Saturday, 31 December 2011

Dan's Geography Review of the Year 2011

By the time this post gets published, many parts of the world would have already celebrated the turning of a new year and it won't be too long before you and I will be doing just the same. Champagne will be doing the rounds; resolutions will be made; the air will be illuminated with a wash of colours. If you're anything like me, you'll probably sing...well, hum... the tune to Auld Lang Syne. It's a great song that starts off by calling out to society to remember long standing friendships.

But it isn't just friendships we should remember. Although it's not a particularly celebratory notion to consider, we should all take time to pause and remember what we live on. A planet that is very much alive.

Earth is the most dynamic, I think it is fair to say, out of all of the planets in our Solar System. On October 31st this year, the UN declared a population of 7 billion. With such a large population, it's easy to take for granted the foundations of life; the bare rock that life evolved on; the very reason for our own existence. In a year where global emissions rose at a faster rate for four decades, perhaps we're forgetting that we're residents on what is becoming an unstable planet. Our non renewable resources are depleting; Arctic Sea Ice has melted to a historic low; we still live in a world with poverty and war. In short, an unsustainable lifestyle. But then again, we're all doing it so who else is there to tell us to stop?

Sometimes, however, the planet itself reminds us to consider the consequences of our actions. There's no doubt, 2011 has had its fair share of natural disasters. From the Japan earthquake and tsunami, to flooding in Thailand; from mudslides in Rio de Janeiro to tropical storms in the Phillipines, Earth has reminded us, not through a Scottish song, but through real-life crisis, to take a step back and think about how we conduct our lifestyles. 

Scientific study continues and geographers around the world today will be reviewing what a fantastic year it has been for research. NASA has produced the most precise map of carbon stored in our tropical forests and scientists from Britain and France have released a plan to drill all the way down to the Earth's mantle.

The study of Geography in schools and colleges, I think, is at its best ever. With internet and some of the most sophisticated of technology, young geographers can access a whole range of detailed case studies from all around the world just with a few clicks. Maps are becoming more accurate and more students are getting better grades than ever before.

For me, personally, 2011 has been one of the best years of my life. I have received the chance to work with the Royal Geographical Society and have already started on planning what should be a truly memorable experience. That aside, I have travelled far and wide this year. Trips to Prague and Morocco, and my filming around certain regions of the country has made me more, I suppose, wise and certainly more knowledgeable.

What will 2012 bring? For the planet, who knows? I, myself, have got lots of plans. 2012 will be one of the busiest years of my life so far, as I embark on many projects. I will be spending most of July filming around every corner of Britain for the 'RevGeog' Project. Planning for Alaska will take place, and it won't be long before I set off!

Thankyou very much to everyone- Geographers and Non-Geographers (although everyone's a geographer) - for your continued support, and many thanks to those who regularly check my blog. Since it's evolution, I have received 1643 page views. The most popular post being my 'exciting news' about Alaska, with my article on 'Britain's Parks' at a close second and the difference between mist and fog at third place. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have writing it.

It leaves me to wish you a very Happy New Year and Best Wishes for 2012.

Monday, 26 December 2011

How much do you know about Christmas Island?

Firstly, I hope you had a great Christmas Day and that you got all you wanted! I always find this particular period of the year a little depressing. Knowing we have 363 days left until it's all here again, but then time goes very fast in my experience. So, it shouldn't be that bad! (And if it isn't exactly 363, please just ignore's Christmas and no time for complex arithmatic!)

So how much do you know about Christmas Island? I have here, beside the computer keyboard, the National Geographic Magazine from December 1987 and the last article is all about this island, lying in the Indian Ocean 360km south of Java. Most of the article, though, isn't about the actual island, interesting though it may be with its rugged limestone cliffs, rainforests and its own national park.

Indeed, the focus here is on the cascade of critters that migrate every year from the forest to the seaside breeding grounds. Reaching a population of 120 million, these "critters" that 'John W Hicks' describes them as, in the article, are actually land crabs.

I have had pleasure filming one or two crabs in Rhodes last year, but I could never imagine living on Christmas Island. 15 different species live literally everywhere; even in residents' lampshades, toilets and beds. However, in the dry season, they tend to dominate the burrows in the rainforest as the tree top canopy thins out offering less shade and a lower humidity. As the wet season emerges, this is the time when resident's have to keep their doors closed, as the red crab migration takes place, usually for 9-18 days. Unfortunately, the crabs do cause problems for the locals; some people avoid driving for fear of getting a puncture. Photos captured in the article demonstrate just how many there are, with hundreds climbing over railroad tracks and even half a dozen interrupting a golf match on the putting green.

What I didn't learn from the article is why it was called Christmas Island. After all, it is a tropical island, in the southern hemisphere. Not a Christmas tree in sight. There are no santas at all; in fact, it seems the only red on the island is the carpet of red that the migration of red crabs form in the wet season. It needed more research.

I will allow the Australia Government's 'Department for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities' explain:

"The first written record of the existence of the Island was made in 1615. Captain William Mynors of the Royal Mary passed the Island and named it on Christmas day 25 December 1643."

Saturday, 24 December 2011

My 'Christmas Eve' Walk

I dare say that many would agree with me if I said that this year, despite the trees, tinsel and the turkeys on sale, and without the familiar tune of "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas", it doesn't actually feel like Christmas at all.  Inside the house, yes, it is clear; the roaring fire, the Christmas tunes and the warm spirit of family life beside the TV and the tin of celebrations, but outside, I don't sense the "bleak midwinter". I'm writing this at just before 9:00pm on Christmas Eve, but it's 6.4 degrees outside...and there's no snow to be seen apart from the artificial snow Mum decorates the windows with. The conventional Norfolk Christmas that I've grown up to love, has passed. Maybe it's global warming. Maybe it's just me.

