About Professor Simon Haslett

My photo
Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom
Professor of Physical Geography and Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Wales and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) Annual Conference 2010 Day 3

After the Conference dinner and disco last night I think it was a bit ambitious to expect too bi a turnout at 8.45am, but the presentation by David Longman (University of Wales, Newport) had over half a dozen delegates there! His presentation was entitled 'Towards a digital enlightenement: knowledge representation and creation in the post-internet university'. He put forward a thesis about the representation of new technologies in academia and discussed recognising and giving value to these new forms. The time sped by, but there were a number of questions from the floor, including a question about who was a good proponent of technology and David replied Michael Wesch as an example who he had met in Canada this year.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) Annual Conference 2010 Day 2

The second day started with a valuable but challenging opening keynote at 8.45am by Dr Nicholas Maxwell (University College London) on 'The urgent need for an academic revolution: from knowledge to wisdom'. He opened by suggesting science and technology, through structural irrationality, had caused many of the global problems e.g. global warming, because they adopted knowledge-inquiry rather than wisdom-inquiry, and states a 'need for an intellectual revolution'. He charted this problem back to the Enlightenment, but that it should now be corrected and that we should 'learn to create a better world'. He has a website at http://www.nick-maxwell.demon.co.uk/

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) Annual Conference 2010 Day 1

Day 1 of the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) Annual Conference at the Celtic Manor Resort, Newport, Wales. The Conference this year is entitled 'Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?' and runs over 14-16th December. The Conference is always a good opportunity to meet with colleagues from around the world, although this year the global financial situation may limit attendance. However, it's good to see so many local colleagues from the University of Wales and the University of Wales, Newport, attending as they did last year at SRHE2009.

I kicked off the day by attending the Getting Published Workshop facilitated and led by Professor Sue Clegg (Leeds Metropolitan University) who was joined on stage by Ian McNay, Ian Whitehead, and Lynn McAlpine. The workshop was aimed at postgraduate students and newer researchers, but there were nuggets there too for the more experienced researchers.

This was followed by the official opening of the conference by Helen Perkins, Dr Jill Jameson and Yvonne Hillier, who finished by introducing the first keynote 'Why managers should not replace Socrates in the Boardroom' by Dr Amanda Goodall who presented her research into why top research academics go on to make the best Vice-Chancellors. There was many questions from the floor, but mine wasn't taken - I would have asked if there was evidence for VCs past research activity to be continued once in the senior post? Most likely not. Her presentation was based on her book 'Socrates in the Boardroom' published in 2009 by Princeton University Press.

After lunch, I went to a presentation by Kathleen Quinlan of the University of Oxford who talked about 'What are the scientific activities involved in impact? Investigating case studies of scientific practice to inform policy'. Her study identified seven key themes in science impact: 1) collaboration cross institutions and disciplines, 2) coordination with external stakeholders, 3) engaging in training and professional development, 4) access to core facilities, such as labs, 5) leveraging funds and resources creatively, 6) developing risky research to provide preliminary data, and 7) being able to respond rapidly to opportunities. Some good questions from the floor to conclude.

Later in the afternoon, I went to Professor Sue Clayton's (Bangor University) presentation 'The Academic Experience of Continuing Professional Development in Higher Education: living between policy and practice', who through case stories likened an academics career journey as a 'career river' concept. Laura Morosanu (Oxford Brookes University) then talked about 'Learning beyond the Institution: A Cultural Capital Perspective on the International Student Experience' in which she outlined Bourdieu's Theory of Cultural Capital and through an audio diary programme with seven international Masters students examined the contribution made by extra-curricula activity (e.g. staying with host families (informal socialisation), and doing part-time work) to the learning experience of international students.

The day finished with an interesting keynote presentation from Professor David Watson on 'Higher Education and Higher Education Research in the Age of Austerity' in which he talked about the eternal triangle of researchers, practitioners and policy-makers, and that expectations of Higher Education is growing. The effect of the credit crunch on HE was discussed and that student markets would become more significant, and that public/private partnerships, or hybrids, are likely to be the way forward. The University of Wales provides a good example of such a partnership already up and running. He concluded by sharing a comparison with the southern hemsiphere, what he called 'globalisation from below' (Watson et al., in press - The Engaged University).

