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.

New paper: volcanic ash, glaciers, melting behaviour, SE Iceland

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By Richard Chiverrell

In summer 2011, Richard Chiverrell joined a team led by Joanna Nield aided by field assistants; Steve Darby, Jules Leyland, Larisa Vircavs and Ben Jacobs (all Southampton University), on an expedition to south east Iceland. Our objective was to find some easily accessible glaciers to undertake repeated terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) surveys of different land surfaces to test whether TLS can capture surface roughness of terrain including the surface of glaciers and glacial outwash river floodplains called sandar in Icelandic. Enjoying the very excellent hospitality at Svinafell, our time in Iceland 3-12th July 2011 was a few months after the 21-30th May 2011 eruption of the sub-glacial Grímsvötn volcano. Our chosen glacier, Svínafellsjökull (63.999°N, 16.874°W) is about ~50 km southwest of the eruption centre and so on arrival the glacier had a reasonable cover of blackish-brown coloured volcanic ash.

We had gained a very real opportunity to see how ash affected the microtopographic evolution of the surface of a glacier and rates of ablation over a 7-10 day period. So springing into action with our various important tasks: erecting the Meteorological towers (everyone) in the off-chance of the wind blowing, taking once to twice daily laser scans of the ice surface (Jo), crevasse exploration, ablation stake and albedo measurement (Larisa and Ben), total stationing, sitting in a stone hut and g&t preparation (Steve), scampering about, hut building and fixing things (Jules), and finding glaciers / cooking (me). Result 1 = significant quantities of dartaa were collected. Result 2 = great trip, stunning landscapes and in one of my all-time favourite countries. If you want to read about how volcanic ash produces complex microtopographies and affects the ablation regime of rapidly retreating temperate glaciers, a new paper has just been published online……

Summer placement at United Utilities: gaining invaluable work experience

Post by Lucy Cheng – Year 3 BSc Geography Student

During the second year of my degree we were advised by the ‘Careers and Employability Service’ to gain work experience and apply for summer placements, as this would stand out on CVs when applying for jobs or graduate schemes.  Although I have maintained a part time job since the age of sixteen I felt that a summer placement would build and develop valuable skills in my desirable career path. However, I understood that the positions where extremely competitive. Several unsuccessful applications later and before I knew it, the second year of my degree was drawing to an end, final exams were finished and libraries returned to peace and calm.  I contacted my dissertation supervisor who gave me guidance on where to look and apply for the experience I wanted.  This proved that you don’t get anywhere without asking! My supervisor pointed me in the right direction which led to me obtaining a summer placement with United Utilities who provide around 7 million people and 200,000 businesses with water and sewage services in the North West.

The first week of my placement was a shock to the system, a full time job, Monday to Friday, in a new working environment.  I was assigned to work in the ‘Drinking Water Regulations and Public Health Team’ who gave me an extremely warm welcome and made me feel very comfortable.  I was assigned my own project to work on for around 10 weeks which involved speaking to people from all sides of the company both on the telephone and face-to-face.  I was very lucky to be given the opportunity to work on a project that allowed me to see all aspects of the company and even visit treatment sites around the North West.  Every day I learnt new skills and built on knowledge of the company, either in courses, meetings or through talking with colleagues and no two days where the same, there is always something new to learn.

During my time in United Utilities I was able to contribute to a team away day volunteering in Quarry Bank Mill where, as a team, we replaced fencing within the National Trust site.  This was a great team-building day outside of the working environment, we did a great job although the next day we were all aches and pains.

During the summer I was also researching for my water quality based dissertation. However, due to the amount of rain that occurred over summer, it was difficult to obtain the data collection necessary to support my research.  With the support of United Utilities and guidance from colleagues in various teams I have been able to alter my dissertation and research a topic to one that is both beneficial to the company and interesting to myself.

United Utilities has offered to keep me on until Christmas working one day a week whilst completing my final year of study.  I believe that the point to take from my summer experience is to never give up on what you would like to achieve and to never be afraid to ask for guidance.  Both United Utilities and the University of Liverpool have been a great support to me in achieving my ideal career.

What do Geographers do in their summer holidays?

Post by Dr Andy Davies

When term time is over, a lot of students think that the University shuts down and that we academics get really long summer holidays. Of course, we do have some time off, but work carries on around the University, even if it is significantly quieter with most students away for the summer.

The summer is a great time to do fieldwork, but one of the things that most academics do in the summer is spend time at conferences and workshops to discuss the latest ideas and talk about their research. For Human Geographers, one of the biggest conferences is the Annual Conference of the Royal Geographical Society (with Institute of British Geographers) (RGS), which was at the University of Edinburgh in July this year. I, together with other members of the Department, was involved in presenting papers at this conference. However, this wasn’t all that went on during my time in Scotland.

When in Scotland, you have to have an Irn Bru on the train!

Geography obviously has lots of topics to study within it, from more ‘physical’ topics like glaciation and climate change to more ‘human’ ones like health and development. One of my roles as an academic is as a Committee Member of the Geographies of Justice Research Group (GJRG) of the RGS-IBG. The RGS-IBG has many research groups, where researchers on specific topics within Geography meet and discuss the latest developments within their own sub-field, but also to ensure that the work we do continues to be relevant and important to the wider world. The GJRG is, as it’s name suggests, interested in issues of justice and equality, and at its heart is a commitment to doing research that is socially ‘just’.

So, before the RGS-IBG conference, I spent a day in the University of Dundee, attending a pre-Conference event on ‘Shaping Agendas in Justice Research’. Having never been to ‘the sunniest place in Scotland’ before, it was unsurprisingly raining on the day I arrived. However, there were seals basking in shoals of the River Tay, and the train journey from Edinburgh to Dundee was beautiful and a real surprise. The day itself was spent with a variety of papers which took the quite broad theme of ‘justice’ and thought about issues such as social in/exclusion in the regeneration of Dundee’s waterfront, participatory research with street Children in Accra, Ghana and student activism in Chile. The variety of presentations and topics within them showed how vibrant Human Geography research is, but also how Human Geographers are committed to doing work that is explicitly socially just – i.e. that it produces outcomes that are beneficial to humanity, and do not act in ways that serve to increase inequality within the world.

The River Tay in Dundee – sadly, no seals visible!

These are very real challenges which many of us in Geography at Liverpool are committed to working on – using Geography to do work that struggles against injustice. That’s why I’m a member of the GJRG, and also one of the main reasons why I work as a geographer – because as a subject, its commitment to understanding how the world around us functions allows us to (hopefully) create a better world for future generations. It also proves that, despite what students may think, we also do work in the summer holidays!