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!

Lorca Field Class 2015

Lorca 2015

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.

Nogalte Channel:
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.

Puentes Dam:
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!

Gully:
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.

Buenos Noches:
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 2:

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!)

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Day 3

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.

Day 5 - El Muerto Day 4 - Nogalte

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.

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

California Field Class and Travel

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Santa Cruz Boardwalk Beach

Post by Sean Dunn, graduated BSc Geography 2014, current MSc student

The beginning of our trip started in Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport with a mixture of excitement for the trip and dreading the long flight ahead of it. After a couple of good films, singing along to songs in Frozen with Amelia, my teddy bear George and I landed in San Francisco. Due to some severe jetlag we barely made it to midnight after a slice of pizza and a local beer. The next morning we made our way to the Airport to meet the rest of the Santa Cruz goers and the lecturers, where our journey began to Santa Cruz in some rather lively minivans playing California themed songs.

Once we arrived in Santa Cruz we had some time to explore and get orientated with this new city. It may be fair to say on the first night some of us enjoyed the local selection of alcoholic drinks and the novelty of being 21 in America. The next day we were taken on a walking tour of the city by the lecturers making friends with some lively seals, crossing a disused railway bridge and exploring local lagoon systems (which we revisited during our group project). The evening was then our own to begin planning for the next working day on our projects.

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My group did a project concerning drought and whether it had heightened arguments between recreational users and conservationists of state parks and wetland areas. I think I speak for all of my group when saying we thoroughly enjoyed this experience and our project. At times we felt a bit out of our depth choosing a more human geography related topic but wouldn’t change it at all in hindsight. Our methods included interview and volunteering days and I believe this way we were fully able to experience the most of being in California and meeting the locals. It was a lot of hard work but enjoyable at the same time. We had the opportunity to travel throughout Santa Cruz County meeting countless interesting locals from keen fishermen all the way up to conservationists for global companies.

As well as our project work the lecturers took us on trips around the County which I really enjoyed as there isn’t much point going so far to visit a place without learning about your surroundings. The locations visited included the University, San Andreas Fault line, Redwood forests and a beach site where the famous surfing brand O’Neil was founded. I feel like I learnt a lot about the city.

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When we weren’t working on our projects, the evenings and night time were ours to do whatever we wanted. Obviously some privileges come with our first trip to the USA being over the age of 21… a well-deserved night out!  One of the best nights was for our pal Liz’s 21st where the lecturers gave her a cake and card. Most evenings were spent on the beach playing volleyball at the public courts and just soaking up the last of the California sunshine for the day. My room and I bought food from the local supermarket to make group dinners and lunches but if you didn’t feel like that there is no shortage in options. I don’t think there was a day when the boys didn’t have at least one Mexican from the little taco joint opposite the hotel! Apart from that there was a large selection of restaurants and small takeaways both in the city centre and along the boardwalk.  One of the best places we visited doubled up as a restaurant and bar. It is a pizza place called Woodstock’s where we searched online finding a voucher which is pretty good. If you sign up to the newsletter you get half price extra-large pizzas which is about 20 inches. There were 8 of us with 4 pizzas and enough for lunch the next day! Whilst there we saw they had a dollar night, so we returned that day. When you buy a beer it is just one dollar for a refill!

After all of our fun in Santa Cruz and 10 brilliant days it was time to leave the city. It was a weird feeling to be returning back to San Francisco Airport. Once we arrived the goodbyes began but not before a big group photo of the whole trip. It feels weird saying it but it was emotional seeing everyone slowly walk off in different directions with suitcases rolling behind them. Everyone had made different plans whether it was travelling, first flight home or visiting family. For us, we were travelling.

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Our car

First thing to do was collect the cars. It started well when the guy upgraded us to an SUV for free. I was the person driving and when I saw the car, I was in shock. My car at home is a Ford Fiesta and this was huge! Once I managed to get out the small lanes of the car park we were on our way due south! 8 of us in two cars starting our California Adventure. Our first stop was in Monterey at the opposite end of Monterey Bay to Santa Cruz. We grabbed a bite to eat in a restaurant and had a drink before going back to the hotel. We were absolutely shattered and I was preparing myself the drive the next day.

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The next day was the drive down Highway 1. This is possibly the most picturesque driving I have ever done. Every few seconds was a perfect picture moment. Navigating up and down the cliffs on windy roads we finally arrived at Big Sur. We climbed to the top of the mountain to a beautiful waterfall for a photo moment before climbing the other way to one of the best views I have ever seen: looking out onto the redwood forests with the Pacific Ocean in the background. After this we continued to Santa Maria our rest stop for the night. The next morning we set of for LA. We stayed in a hostel on Hollywood Boulevard and drove up Mulholland Drive to take a picture of the Hollywood sign. This was the best part of LA as from this viewpoint you could see the entire skyline of the city.

