Characterising lake sediments by NIRS: integrating teaching and research in the Universities Central Teaching Laboratory

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A trend of ‘brownification’ identified in surface waters across the UK, North America and Northern Europe has been a growing concern, with the transfer of organic carbon from catchments to lake basins and water courses increasing. To explore this problem, in 2012-3 graduate teaching assistant Fiona Russell began PhD research investigating whether the sedimentary records preserved in lake basins provided new information on the longer term onset of this trend, the nature of any previous events in the last 11,500 years and the causes of browner surface waters. This research has used lakes in the UK Uplands Water Monitoring Network (formerly known as Acid Waters Monitoring Network), who for 30 years have collected data that shows some of these acid sensitive sites are affected by increases in the flux of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and browner waters. The research involved accessing the sediments from these lakes and exploring for patterns that matched recent increases in monitored DOC and for other changes in the organic stratigraphy that might explain the patterns.
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Humic waters on the edge of Loch Grannoch

 At this time, the award winning state-of-the-art Central Teaching Laboratories (CTL) at the University of Liverpool expanded the Infrared Spectrometry capabilities adding a Near-infrared Diffuse Reflectance machine. The Bruker MPA Diffuse Reflectance Fourier Transform Near Infrared Spectrometer (FT-NIRS) was added to the teaching facility to enable the rapid and non-destructive characterisation of powders including soils and sediments. NIRS has proven to be a valuable tool for quantifying the components present in lake sediments, such as type and quantity of organic and mineral matter. Often the approach uses direct comparison of the NIR spectra to parallel independently measured parameters, for example organic content (loss-on-ignition or total organic carbon). This approach requires the development of an extensive training set of parallel measurements, and one has been developed in the CTL to enable undergraduates and postgraduates to estimate loss-on-ignition by NIRS. The NIRS measurement takes 60 seconds and is non-destructive, whereas equivalent combustion methods take several hours, are destructive and more difficult to accommodate in the time frame of practical classes.
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MPA FT-NIRS in the Central Teaching Laboratory

In developing utilities to support teaching in the School of Environmental Sciences, Fiona Russell began exploring alternative approaches to the handling of NIR spectra to obtain a broader range of environmental information from sediments and soils. The approach developed rather than using a large training set, for example our loss-on-ignition dataset comprises > 200 samples with parallel NIRS and l-o-i measurements, instead uses a library of end member NIR spectra measured for known composition materials e.g. biogenic silica (diatoms), humic/fulvic acids (key components of DOC), rock and mineral types. This alternative approach, recently published in the Journal of Paleolimnology (click here), applies a multiple regression of a selection of known material NIR spectra to a sample set of NIR spectra measured for unknown composition materials, in this research lake sediment samples. The research shows that with appropriate selection of 3-5 end member spectra, the method can reconstruct successfully the proportions that these end members form in the series of unknown lake sediments. This different approach means that environmental reconstructions can be undertaken using 3-5 end member spectra rather than a library of >100-200 parallel measurements and it can reconstruct the proportions of multiple end member materials or sediment components simultaneously.

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To demonstrate the approach, we sampled a 14,500 year duration sediment core from Loch Grannoch in the Galloway Hills (SW Scotland). Loch Grannoch is a small upland oligotrophic lake that has granite bedrock, relatively large catchment area and is one of the lakes in the UK Uplands Water Monitoring Network. Applying our approach reveals a down-core pattern of varying dominance by biogenic silica, organic and mineral content from the late glacial to present. Testing a wider range of end members shows there is sensitivity to the choice of end members, with a local bedrock or sediment end member characteristic of the lake catchment important. The wider generality of the approach, and the utility of our growing library of mineral, organic and biogenic silica end-member materials, is demonstrated by successful ‘blind’ application to additional lake sediment cores from Wales, Norway and Sweden each with differing climate and bedrock.
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Fitting mineral, organic and biogenic silica end members to multiple lakes.

