Recent Graduate reflects on the ongoing Refugee Crisis

In this blog post, Anna Self, who graduated with a BA Geography degree in 2018, reflects on her recent experiences of working with refugees in Greece, and how her studies at Liverpool helped to prepare her for the work she did there.


Anna Self pic

It’s been a little over a year since I graduated from the University of Liverpool and I have just returned from Samos, Greece where I’ve been working in a refugee camp home to 4,500 people. I have thought a lot about how I want to communicate with friends, family, and colleagues back in the UK regarding what is happening in Samos, and in refugee camps all over the world. Some people have asked me if I’ve had a ‘good time’, or if I ‘enjoyed myself’ and honestly, I can’t answer that question. The situation in Samos, a small island not too far from Turkey, is appalling. I think we are failing humanity by letting people live in the conditions that I have seen.

I’d like to think that the majority of my friends and family are aware and sympathetic about the refugee crisis we face in Europe, but if there are grandparents, friends, or colleagues out there that aren’t, then my experiences have made it clear to me that this conversation needs to be had. It might be difficult and uncomfortable, but one thing I’ve learnt is that ignorance is one of the biggest culprits in this situation. For example, tourists in Samos are blissfully unaware of the 4,500 people living in inhumane conditions less than 500 metres from the city centre. These lovely, innocent, hard-working people are living in tents, without access to toilets, showers, and basic amenities.

Anna Self Samos 2

Here in Europe, we hold ourselves to a higher standard than other places, boasting that we have the best healthcare, education, and living standards in the world. Yet somehow, we are forgetting about over a million people who are fleeing to Europe to escape political conflict, famine, torture, and other atrocities that we cannot even imagine. I’ve seen people digging through rubbish bins looking for food to eat and children sleeping next to rats, and even women who have been discharged from hospital one day after giving birth, having to return to a one-man tent that is more suitable for Glastonbury than it is for living in with a newborn baby.

With the UK’s news agenda being dominated by Brexit, it’s easy to forget what is happening in the rest of the world. Despite the changes our own country is going through, I believe we have a responsibility to these people – many of whom come from countries we either colonised or in which we have contributed to the conflict. I’ve had uncomfortable conversations with people from Ghana, Sudan, and many other countries. After being asked where I’m from, the response was always the same; a reference to the British colonisation of their country. Although this colonisation happened generations before me, I’m still seeing the effects today, and we are all living with the consequences. 

Greece is attempting to deal with the huge pressures of this migration, but we can help share the burden. Write to your local councillor, your MP, talk to your friends, start the conversation. Next time you catch yourself complaining about a delayed flight, an overpriced flat, or not enough paid holiday, think of the woman and her newborn baby living in a one-man tent with no NHS, no toilets, and no government to support her. The media might not be talking about it anymore, but the refugee crisis is still happening, and the situation is only getting worse. 

Over the last few months, I have seen the worst of humanity, but I’ve also seen the best. I’ve been lucky enough to work with hundreds of individuals who come from all over the world, some of them refugees themselves. Doctors, lawyers, linguists, students, and politicians. Some from Europe, others from Syria, Afghanistan, Congo, and many others. I am constantly inspired by their compassion and drive to help strangers, friends, and neighbours, despite the hardship they are going through themselves. 

Anna Self Samos

Having studied BA Geography in Liverpool, I have been able to assess the situation in Greece with a unique lens. During my studies, I learnt about Europe’s responsibility towards the state of affairs in many countries across the globe. Be it from colonisation, or from current involvement in conflict in countries like Syria and Afghanistan. I have also thought critically about the roles of NGOs, particularly those who do not listen to the voices of refugees themselves, and compared them to those organisations who listen and care for the people they work with.

I’ve seen firsthand how a degree in Geography really can help you to help others. Being equipped with a critical mindset has allowed me to proactively solve problems before they arose, or to develop solutions and think on my feet. This involved things like trying to address the disruptive impact of the comings and goings of short term volunteers on refugees, or reducing the issue of gender inequality within the camp. Although it felt great to be doing something to address the problems I’d learnt about during my time in Liverpool, I’ve returned home ready for the next phase of my academic and professional career.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how to get involved, please feel free to contact me via email at

Geoff Thomas: 28th May 1943 – 2nd July 2019

Dr Geoff Thomas, formerly of the Department of Geography at the University of Liverpool, passed away peacefully in his sleep Tuesday 2nd July 2019 aged 76 after a 4 year battle with illness undertaken with customary joviality, panache and determination. Geoff as an academic and researcher was above all else a Quaternary geologist and geomorphologist renowned for his meticulous research on the stratigraphy, sedimentology and geomorphology of glacial deposits. At the Department of Geography and Planning at Liverpool we record his passing with great sadness, and celebrate his contribution during a ~40-year tenure at Liverpool from 1968 to 2007 and his lasting contribution to Quaternary Science.


