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)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 3-4 sediment dynamics and environmental changes at Brotherswater

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

MSc class of 2015

MSc class of 2015

Centre for Global Eco-Innovation: Environmental Researchers talking about how their passion drives their work

Last week the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation (CGE) held its third annual boot camp for Graduate Researchers based here at the University of Liverpool, and Lancaster University.  The CGE currently funds 50 PhDs in across a host of university departments including Engineering, Chemistry alongside 4 PhDs based in Geography and Planning.

Decamping to Ribby Hall, just outside Preston, the CGE researchers participated in a host of sessions all aimed at helping them to develop their skills in post-PhD life, either presenting research to other academics, putting together a business pitch, or marketing their ideas using video.  We also heard from guest speakers including Mark Shayler from the Royal Society’s Great Recovery Project, who spoke about the circular economy, and how important research is in filling that role, as well as Gary Townley from the Intellectual Property Office who spoke about IP in all its forms.

One of the major draws of the bootcamp was a session held by Bellyflop TV, which was aimed at GRs who wanted to produce videos that could either demonstrate their research, or market a new idea or business idea that they might have upon graduating.  To help illustrate how a video was put together, our researchers were asked ‘What made you want to do a PhD?’, with the resulting footage being compiled.  The result is the video below.

Combined, the research completed by the PhD researchers, working with their companies and the CGE will be responsible for the mitigation of 60,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, 725,000 tonnes of water and over 13,000 tonnes of material diverted from landfill by the project’s end.  Importantly, however, while the video does a great job of showcasing the range of innovation that the CGE supports, what it really shows is that each PhD has its own story and that often research is driven by a passion that goes beyond 9-5, and that ultimately it is this passion that has driven the success of the CGE’s projects.

Sea level is rising: get out of the way!

Sea level 1

Post by Dr. Claire Mellett

In April this year The Geological Society of America and American Geophysical Union joined together to hold the first Penrose/Chapman conference in Texas, USA, under the theme of; Coastal processes and environments under sea-level rise and changing climate: science to inform management. The meeting’s main objective was to raise awareness of the vulnerability of coastal environments to climate and sea-level change and to bridge the gap between science and policy to ensure informed management of the coastal environment. The meeting brought together 80 scientists (including myself) from around the world to discuss the impacts of sea-level rise, climate change, storms and human activity on the coast.

The meeting kicked off with a number of talks looking at records of past sea level. In the past sea-level rise was not linear and there was some degree of natural variability. However, recent rates of sea-level rise are higher than they have been during the last 2000 years. Whilst globally sea-level is currently rising (eustatic), the effect of this rise on the coast varies locally depending on whether the land is rising or falling (isostatic). In the Gulf of Mexico, lowering of the land (subsidence) due to the extraction of oil, gas and water, sediment loading and sediment compaction means that in this area the coast is experiencing even higher rates of sea-level rise making it more vulnerable to the impacts of storms. Here human activity is exasperating the impact of sea-level rise on the coast and billions of dollars are spent trying to protect or repair infrastructure in these low lying areas. The question facing policy makers now is will the economy be able to sustainably support such investment in coastal protection in the future?

Galveston, Texas

Whilst sea-level rise is a major threat to the future of coastal environments, a number of talks highlighted other environmental variables of equal importance. Of these, variations in sediment supply appeared the most significant. In areas where high amounts of sediment are being delivered to the coast, the coast may be able to keep up or even grow despite rising sea-levels. However, in many places humans are interfering with the sediment budget by damning rivers (e.g. Yangtze River, China) or nourishing beaches (e.g. The Netherlands). The meeting highlighted the delicate relationship between sea-level and sediment supply in determining how a coast will respond.

As the meeting drew to close, we were working towards a consensus based on the best available science to present to governments and policy makers outlining the biggest challenges for coastal environments in the future. My personal interpretation of this consensus is that sea-level rise and the impact of climate change at the coast are not something to worry about in the future but something that is happening now. I feel the perception that sea-level rise will slowly encroach the coast at a snail’s pace is misguided. A more realistic view when trying to visualise the impacts of sea-level rise is to think of episodic events such as storm surges and hurricanes which have instantaneous and devastating effects on the coast (and economy). It is therefore important to recognise that in order to secure a sustainable future at the coast, society must learn to adapt to (or get out the way of) rising sea levels.

Taking a trip… by Andy Plater

I thought you’d appreciate a bit of an insight into a conference trip.  I was recently invited to attend a conference at the State Key Laboratory for Estuarine and Coastal Research (SKLEC) at East China Normal University.  As well as taking part in the ‘International Symposium on Climate Change and Human Activities: Coastal Causes and Consequences’.  The event was a culmination of a number of research projects being undertaken at SKLEC, many involving international colleagues, and especially the Dutch coastal engineering community.  I guess I was invited because I’ve now been working with the folks at SKLEC and ECNU for nearly 20 years!  This has involved staff and postgraduate exchanges, training workshops, and various field and laboratory research projects.  This link stems from the President of ECNU, Prof. Yu Lizhong, being a former postgraduate in the Department of Geography at Liverpool, and has now grown into an institutional partnership.

The discussions on the afternoon of the first day centred on various initiatives to attract overseas postgraduates and postdoctoral research fellows to SKLEC.  I was rather dwarfed by the research reputations of the other contributors, especially the Dutch coastal researchers: Roelvink, de Vriend, Stive and Winterwerp.  The best thing was to meet Willard Moore – someone who I’ve wanted to meet since I did my PhD.  He was such a lovely chap. The discussions extended through to the early evening, although I headed off to have dinner with Lizhong, Zhang Weiguo (my good colleague and Deputy Director of SKLEC) and Rick Battarbee (who was visiting various research institutes in China).  I then retired to start on my presentation – and to begin the battle with jet lag.  It’s always easy to get to sleep on the first night in China, but you generally wake up at 3 am.  Still, being up and about at that time gives you an opportunity to Skype home.

