Lorca Fieldclass 2013


Lorca 2013 participants

Lorca 2013 participants


Day 1

Arriving in Lorca the previous night and chowing down on a surprisingly delicious meal from the Hotel Felix restaurant, in which we were each served a three-course meal meant we were reasonably psyched for the first full day of fieldwork. This day consisted of a tour of the main areas in which we would be working. Our first stop was Lorca Castle in which we were briefed on what kind of fieldwork we would be undertaking as well as gathering notes and taking some great photos of the greater Lorca area. Another notable stop was at the town of Puerto Lumbreras which was the location of a natural disaster back in 1973 in which 86 people were tragically killed when a sudden influx of heavy precipitation in the upper catchment of the area rushed down the river channel where a market was held. We took a very good look around the river channel as our tour coach became stuck in the extremely dry surface of the channel! After waiting around 2 hours for help to arrive we were finally able to hop on a replacement bus and continue our orientation of the area. Another notable stop was a visit to the Puentes Dam which is a key feature of the local water system. A lovely three-course meal consisting of delicious Paella starter, chicken leg and potatoes for the main course and a slice of chocolate ice-cream cake for desert was waiting for when we arrived back to hotel after an extremely long day! A trip to the local bar for some well-deserved drinks and to watch Gareth Bale’s debut for Real Madrid rounded off our first day before heading to bed for some much needed sleep.

View from Lorca Castle

View from Lorca Castle


Group work location

Group work location

Day 2

After a satisfying jam covered breakfast and a trip to the local bakery we were all set to head out on our second day of orientation. Our first stop was the scenic area of Cabo Cope in which we had quite a long talk about the different geomorphological processes that formed the surrounding cliffs, and also why there were different types of rock within the same cliff. After Cabo Cope we headed to the nearby coastal town of Calabardina for a short break. Some people headed off for some shade whilst others (myself included) headed into the sea to cool off and catch a tan! Needless to say the cool water didn’t make much of a difference when we arrived at our next location as it was blisteringly hot! The next location was the La Hoya region of Murcia which is the location of the suspected fault line which caused an earthquake in 2011. We had the opportunity to view the suspected fault close up and have a group talk with Janet and Andy about the formation of the surrounding Alluvial Fans and the development of the area throughout the Holocene. Our next and penultimate stop was the Torrealvilla channel in which we had a quick talk about how the recently constructed dams that we had visited the previous day were affecting the area and how human quarrying has altered the topography. We then headed back to Lorca for a well-earned break before heading off to the local bar once again to watch the Barcelona game with a few drinks.

View from cabo cope coastline

View from cabo cope coastline

Day 3

Our third day was based solely around guided group projects. After a breakfast consisting of a pain au chocolat and a nice sugary coffee I was good to go. The guided projects were designed to introduce us to working individually in preparation for our unguided, assessed projects in the following two days. We were divided into groups of six and each group did five different types of fieldwork, including the assessing of nearby land usage, topography and species diversity within a quadrat area. After each group had completed one of their assignments we would move location. As we were heading towards our first location we were stopped by the Spanish military who were testing some form of missile interception system which wouldn’t be a coincidence considering the proximity to Gibraltar and the recent tensions! Eventually we ended up in the nearby Badlands which had treacherous terrain and temperatures reaching 40°c. Due to these conditions, the fulfilment of the fieldwork in this area was optional and only a small handful of people actually went down into the Badlands (including myself) to take pictures and take some quick measurements. When we were finished we headed back to the hotel and had a pretty quiet night in in preparation for the tough fieldwork and the Liverpool match the following day.

On the seaside

On the seaside

Day 4

Day 4 marked the beginning of our unguided group projects which are to be assessed. My group consisted of myself, Ben Phillips, Phillip Ellis, James Misra and Rob Dietz and we decided to focus our investigation on how a microclimate, land usage and the area geology/geomorphology all have an impact on the surrounding surface temperature. These projects were set over the course of two days. Today would be located at Nogalte, the location of a small, newly-constructed dam. The day was very laid back as we only had to take surface and air temperature, humidity and wind speed measurements every 15 minutes. Between these measurements we tried keeping ourselves entertained as best as possible, which included swatting away several pesky wasps (the area was infested with them). Half-way through our measurements a construction worker doused the soil in water, which forced us to move our measurement location ever so slightly as it would have affected our results! Phil also thought it’d be a great idea to take some sneaky footage of myself trying to keep myself busy and turn it into a mini video for all of Facebook to see… nice one Phil! After 6 or so hours of measurements we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the big game! We decided to eat out at a pizzeria located in the self-proclaimed “Concert Square” before hunting around for a bar which had the Liverpool game on. A tough draw was enough to maintain our top-of-the-league status and give us Liverpool fans bragging rights for the remainder of the trip!