The technique development embedded in this research showcases the importance of integrating teaching and research at the University of Liverpool. The paper is available as Open Access from the Journal of Paleolimnology should you wish to read more about it. The team have made available the library of end member NIR spectra and the multiple regression method code developed using the open source R platform with the the online version of the paper supplementary materials and in the University of Liverpool DataCat archive. The methodology is now being used routinely by colleagues, undergraduate and postgraduate students to characterise materials in their learning and independent research. For further information please contact the authors: Fiona Russell, John Boyle and Richard Chiverrell.

 

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Reflections on the MSc fieldclass of 2015: environmental changes in Cumbria

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)

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Day 2 climate histories from lowland raised mires (Leven Estuary)

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Day 3-4 sediment dynamics and environmental changes at Brotherswater

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Day 5 saltmarsh evolution and radionuclides in the Irish Sea (Walney Island)

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Days 6 and 7 involve small group work on individual projects presented on the last evening, before home and some deserved rest……

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MSc class of 2015

Performing Ethnography at Hunt & Darton Café

By Catherine Wilkinson

On Wednesday 25th March, I took up my Researcher in Residence placement at Hunt & Darton Café in Manchester. Hunt & Darton Café is an award-winning pop-up café which unites art with the everyday. Despite being an installation, presented by artists Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton, the café is fully-functioning with a range of food and drink. Through performance, Hunt and Darton showcase the ‘behind the scenes’ of the business; for instance, displaying their profits for the day on a blackboard for customers to see. It was my task to explore methods of documenting and archiving the live art and performance. During my ethnography of the café, I participated as a customer yet made audio recordings; took photographs; and made field diary entries. Because it was the 25th of the month (March), Hunt & Darton café naturally celebrated Christmas Day. In attempting to capture my observations from the day, in a way which does justice to the performativity of the café, I present to you a poem.

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As I approached Hunt & Darton Café I could tell I was in for a treat,
Before I knew it I was greeted with “Happy Christmas, take a seat!”
There was a Christmas tree in the window, mulled wine, and mince pies,
I thought “It’s March, not December”, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Perhaps more strangely, I saw two ladies in broccoli dresses,
It was Hunt and Darton – they even had broccoli branches in their tresses.
The artists approached me, asking “would you like coffee or tea?”
“I’d love a cuppa thank you, with milk, but no sugar for me”.
As I sipped on my brew I marvelled at the crockery,
Then they commenced the quiz and I soon was made a mockery.
“How many sides does a snowflake have?” they asked.
“I know this, I thought…12” – “No, it’s six” – my knowledge was surpassed.
Question number 5 and my score was still zero,
Then a stranger sat down next to me – John – he fast became my hero.
John was getting questions correct left, right, and centre,
I mean – he even knew the name of the mince pie inventor!
The quiz was terminated momentarily as Hunt and Darton took their break,
John got up to leave “back to work for me” he said “I’ve got money to make”,
The quiz was resumed and without John’s presence I felt defeated,
I have to confess that (with use of good old Google) on at least one occasion I cheated.
It was somewhat a relief when the quiz came to an end,
My performance had been poor, there was nothing to commend.
“20 minutes until unhappy hour” Hunt and Darton declared,
“Unhappy hour, what’s this?” I admit it – I was scared.
I was told “the mood gets very sombre and you’re not allowed to laugh”,
At first I thought “forget this, get me out this caff”.
But as the clock struck 6.30pm I soon realised it was nothing malicious,
Hunt and Darton simply wanted to know “what has been your worst Christmas?”
As they walked around the café evoking stories of great sadness,
I couldn’t help but think “what on earth is all this madness”.
It was soon time for me to leave in my getaway car,
But truthfully I loved every second, no matter how strange, how bizarre.

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Moving forward with the project, I have a few aims to keep me busy:

  • I will use the audio recordings, in the form of vox pops and soundbites, to produce an audio documentary which captures the atmosphere at the café.
  • I will create an ‘uncomic strip’, continuing the theme of ‘unhappy hour’, to document my ethnographic findings and the ‘characters’ I met.
  • I will be visiting Hunt & Darton café in Folkestone 9th-10 May to continue my ethnographic observations.

I look forward to working with creative methods to document the performativity of Hunt & Darton Café.