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Launch of the Universities Heads of the Valley's Institute

I was invited to attend the UHOVI Launch this morning at Llanhilleth Institute. I was a member of the Learning Innovation Expert Group and our final report had been well-received by the Learning Advisory Panel who met yesterday at the Caerleon Campus of the University of Wales, Newport.
The launch was very well-attended and we were welcomed by an opening address by Dave Waddington. Leighton Andrews AM then made the official launch speech and called for a riot of learning to take place in the Heads of the Valleys region. Helen Marshall from the University of Glamorgan followed who introduced a nice set of promotional videos for UHOVI. Peter Noyes, Newport's VC, then closed the programme in recounting how the project was conceived over dinner around 3 years ago.
UHOVI is an exciting development for this region of Wales, as it has the lowest number of HE participants anywhere in Wales. The BBC filmed the launch and it was featured later on BBC 1 Wales Today news.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

ISSOTL10 International Society for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Conference, Liverpool, 21 October 2010

I’m attending the Annual Conference of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) at the BT Convention Centre at Liverpool. Primarily a North American based society, this is the first time their annual conference has been held in the UK, so a good opportunity to meet US colleagues who don’t seem to travel to the UK for other conferences, such as HEA and SRHE (as I wrote about in a 2009 paper of mine). It will be good to see what I can take back to the University of Wales in my role as Chair of the Learning and Teaching Committee there, as the conference title is Global theories and local approaches: institutional, disciplinary and cultural variations, a theme that is very relevant to the University and its global provision.


Due to commitments back in Wales, I arrived last night half way through the conference and, after breakfast this morning, was lucky enough to walk from the hotel to the venue with Haydn Blackey and Alice Lau, colleagues from the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the University of Glamorgan who showed me the way through the rain!

First up for the day was a keynote from Janette Ryan (Monash University) and Jude Carroll (Oxford Brookes University), but Jude gave the presentation, in the absence of Janette, entitled Learning across cultures: opening our minds as well as our doors (pencast). The project was about teaching international students and funded by the HEA and the Prime Ministers Initiative that examined teaching through the lens of culture. This includes looking at differences in academic cultures and comparison of learning approaches (e.g. Confucian versus Western), learning from flows of people and ideas across academic cultural traditions: transcultural rather than cross-cultural. I think she advocated reversing the ‘lens’ to become more self-aware about approaches and suggested one only becomes aware of difference when differences are personally experienced.

‘West is best’ was quoted in the context that Chinese students are judged by western standards rather than any attempt made to appreciate the learning approach; a surface approach can result in deep learning and that the deficit model (i.e. lacking Western academic skills) should be replaced by a surplus model of students in that, for example, Chinese students are highly cooperative, diligent, hard working, and have a high regard for education. “Difference is not deficit”.

Following on, I would argue that the current UK movement of designing inclusive currcicula, which is principally aimed at disabled students, should also apply to international (and all) students, so that it becomes irrelevant to distinguish students as being international as much as it is inappropriate to do the same for those with a disability.

Regarding plagiarism, which is a common issue affecting Chinese students (indeed, I have sat on an unfair practice panel which solely looked at plagiarism cases involving Chinese students), Carroll argues we should ‘move beyond the Western fetish of citation’. This is a controversial statement, but nevertheless the non-negotiable ‘rules of the game’ need to be taught - “telling is not teaching”.

The keynote was a good start to the day and, after coffee, I then went to see Haydn Blackey (University of Glamorgan) present Redesigning learning: how technology enhanced learning has impacted on Welsh medium education, which reported on an initiative to create online provision across institutions as part of the Gwella project through a website called Y Porth. He argues that this cross-institutional collaboration to provide courses in the medium of Welsh would not happen for courses in the English language because of competitive forces, but it left the audience wondering if the same could be achieved for minority subjects, such as some STEM subjects?

Susan Warner (Cedarville University) then followed with What do students think they are learning? The research looked at online study. When the students were asked to compare online learning with face-to-face, 55% said the course requirements were about the same, but 35% thought there were more, and in terms of effort 42% said that it required similar amounts of effort, but 47% said that online learning required more effort. Overall satisfaction was high, but Susan appeared disappointed that course management was only rated as average and that they have now established 24/7 online support for students, but a question from the audience asked why the concern if the average result equated to ‘satisfactory’? Some interesting insights here for online course development.