Our last driving point was San Diego. This was one of my favourite cities we visited and I finally had some time off from the driving. We spent 3 nights here and did so much in such a short space of time! We drove on the interstate to the last exit before Mexico to an outlet mall. I would 100% recommend visiting one of these! I ended up getting a pair of Reebok classics and a Ralph Lauren polo for the equivalent of £40 where that would be about £120 over here! We also went to watch a baseball match between the San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants. I couldn’t attend without getting a foam finger! Our last day we spent on a local beach watching the sunset all together before an early night for the morning drive back up the coast towards San Francisco. We stopped only for some lunch in Santa Barbara which was beautiful. Lunch at the natural café for some healthy vegetarian food and a quick look in the thrift stores! One overnight stop and 16 hours of driving later we made it to San Francisco. The next two days we spent walking around the city, sampling the seafood and getting some presents for loved ones at home! Our last night was a bit emotional after spending so long in America!

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I would 110% recommend this trip to anyone. I still look back on it now knowing it was the best experience of my life. The photos just remind me of what a good time we had. It was the most amazing way to end my University experience with some of my best mates over the previous three years! I hope I haven’t bored you too much and I hope you enjoy the photos of my teddy bear and his tour around California!

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.

First publication – ‘Procedural and distributive justice in a community-based Marine Protected Area in Zanzibar, Tanzania’

By Madeleine Gustavsson

As a PhD student in the Department of Geography and Planning, earlier this week I got my first research article published in Marine Policy: “Procedural and distributive justice in a community-based Marine Protected Area in Zanzibar, Tanzania”. The paper was co-authored by Lars Lindström (Dept. Political Science, Stockholm University), Narriman S. Jiddawi (Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Dar es Salaam) and Maricela de la Torre-Castro (Dept. Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University) who are all experts on natural resource management and governance in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Uroa, Zanzibar Island

Uroa, Zanzibar Island

The article investigates participation by local actors in planning and implementation of a ‘community-based managed’ Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Zanzibar, Tanzania, which is analysed in terms of procedural and distributive justice.

The study finds that no local actors participated in the planning of the MPA. Fishermen who were members of a village fishermen committee participated in implementation although this did not include women. The government of Zanzibar distributed equipment, alternative income generating projects and relied on tourism for development of the local economy. However, the distributed equipment and tourism development have created conflict and injustice within and between villages, because of the insufficient resources, which do not target those in need. Tourism created problems such as inequality between livelihoods, environmental destruction and local power asymmetries between hotel management and local people.” This paper found that neither procedural nor distributive justice has been achieved. The MPA has further failed to meet its objectives of conflict resolution and sustainable use of natural resources.  The paper argues that interactive participation by all, in the design and planning phases, is necessary for social-ecological sustainability outcomes.

The work was part of my master’s degree project at Stockholm University, Sweden. The paper adds to the growing field of MPAs social impacts in developing countries. Thanks for reading this blog post, and if you are interested, please get in contact (Click here to email).

The Anthropocene Review: Issue 1 Content

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Following the recent announcement that the new, peer-reviewed journal The Anthropocene Review has launched (based from the Department of Geography and Planning, School of Environmental Sciences), we are delighted to confirm the Table of Contents for Issue 1 of our journal. These contributions will present research on many aspects of the Anthropocene ensuring the journal lives up to its transdisciplinary remit.

Whilst the full issue will appear in print in April 2014, articles will appear as OnlineFirst versions as soon as the proofs have been accepted by the authors. These will be hosted on the journal website. We would particularly like to highlight that SAGE are currently offering free online access to The Anthropocene Review.

Interested readers can subscribe to RSS notifications or email alerts via this website and it will also contain information about the journal that is not hosted by our blog, including specific details on manuscript submission, how articles are indexed by SAGE as well as information on permissions for posting reprints of manuscripts.

Lastly, we are continuously searching for contributions to future Issues. Why not consider submitting a manuscript to this important new journal?

Issue 1: Table of Contents

Oldfield F, Barnosky AD, Dearing J, Fischer-Kowalski M, McNeill J, Steffen W and Zalasiewicz J.  The Anthropocene Review: Its significance, implications and the rationale for a new transdisciplinary journal.

Barnosky AD and Hadly EA. Problem solving in the Anthropocene.

Barnosky AD, Brown JH, Daily GC, Ehrlich AH, Ehrelich PR, Eronen JT, Fortelius M, Hadly EA, Leopold EB, Mooney HA, Myers JP, Naylor RL, Palumbi S, StensethNC and Wake MH. Scientific Consensus on Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems in the 21st Century: Information for Policy Makers

McMichael AJ. Population Health in the Anthropocene: Gains, losses and emerging trends.

Biermann FH. The Anthropocene: a governance perspective.

Malm A and Hornborg A. The Geology of Mankind?  A Critique of the Anthropocene Narrative

Zalasiewicz J, Williams M, Waters CN, Barnosky AD and Haff P.  The technofossil record of humans.

Fischer-Kowalski M, Krausmann and Pallua I. A socio-metabolic reading of the Anthropocene: modes of subsistence, population size and human impact on Earth.

Oldfield F and Steffen W. Anthropocene climate change and the nature of Earth System Science

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