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.