The session I went to after coffee was on Internationalisation, which kicked off with Rajesh Dhimar (Sheffield Hallam University) talking about Scoping internationalisation in learning, teaching and assessment: a review of practice – what does it mean for staff? He reviewed the literature and the national frameworks (e.g. HEA Framework for Internationalisation 2009-2011), and listed the challenges i.e. mobility, curriculum flexibility, inclusivity and affordability, employer engagement, and collaboration and partnership. He then outlined what was happening at his institution, which comprises 14% international students, where an institutional internationalisation strategy cascades down to Faculty strategy and Faculty-based Heads of Internationalisation, with assistance from a Partnership Support Unit. He concluded with a number of recommendations including a clear institutional lead, celebrate (and disseminate) good practice, interventions for learning and teaching and assessment, and professional development for staff. Much of what he said chimed with Jude Carroll’s earlier keynote.

This was followed by Exploring the teaching and learning significance of the international classroom – faculty narratives and institutional culture presented by Torgny RoxĂ„ (Lund University) and Joanna Renc-Roe (Central European University). They collected narratives and rumours about internationalisation and how they ‘travel’ (disseminate) through academic cultures. They used a model that comprised reflection (from unreflected to to reflected) and quality (from isolated/individual to scholarly), so that for example an unchallenged rumour would be unreflected and isolated, whereas something that led to publication would be reflected and scholarly. They concluded that 1) all internationalisation is local in terms of the ‘international classroom’, 2) individuals can transform narratives to scholarship, 3) cultural artefacts can enhance cultural learning (after Shein, 2004), and 4) low quality rumours appear to ‘travel’ better than scholarly narratives.

The final session of the day I went to started with Sandra Jones (RMIT) whom I had met at HERDSA in Darwin in 2009 as part of Newport CELT ExPedR09 visit, and who subsequently visited Newport in October last year to give a seminar. She talked about Distributed leadership to enhance student learning that looked at leadership from the formal level of the Senior Management right down to lecturers. She reported that her project arrived at a Change Management Model called the PACED Distributed Leadership Model; PACED from participative, accredited, collaborative, engaged, and devolved leadership.

This was followed by Jo Jones, Ruth Gaffney-Rhys and Edward Jones (University of Wales, Newport) who presented All’s fair in love, war and student evaluation of teaching effectiveness: exploratory case studies from two UK universities. They reviewed the background to the institutions studied (Newport and Bath) and then explored the legal issues, such a defamation and breach of implied duty of trust and confidence, particularly if student evaluations are used to judge a lecturers performance and competence, who may have recourse to legal action if the results of student evaluations are used to prevent promotion or anything else that involves financial gain. Alternatively, positive evaluations can also lead to good lecturers being given more lecturing, which could become a workload or health and safety issue. Careful institutional guidelines are required for the use of evaluations, not just in quality assurance, if not in place already.

The final presentation was by Marjolein Torenbeek (University of Gronigen) on First year tutoring, adjustment and achievement, which examined the transition to University, which is often a stressful experience. To help facilitate adjustment students should be introduced to the local area, receive study skills support, join learning groups, receive mentoring and tutoring. Also, social support is very important. The research developed a Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire that confirmed social support is important, but that there was no relationship between adjustment and academic achievement as has been previously report. A final finding was that female students benefitted more from tutoring than male students.

The day finished with the conference dinner and an achievement award presented to a ‘speechless’ Lewis Elton for his contributions to Higher Education research.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual Conference (Day 2)

Day 2 of the RGS-IBG Conference (2nd September) looks as good as the first. My main interest for the day was the Higher Education Research Group (HERG) sessions taking place in The Pavillion: Innovative spaces of learning: debating their origin, nature and significance', which was the second in a series started at the Association of American Geographers Conference in April this year. Session 1 started with a guest lecture from Prof Steve Wheeler (University of Plymouth) 'New spaces, new pedagogies: harnessing the power of social media in education' (the slides will eventually appear on Steve's slideshare page). It was an exciting presentation that discussed surface vs deep learning, knowledge and wisdom, formal and informal learning, and educational change culminating with an exploration of the role of social media in personalised learning, and how the learner can create their own VLE. It was very thought provoking.

Jenny Hill (UWE) chaired the session and gave two talks: (1) A Space to reflect: using online discussion boards to enhance students' understanding of global climate change, and (2) Evaluating the flexible spaces of learning created through exotic video podcasts. Derek France (University of Chester)also spoke on 'Does technology enhance student learning in physical geography fieldwork?', which looked at the successful use of video reports in the field in New Zealand.

