Introducing James Lea: New Lecturer in Glacial Geomorphology

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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.

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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.

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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 (j.lea@liverpool.ac.uk), or call by my office (Rm404 in the Roxby Building) to say hello!

Cruise 1: Days 1-6 trials, tribulations and triumphs

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Originally posted on Britice-Chrono NERC Consortium:
By Rich Chiverrell and co from the edge of the shelf Developed as a concept 3-4 years ago, and planned over the last 2 years with massive input from across the Britice-Chrono team and…

Mission Possible: Scoat Tarn Boot Camp

By Fiona Russell (PhD researcher and Graduate Teaching Assistant)

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2st July 2014, the day we conquered Scoat Tarn!

Your mission, Fiona Russell, should you wish to accept it is…… compile a group of eight willing volunteers, two boats, paddles, 8 life jackets (must be safe), two corers, 350m of rope, 10 litres of drinking water, a ladder, some dodgy knees, sunshine and some cling film, then tackle one of the highest lakes in the Lake District to recover 1000 years of mud from beneath 18m of water. This message will self-destruct in 30 seconds.

After some last minute alterations due potential 40 kph winds on Thursday, we set off for an epic coring trip to Scoat Tarn, a typical mountain cirque basin at 600m altitude in the Lake District National Park, UK. Scoat Tarn is small (5.2ha), deep (<20 m), lies in a west facing valley at an altitude of 602 m to the north and above Wastwater, England’s deepest lake. The catchment comprises steeply sloping walls; with summits in excess of 825 m. Scoat Tarn shows a sediment signature of severe acidification in recent years as a direct result of human-induced acid deposition, and the location is one of the UK Upland Waters Monitoring Network of sites, whose data show the lake has recovered to some extent the last two decades.

Seven of the group sensibly met at the Wasdale Head Inn where we set up camp and spent an enjoyable evening in the pub eating drinking and watching Belgium knock USA out of the World Cup. The eighth decided to play a league tennis match til 8.30pm and then drive to the Lake District arriving just in time for last orders and a welcome pint of Lakeland Ale already purchased by the team.

In the morning, after a quiet night’s sleep accompanied by incessant bleating sheep, squawking birds, cuckoos and general noisy countryside, the reality of it all struck home and the tough fieldwork we had come here for arrived. A short drive along the edge of Wastwater and we arrived at the car park. Eight rucksacks packed to the brim with boats, ropes and coring equipment, we set off into the hills for a slightly daunting 500m climb over 4km.

Several hours and several miles (or km) later we reached Scoat Tarn. The aim was to collect 3 short gravity cores and a longer sediment record using a piston corer. To get the latter, we had to set up a rig with a stable working area from which we could operate the piston from. Our design was successful (it was worth carrying the ladder all that way!) and we managed to extract a one meter core from 18 m of water that will probably encompass the last 1000 years of environmental history for this upland catchment and what a catchment a stunning cirque basin in the southwest fells of one of the most beautiful valleys in England…..

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We returned home to Liverpool the next morning with bags of sediment and a huge sense of achievement, my first PhD samples in the bag! Thanks to the team; Richard Chiverrell, John Boyle, Daniel Schillereff, Jen Clear, Hugh Smith, Amy Lennard and Agata Marzecova.

Apply Now Deadline 10th Feb: NERC Studentships in Physical Geography

The NERC Funded Manchester & Liverpool Doctoral Training Programme ‘Understanding the Earth, Atmosphere and Ocean’ which links the Universities of Manchester and Liverpool, together with the National Oceanographic Centre to providing funding for doctoral research. Opportunities in Physical Geography are listed under the Earth and Environmental Sciences pillar and in the theme Surface Earth and Palaeontology. Deadline for Applications is 09.00am 10th February 2014.

Some of the Physical Geography topics available are listed below. Click here for further information and to apply for each topic.