I enjoyed the fine morning of Christmas Eve today in Horsey. For those who haven't ventured out into this part of Norfolk, Horsey is just North of Winterton on the coast. Walking and cycling is a welcome past time so do come along sometime. If you do stroll through, you're sure to be walking alongside large arable monocultures, although some land is devoted to pastoral farming. My Dad, Mum and I headed from the main village (although don't spend all your time looking for a large settlement, because it is dispersed and loose knit). The track, I could tell, was very well used although you didn't have to be Poirot to work out Horsey is a very popular attraction. Many families were taking the opportunity to spend Christmas Eve in the company of the low lying floodplains and of course the coastline.

I did ask both Mum and Dad one of the geographical formations we were looking at, but they both shrugged and I explained that the steep downward gradient of the dune in front of us was actually called a 'slack'. There's a lot of geography here, and I won't go into all of it now, but Horsey's geographical location is particularly important.

Horsey is one of three breeding sites, or 'haul-outs' for grey seals in the world, and on a crisp December morning like today, you can walk out on the dunes and witness a true wildlife spectacle. I don't remember the exact number of seals that were enjoying Christmas Eve on Horsey Beach this morning, but I estimate around 200 or so. Although you can't walk out on the beach, one can take advantage of several viewing points from the dunes.

Grey seals most often or not spread themselves out, and it was clear today that they were in a sporadic distribution. The tide was out, so the seals were making good use of the littoral zone; many just rolling around and taking it easy. They definitely have the right idea! The baby grey seals were closer landward; most of them nestled amongst the embryo dunes, and this is most probably due to the fact that their initial body fur is not waterproof. One of them was even on the viewing platform itself, and the warden told me that this was normal. It would stay here, and live off it's fat for some time, whilst the parents went to catch fish. Declining fish stocks were on my mind.

But of course the one structure that keeps them at bay, and allows us to watch them, is the dune we were standing on itself. The stability of such a dune is partly due to the rhizomes of the marram grass, but this is taken for granted and it's only the most passionate of geographers like myself who bovered to realise this morning the importance of this natural aeolian formed coastal feature.

My walk back was against the prevailing wind, and large nimbus clouds were hanging in the sky, so at last it was beginning to be the "bleak midwinter" that we all expect. Festive joy in the local pub, the Nelson's Head, and back home to celebrate the eve of the big day tommorow.

May I wish all my readers a very merry Christmas and a very fruitful new year! Love and Best Wishes, Dan.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Freezing temperatures are not the only things I will have to "bear"

I have just watched a programme on Grizzly and Polar Bears, in preparation for my scholarship to Alaska next year. Although many of the scenes are crafted to portray the bears as cute- you know, those clips that make you want to go "awww" - unfortunately, it hasn't made me any more comfortable about the whole situation!
Global Warming is certainly affecting the bear's hunting routines and for many families, their habitat itself. The programme referred to 'permafrost' only once but it was clear that the issue I want to study (the ablation of permafrost) is critical to the survival, possibly in a positive way. Furthermore, if more of the frozen ground melts, the more area there is for a variety of new habitats to be set up. Grizzily Bears eat almost anything (not a particularly pleasant thought) but if a richer variety of plants start to colonise the cryotic soil, then it could help to save the bears from starvation.

With the best nose in the world and one of the "biggest predators since the dinousaurs", the programme describes the bears in a way that does nothing to soothe the uneasy traveller, but at least it highlights the fact that just like the permafrost, the future of the bears is unstable aswell.

Watch the programme here

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Scholarship Update: Press Release in Mercury

I think that the news is spreading more quickly than permafrost is ablating! Check Page 25 of the Great Yarmouth Mercury out!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Scholarship Update: Fantastic day at the RGS

I'd been looking forward to Friday 16th December for a long time. No, not because it was the last day of college before Christmas, but because this was the day that I would go down to the Royal Geographical Society Headquarters in London to meet the other successful Gap Scholars. And so the story goes...

Not the best of mornings to wake up at 3:30am. Cold, wintry weather was making its way across England from Wales, but nonetheless the journey down to London had to be made, and we managed to arrive at Upminster Tube Station by about 7:30am, taking the 8:00am train into South Kensington after about half an hour of car parking difficulties. (Finding a space was easy; it was the purchase of a ticket over the phone to an automated call that proved stressful. Maybe High-Tech solutions to some of today's mundane tasks is not the way to go. After all, it puts people out of jobs as was seen back in the 70s when farming techniques became more mechanised.)

That's my moan over! We arrived at South Kensington at about 9:15am and I was very warmly welcomed (warm being the operative word) by the heating of the RGS and by Amber, who is the co-ordinator of the whole scheme. I wasn't the first there; other scholars were assembled in what could only be described as a hall, although to my memory it provided a node to other parts of the society.

The most fantastic aspect of the day was the fact that everyone was so lovely. I've always been under the impression that Geographers make the most loveliest of people and this impression was amplified even more by the warm spirited and open minded characters of the Gap Scholars.

The day consisted of lots of information regarding the 'practicalities' of the Gap Year and parents turned up at the end to be re-assured about any queries they had. I think my parents are quite cool about the whole trip, although the word 'grizzly bear' has cropped up more than once, I must say! I also met with previous Gap Scholars; collectively, these young university graduates/post graduates have travelled thousands of miles around the world, although each individual one had their own unique experience with different people in different countries on the planet. They are also the people who mentor people like me; this year's successful applicants in other words.