Derek then chaired the second session after coffee, which began with another guest lecture this time from Ruth Weaver from the Experiential Learning CETL at Pymouth. Ruth looked at 'The role of built pedagogy', that is the physical spaces of learning, and discussed fieldwork, Lab plus, and an Immersive Vision Theatre constructed out of a disused planetarium. The student perception of learning as being either fragmented (isolated bits of learning) or cohesive conceptions (integrated - deeper - learning) was an interesting concept, and one that I took on board and mentioned in my paper at the end of the session.

Kenneth Lim (Singapore) then discussed the use of Second Life in geography education 'Avatar dreaming: considerations of place and space in the design of learning environments in Second Life', and gave an inspirational example of how school children were terra forming using the technology. Carolyn Roberts (Oxford University) and Mick Healey (Glos) followed with a report of 'Bringing about change in teaching and learning at departmental level: an innovative mental and physical space for planning curriculum changes'. They discussed the HEAs Change Academy scheme in conjunction with the Leadership Foundation, which involved four teams involved in projects seeking a change of culture in their institutions. I then finished the session with my talk 'Regions as geographical learning resouces in Higher Education'.  Altogether, the sessions were very interesting and gave a lot of food for thought for geographical education and HE in general.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual Conference - Day 1

Rita Gardner Keynote 'Geomorphology, impact and influence'
This blog post relates to yesterday's (1st September) Day 1 of the RGS-IBG Annual Conference. However, it was also the 2nd day the British Society for Geomorphology (BSG) Annual Conference. Since the two conferences were jointly hosted and the programmes merged, I went to bits of both. I think co-hosting like this is an excellent idea and has allowed me to mix with the two communities because, unfortunately, physical geography is usually under-represented at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference.

I started the day with Oliver Korup's (University of Potsdam) Keynote 'Earth surface processes: five grand challenges for the 21st century' in which he talked about natural dams (often created by landslides or terminal moraines) and the hazard they sometimes pose. He promoted the use of Google Earth and included it as part of what he called the 'infosphere'. After going through his five challenges, he ended by addressing the students present saying 'the biggest challenge in geomorphology is getting a job'!

Paul Bishop (University of Glasgow) on behalf of his co-workers then presented 'Bottom-up bedrock river response to rock uplift: unravelling the controls of landscape responses to transcience'. He began by introducing steady state orogenic landscapes in which bedrock incision by rivers is linked to uplift, and that surface processes also have an affect on tectonics through erosion and unloading, which he referred to as a 'top down effect, illustrated by his work in Taiwan. But he then went on to say that non-steady state landscapes (post-orogenic e.g. Australia) were the rule, where a 'bottom-up response' was dominated by knickpoint retreat up river valleys.From his work in Scotland, he observed that knickpoints migrate further upstream in bigger catchments, and that strath boulders deposits are left stranded high up when channel incision migrates upstream with the passing knickpoint. One important conclusion is that these streams didn't 'see' the rock structure and were similar on different rock-dip settings. Cosmogenic dating also indicates that there appears to be a reduction in the rate of incision and knickpoint retreat through the Holocene. One question from the floor asked about any influence of post-glacial isostatic rebound in Scotland, but Paul indicated this was not significant.

There followed two presentations by Cherith Moses (University of Sussex) on behalf of her colleagues. The first was 'Depth of disturbance on macrotidal mixed beaches: case study from Birling Gap, East Sussex'. Mixed sediment (sand and gravel) beaches have been neglected and their dynamics are not well known. They used buried columns of painted pebbles to study the depth of disturbance i.e. depth of the mobile sediment layer. This was then followed by 'Rates and patterns of downwearing on cohesive shore platforms, UK' in which a number of sites e.g. Holderness (Yorkshire), were studied using a Traversing Erosion Beam. The range of downwearing rates were between 18-42mm/yr, but that the upper platform downwears faster than the lower platform. One quesioner from the floor asked how long this one go on for before the upper platform became altitudinal lower than the lower platform? This was tricky, but is likely to relate to cliff retreat (2m/yr at Holderness) and that the upper platform represents the 'stump' of the retreating cliff, which will erode quickly until it reaches a similar elevation to the lower platform.