  • Taking useful climate data to the business community Supervisors: Andy Morse and Andy Heath
  • Catchment to basin sediment flux: a simulation framework. Supervisors: Prof Richard Chiverrell, Drs John Boyle and Hugh Smith (CASE Partner Lake District National Park)
  • Holocene landscape P dynamics and modelling for the Cheshire and Shropshire Meres. Supervisors: Dr John Boyle, Profs Richard Chiverrell & Andy Plater (CASE Partner Natural England)
  •  Developing a ‘tool box’ for natural flood risk management. Supervisors: Dr Karen Potter & Dr Neil Macdonald
  •  Dynamics of Overland Flows on Hillslopes.‌ Supervisors: Dr Karen Potter & Dr Neil Macdonald
  • Effects of climate and hydrological change on river channel stability. Supervisors: Professor Janet Hooke, Professor Andy Morse, Dr Neil Macdonald
  • Are there relationships between flood frequency, seasonality and large scale climatic drivers? Supervisors: Dr Neil Macdonald & Dr John Boyle
  • Locating ‘Hot Spots’ of Contaminated Sediment in Rivers. Supervisors: Dr James Cooper, Prof Janet Hooke and Dr Hugh Smith (Geography and Planning)
  •  Modelling movement of large sediment in river flows. Supervisors: Professor Janet Hooke and Dr James Cooper
  •  Residence times of contaminated sediment in river floodplains. Supervisors: Hugh Smith, Janet Hooke, James Cooper, Richard Chiverrell
  •  Soil Deterioration under a Changing Climate. Supervisors: Dr James Cooper, Prof Janet Hooke and Prof Andreas Lang (Geography and Planning)

We welcome applicants for our Doctoral Training Programme in Understanding the Earth, Atmosphere and Ocean. Further information: Interviews will take place on the 26th & 27th February 2014.  Applicants must have, or be about to obtain, a first class or upper second degree.  If you have a lower second degree, but have also obtained a masters qualification, you are also eligible. If you do not have these qualifications but you have substantial relevant post-graduate experience please contact the School holding the studentship to find out if your relevant experience is sufficient. Our studentships are funded by NERC and are available to UK nationals and other EU nationals that have resided in the UK for three years prior to commencing the studentship.  If you meet this criteria, funding will be provided for tuition fees and stipend.  If you are a citizen of a EU member state you will eligible for a fees-only award.

Western Ireland Excursion: the Grand finale of the DYNAMITE project (DYNAmic Models in Terrestrial Ecosystems and Landscapes)

Connemara coastline, stunning bays, headlands and sea food

Connemara coastline, stunning bays, headlands and sea food

The four-year DYNAMITE project (DYNAmic Models in Terrestrial Ecosystems and Landscapes), a teaching and research cooperation programme between the School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool, UK and the Departments of Geology and Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science at Lund University, Sweden, recently ended with an excursion for PhD students, postdocs and academic staff from both institutions to western Ireland in September 2013 and organised magnificently by Prof Richard Bradshaw (University of Liverpool).

A brief report from the trip offers an excellent overview of the breadth of Quaternary Science as a discipline, illustrating how we integrate geomorphology, archaeology, geology and palaeoecology, to foster better understanding of local- to global-scale environmental change at varying temporal scales through the Holocene and Pleistocene.

Archaeology

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Our trip began (Day 1) in The Burren, an extensive karstic landscape composed of remarkable limestone pavements and that supports many rare species. Michael Gibbons guided us around a number of fascinating archaeological sites, many of which feature in this detailed report from the Burren Landscale and Settlement Project. We visited impressive hill forts, court tombs and exposed oyster middens, many of them dating from Neolithic, and in some cases Mesolithic age. Many sites in the Burren have yet to be excavated, including these stone piles in the tidal zone; what was their purpose and when were they constructed remains to be discovered.

The trip also ended (Day 6) discussing archaeology, specifically the Céide Fields Neolithic complex at Ballycastle, County Mayo. These field systems enclosed by stone walls represent the most extensive Neolithic Stone Age monument in the world, dating to 5000 – 6000 years ago, and is today mostly covered by extensive blanket peat except for a few isolated areas currently undergoing excavation. The age of the walls is determined by applying radiocarbon dating to fossilized pine stumps preserved in the bog. Seamus Caulfield (Archaeology, University College Dublin) who has focused much of his research career on these sites led an extensive guided tour of the excavations, where the peat has been removed at various intervals revealing the abandoned stone walls.