I would like, right now, to introduce on my blog my own mentor: Sophie Davies. Sophie is presently at Cambridge University and it is clear her love of Geography is just as great as mine. I very much look forward to working with her across 2012 in planning the Gap Experience.

I was very touched, in conclusion, by the whole day and I left with a great feeling of excitement. It would actually be the only time I would meet the other scholars before returning back from the experience in 2013, although I left with the feeling I had made some good friends who I would be in contact with for a very long time.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Scholarship Update: Press Release

Page 14 of 'Just North Walsham' in December 10th issue. (Just happened to be my birthday!)

Monday, 12 December 2011

What is it about a city that makes it....a city?

I was being a bit of a nuisance on Saturday! It was just before 1:30pm, and I was in Norwich, waiting for my bus to take me to Sprowston. Despite the fact I'm trying to get myself kitted out for a 6 month study in Alaska next year, the chilling weather did get the better of me and I decided to spend the fifteen minutes I had left wandering around Chapelfield.

Unfortunately, I never realised that the journey through this shopping mall was to be just as uncomfortable as standing in Bus Shelter 'i' on St Stephen's Street; not because of the temperature necessarily-though it was possibly 5 degrees warmer than I would have liked it to have been- but because of the numbers who had also decided to take shelter here. Literally, I found myself weaving through the hundreds who made their way towards me, as if I was hoisted on the end of a large-scale knitting needle. Chapelfield doesn't operate a 'British Traffic Flow System' and why should it? After all, the centre hasn't seen such a surge in the past 11 months. However, hacing said this, it was the fifteen minutes 'obstacle course' that I suffered on Saturday that makes me wonder whether Chapelfield really should have pedestrian traffic lights, lanes, and roundabouts. (You can tell I don't shop much, can't you?)

It made me think about what actually makes a city...a city.  Structually, a city's architecture differs by quite a large extent to a suburban village settlement's design, but is it just the buildings that make the two contrast. Could it be the actual people that live, work and travel in the city that make it characteristic, and in a way unique from any other city? It used to be the fact large towns became cities when they had a cathedral; more recently, a city has to have "considerable diversity of function". 'Peak Land Value Intersection' is yet another way of classifying where the urban fringe is placed. Use any model you fancy, but at the end of the day, the basic and fundamental aspects of a city -even the cathedral- is the result of the people who use it.

With the newspapers today detailing the extent to which people online shopped this weekend, and my congested experience on Saturday, it could be suggested that today's cities have not got the 'carrying capacity' to support the people who want to use it. But despite the drawbacks of being shoved out of the way by eager consumers, I think that the city comes most to life at times when it is choc-full of people and the difference between the suburb and the CBD is most clear during the run up to Christmas.

As you go between shop to shop,as Aled Jones' 'Walking in the Air' fades into Kylie's 'Santa Baby', as young girls try out the powders and the creams they have just bought, and as two young men jokingly run up a downward running escalator, you really do appreciate, not just the power of Christmas, but the power of the city. Indeed, as Desmond Morris put it, "the city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo".

Friday, 2 December 2011

Did you hear me?

I was very pleased to be asked by BBC Radio Norfolk to come on air and talk about my scholarship today! It was broadcast at about 4:50pm on the 2nd December and you can listen to the interview again by clicking on the link below.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Happy Birthday Meg!!

This is a special 'dedication' post to another geographer in my A2 class who has, for weeks, been asking me to mention her in my blog! And as her 18th birthday is coming up, there hasn't been a better time than now!

Meg asked me yesterday whether there was a country or place called 'Meg' and at first I thought there must be! However, I'm a little disappointed in saying there isn't!

Despite this, there is a place called 'Megin' which is the close I can get to Megan. Megin is in the country of Turkmenistan; sparsely populated with 13 people per sq.mile, it rises to an average elevation of 469 feet above sea level. 0.76% of the children below 5 are underweight and the infant mortality rate is 78 per 1000 births.

In terms of its nature, Megin has an arid climate, and eventhough the land is cultivated, some natural vegetation has been preserved. Irrigated croplands cover the landscape, overall. Its mid latitude steppe climate and the warm temperate thorn scrub biozone means the soil in the area is high in leptosols. Leptosol is a weakly developed shallow soil that doesn't hold water very easily.

July is the warmest month of the year; an average temperature of 38.2 degrees Celcius at noon. January being the coldest month; it has an average temperature of -2.2 degrees Celcius at night. At winter, prolongued freezing periods can take place.

Megin is actually in destructive (viii) on the Mercalli Scale with earthquakes greater than 7 usually on the Richter scale. If an earthquake does take place, damage will be slight in areas of specially designed structures. Damage escalates in more ordinary buildings, with collapse possible. Flood risk, however, is low.

Have a wonderful birthday Meg! :)

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Colder or Warmer Winters

Last night, I was out with some friends around Great Yarmouth and it struck me at how warm it was! It was about 10:00pm and despite my other two mates complaining about the cold, I must admit it wasn't that bad at all. You can usually expect strong North Easterly winds at Yarmouth, and I feel the cold a lot so it must have been pretty mild!

But should we expect warmer or colder winters and why is this? The name 'Global Warming' suggests the former, yet in the short term (the next 50 years) we should all be heading to the shops and buying our wolly sweaters because the Journal of Geophysical Research predicts that the UK will suffer from longer and colder winters. This is mainly due to the fact that as ice ablates in the arctic regions, the heat from the sea water rises into the colder atmosphere, creating effectively a zone of high pressure. Clockwise winds then sweep over the south of the UK and over Europe.