Dave Higgitt (National University of Singapore) followed after coffee with a talk on catchment sediment delivery mainly in Asian rivers, which may contribute around 1 Pg/C per year to the oceans, making them a significant part of the carbon cycle. Indeed, he suggested that the Irrawaddy River system in Myanmar, was 2nd only to the Amazon as a carbon point source. However, there is little long-term data about Asian rivers and he identified a number of challenges to their study: constructing and integrating databases, the role of fieldwork i.e. rapid appraisal and longer term monitoring, and modeling sediment yield. He also discussed the human impact on the systems, such as the building of dams in China and the downstream effects they were having. Walter Bertoldi (Queen Mary's College, London) concluded the mornings session with his Wiley Lecture (awarded the prize for the best paper published in the journal Earth Surface Processes and Landforms) on 'Planform dynamics of braided streams'. It concerned the gravel dominated Tagliamento River where he and co-workers took sequential photographs over a year and observed significant dynamic changes. Fieldwork was complemented by flume work in the lab.

I attended the Higher Education Research Group (HERG) AGM over lunch chaired by Derek France (University of Chester) with the assistance of Jenny Hill (UWE). The group has been quite active over the last year and has 10 sessions at this years conference, so it's success is growing; also, funds have increased which has allowed guest speakers to be invited. Martin Haigh's (Oxford Brookes) Higher Education Academy (HEA) National Teaching Fellowship (NTF) was acknowledged as was Derek's, Mick Healey's (Glos), and others, successful HEA NTF Project bid for 'Personalised Learning Environments for Active Field Science Education' (PLEASE).

I was attracted to the 'Social and Cultural Geographies of the Coast' session where the following papers were presented:
  1. Preena Shah (Loughborough University) - 'Riding the crest of the regeneration wave and the uneven geographies of coastal societies: the case study of St. Leonards-on-Sea'. Gave a good overview of coastal town regeneration strategies.
  2. Julie Urquart (University of Greenwich) - 'Fishing cultures - marine fisheries and sense of place in coastal communities'. Reported on initial results from the Interreg CHARM Project.
  3. Darren Smith (Loughborough University) - 'Geographies of coastal housing and HMO' [houses with multiple occupation]. Examined the impact of HMOs on coastal town populations; increases population density and transcience.
  4. Jo Orchard Webb (University of Brighton) - 'Complex urban governance and constructing the "social" in social sustainability: a case study from the English coast'. Discussed urban regeneration in St. Leonards and Hastings.
  5. Stuart Oliver (St. Mary's University College) - 'Managed retreat in Essex: private feelings and public responses'. Reported on very initial work on managed retreat in the Blackwater Estuary.
Rita Gardner (RGS-IBG Director) then delivered the Frost Lecture 'Geomorphology, impact and influence'. Rita, introduced by Bob Allison (BSG Conference Chair), opened by talking about disciplinary stereotypes and framed her presentation in terms of necessity, timeliness (BSG 50th Anniversary), and opportunity. One of the main messages was that geomorphologists need to address government priorities, such as flooding, coastal erosion, land instability, climate change, carbon budgets, water quality and river restoration, and need to engage on the politicians terms. She deomonstrated a bit of a mis-match currently using keywords from papers published in Geomorphology and Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, and the small number of geomorphologists active within research council agencies and government. The discipline also doesn't seem to successfully engaging the public, especially younger students, and their parents, that represent the future. Lastly, she urged not to forget that geography is the route into geomorphology, and that more should be done on integration of the two.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

British Society for Geomorphology Conference

Panel debate on 'Tipping Points' Chaired by Prof Ken Gregory
This years British Society for Geomorphology (BSG) Conference is being held jointly with the Annual Conference of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS with IBG) at the RGS Headquarters at Kensington Gore, London. The RGS Conference starts tomorrow, but the BSG began today.

I was intending to arrive in time for Prof Antony Long's (Durham University) Keynote 'Separating fluctuations from trends: the behaviour of the Greenland ice sheet in the last millennium', but didn't turn up until half way through the subsequent talk by Mark Macklin et al. entitled 'Seeing things whole: database and meta-analysis of fluvial responses to Holocene environmental change'. He talked about river entrenchment events through the Holocene and I noted one event taking place between 1100-700 years ago, but there is not much data from southeast Wales, which is my area of interest here around those dates as an entrenchment event may have taken place there then.