While individually the piles of stone do not initially appear tremendously impressive, when the spatial extent (>10 km2) and perfectly parallel construction of the walls is considered, the enormous scale of Neolithic agriculture in the region is unveiled. What is also of great interest is the rarity or lack of preservation of a monument of similar age elsewhere in northwest Europe. It appears most likely that a regional decline in pine forests (indicated by pollen reconstructions) meant stone walls were constructed at great effort, instead of the log walls constructed from forest timber at the time elsewhere in Europe.

Palaeoecology

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A short boat ride on Day 2 took us to Inis Oírr, the smallest of the Aran Islands, led by Karen Molloy (National University of Ireland, Galway). The small field boundaries struck me as unusual but apparently such land division has a long history in western Ireland (as we discovered at the Céide Fields). Karen presented the impressive lake sediment sequence of An Loch Mór; the unique setting of the lake means the >13 m of sediment deposited here records a fascinating story of palaeoecological change (e.g., Holmes et al. 2007, QSR) through the late-Glacial and Holocene periods, including insight into local ice retreat at the end of the last glaciation, sea-level and salinity changes, vegetation history and phases of exceptionally high windspeed due to its exposure to the Atlantic Ocean.

Later in the trip (Day 4) we tracked down a small exposed organic deposit exposed in a fluvial terrace at Derrynadivva that contained many large plant macrofossils. It turns out these deposits are not Holocene in age; rather, they are remnants of plants growing during a previous Pleistocene interglacial. It remains uncertain which interglacial is represented here however based on analysis of the pollen and plant macrofossils, the deposit possibly represents Oxygen Isotope Stage 11 (Hoxnian; e.g., Coxon et al. 1994 JQS).

Glacial Geology and Geomorphology

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We visited a number of sites around Co. Galway, Co. Mayo and Connemara (Days 3 – 5) with Professor Peter Coxon (Geography, Trinity College Dublin) and Dr Richard Chiverrell (Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool) to examine the complex, fascinating and still-unresolved history of Late Glacial ice-retreat in western Connemara. The stunning landscape of Connemara bears vast evidence of ice-sculpting during the last glacial period, including the elongated fjord of Killary Harbour, the Twelve Bens mountain massif that rises almost directly from the sea and the partly submerged drumlin field at Clew Bay.

The Ballyconneely Bay drumlin was particularly impressive with excellent coastal erosion exposing the innards of the feature with a length-wise cross-section through the middle of the drumlin. One can thus walk along the beach examining its internal sedimentology in great detail. The sharp contact to angular facies at the head of the drumlin, suggesting coarse debris flow / meltwater processes that occurred in a cavern beneath the icesheet, was especially neat.

We visited quarries at Tullywee cut into a subaqueous fan fed by a series of anastomosing eskers related to ice retreat from the last glacial maximum (~25 k years ago) that imply a water-surface of 60-65 m above IOD. In addition the large ice-contact deltas at Leenaun at the fjord head of Killary Harbour and exhibit a classic Gilbert-style structure implying a high shore-level of 78 m IOD. Further deltas were visited at Srahlea Bridge and in the Glennacally Valley, you can never have too many deltas. The causal mechanism(s) for this high water-levels have yet to be fully deciphered, but probably relate to ponding of lake waters in and against the mountains of Connemara by more dominant ice orginating the Irish Midlands and penetrating through and around the Connemara Mountains via Galway Bay, Killary Harbour and Clew Bay, whilst the mountain glaciers were in a reduced state during deglaciation (~20 – 18 k years ago) . This hypothesis seems more plausible than the alternate glacio-marine hypothesis which requies much higher local sea-level than models or other reconstructions possibly suggest. More discussion of these implications can be found in Thomas & Chiverrell, 2006 Quaternary Science Reviews.

Many pristine examples of glacial geomorphology were observed during the trip, for example the eskers at Tullywee, as well as much smaller features such as this ‘dropstone’ in a small exposure in the Leenaun delta. One could easily stroll past and not realise the significance of this cobble; the deformed sediments indicate we were adjacent to a calving margin and this cobble exited the iceberg as it floated seawards and was deposited in the soft sediments. The precise timing and rates of ice retreat in this part of the world are the subject of on going research in the NERC Consortium Project BRITICECHRONO.