However, in 50-60 years, these cold winters will begin to get warmer. Eventhough there is still a polar air mass circulating over the country, this air mass is getting warmer because of the greenhouse effect.

So Global Warming is the cause of both a short term colder winter and also for the long term warmer winter.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

I'm back!

My apologies for the lack of any posts these last couple of weeks; I have been literally so busy with College work and... well, it's that time of the year. Christmas before you know it will soon be here, although it already is in some shops I've been into recently. Despite the fact it maybe a little early, it is great to see the crackers on the shelves, the mince pies in full stock and Slade in the background; I'm getting, as you can see, very excited! Having said that, before Christmas is my 18th! (It's the 10th by the way, just in case you were wondering when exactly to send that large present you've been saving for me!...What do you mean you haven't got me anything?! tch!) Yes, well anyway, that's coming up soon and between these two December events, is my Royal Geographical Society Gap Year Scholarship Induction Day and I must say I am probably excited about this the most. It will be my chance to meet the rest of the successful applicants and a time to begin planning my project. I already have lots of ideas! I'll keep you posted. Oh, and I received a package from the GA (Geographical Association) the other day. Lots of documents regarding Geography, but one of the most exciting things was the badge that they have sent me. It's green and says "Geographer". People have suggested that I wear it and never take it off; I have reservations but here I am with, what I can honestly say, is my first ever Geography Badge!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Exciting News!!

Many of you know that this year I had been working hard in applying for a Gap Year Scholarship from the Royal Geographical Society and about a week back, I received an email saying I had been shortlisted and I was invited to attend an interview on Tuesday 8th (yesterday). Well, despite train chaos, a 3 hour delay and a battle with cancelled underground services, I finally made it to the interview, held at the RGS Headquarters, in Kensington.

Well...I can now announce that I have been successful in obtaining a scholarship from the society who will now work with me this next year in refining some of the gap years details!!

I can't believe it, to be honest. I never thought that something I've wanted so much has actually worked out. My many thanks to Lee Childs, my Geography teacher from Flegg who has given me so much of his time and effort in helping me apply, and to those who have wished me luck and given me so much support over the last week.

I will of course update you on my developments here on this blog!

One of the best days of my life so far!

Monday, 31 October 2011

Travelling the world...without the need of a passport!!

Today, I travelled 32,262km around the world...without a passport or a suitcase...and it only took me 10 minutes! How did I do it? Is that even possible?

Well, in Great Yarmouth it is. I was in the town this morning conducting a survey of the industry both in and out of the centre, when it occured to me that I needed an aerial photo of the area, and from filming here many years ago, I knew that the best place to get such a shot was on top of the Great Yarmouth Multi-storey car park.

Once I got the shot, I made my way back down, and it was on this journey that I realised what the 'car parking authorities' had done. I hadn't noticed this before but they had named each level with a country, city or town, and so as I going down the flight of stairs linking two levels, effectively I was travelling between two countries! (Well, obviously not literally but for a geographer like myself, I found it hard to resist not thinking about it this way!)

In case you're wondering, the list goes something like this:
Athens, Berlin, Cardiff, Dublin, Essex, Florence, Geneva, Hamberg, Istanbul, Jakarta, Kiev, London, Madrid.

Friday, 28 October 2011

A celebration of Britain's Parks!

"Space, light, beauty and greenery" is how Dan Cruickshank described Britain's parks on a recent documentary I recorded this week. A space designed for everyone, but something we all take for granted!

Today, I was in Norwich with some friends. Despite being a busy urban area for Norfolk, it too allows space for green parkland areas and indeed what the documentary taught me, if anything, is that some of our most celebrated parks are situated in some of our most celebrated of cities; London, being just one of them.

Most parks you see today have a very long and interesting history. In the 1600s, London was home to 8 'Royal Parks' and these were predominantly used by the upper class by Royal Hunting Grounds. Hyde Park in particular was once a deer park, used in the 1630s by the gentle folk. Subsequent urbanisation distributed itself around this space and throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, more people were able to use it as a zone for both relaxation and exercise. It "blew away the heatness of the ballroom".

The restoration in 1660/1661 was the catalyst for such a transition in parkland use. After the restoration, parks in major cities were transformed into 'Pleasure Gardens' which grew to be very popular. They were the "nightclubs of their age". (Suddenly, my computer's music player co-incidentally shuffles from John Rutter to the LMFAO's 'Party Rock Anthem'). Despite the fact that the 'Pleasure Gardens' were designed for everyone and anyone, their price often deterred the poor from entering; class segregation continued to exist. Today, there is little trace of a pleasure garden; Cruickshank asks four or five London residents about the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and nobody has any idea what he is referring to!

Urban expansion in the 19th Century reformed the 'public park'. At the time, the only recreation on offer was the public house, but the Industrial Revolution soon demanded the requirement of more green spaces for health and sport and also a civilised atmosphere for the working population, free of any class segregation. Victoria Park, bordering Bethel Green and Hackney, was given a royal grant, and in 1845, it was took over by the public people. An ornamental lake featured, and a 'Victoria Park Ornithological Society' was created to bring in a bird population. For early risers like myself, a bathing lake for men and boys was on offer from 4am to 8am!
Parks around the country opened for the public; Manchester got three in 1846 after media attention. The design of parks also changed; I mentioned Victoria Park's ornamental lake. Shape started to emerge; from circles and ellipses to triangles and squares! Flower and Rose Gardens were a common feature and play areas were installed. In their evolutionary period, play areas were segregated for boys and girls but apparently the boys tried to invade into both! What are we like, boys?! Football was also banned because the sight of perspiring girls excited the girls! (Both Cruickshank and I laugh)

Birkenhead Park, on the Wirrel, applied to parliament for the use of public funds to create a municipal park. Statutory holidays and more leisure time meant that more people were coming to use these parkland areas. Fresh drinking water taps were installed in Birkenhead; the design by Joseph Paxton by the way influenced the creation of Central Park, in New York.

