my case partner and supervision in Geography at University of Liverpool and Manchester University. As part of the PhD I will spend a minimum of 12 months at the station. Getting involved in everything that they do – including broadcasting!

Myself and Rob covered KCC LIVE’s drive show in April, and we both really enjoyed it. The show was a great success and after receiving lots of positive feedback, we decided that we wanted to work together more often as co-presenters, and it just happened that the Wednesday morning slot became available at the right time.

I am very excited about having a show on KCC LIVE. My research involves participant observation at the station, and I believe there is no better way to achieve this than to fully immerse myself in the research setting. I have completed work experience at local newspapers before, so I have knowledge of the importance of community in such media settings and am looking forward to bringing my former knowledge to the field site of study.

Rob and I work really well together on and off air, and we have put a lot of effort into preparing a strong show. The station targets 10-24 year olds in Knowsley, so our show has to be suitable to the young listeners. We have plenty of ideas to work with, one thing you’ll be able to catch if you have a listen is “The Adventures of Catman and Robin”, Knowsley’s favourite superheroes! We’re not going to reveal too much though, you’ll have to tune in to find out more!

Rob, who is Assistant Programme Director at KCC LIVE, and also works at Radio City as a producer, says “I’m really looking forward to working with Cat on a weekly show. I do loads of radio stuff at KCC LIVE and elsewhere, but in the past I’ve only worked as a solo presenter, so working with a co-presenter is an exciting new prospect for me too. Cat’s on air ability when we covered drive was really impressive, especially considering she didn’t have any radio experience elsewhere. She’s great to work with as a co-presenter and I’m very optimistic about what we can achieve together as a duo. It will also be great first hand experience to help with her research!”

You can listen to Rob and Cat on KCC LIVE on 99.8FM in Knowsley and Liverpool or online at every Wednesday from 10am to 1pm starting 22nd May.

India Visit for Student

3rd Year Undergraduate Student Jon Hunt reflects on his time on a UKIERI Study India Programme last year.

I spent six weeks last summer in India, (mostly Delhi), as part of the UKIERI (UK-India Education and Research Initiative) Study India Programme. As a geography student I found the opportunity to learn about a great economic and social power by actually visiting the country itself too great to miss. I enjoyed various experiences around India both as part of the programme and my own adventures, and I tried to reflect on their significance from a national and global perspective. The programme involved visits to cultural and political sites around Delhi (as a background to India’s past and present); talks from prominent business people and politicians; an internship with a choice of organisations including the Tata Corporation and some NGOs; and talks in schools and universities. Such activities allowed an opportunity to consider the Indian story from a variety of backgrounds before a series of workshops were provided in UK schools in an attempt to engage the future generation with global issues and to develop the enthusiasm to solve them.

What I consider to be my first experience of India was a lady on the plane who proceeded to force-feed me popcorn before we’d even spoken. This remained one of my fondest memories of the trip and came to epitomise the generosity and friendliness of the people of India. It is easy to be alienated by the cultural curiosity of many people in India – the staring, the questions, the giggling – but if one accepts this then an endless stream of chit chat and jokes can be shared. Some of my most enlightening times came not in a great temple or a guided tour but in talking to other young people. This was a generation that was embracing modernisation, wanted to connect with the global society but was also very wary of following the route towards ‘western’ capitalism. As a result I felt we shared certain commonalities despite upbringings that likely couldn’t have been more different. Of course there were times when I didn’t always feel so welcome and it would be wrong to make such broad assumptions. Yet, if you don’t let people treat you as a tourist or regard the country as a museum then you can quickly begin to break through the barriers.

My initial exploration involved a life and death struggle to cross the road where lanes, speed limits or even traffic lights don’t seem to be respected. The heat was unbearable and the degree of poverty and waste was striking. Such was the colour, the chaos and the variation, the first couple of days involved frantic photo taking, before I began to stop acting like a spectator in a zoo and instead opened myself up to the people and the country. Once I took the plunge, India was not such a different universe and began to feel like a place I had belonged to for a long time. As we wandered round temples of religions I didn’t follow and took part in rituals I knew nothing about, I began to respect their openness and they seemed to respect my curiosity. A communal ritual of fire in a Hindu temple was a perfect way to end my first week and gave the group a chance to reflect upon a hectic series of activities in an even more hectic country. We revelled in soft chanting and the warmth of fire, set against the backdrop of a slowly calming monsoon.

Jon participating in a Hindu fire ceremony

Jon participating in a Hindu fire ceremony

The first chance to experience India as an individual came at the end of the first week. Five of us instead hired a taxi to take us the eight hour drive north to the town of Rishikesh – known as ‘the home of yoga and meditation’ – which rested in the foothills of the Himalayas. We were initially greeted by cows, thieving monkeys and a hairy gentleman who looked like he had more than a few stories to tell. Without much explanation he began to lead us off the beaten track and up into the hills; like excited children we eagerly followed. We decided to ignore the common warnings on this one and it paid off: instead of finding ourselves dead in a ditch, we were showed a fascinating abandoned village in the trees, originally built as a meditative retreat. With the sun setting the silence was eery as we explored darkened corridors and inspected inspirational graffiti.