‘Community to me is’…Young People’s Musings on Community

Post by Catherine Wilkinson, ESRC NWDTC PhD student

KCC Live is a community youth-led radio station situated in Knowsley, just outside of Liverpool. The station targets listeners between the ages of 10-24 and has a cohort of volunteers aged 16 and upwards, assisting with roles such as presenting, programming and fundraising. The overarching aim of my doctoral research is to explore how KCC Live creates social capital among these young people in the current time of political, social and economic uncertainty. Within my project I draw on a range of creative qualitative methods, namely: participant observation; interviews and focus groups with young volunteers; interviews with key stakeholders; a listener survey and follow-up interviews; and listener diaries and follow-up interviews. Within my research I adopt a participatory approach.

As part of my research, I am particularly interested in understanding what ‘community’ means to the young people, and the different meanings they attach to the word. To this end, as part of my participatory methodology, the young people and I co-created an audio documentary. The documentary was participatory to the extent that: the young people highlighted key topics relating to community which they would like to discuss; the young people and I recorded discussions about community to be used as content; the young people provided me with advice as to how to edit the documentary; they chose the music and sound effects to be included; after a ‘first draft’ was complete, the young people were involved in snoops (listening sessions where critique and feedback is provided), which instructed me on how to improve the documentary.

In accordance with the desires of the young people, the documentary explores: what community means to them; the different community groups they are involved in; different scales of community, from geographic to virtual; the role of social media in the construction of community; whether they perceive community as positive or negative; the Scouse sense of community; and the community of KCC Live. The audio documentary is around 30 minutes in length and was played out on KCC Live during a show that I present. It is now available as a resource for young people to use as broadcasting content on the station whenever they desire. To listen to the documentary, please follow this link: https://soundcloud.com/catherinewilkinson

Top Ten Blog Posts of 2014

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As we enter 2015 we look back at the top 10 most viewed blog posts of 2015. These include posts by current and past undergraduate and postgraduate students and staff and give a good idea of some of the things that we do here in Geography at University of Liverpool. We look forward to more posts in 2015 and wish you all a happy new year.

 

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10. In Tenth place, a post from February 2014 by PhD student Madeleine Gustavsson on her first publication: First publication – ‘Procedural and distributive justice in a community-based Marine Protected Area in Zanzibar, Tanzania’

 

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9. In Ninth place, a post from June 2014 by James Wilford who graduated with a BA (Hons) Geography in July this year on the Singapore Field Class 2014

 

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8. In Eighth place, a post from June 2014 by Dr. Paul Williamson on the winners of the Edinburgh Field Class 2014 Photo Competition

 

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7. In Seventh place, a post from May 2014 by Samantha Brannan who graduated with a BSc (Hons) Geography in July this year on Geographers on Tour: Santa Cruz Field Class 2014

 

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6. In sixth place, a post from January 2014 about Lisa Reilly who graduated in July this year about her success as National Student Award Winner

 

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5. In Fifth place, a post from December 2014 by Dr Bethan Evans on a Disability, Arts and Wellbeing Workshop with DaDaFest

 

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4. In Fourth place, a post from October 2014 by Sean Dunn who graduated with a BSc (Hons) Geography in July this year and is now studying for an MSc. His post is about the final year Santa Cruz field class on California Field Class and Travel

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3. In Third place, a post from August 2014 by Alexandra Guy, currently a second year BA Geography student on A Year in the Life of an Undergraduate Geography Student

 

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2. In Second Place, a post from August 2014 by PhD student Natalie Robinson on her research with homeless people in Chicago ‘This is My Story: A Photographic Exploration of Chicago’ – Notes from the field.

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1. And in First place, our most viewed blog of 2014 is a post from February 2014 by Jonny Clark who graduated in July with a BSc (Hons) Geography on How a work-based dissertation re-affirmed my confidence in my subject, my own ability and my future

New Paper – Low immigrant mortality in England and Wales: a data artefact?