Julian Murton then followed on with his talk 'Permafrost as a driver and record of environmental change'. He covered ice segregation, thermokarst evidence, thermal erosion, and the carbon freezer. He said that unfrozen water migrates towards colder temperatures within the soil, regolith or rock profile, resulting in bidirectional or unidirectional flow depending on the season (upward in the winter, downward in the summer, and up and down (bidirectional) in the autumn). Bidirectional freezing leads to fracturing along the top of the permafrost boundary, whilst unidirectional freezing (in the winter) leads to fracturing near the ground surface. Something that was a little counter-intuitive is that a lot of frost heave takes place in the summer as water migrates downward to feed ice lenses. He also discussed the formation of thermokarst lakes due to subsidence, and used examples from Kent Chalk and Glamorgan Mercia Mudstone in talking about solifluction in incised valley bottoms, which suffer more severe fracturing due to higher water content. He suggests that valley incision is more likely to have occurred during cold phases under good permafrost conditions into which rivers eroded thanduring warm phases. Regarding carbon sequestered, he stated that some 1672 Gt/C is stored in permafrost, which is a large amount, far more than in the atmosphere, so it would be worrying should the permafrost melt and the carbon released. He also talked about his work on the Yedoma silt in Siberia. It is a significant permafrost unit that covers some 1 million km2 of Russia and contains fossil roots and animal remains. Lastly, he mentioned that he thought the North American glacial Lake Agassiz drained perhaps not eastward through the Gulf of St Lawrence into the Atlantic, but northwest via the Mackenzie Delta system and into the Arctic Ocean.

Before tea, Varyl Thorndycraft et al. talked about the teams research of the rivers Erme in the southwest and Till in the northeast of the UK in 'Towards a quantification of flood response to long-term autogenic and allogenic drivers'. They looked at reconstructing palaeochannels and flood levels, which was interesting given the level of river discharge, such as 416 m/sec. After tea, David Thomas and his co-worker talked about 'Interpreting geoproxy records of late Quaternary climate change in the low latitudes: the challenge of incorporating geomorphological reality in palaeoenvironmental research'. It was an interesting presentation principally about reconstructing complex African Quaternary environments. Marine records are OK, but they don't give much information about terrestrial environments, so lake records are useful. But many of African lake basins lack sediment sequences, and so they argue landforms (geoproxies) are the only indicators available, such as lake shorelines and dunes. However, such geoproxies are difficult to interpret as wet or dry; for example, Nash and Endfield (2008) document extreme wet and dry conditions in the Kalahari region within the space of 60 years! There does seem to be some hope for geoproxy use however, as their sensitivity appears to change across climate gradients.

Prof Adrian Harvey (University of Liverpool) followed with his Linton Lecture on 'The coupling status of alluvial fans and debris cones', and considered the functional and preservational roles of coupling. Fans and streams can be coupled or not e.g. fans forming at the foot of scarp slopes may or may not have streams exiting them. Throughout his presentation, Prof Harvey dispelled some popular 'myths' regarding fans, such as the significance of fining-up or coarsening-up sediment sequences, which simply indicate primary or reworked sequences respectively. He also celebrated recent advances in the field, such as new dating methods, and the arrival of Google Earth as a freely available satellite image resource.