Other excursions included an obligatory trip to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal. After hearing so much about it, I cannot pretend I wasn’t slightly under-whelmed at first: even at sunrise there were already crowds of people and the excessive photo opportunities seemed just a formality after travelling so far. That said, the tomb rising over the dirty, sprawling town does make it all the more imposing. Once the rising sun cast a warm glow over the white marble and I could appreciate its intricacies, the building revealed its true beauty. I sat for a good couple of hours taking it in, before I saw a monkey dragged past me on a leash and being beaten with a stick. I then wondered how a country could simultaneously invoke feelings of awe and disgust. That was perhaps the hardest part about being in India; it is a country that is open about its culture, that doesn’t seem to hide its corruption and, as a result, you can witness the most uplifting and the most saddening aspects of humanity.

Jaipur seemed to encompass almost everything you expect from India including combinations of narrow, winding streets and large open bazaars; snake charmers and puppeteers; bustling restaurants and street food vendors and a trip to the top of the Red Fort on the back of an elephant. Set against a backdrop of hills and lakes, the Fort provided an impressive view before we travelled to ‘Monkey Temple’ – one of my favourite sites of India. Walking up a hill through swarms of running, playing monkeys helped to portray a country that boasts the extremes of nature (humans included) and, despite the young boy guiding us throwing the occasional stone to ward off the over-enthusiastic ones, both sets of beings seemed content with each other’s company. In a similar way, the family who dwelled at the hill-top shrine were open to our presence and the parents watched calmly on as we sat and played with their children. Our two cultures may never truly understand each other – the phones and cameras we flashed and the respects we paid may seem shallow and superficial, whilst their spiritual artefacts were never going to invoke authentic belief on our part. Yet just as human and monkey may need each other more than they believe, perhaps it is only the endless diversity of culture that creates any meaningful significance.

Cultural exchange?

Cultural exchange?

Back in Delhi, to highlight a further issue in Indian society, we visited an orphanage, which provided an enlightening experience. I was somewhat reluctant to make the visit at first, feeling the children were being used as tourist attractions. Despite this I found it thoroughly enjoyable and can’t remember the last time I smiled for so long. Once again wishing to avoid generalisations, I have to admit I have never met such happy and positive children and cannot help think there is something implicitly wrong with the construction of our own society that is currently experiencing an epidemic in childhood apathy and depression.

Crowds celebrating Eid, the end of Ramadan, at India Gate in New Delhi

Crowds celebrating Eid, the end of Ramadan, at India Gate in New Delhi

Once the four-week programme in Delhi had concluded it was time to take the adventure elsewhere, this time alone, as I headed to Goa and Kerala for the final 10 days before term was due to start again. My time in Goa essentially involved relaxation, and, after four weeks in the fumes and chaos of Delhi and a jam-packed programme of activities, it was the perfect antidote. There was to be no plan for the days after rolling out of bed to sunshine, nature and a lush tropical scenery.

For the final few days I jumped on a ‘quick’ eighteen-hour train down to Kerala. The train itself was an experience – getting lost in the views and striking up conversation with a few interesting characters; the majority of whom seemed to find me just as interesting and, for some reason, absolutely hilarious. The mere sight of me alone on the train hanging out the open door, partly for the breeze but mostly because I hadn’t grasped the magnitude of the dash for seats upon boarding, was enough to invoke lots of giggles amongst passengers. I stayed for a night on Varkala cliff, an impressive stretch of rocks and beaches and an apparent rendezvous for travellers from across the world. For the final day I headed out to Eravikulam National Park. The journey through forests and mountains in the morning sun seemed a fitting tribute to the end of my time in India and a stark contrast to my first experiences of the country.

Keralan Sunset

Keralan Sunset

As I took the flight back to Delhi the next day I reflected on the frantic stress I’d endured the previous few days in return for several moments of pure bliss and the relationship seemed to sum up the experience of travelling in India. The prospect can be daunting but, if one takes the time and makes the effort, the rewards can be truly extraordinary.

Edinburgh Field Class 2013

Congratulations to Lydia Michie, double-winner of our 2013 Edinburgh Field Class photo competition.

Here are her winning entries:

'Ethnography in Action' Category: Students in Action

‘Ethnography in Action’ Category: Students in Action

'Immobile Phones' Category: Edinburgh

‘Immobile Phones’ Category: Edinburgh

The runners-up can be viewed in our Edinburgh and Students in Action galleries.

The field class took place in mid-April and saw 46 Year 2 BA Geographers and 3 staff heading north, braving a week of intermittent rain and gales in order to put into practise a variety of research skills acquired over the last year and a half of study.

These included interviewing a Member of the Scottish Parliament; surveying any member of the public unable to run away fast enough; participant observation of the ‘local’ (tourist?) cuisine; and experiencing an Edinburgh bus tour in the name of ethnography.

'A Mars a Day' Sampling the 'local' cuisine

‘A Mars a Day’? Sampling the ‘local’ cuisine

The final part of the field class focussed on data analysis, ranging from traditional graphs and tables of survey results through to the construction of ‘word clouds’ based on free-text and interview responses:

Word Cloud (Non-Scottish respondents)

Word Cloud (Non-Scottish respondents)

Word Cloud (Scottish respondents)

Word Cloud (Scottish respondents)

The Edinburgh Field Class is just part of our wider three-year field class programme, which includes trips to North Wales, the Lake District, Spain, California and Singapore. All of these trips are designed an ethos of ‘learning by doing’. Or, in Edinburgh’s Case, ‘learning by doing whilst dodging showers and battling strong equinoctial gale’. Happy Days!