Climatic measurements and soil types in the bad lands

Climatic measurements and soil types in the bad lands

Day 5

Day 5 consisted of exactly the same thing but in a different area (Torrealvilla, the location of a large aqueduct). The good news was that there were only pesky flies to contend with rather than wasps but it was a much hotter day than the previous and there was very little shade. There was lots of time spare between each measurement that we took so we had a great opportunity to look around the area and appreciate the vast landscape here. We gathered our data over the next 6 hours and found a significant disparity between the two sites that we had chosen to measure, even though they were only 200m or so apart. When finished we returned to the hotel to put our data into a spread sheet ready for when we return to Liverpool. We had a lovely final meal which was complimented by free Limoncello by the restaurant staff, and a complimentary glass of champagne from the hotel owner! As this was the last day everybody went to “Concert Square”. After a sociable night we returned to the hotel for our final sleep before departure. A select few may have got a little bit too drunk and needed to be carried home… always the sign of a brilliant night.



 Benefits of the Field Class

By participating in the field class with experts in their fields I feel that I have gained a solid understanding of how extreme geomorphological conditions can affect the severity and likelihood of flooding. I have also gained a good understanding of how humans can mitigate against flooding and a lack of rainfall by constructing dams and aqueducts to divert the scarce water resources to much needed areas. My project focused on how microclimate, land usage and the geology of an area can affect the surrounding temperatures and I think from taking some great quantative data I am now able to better understand why south-east Spain is so semi-arid, and why some areas (such as the bad lands) are much more desert-like

Brandon Kinson (BSc Geographer, Year 2)

Winner: 1st year Laboratory Teaching in Physical Geography wins an Award…..

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For 2012-13 and with the formal opening of the Universities new Central Teaching Laboratory, the Year 1 Physical Geography curriculum underwent a fundamental overhaul. We designed two new laboratory modules delivered entirely in the Central Teaching Laboratories, and intriguingly named Experiments in Physical Geography I and Experiments in Physical Geography II. These modules comprise whole day (9.00-16.30) exercises using the National Award Winning (The Guardian) stunning laboratories and array of state-of-the-art equipment.

To allow a comprehensive and more individual hands-on experience we designed for each semester ten whole day exercises that all run concurrently. So the students form research teams with a weekly challenge, rotating through the menu of practical exercises each week. Each exercise encourages teamwork as the groups develop their research strategy assisted by the module leaders and at the end of the day the groups present their findings and discuss the outcomes.

For these efforts the team were nominated for and won a Faculty Learning and Teaching Award. Congratulations to the teaching team on this reward for all their hard work: Richard Chiverrell (Semester 2 lead); John Boyle (Semester 1 lead); Andy Plater; Janet Hooke; Andreas Lang; Andy Morse; Fabienne Marret-Davies; James Cooper and Richard Bradshaw from the Department of Geography and Planning; Irene Cooper; Liz Rushworth and Josh Hicks from team Central Teaching Laboratories; and our postgraduate demonstrators Karen Hale; Daniel Schillereff and Tim Shaw.

1st Semester Menu….

  • How does forest cover affect soil development?
  • Discovering vegetation cover from pollen grains?
  • 200 years of atmospheric pollution from Manchester recorded in a peat bog?
  • Radioisotopes how quickly do they decay? And how can we use them to date sediments?
  • What are the controls on stream waters from mountains to the coast?
  • Evaporation from soils and sediments: what are the rates and controls?
  • Tree sequester carbon: but how much and how quickly?
  • River flows during storms: how does event sequencing affect the flood peak?
  • Meteorology: how do you measure the weather?
  • Patterns in the weather: how do you analyse weather data?

2nd Semester Menu….

  • How do variations in dirt cover on ice affects melting rates?
  • How can we use lake sediment records to measure both long-term soil erosion rates and carbon sequestration?
  • How do slope gradients and catchment cover (vegetation and urban) affect storm flow response?
  • What  regulates the delivery of sediments from catchments to lakes?
  • Why do slopes fail and soils erode?
  • Is the recent infilling of the Dee Estuary due to sea-level rise or sediment accretion?
  • Do changes in sand dune sediment composition reflect changes in wind speed and deflation?
  • What main factors control the rate of chemical weathering in soils?
  • Can particle size data be used to distinguish beach and river deposits?