Cruickshank goes on to explore Liverpool's success in sustaining an exotic palm house, and the surrounding pools, waterfalls, fountains and grottos that make up Sefton Park. He quickly diverts to the introduction of a bandstand that, in 1860, started to change the park's use from not just a public area, but as a place of entertainment. Classical materialistic brass band music offered colour to some extent to the mill workers, as well as civilisation.

Cruickshank tries his hand out at carpet bedding in Alexander Park in Oldham; a practice that has been in existance since the early Edwardian times. The exercise now offers apprenticeships and training for gardeners. Mind you, not the kind of exhileration that grabs me!

In the Second World War, Britain's parkland was used for air raid shelters and trenches were dug but in Regent's Park, in London, 6000 allotments were created. Posters advertised to "Grow Beans for Bullets" and indeed they did. It was an essential use of our green areas and after the war, the parkland in it's original fashion was re-constructed.

The 1950s and the 1980s, famous for suburbanisation patterns and suchlike, consequented in fewer park visits for families. Vandalism and Crime followed, and parks that were once 'civilised areas for all' turned very quickly into bleak 'no go areas' for anyone! Over the last 10 years, however, the Heritage Lottery Fund has invested into some of our most derelict parks and have increased visits to 4 billion a year. East London, famous in some ways with deprived areas, was actually turned into a green oasis. 'Mile End Park' in the Inner City became an ecological hub for London.

Cruickshank conducts a charming piece of music to round off his documentary; a programme, which has changed the way I view parks and maybe will change yours too!

Britain's Park Story: BBC Four

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Physical and Human Geography in ONE POST! There's something for everyone!

Geologists, Seismologists and Geographers united once again on Sunday with the international-scale news of the recent earthquake in Turkey. 7.2 in magnitude, but was to be expected?

Well, the Arabian and Eurasian Plate converges at approximatly 24mm/year; the focus of Sunday's earthquake was very near to this region of convergence. In addition to this, and more of a contributing factor, is the Anatolian strike-slip faulting system. This particular earthquake, therefore, is an example of a 'compression' based one and to me, the nearby Zagros fold belt system could suggest that the fault contributing to Sunday's seismic event was a 'thurst' based one. 'Thrust' faults are a type of reverse fault (a dip-slip fault as opposed to a strike slip one) but the dip is less than 45 degrees. They are associated with orogenesis processes, such as the Zagros fold belt, and their displacement can be km long, suggesting the large magnitude of Turkey's earthquake; it's largest for some time.

Newspapers report but seldom do they give geographers the real image of the seismtectonics behind an earthquake. The USGS, who investigates the most catastrophic of natural disasters, has a really good website. For those who like visuals, they have produced up to 10 maps of the Turkey earthquake, and have included a range of measurements which, for me, will keep the half term break very interesting indeed!

By the way, as a kind of P.S: if you are studying demographics at the moment (population) I don't know if you caught ITV News at Ten last night. I just happened to be going downstairs and found both my parents fast asleep-(they usually are at this time.) But on the TV, the News at Ten team were doing a special bulletin about the world's population. Tonight, I think they are doing one about China's One Child Policy. Do watch out for it! (Even if you are busy on the USGS website!!)

Friday, 21 October 2011

Coastal Trials!!

As part of my extended project for Geography, the half term sees me out on the North Norfolk Coast, studying the direct and non direct influences of coastal retreat. My chosen locations of study...where else but Overstrand and Happisburgh; both of which are areas that have experienced widespread retreat in the last century. These two locations serve not just as points of geographical interest, but as areas of rest and relaxation for both the locals and visitors. Having said this, the atmosphere is far from relaxed; as coastal degradation continues, the local residents fear for their property and their lifestyles, questioning whether the present defence systems are actually effective.

Despite similar situations, Overstrand and Happisburgh are two very different studies; geographically, the oceanographical, fluvial and sub-aerial processes both vary as does the geomorphology of the beach profile and the cliff. For my project, I am undertaking a micro study of a very small section of each beach, measuring, taking samples, and analysing them back in the lab at Paston College. I undertook a piece of coursework here a couple of years ago- a very thorough piece of work - but where this is limited in quantity, it more than half makes up for in quality. The investigation methods are more scientific and it's my individual project, meaning the world's my oyster on what I do!

The Trials:

This Wednesday, I took my equipment and myself to Overstrand and Happisburgh, to test the equipment! My thanks go to my Mum who ferried me around the coast with a lot of patience. For most of my investigation, the tides were high, and some measurements proved difficult; wave height measurements at Happisburgh proved impossible. As I edged nearer to the shoreline, a large storm wave caught me by surprise and no lifejacket, raincoat or waders would protect me against the resulting chilling splash that came next.

I found myself very much against time during this day of trials, and when it comes to the real thing next week, I need to credit myself more time. After all, it's marking out exactly where to measure which takes the most time up; the sample collecting takes little to no time at all. As for the methods themselves, I won't go into these here; maybe I will explain later on, but they are all standard coastal investigative techniques, which I have sourced from books, journals and from the web within the last couple of months. If you have seen me carrying equipment at college these last few weeks, it's most probably been for this. My garage is full of stuff at the moment: from ranging poles, to trundle wheels (thanks Flegg High) clinometers, graduated sieves.... you name it, I've probably got it!

