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.
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.
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.