Summary

It was a wonderful trip, tremendously educational and certainly a place I’d love to visit again for its visual beauty and ideally for the purpose of research as there is much yet to be understood about the Quaternary environments of western Ireland. For interested readers, the Quaternary of Central Western Ireland (edited by Professor Pete Coxon, 2005) contains a wealth of further information on many of these sites and other case studies.

Mostly written by Daniel Neame Schillereff

Dan Schillereff waxing lyrical #guinnesshelps

Dan Schillereff waxing lyrical #guinnesshelps

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?

 

Summer 2012: GPGs researching glacial environments in Iceland

Hi, I’m Kerrell and in my third year of the Geology & Physical Geography BSc degree. Over the summer, myself and 3 friends Mike, Lewis and Alex spent 6 weeks conducting our 3rd year dissertation project in South East Iceland.

Lewis, Alex, Mike and me on Falljokull glacier

Lewis, Alex, Mike and me on Falljokull glacier

Our projects varied but all were linked to the changing environments within a temperate glacier region. Lewis and myself conducted a study on the landforms within an ice marginal zone around 2 glaciers. I focussed on the Virkisjökull & Falljökull twinned glacier system and Lewis on the Svínafellsjökull glacier margin. Mike and Alex also worked within the Virkisjökull & Falljökull system, with Mike focussing on dating Late Holocene behaviour of the glaciers using lichenometry and Alex centring his project on the evolution of the sandur system over 5-6 weeks within the ice contact zone.

Mike and the huge boulder that we used to mark the edge of Virkisjokull on our first day. It retreated 8m in total!

Mike and the huge boulder that we used to mark the edge of Virkisjökull on our first day. It retreated 8m in total!

Me on the ice the day we walked up the glacier!

Me on the ice the day we walked up the glacier!

Conducting out dissertation in Iceland was a once in a lifetime experience and to work within such close proximity to such an active glacier margin was a fantastic opportunity. On our first day we visited both glaciers that we’d be working on and were in complete awe of the huge glacier bodies that flowed over the mountainous regions. The boys were actually speechless for a few peaceful moments!

An amazing day in South East Iceland

An amazing day in South East Iceland

Having the chance to work in such a dynamic region was very exciting. The landscape, particularly within the ice marginal zone was constantly changing and you could notice subtle differences in the landforms on a daily basis. We were very lucky in that when the UK was experiencing the torrential downpours over summer, we had pretty great weather…we even came back with a tan! Although there was a few days of awful conditions were we just couldn’t do any work in the field due to the drenching rain with water droplets the size of sponges and gale force winds. We even had to prop up the boy’s tent as the wind was so strong.

Lewis & Alex being brave in shorts looking out over Virkisjokull & Falljokull

Lewis & Alex being brave in shorts looking out over Virkisjökull & Falljökull

Conducting our own research projects was an experience that all of us really enjoyed. On our hour walk to the glacier every day, we’d talk about how working in the field on our own was teaching us so many vital skills and has particularly encouraged myself and Mike to further our education with a postgraduate degree. The work was very tough, the terrain was strenuous and being so far away from home at time took its toll on all of us. But being given the opportunity to work in a temperate glacial zone, that will never be the same again due to constant retreat, was the greatest reward for all our hard work. As well as working hard in the field we also took the time to enjoy Iceland as a beautiful country and visited sites such as Jökulsárlón (where James Bond was filmed!) and also attempted to make friends with the lethal seagull with claws….the Icelandic Skua.

On return to the UK, we had to present a 15 minute talk to staff and fellow students to summarise our findings in the field and we’re all currently working on a 10,000 word report and our final maps to hand in for our overall dissertation mark. The experience was amazing and the fact that we conducted our dissertation in Iceland had the rest of our department a bit jealous. Combining both geological and geomorphological concepts has really allowed us to pursue our dissertation with lots of enthusiasm which will hopefully keep us going to the final deadline.

Alex, Me, Lewis, Mike and our supervisor Richard at Jökulsárlón

Alex, Me, Lewis, Mike and our supervisor Richard at Jökulsárlón