Back at the lab, later this week, I unpacked my 'trials' samples and started to dry them in the drying oven. This is very important; you can't put sand through the sieve when it's hydrostatically bonded! It's the lab work, I'm really looking forward to. The whole thing is more professional and 'real' than any other fieldwork I have conducted before. I will let you know how it goes next week!

Monday, 17 October 2011 my Biology Test!

Did a Biology test today, and was struck with delight when I saw a Geographically related question! The question was asking how a species divide and turn into a new species. I pointed out that millions of years ago, the large orogenic belts would not have been there and instead just flat layered strata for which an ancestral species could inhabit. The tangential process of orogenesis, though, through compression, uplifts the land, forming fold mountains. This is a slow process meaning the ancestral species could survive the gradual change in climate; the adaptation they would make would activate gene mutation and a variation on a species would be created. Hope it's correct! (Well, the Geography is at least!)

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Such a great programme: I recommend it!

If you're like me, your TV hardrive is full with programmes that you've recorded, but never watched! I do have a habit of recording nearly every geographically related programme and then finding myself without any time to watch them! Having said that, they are usually brilliant programmes and well worth the wait. Yesterday, I sat down with my cheese scones (I'm making this sound more posh than it actually was!) and wactched a programme I recorded very near the start of September called: The Secret Life of Waves.

For any oceanographer or coastal geomorphologist, this was such a great programme and one that kept feeding me with new information I hadn't heard from anywhere else before, despite the fact that I have recently carried out my own intensive research on them for an Extended Project I'm undertaking.

David Malone, the fine presenter who seems to improvise well throughout the whole production, first explored waves when he was just a small child with his parents. It is through this "elegant and original" film, that he shares his passion with them by investigating firstly how they work, the sound behind them, and how the process of a wave is very closely related to how human beings live their life.

From blowing on a static pond, to using a wind machine, and then later by using a wave generator in Cambridge University, Malone explains the incredible importance of the 'fetch' in wave height, and takes us back to the Second World War when the first investigations into measuring wave height were conducted. I found the wave generator very interesting and helpful in understanding just how a wave of oscillation works. The water doesn't travel anywhere, but oscillates; it is the energy that travels and fundamentally, the amount of energy (the extent of the fetch in other words) determines whether it produces a small capillary wave or a storm wave.

Malone then goes on to understanding the sound of waves, illustrating with investigations from Southampton University (if I remember correctly) what a bubble actually is and the sound frequency that different size bubbles create. To be quite honest, as interesting as it was to see bubbles in slow motion enter an air-water interface, the whole 'bubble' scene didn't do it for me, and it's relation to wave breaks was weak.

It improved immediatly though with looking at how many different types of wave there actually are. I learnt some new terms including Rossby waves and the fact that in an ocean, there are two waves travelling opposite directions to each other,  influenced by temperature.

Finally, the most interesting and I reckon the most essential point of the programme: the distinction between 'objects' and 'processes' in relation to waves. This was a very philosophical part of the programme and one that really struck me simply because I hadn't thought about it in this way before. Malone was debating the fact that ocean waves are perhaps the only times when we can see energy moving, visually. I can agree with him on this point, and so he went on to establishing whether anything can be just an object but a 'process' instead. From a conversation looking out to the skyline of London, he considered that in a human time scale frame, an ancient building like St. Pauls Cathedral might seem like an object, but actually in a geological time scale, the building is a process. It's manifested from individual materials sourced from this very planet, and now as it stands amongst the London air, it's slowly weathering away and becoming part of the Earth again. With ocean waves, the scenario is the same: our atmosphere creates wind currents, which through fetch, passes energy on through the waves, which is eventually dissipated when the wave crashes along the shoreline of the coast. So maybe a wave isn't an object, it is in fact a process.

Malone's mother died throughout the production of this programme; a fact he is willing to let the audience know of. The only footage of her was actually for this very programme, and Malone uses the last 10 minutes to identify whether a human life is like a wave. After all, every wave is different much like every individual is unique. Humans, too, take in energy, travel with that energy, and in death, release it; much like an ocean wave does. Malone speaks with a philosopher to try to understand whether humans are indeed 'waves' themselves in a way. Maybe the thought of death isn't such an awful prospect if we consider that we were made by processes and ultimately will die from processes too.

Not only did this programme heighten my knowledge of oceanography, but it inspired me to think for a couple of hours afterwards about whether there are any more geographical processes that we can relate a human life to. If I have time, over the half term, I will think of some more. If you have an idea, do get in contact. And you can see clips of this programme, below:

Friday, 14 October 2011

Tombolo or Isthmus?

One thing that does annoy me slightly is when non-geographers try to use Geography terminology, but get it very wrong! I've heard it on the radio, seen it on the TV and today, it even occured in Biology. Or did it?

Well, perhaps not now that I've looked up the word that I thought they used wrong. We were talking about the Isles of Scilly and the White Island that is connected to it by a land mass, and when the question arose about what this landmass is called, I answered with "tombolo". Apparently, I was wrong and the Biology teacher corrected me with "Isthmus". To be honest, I had my doubts from that point and decided to investigate.

In definition, the two are very similar. The Isthmus is a narrow strip of land which connects two islands or two large land masses. A tombolo is a bar or spit formation that connects an island to the mainland or to another island. In fact, some of my books have said that a tombolo is a type of isthmus! So where do we go from here?

