Geographers on Tour: Santa Cruz Field Class 2014


cali group 1

Post by Samantha Brannan, year 3 BSc Geography Student

Choosing third year modules is never easy, but when faced with the choice of either 2 exams or a 2 week field class in California (with coursework) there was little decision left to make. From the moment I stepped out into San Francisco I knew I wouldn’t regret my choice. I took the opportunity to go out a few days early before the field class started, and my first concern was whether I would have enough time to visit each of the department stores that appeared on every corner, and my second was how much I could fit in my suitcase… Luckily I was only staying in San Francisco for two days. We recovered from jetlag and sampled the local food… burgers and pancakes, and had just enough time to take a trip to Pier 39 before meeting the lecturers and setting off for Santa Cruz (this is where the work kicks in). Just over an hour away from San Francisco, the city of Santa Cruz was a complete contrast to where we had just come from. Being from Liverpool ‘city’ to me means fast paced, high rise buildings and lots of traffic, but this place was anything but. Think sandy beaches, surfers, sea lions, California’s oldest amusement park and sunshine every day… suddenly the thought of doing the equivalent of another dissertation isn’t so bad.

The first day was quite relaxed, we toured the city and started to work out where we would be working over the next two weeks. As my group was doing a study on public perception of drought we had to set up interviews and focus groups, which proved less challenging than expected. People in local Government were really friendly and keen to talk about how their department had been involved in drought mitigation, we were even invited to the University of California’s Santa Cruz campus to speak with the sustainability department. Unfortunately the same enthusiasm was not felt by the locals we were hounding every day to complete questionnaires and it took a lot of perseverance to get enough.

Group evening


For all second years who may be contemplating taking this module, do not be disillusioned, our trip to Santa Cruz was not all work and no play. At 6pm every evening we finished work for the day and took full advantage of the local bars and restaurants, attended a basketball game and visited the Boardwalk (amusement park) on the last day. Apart from the Thai restaurant along the beach (which we recommend you avoid at all costs) there were some really great places to eat out.  If you’re planning on going to Santa Cruz for your final year at Liverpool both the Surfrider Café and Seabright Brewery are a must! In typical “Come Dine With Me” style, girls versus boys, we took advantage of the self-catering facilities and also tried eating in. On average, we managed to cook meals for a cost of around $4 per person so if you’re worried about budgeting whilst you’re away this is a good option.

Once our draft reports were handed in and the field class over, we also took the chance to stay on for a few days before flying home. We made the most of it by taking a night time trip to Alcatraz prison and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately for me, my adventure was then over, but others stayed longer and went on to Yosemite, LA, or continued sightseeing in San Francisco.

Questionnaire 2


The Santa Cruz field class has been a trip of a lifetime, one filled with unforgettable experiences and great people. I’m glad I got to work on such an interesting topic and as a BSc student, glad I took the opportunity to do a project using human geography methods and gain an insight into the other side of the discipline. At first I was reluctant to step out of my comfort zone, and convinced that I was out of my depth arranging face to face interviews with city council directors, but that was before I arrived in Santa Cruz. After day one I was taken aback by the willingness of people to speak to students, they really make the time for us. , Even the local newspaper was interested in what we were doing and ran a story on us. Doing a project using human geography methods allowed us to see much more of the city than we otherwise would have and although transcribing interviews in coffee shops sometimes felt like cheating (whilst our peers were knee deep in rivers) we can now say we bridged the geography divide and broadened our employability skills – and having tried transcribing and getting people to stop to answer questionnaires, we now know that these methods aren’t as easy as they may seem. Santa Cruz has been a valuable trip as we have been able to put the last two and a half years of learning into practice, as well as it being a fantastic end to our course.  I’ve arrived home with great memories, a list of skills to add to my CV, a suitcase full of banana slug memorabilia and one of the best reasons I can think of for picking a geography degree!

Questionnaire 1



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

Year 1 Geology and Physical Geographers on a weekend in Snowdonia 2012

Over the weekend of 20-21st October Year 1 students from the School of Environmental Sciences set off for some autumn fun and relaxation in the mountains of Snowdonia, a parallel trip to the Trawsfynedd weekend taken by Geography, Ocean Science and Ecology students. A happy bunch of Year 1 Geology and Physical Geography (GPG) students, along with fellow year 1 students on other Geology and Geophysics

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degrees and ~9 lecturers to spent two days gallivanting around Cwm Idwal and for some another large hole in the ground (quarry).  Cwm Idwal, a large amphitheatre calved by erosion by ice during the repeated glaciations of the last 2 million years was at its stunning best in the autumn sunshine.

On Saturday after an early start from Liverpool we all congregated at the Llyn Ogwen car park at the foot of the Carneddau and Glyderau mountain ranges. From there Pete Kokelaar led a magical mystery tour through the turbulent volcanic history displayed in the rock record. The geology shows the deposition of huge pyroclastic flows from volcanic eruptions into a marine basin ~450 million years ago, and these strata have been deformed into a large syncline in subsequent mountain building. Outcrop after outcrop were crawled over from the head of the Nant Ffrancon to the foot of the Idwal Slabs. Overnighting in Caernarvon with a good meal, some pretty good beers, vividly colored and tasting shots courtesy of the students (thanks I think…), views of many members of the local constabulary and UK Borders Agency, and some bizarre speckley green-red glitter-ball lighting effects in the chosen hostelry playing havoc with Alan Boyle’s attention span later, a good night’s rest was had by some……

On Sunday the GPG students gained their first immersion into the wonderful world of glacial geomorphology and coring of lake sediments to reconstruct past environments with Rich Chiverrell and Jim Marshall. After a quick introduction to the broad landscape components, the skills of triangulation and geomorphological mapping were introduced, before 2-3 hours of mapping the retreat moraines of the last glaciation to have affect Cwm Idwal 12,600-11,500 years ago. The afternoon saw a switch of focus to the ‘very wet’ marsh surrounding the lake, where a sediment sampler was used to recover ~4 metres of lake deposits. These muds for the upper layers comprise peat and organic lake mud, but quickly give way to blue-grey gritty silts lain down as this last glacier declined and vanished 11,500 years ago.

Physical Geography and Geology interwoven and combined with fantastic weather, great views and some of the finest scenery in the UK; is there a better way to start your degree?

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.