Coupling relationships in the Howgill Fells with the 3rd Years

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By Richard Chiverrell

Spring??? well allegedly, let’s call it March, and a chilly Saturday in March, Janet Hooke and Rich Chiverrell set off for the arctic wastes of the Howgill Fells to entertain the final year undergraduates on our ENVS372 Fluvial Environments module. 2.5 hours up the M6 to Tebay at a measured 62 miles per hour we eventually arrived at the foot of Carlingill. The aim was to examine sites along Carlingill valley that illustrate the two main themes of the day’s work:
1) The post-glacial landform sequence, and its relation to Late Pleistocene and Holocene variations in the sediment system.
2) The dynamics of the modern landform system and its relation to the modern sediment system.

The landscape we explored preserves a record of the geomorphic response to environmental change over the period since the Last Glacial Maximum, as we followed if the footsteps of Emiritus Professor of the University of Liverpool Adrian Harvey. The Howgills form a deeply dissected upland in folded Silurian mudrocks, with a relief range of 100-660m, within the headwaters of the River Lune. Evidence for the Late Pleistocene – Holocene sequence of landform evolution comes from (a) morpho-stratigraphic relationships between landforms and sediments, (b) soil chronosequences, (c) radiocarbon dates of several critical sites, especially of buried soils, and (d) the environmental context provided by the peat stratigraphy at Archer Moss from the summits of the Howgill Fells.

In the afternoon the fieldclass tested some of these relationships:
1. Using lichenometry, the growth rate of a lichen called Rhizocarpon geographicum, to assess the age of gravel bars on the floodplain/ How quickly and regularly does the river move?
2. Assessing the maturity of soils on different landforms that range in age from the end of the last ice age ~ 18,000 years ago to 100 years ago.
3. Assessing the impact of varying supply of sediment from the hillslopes (stream-coupled gullies) and the response of the channel to sediment load (you can’t beat a bit of braiding….).

The journey back was uneventful marred only by events taking place in Cardiff…..

Further reading on the geomorphology of the Howgill Fells

CHIVERRELL, R.C., HARVEY, A.M. and FOSTER, G.C., 2007. Hillslope gullying in the Solway Firth – Morecambe Bay region, Great Britain: Responses to human impact and/or climatic deterioration? Geomorphology, 84(3-4), pp. 317-343.

CHIVERRELL, R.C., HARVEY, A.M., HUNTER (NÉE MILLER), S.Y., MILLINGTON, J. and RICHARDSON, N.J., 2008. Late Holocene environmental change in the Howgill Fells, Northwest England. Geomorphology, 100(1-2), pp. 41-69.

HARVEY, A.M., 2012. The coupling status of alluvial fans and debris cones: A review and synthesis. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 37(1), pp. 64-76.

The GPG Experience

Hi.  We’re Elle and Jess.  We’re in our third year of the Geology and Physical Geography (F6F8)BSc degree – affectionately known as ‘GPG’.  Over the summer, the two of us spent three weeks in Cornwall working on our Honours projects.  Elle’s project focuses on the record of Quaternary climate and sea-level change preserved in the cliff sections of Godrevy.  Jess’ project is a study of the Holocene evolution of the coastal lowlands near Gwithian.  We were out in all weathers recording the cliff exposures, coring through the sands, clays and peats of the Red River floodplain, and noting the characteristics of the contemporary beach sediments.  It was a real challenge – both mentally and physically – to get the work completed, but it was really worth it.  We both feel that we’ve achieved a huge amount as a result of our independent fieldwork and follow-up analysis.  It is perhaps the first time where we feel we’ve been a part of the geosciences research community.

That’s us – Elle and Jess – doing what we do best: fieldwork!

Following the field, laboratory and library research, we’ve just completed our Honours project presentations where we give a 15 minute summary of our research findings and how they address our stated project aims.  It was a traumatic experience presenting our results and being quizzed by our fellow students and staff – but it has been really useful in bringing together our ideas on our respective projects.

There is no doubt that the GPG degree is a fantastic opportunity to specialize in geomorphology, sedimentology and the ‘softer’ and applied areas of geology.  We’ve had a great time in learning new material, and in having direct experience of this in the field.  Fieldwork has been probably the best part of the programme – and we’re really looking forward to the 2-week Almeria fieldtrip at Easter in 2013.

The GPG degree has a long history at Liverpool – and it is great that it is a coherent programme accredited by the Geological Society.  This offers us a real advantage, when it comes to jobs, over similar people who have studied either joint or combined degree programmes at other Institutions.  Famous graduates from the GPG programme include, amongst many others, David Hodgson (Reader in Applied Sedimentology at Leeds), Tom Bradwell (Quaternary Geologist at the BGS), Tom Hill (Museum Scientist at the Natural History Museum) and Ian Selby (Head of Minerals and Infrastructure at the Crown Estate).