Well, are there any differences. Having said that, a tombolo is sometimes temporary, whereas an isthmus is regarded as a permanent feature. And a tombolo to some extent only forms when a certain ratio is constant: the length between the two land masses and the width of the inferior sized island.

In conclusion, what the Biology teacher said was technically right. The landmass connecting White Island with Isles of Scilly is technically an isthmus. More investigations would have to be carried out to see whether it is a tombolo or not. At present, I think.......maybe not anymore!!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Cream teas in Eype

This weekend has presented somewhat of a change to the weather we've been seeing the last few weeks. Going out without a coat has been a real challenge and even the house has become cold! The forecast? Well, I'm not quite sure we can trust any forecast for now. But what I do like doing in the cold spells of the year, is to think of more 'warmer' times.

Earlier this year, I went on a filming week around the country and one of my favourite locations was Eype, in Dorset. Eype is a select rural coastal community composed of a typical 'pastoral' farming industry, and a lovely pub with fantastic views! They serve a mean bacon roll as-well! Its church is particularly famous for its celebration of local and national art while the village is also home to the walk to Golden Cap, one of the highest points in Dorset! We go down there as a family each year but our visit is usually only a few hours. This year, thanks to part of my script, we had to stay for a little longer. Driving to one of my locations in Eype, we stopped past a house whose occupants have actually turned into an outside cafe.
Dorset is very well known for its love of cream teas so we couldn't resist the urge just to sit outside in the sun, sipping a tea, munching on a scone, and taking in the views of the valley below us. The cafe's high position is a very big pull factor for tourists although the cafe doesnt actually advertise itself...anywhere in Eype! In fact, passing trade and positive word of mouth have enabled the business to continue on. It's a remarkable fact that it's stood still in the climax of a recession where other businesses have had to close shop!

My experience at the cafe is one which does warm me up, especially on a night like this one!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Sometimes you don't need colouring pencils in Geography!

Recently, I have encountered some who have dismissed Geography as a science and have stated that it's what you do if you like colouring in! Well, here's a message to those people: sometimes, it's already coloured in!
The Earth is commonly referred to as the 'Blue Planet' but zoom in and you'll find black and white sands, red and green sandstone, multicoloured minerals and rocks that even change colour to the light! It's actually quite a colourful planet!

The colours of rocks are most often or not determined by minerals: iron is red and brown, copper stains green, with Sulphur, however, it's yellow. Desert rocks are coated in what's known as "desert varnish" (actually iron and manganese oxides). Sometimes, the colour is determined by living organisms: green algae and yellow lichens. Even antartica is not always white: sometimes, the snow can be coloured pink by snow algae. For any water system, such as a sea or an ocean or even a pond, the colours that they appear to be are influenced by the sediments that pour into them.

One of the most fantastic examples of 'colourful Earth' is Ayers Rock which actually changes colour every day. And it's all to do with the light! It's based in the Northern Territory of Australia and throughout the day as the light intensity that shines onto it changes, so does the rock colour. One of the main reasons for such a change is because it's constructed out of different types of rock: it's actually an inselberg that has been shaped by wind blown sands!

You and I probably think of yellow quartz when we imagine sand dunes, but in New Mexico, on the broad and flat floor of the Tularosa Valley, the dunes are made up of gypsum which is almost pure white in colour.

Holiday Brochures often advertise "golden beaches" but on the 'Canary Islands' the littoral zone is made up of dark coloured basaltic rocks! The Canary Islands are actually cones produced by extinct volcanoes.

The Black sea is not actually black nor is the White Sea actually white, but there has to be a case made for the Red Sea. Sometimes, tiny red marine organisms known as Dinoflagellates reproduce in a mass colouring the entire sea red. Red tides as they are known are very dangerous; they even caused the death of about 50 million fish in 1946.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Autumn here at last!

I doubt you can see this photo very clearly, as I took it with my phone earlier on today. It actually shows a rather established tree in Paston College's grounds. I took it, not necessarily to show everyone what trees we sport at Paston, but to point out the characteristically autumnal feel we seem to have at the moment.

As I was making my way through college this morning with my hot chocolate, something felt different and I can safely say that it was the amount of crispy brown leaves I was trecking through. But is autumn a little too late?
Once upon a time, Autumn used to fall between August and October in Britain, but after a few weeks of uncharacteristically high temperatures in this 'Indian Summer', and no sign of getting 'much' colder this week, should we question the dates we place on our seasons.

Indeed, across North Walsham, a whole host of trees still sport all of their leaves and don't seem to be putting up much of a fight to get rid of them. Despite the fact there seems to be a lot of them about, the volume is no comparison to what would have been seen hundreds of years ago. So, is Summer extending? Well, the 'city' is known to have longer summers, but perhaps now, as global temperatures rise, the 'extended' summer is suburbanising to our rural communities.

Did Spring occur earlier this year? Did Summer start earlier? Will there ever be a time where winter just doesn't exist as we know it? My answer to these questions is that there's a possibilty. The changes or shifts in our seasons is no short process; it takes decades for such a change. But it's the 3rd October, and I'm only just seeing these leaves. Global Warming is a paradigm shift but there has to be a case made about our seasons.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Geographical Determinism and Geographical Possibilism

In the early 1900s, Ellen Semple came up with a definition for Geography:

"How environment apparently controls human behavior." - Ellen Semple, c. 1911

This view was very common at that time; the fact the environment had control over settlement was a view known as Geographical Determinism. It was a view that E. Huntington et al. stated after analysis on behavioural studies. Recently, it's been established that actually humans adapt the location to suit their own needs. Such a notion is now referred to as 'Geographical Possibilism'.