Guest Post by Matthew Wallace

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Last week, I published a paper in Social Science & Medicine examining mortality among the major immigrant groups in England and Wales over a thirty year period from 1971 to 2001. While recent national media focus has fixated firmly on the fiscal cost of ‘health tourism’ – Migrants to face emergency NHS charges” (BBC), End of free NHS care for migrants under new bill” (Telegraph), Tough rules to stop health tourists” (Daily Mail) – there has been little focus on the health of immigrants who actually live in England and Wales. The health and mortality of these groups is of substantial interest to policy-makers. Evidence suggests inequalities in health by ethnicity and country of birth, but there has been insufficient consideration of the importance of country of origin and length of residence in the United Kingdom.

In short, results from the paper show low mortality (compared to non-migrants in England and Wales) for individuals from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Western Europe, China and group Other Asia. Analysis also shows that this low mortality begins converging to native levels over time – though low mortality persists for some groups at old ages. As to why we see these patterns, low mortality among first-generation immigrants provides evidence of a ‘healthy migrant effect’ whereby individuals initially ‘select’ for good health and the personality traits often associated with a successful migration (ambition, social adeptness and risk-resilience). This good health and low mortality then wears off over time as individuals ‘acculturate’ or adopt the unfavourable habits and behaviours of the host society.

There are of course many additional dimensions to the research which I do not cover here. If you would like to read the discussion in full, the paper is available online through journal Social Science & Medicine or alternatively, at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Matthew_Wallace3. If there is anything you would like to discuss, please feel free to email me at m.wallace@liverpool.ac.uk. The paper was co-authored with Dr Hill Kulu; the research was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [ES/J500094/1] with permission from the Office for National Statistics. The next step of my research is to study the mortality of second generation migrants in England and Wales. Previous research suggests that this group do not share the low mortality of their parents and may actually have a higher mortality risk than natives.

Regional Science Conference in Aberystwyth

My first Regional Science Conference, the 43rd (RSAI-BIS) conference at Aberystwyth, was an eye opener for me. It all started with a long journey from Liverpool with my colleague Kush Thakar. The most important thing I learnt is to expect the unexpected. The A roads to Wales from Liverpool are not always wide and it may make you feel that you are actually in a farm with no GPS signal, but if you trust pre-printed Google maps then you won’t be lost completely at-least!

The Colloquium held at the conference was a place where I felt the importance of attending a conference and presenting. The people I met at conference were down to earth with diverse knowledge in economics and geography with experience more than my age (don’t ask that!). The knowledge and innovative ideas provided by various people triggers new approaches to my research. I was honoured to present my research at the PhD colloquium on Tuesday the 19th of August, which started new conversations and discussion. It made me happy to the see the importance each attendee gave to PhD student research.

Later that evening began with Budweiser in my hand at the Scholar pub in the city centre. I also found that the route between University and town centre was similar to Liverpool wit the university on top of a hill and city centre below (but beware the slope is much greater than Hardman street or Brownlow hill) I had long conversations with different research groups and individuals. The discussions were wide ranging from the ALS bucket challenge to Propensity Score Matching (it’s a statistical method).

The First day of the conference started with little hangover in morning compensated with strong coffee and a refreshing afternoon with good lunch. The topics involving economic and sustainable environmental developments were wonderful. Several presentations made me think of why I haven’t tried those methodologies and approach (Input output Methods, Time based methods, decay approach and list goes on…).

The evening was planned with a city tour, which gave me the opportunity to see the beautiful views of the Aberystwyth and the sea front. The remains of the castle and beautiful green grass were mesmerising, and made me feel bad for not carrying my camera with me. Only few pics with my phone were possible.

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The day ended with an open bar and a Welsh style 2 course dinner at the beautiful hotel on a hill top close to sea front. The view of the sunset was beautiful but still, can’t match the beauty of Liverpool’s sunset (only in summer). This was the day that I was introduced to my research family by my supervisor Karyn Morrissey. Karyn introduced me to her supervisor Professor Graham Clarke (Grandfather) and all my cousins (his other PhD students and their PhD students!). It was an honour becoming a part of this family.

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My presentation at the last day of the conference allowed me to present my finding in calm composed manner, which gave me a variety of feedback and long discussion with fellow researchers. This gave an outside view of my research from an economical point of view. With this experience I returned to Liverpool with a long playlist of songs in the car with my supervisor and colleague, hoping to work on those innovative approaches and methodologies in my future research.

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