Breakfast was non-existent on day two – I’d managed to get back to sleep at about 6 am and ended up waking at 8:30 am for a conference start at 9:00 am.  The sacrifice was worth it; there were plenty of tea and cakes during the session of keynote talks which were mostly on coastal modelling, sedimentary processes and coastal evolution.  Changsheng Chen’s presentation on the development and application of FV-COM was superb.  Ian Townend also did a great job on the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment.   Despite the serious attractions of a few Tsingtaos with Ulo Mander, Chris Craft and Richard Bellerby (new colleagues arising from off-line discussions during the meeting), I had to go and finish my talk – and again wage war with the early wake-up. 

Attendees at the conference – I’m at the back!

I successfully managed breakfast on day three – along with Chris Craft who was another early riser.  The parallel session talks at the conference were quite a challenge.  The themes of the various talks were, er, varied, as were the experiences of the numerous presenters.  Rather lax chairing of the sessions also meant that we ran on.  The same applied to the afternoon, where over-running of the first session meant that I hurried into the session to give my talk on using numerical modelling in support of coastal management decision-making.  It seemed to go pretty well – and I had a couple of quite challenging questions, notably on how providing advice for decision makers could learn from the experiences of the recently jailed Italian seismologists!

That night was the formal conference dinner at a plush restaurant in Shanghai… and the inevitable karaoke. We knew it was going to be done on a ‘national’ basis so John Dearing and I nervously tackled the various dishes – from hairy crab to whole fish soup.   And as representatives from the various nations did their thing, stage-managed impressively by Dano Roelvink who seemed to be a bit of a karaoke king, I was desperately seeking the lyrics for “On Ilkley Moor baht ’at” on my phone.  As we took to stage, I secured additional performers in the form of Richard Bellerby and Ian Townend.  To the cheers of “The Beatles!” we disappointed the international audience pressed on with our planned rendition.  It wasn’t too bad at all (phew) – especially with Richard knowing where to chip in with some smutty little additions.  The evening ended with me, Ulo, Chris, Richard and Norbert Hertkorn heading off to ‘The Pub’ outside the back gate of the university – and then returning in the early hours by having to climb over the gate!

The fourth day saw the conclusion of the conference in the morning, and then me spending some time in the magnetics laboratory at SKLEC helping Da Dong, a PhD student at ECNU, identify some Chinese diatoms.  Surprisingly, the preservation was really good.  I also had a good chat with Weiguo and Lizhong about setting up a dual PhD programme between the University of Liverpool and ECNU.  UoL graduates really should be thinking of a future in Shanghai, especially in the area of environmental research and resource management.

That evening I headed off to the airport with Simon Neill, a lecturer from the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor.  He was due to fly back via Abu Dhabi but his flight was cancelled.  Fortunately, he was transferred onto my flight (via Doha), so we compared notes on the crappy superhero and sci-fi films that we watched on the way back.  Do not waste any of your valuable time watching the remake of Total Recall!

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).

A Visitor from Notre Dame

Sophie Higham, an A2-level geography student from Notre Dame Catholic College, recently completed a 6-week placement in the Department under the supervision of Tim Shaw and Andy Plater.  Sophie’s placement was funded by the Nuffield Foundation through a bursary scheme that is open to competitive application each year from talented and enthusiastic school students.   The project work focussed on the zonation of saltmarsh foraminifera (or forams) from sites and the Bay of Cadiz, with the purpose of scoping the potential for using forams for historical sea-level reconstruction.  This project links to current research collaborations with IMEDEA at the University of the Balearic Islands who funded an MSc dissertation project in 2011, completed by Frazer Bird.

Sophie Higham from Notre Dame Catholic College proudly displays her gold award-winning poster. Thanks to Suzanne Yee for her assistance in helping Sophie to design the poster.

Sophie learned how to identify different foram species using low magnification microscopy and developed an understanding of the environmental controls on foram distribution, i.e. intertidal exposure, salinity, grain size etc.  The results revealed a very clear relationship between foram distribution and saltmarsh surface elevation – which is the essential basis for sea-level reconstruction using a transfer function approach.  This methodology forms the core of Tim’s PhD research on sea-level trends for the Adriatic coast of Croatia, which in turn follows on from Hayley Mills successful PhD on recent sea-level trends for the Mersey Estuary.

Tim Shaw helped Sophie learn how to identify the various species of saltmarsh foraminifera and to process the results.

Sophie joins a successful cohort of Nuffield Scholars who have been hosted in Geography: Dan Marks (2007), Matthew Sweeney and Matthew Thomas (2008), Stoffer Bruun and Lizzy Goodger (2009).  Their projects have all focussed on coastal evolution and environmental change.  This year, at the Celebration Event Hosted in the World Museum at Liverpool, Sophie received a gold award for her poster describing the outcomes of her research.  Quite an achievement, and very much deserved!

Latest QWeCI Project Newsletter now available

Post by Andrew McCaldon

I am the project secretary and Dr. Andy Morse is the coordinator of the QWeCI Project – Quantifying Weather and Climate Impacts on Health in Developing Countries.

In this project, researchers across 13 European and African research institutions work together to integrate data from climate modelling and disease forecasting systems to predict the likelihood of an epidemic up to six months in advance.  The research, funded by the European Commission Seventh Framework programme, focuses on climate and disease in Senegal, Ghana and Malawi and aims to give decision–makers the necessary time to deploy intervention methods to help prevent large scale spread of diseases such as Rift Valley Fever and malaria.

Read about the recent activity in the latest QweCI Project newsletter, which can be downloaded here, and more information can be found here.