Much of Geoff’s research was ahead of its time, with technological advances in elevation models and digital mapping arriving late in his career. It is testimony to his abilities and adaptability that he produced comprehensive assessments of glacial sediment (on the Isle of Man, in northwest Wales, southeast and western Ireland) coupled with fantastically illustrated geomorphological mapping in the paper era. Only then on retirement to transition to using digital elevation models and Geographical Information Systems to produce a state-of-the-art mapping of the Cheshire-Staffordshire-Shropshire lowlands, and Welsh borderlands. Geoff’s stratigraphical and geomorphological research underpinned, and was a cornerstone of the Natural Environment Research Council (2012-2018) Britice-Chrono Project work in northwest England, the Isle of Man, southeast Ireland and Connemara. He participated on Britice-Chrono field sampling trips in the English Midlands in 2013-14 logging sections and interpreting palaeoenvironmental models. He was also co-lead for the October 2013 Glacial Landsystems Working Group (GLWG) Field Meeting 14 focused on The Glaciation of the Cheshire-Shropshire Lowlands and adjacent areas. Even in failing health both he and his research has contributed to publications that continue into 2019.

Born and brought up in Cardiff, he gained his first degree and PhD from the University of Wales (Aberystwyth) in 1970 researching the Quaternary Geology of the Isle of Man. That research on the Isle of Man was a stellar contribution on Quaternary stratigraphy, and it was a matter of pride that the PhD research much underpinned the 2006 book A New History of the Isle of Man: evolution of the natural landscape some 36 years later. From 1969 to 2007 as Lecturer and Senior Lecturer at the University of Liverpool, Geoff was above all else an educator, introducing numerous undergraduates over 3 decades to their first taste of glaciology and glacial environments in Iceland and Norway. This commitment to field teaching extended into his late career, with him still leading student groups wild camping on the glacial forelands of Norway into his 60’s. Many PhD researchers and academics point to Geoff as having taught them a great deal in the fields of sedimentology, glaciotectonics, the glaciation of NW England and adjacent regions.

His legacy is that blending of sedimentary structures and geomorphology to understand our glacial history. He was an active and dedicated supporter of the Quaternary Research Association (QRA) serving on the Executive, leading the 1971, 1984 and 2004 excursions to the Isle of Man, contributing to numerous other QRA field excursions (North Wales, South Midlands and Welsh Marches, Western Ireland and Brecon Beacons). Geoff was awarded Honorary Membership of the Quaternary Research Association in 2009. For many the abiding memory of Geoff will be in the field, as James Scourse noted in the Quaternary Newsletter (2009: No 117) ‘… to see him draw and describe the evolution of sedimentary structure is to witness a profoundly perceptive intellect in which scientific insight is allied to artistic flair and an inner delight in the nature of sediments.’ For me he was simply brilliant company, fun and a true friend, he will be missed.


He will be greatly missed by his wife Patricia and his family. Geoffrey Stephen Powell Thomas, Physical Geographer, born 28th May 1943; died 2nd July 2019.

RC Chiverrell 7th July 2019

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

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.

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.

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.

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.


Geography & Computers: Past, present, and future — King’s Geocomputation


The discipline of Geography has long been intertwined with the use of computers. This close interaction is likely to increase with the embeddedness of computers and concomitant growth of spatially referenced data. To better understand the current situation, and to be able to better speculate about the future, this article provides two parallel perspectives: first, we offer an historical perspective on the relationship between Geography and computers; second, we document developments—in particular the nascent field of data science—that are currently taking place outside of Geography and to which we argue the discipline should be paying close attention. Combining both perspectives, we identify the benefits of tighter integration between Geogra- phy and Data Science and argue for the establishment of a new space—that we term Geographic Data Science—in which cross‐pollination could occur to the benefit of both Geography and the larger data community.

via Geography & Computers: Past, present, and future — King’s Geocomputation

Shell Meets Bone – Review — Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences of Health, Medicine and Technology

Last Thursday, CHSSoHMT had the pleasure of hosting ‘Shell Meets Bone’ the collaborative project of biominerals expert Professor Maggie Cusack, from the University of Glasgow, and artist in residence Rachel Duckhouse. Rachel is an award winning visual artist based in Glasgow. She has undertaken several research based artist residencies in the UK and abroad. In […]

via Shell Meets Bone – Review — Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences of Health, Medicine and Technology

Learning Machine Learning Open Workgroup (LMLow) Hackathon

Following on from the successes of the first three sessions of LMLOW, we are proud to announce our first ever hackathon event! The event will be entirely hands-on and provide an opportunity for individuals to gain practical experience in utilising the two methodologies that we have covered so far: (1) Regression Trees and Gradient Boosting, and (2) Word2vec and text mining

The hackathon will focus on analysing a single data set: AirBnb reviews in London provided by Inside Airbnb. The data include geographically referenced reviews for airbnb lodgings and includes a mixture of numerical and text data. The data can be found here (search for London). 

Please come prepared having examined the data source and the potential questions that could be explored using the data. During the event, individuals will be split into small teams who will identify and explore research questions utilising the two methodologies, under the guidance of our team of experts. Participants will be required to bring their own laptop with relevant statistical software pre-installed (e.g. R/RStudio, Python, QGIS etc). There will be a prize for the team who completes the best project.
You can sign up for the event at this link.

New paper on the anticipation (causal) effects of Crossrail — Geographic Data Science Lab

How much more are home-buyers willing to pay for a house if they know it is close to a train station that is going to be upgraded? 2.4%, according to a recently published paper in the Journal of Transport Geography co-authored by GDSL’s Sam Comber and Dani Arribas-Bel, which presents a method for quantifying the…

Reblogged from Geographic Data Science Lab. To read more: New paper on the anticipation (causal) effects of Crossrail — Geographic Data Science Lab