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.