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.
Post by Kimberley Peters
Just a few years ago the threat of piracy – the seizure of huge cargo ships and the holding hostage of their crews – loomed large off of the coast of Somalia. This illicit maritime activity, which is many centuries old and can be traced back to the earliest seafaring (see Hasty 2014), was a cause for global concern. Ships are the technologies that link spaces together for the majority of trade (96% to be exact). Moreover, much of that trade travels through piracy ‘hotspots’ – voyaging through the Suez Canal linking Europe with the Middle East and South-East Asia.
As was depicted in the Hollywood film Captain Phillips (based on the events experienced by the real Captain Phillips) piracy has costs. There are, for shipping companies, large economic costs of training crews, installing water cannons and locking systems onto vessels, and, of course, rising insurance premiums. At the height of the piracy crisis (which coincided with a fall in oil prices) it was cheaper for vessels to travel around the African continent, following 18th and 19th century colonial trade routes, than to journey via Suez and the Somali coast. Higher costs for shipping translate, ultimately, into higher costs for us as consumers. But there are also other costs – the costs to lives, of those victim to piracy, but also those in war-torn countries who commit such offshore acts.
The spate of piratical acts over the last decade has alerted the world to the often invisible world that exists offshore (Urry 2014). It has also alerted us to the fact that the chains that keep things moving A to B, are not unbreakable. When we go shopping – for food, clothes, a new mobile phone – almost all of these things will have travelled on a ship across the oceans, connecting us to the world beyond dry land and to the lives of those offshore who are making (and breaking) those commodity chains (see Peters 2010).
Today, we hear less of piracy in the news. This is partly due to better oceanic governance to prevent it, and efforts onshore to assist the rebuilding of communities who often have little option but to turn to crime at sea (see the excellent work of Gilmer on piracy in the recent issue of Geoforum, 2016). But just because piracy is not as visible as it has been, doesn’t mean that it is all plain sailing for those who facilitate the supply chains that keep our shop shelves stacked.
In the past few months we’ve seen a new crisis emerge as global shipping firm Hanjin went bust. As geographers Stephen Graham and Nigel Thrift have argued (2007), we often fail to recognise the infrastructural systems that keep our world functioning: the pipes, cables, roads, cars, planes and even ships – that are part of networks which keep things moving A to B. It is only when things fail we notice these invisible systems (piracy for example, made the closed world of shipping suddenly very visible). The Hanjin crisis did the same.
When the company was declared insolvent, ships and their crews were stuck out at sea with nowhere to go (see this BBC report). Ports refused them entry knowing the bankrupt company would not be able to pay the port fees. Captains and workers were stranded on board. The thousands of container boxes carried by the ships were undelivered – trapped in an oceanic limbo. Supply chains were severed. Cars failed to arrive in showrooms. Electrical goods failed to reach their destination. Personal items shipped overseas were left bobbing about offshore. Again, this instance alerts us to the fundamental but fragile role of shipping in everyday life.
In recent months we have been confronted with the global world of shipping in new ways here in Liverpool. The opening of the new Liverpool2 docks in November 2016 will enable the world’s largest ships – of 400 meters and above – to enter the port. Liverpool, it is anticipated, will become a new hub of global trade in the North of England – a key site for enabling those vital connections that move things from A to B (see this BBC report).
The difference this will make for Liverpool, the north-west region, and to the world of commerce and trade is, as yet, unclear. It is argued it will bring more jobs and greater prosperity to the area. It may also create new global links between Liverpool and the rest of the world. As such, what happens at sea, on ships, and in ports matters to us here on land (as myself and colleagues have argued elsewhere, see Anderson and Peters 2014). Developments like Liverpool2 are part of the network of infrastructures that keep things moving and enable us to access the goods and resources essential to our daily lives (see also this recent article on the Geographical Magazine website).
So next time you go shopping, spare a thought for the oceanic connections interwoven with the things you buy, and the geographic processes, and infrastructural maintenance that has enabled them to reach our shores. And if this has sparked your interest, we explore some of these themes in the new ENVS339 Maritime Geographies module in the Department of Geography and Planning in Spring 2017, taught by myself, Prof. Andy Plater and Dr. Andy Davies.
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), or call by my office (Rm404 in the Roxby Building) to say hello!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
Day 2 climate histories from lowland raised mires (Leven Estuary)
Day 3-4 sediment dynamics and environmental changes at Brotherswater
Day 5 saltmarsh evolution and radionuclides in the Irish Sea (Walney Island)
Days 6 and 7 involve small group work on individual projects presented on the last evening, before home and some deserved rest……
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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!)
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.
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.