Strange how ideas change over time, don't you think?

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Indian Summer

You've probably been thinking the same thing as I have over this past week or so. Why is the weather so great? After all, it's late summer AND this is England! Norfolk may well be one of the driest areas of the country but we usually do get much more varied weather activity than the present conditions at this period each year. So what's actually happening? The reason why temperatures have been similar to those in Southern Spain, is mainly due to a high pressure weather system which is sitting over continental Europe. It will drag off and will pull warm air from Southern Europe. This particular event is usually called an 'Indian Summer' and according to the MET office, the first since 1985. Having said 'Indian Summer', was it really the Indians that coined the phrase. There have been many suggestions; America is a particularly good case if it wasn't India. The following link to this article may be interesting. Let's hope it continues!

Was it really the Indians that coined the phrase: 'Indian Summer'?

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Mist or Fog?

I woke up to a particularly foggy morning in Norfolk today..or did I? Someone asked me later today the difference between 'fog' and 'mist' and I must admit, standing at the bus stop waiting for my bus, I didn't have a clue! It's been on my mind all day, so let's get to the bottom of it. The most substantial difference between the two is visibility. If your visibility is less than a kilometer, then it's 'fog.' If it's more than a kilometer, then it's 'mist'. I have checked this with a few of my books and each one states the same. If you actually compare the components that make up either 'fog' and 'mist', then they are basically the same thing: a 'suspension of water particles in the air by the cooling of air.'  

Monday, 26 September 2011

The 'other' Gravity Model!!

Today at College, a debate was raised about gravity and geography didn't feature in it at all! However, it should have done, because there's actually a 'Gravity Model' in the study of Migration. It is based on Newton's law of universal gravitation, and assumes a town's attraction is proportional to its size. Therefore, a town twice the size of another will have twice the pull and attract twice as many migrants. (For further information, have a look at 'Reilly's Law of Retail Gravitation 1931'. It's not all physics you know!

Morocco: Visit 2011

My experiences of Morocco will live with me forever. It was my first ever trip to Africa in April this year and although 6 days maybe wasn't enough to do it justice, in that short time, the range of landscapes, people, meals and activites we took part in were superb! I made many new friends from Kett College, who made me feel very welcome when it came to room sharing! The trip started in the city of Marrakech whereby we spent a couple of days visiting the 'sights' of this urbanised land. Culture and history are very much prominant, though the outskirts are no stranger to re-development with large scale recreation facilities such as a golf course! Yes- golf out there! Our landward trip took us through the more rural areas of the country aswell; the Atlas Mountains becoming very much a non-stop photo opportunity. I do remember only feeling cold once and that was one lunchtime as we stopped off for a light bite on a plateau of this landscape. Otherwise, the weather was as expected: high 30s and early 40s, especially on the two day 'desert' journey we took: on camels! Despite pain, I managed two days on a camel! I said to Jim, our teacher, that the trip had encompassed perhaps all of the Geography syllabus, and even now, it's difficult to think of an area of the spec it didn't cover! A truly amazing trip and I will definately visit again!

UK Young Geographer of the Year Competition

The 'Geographical' magazine published an interesting competition in one of its editions earlier on this year. It asked all young geographers aged 16-18 to write a 1500 word essay on 'what all good geographers should understand.' I was immediately jotting down ideas on the page from the moment of reading the entry details, and now after many weeks, have churned out an entry! I'm going to submit it and you never know, do you?! I find the concept of 'Geographical Thought' exceedingly interesting; how and why geographers think they way they do. Carl Sauer suggested "everything in the landscape is interrelated." This theme has become an important one in the development of my essay, as has the concept of 'geological time', 'concept and theory experimentation' and the notion of 'geographical curiosity', which I think is the most important of all. After all, the greatest geographers were not born with the answers; there was a complex route to discovery involved that evolved from observation or curiosity. I will be sure to let you know if the entry is successful! Wish me luck!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Scholarship opportunity: UPDATE

The Royal Geographic Society, with whom I am a member of, is offering a limited number of Gap Year Field-work scholarships aimed for post college students. I learnt of this from my old Geography teacher at Flegg High School many months ago and for the last few months, I have been writing my application. A long drawn out task, I have to say! Most of form asks why you think it would be important to you, how it would change your life...etc. The grant awarded is somewhere within the £4000 mark and you can go anywhere and do almost anything alongside experts who have studied that particular branch of study for years! The aim is to do at least 6 months data collecting and studying and then to return back to the lab in England and write up a scientific paper before going to university. The skills from such an oppotunity are endless and I really do hope I am accepted . The closing deadline for applications is the end of the month and I'm currently awaiting the 'teacher nomination form' from my old Geography teacher. The applicants successful will be shortlisted and interviews will take place later on in the year in London. Wish me luck!!

Click here to learn more about the scholarship

Saturday, 24 September 2011


I am involved in quite a few different projects at the moment, all with a geographical theme to them. In May/June time, I started filming for a new DVD I'm making for Norfolk Schools! It's called 'RevGeog' at the minute and will contain all the key information you need to know to pass your GCSE Geography Exam. The idea first came to me when I realised that school video resources were old and getting drastically out of date...nothing worse than faulty figures in an exam answer! I am in the middle of production at the minute, having stopped filming recently to focus my attention on other things. But I must start getting back into it. Next year, I'm planning to travel the country filming, but at the moment, I think I'll stick local!