The next presentation was the first 30th International Geographical Congress (IGC) Lecture given by Prof Will Graf (University of South Carolina) on 'Science, policy and politics for the Florida Everglades'. Prof Graf told a story of the Everglades, particularly from a cultural standpoint. The restoration of the Everglades is costing US$17 Billion and is one of a number of river restoration projects in the US each costing over $10 Billion. There are three eras of environmental history: pre-development era up to 1880, development era 1880-1980, and the restoration era post-1980. He romped through Everglade history, mentioning Audubon's ornithology, the Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes, the paintings of George Herbert McCord, Hamilton Disston, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, Snail Kites, Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow, Wood Storks, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and Arthur R. Marshall.
  1. Pre-development era (pre-1880): Everglades comprise a 23,000 km2 drainage basin with broad flows up to 50km across but less than 1m deep (i.e. sheet flow), and relief less than 20m on the Florida peninsula. Documented in 1773 on the first map of Florida as the 'Riverglades', but then changed through a transcription error by 1856 to the Everglades. Audubon in 1838 and McCord in 1878 depict a wildlife-rich (c. 1100 plant species) and idyllic landscape of sawgrass, ridge and slough (shallow channels and low ridges on a bed of peat), and tree islands (occupying bedrock highs).
  2. Development Era (1880-1980): Disston (1844-1896) started draining the Everglades, which was continued by Broward (1857-1910). Agriculture developed but set back by hurricanes in 1926 and 1928, the latter killing around 3000 Flordians. In 1934, Lake Okeechobee was dredged and levees constructed around its margins, and the number of tree islands later declined dramatically. In 1948, the Central and Southern Florida Project was set up and the reduction of the Everglades contined down to 6,000 km2. The Everglades Agricultural Area established between 1954-1959, and the Tamiami Trail (levee and canal) in 1960, and by the end of the era there were 1300 water control stations and 2017 miles of canals and levees. Bird life also declines through this period e.g. Snail Kites decline to around 1000 individuals, mis-managment of Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow strongholds, and the migration of Wood Storks to water storage areas rather than natural habitats. If development continued to 2060 then almost all of Flordia will be urbanised and over 36 million people would live there.
  3. Restoration era (post-1980): 1990 Preservation 2000 Act allocated $3 Billion to buy land, 1994 Consent Decree, 2000 Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), expected to take 60 years and cost $17 Billion comprising 62 projects to help restore natural flows.
Prof Graf concluded his story by stating that the Everglades is 'a place to go to ask really important questions' and I'd agree.

The evening concluded with a BSG and RGS-IBG Joint Debate 'Fragile environments: are we at a tipping point'? The debate was introduced by Catherine Souch of the RGS, and Chaired with opening remarks by Prof Ken Gregory. The first speaker was Prof Stuart Lane (Durham University) who equated rapid change with the notion of 'tipping points'. He cited the work of Gladwell and bifurcation theory, the John Humphries effect, and that big catastrophes have big causes, and that people need to better cope with catastrophes when they happen. Prof Sue Smith (Cambridge University) followed and discussed how society deals with collapse and also about the 'ethic of care'. Prof Alan Thorpe (NERC) talked about climate as being quite stable and suggests that tipping points occur when climate flips from one state to another and drew some (later contested) examples from the palaeoclimate record. He then discussed tipping points in the context of future climate change with regard to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet (requiring a temperature rise of 3 degrees C locally), the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (requiring 8 degree C local warming plus sea-level rise), thermohaline circulation, El Nino-Southern Oscillation and its link to Amazon drought, and the Asian monsoon (current Pakistan floods may not be climate related). Lastly, Prof Chris Whitty (DfID) discussed tipping points at different scales, suggesting they are very common on the small scale e.g. extinction of species restricted to isolated hill tops, but that resilience of populations, particularly in developing countries was an important factor in determining the local impact of a disaster. There were some interesting questions from the floor before Prof Gregory summed up and we all made for the wine reception.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Ancient Mega Tsunami

Pencast I made of 'Ancient Mega Tsunami' broadcast on the National Geographic Channel in the UK at 9pm on Fri 16th July 2010. It features Dr Ted Bryant and his theory that a mega tsunami hit the eastern coast of Australia around AD1500. Ted has personally shown me some of the key sites in the field and the evidence is stronger than made out in the programme. There may also be accounts of a comet event in aboriginal legends. However, it is still a highly controversial theory. The programme may be repeated if you missed it - check out Sky TV.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

HEA Annual Conference 2010

Link to blog post about HEA Annual Conference, University of Hertfordshire, 28-29th June 2010.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

News Report: Tsunami could strike again

WalesOnline - News - Wales News - Tsunami could strike again. "Dr Lewis, curator of Caerleon’s National Roman Legion Museum, said: “We have a much better grip on forecasting weather. We can predict. They couldn’t predict.” But if it was a tsunami then we may have no warning - I don't think people appreciate why it's so important to consider the tsunami theory; storms you can predict, tsunami can arrive unannounced.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Linking Research and Teaching in Wales

Higher Education Academy book that I edited now published online (CLICK HERE) and available in hard copy at the HEA Annual Conference at the University of Hertfordhsire on 22-23rd June 2010.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Nottingham Trent University Annual Learning and Teaching Conference 29 March 2010

The PowerPoint handout from Professor Ray Land's (University of Strathclyde) keynote.
My notes from "Making the links: research-enhanced teaching at NTU" by Martyn Bennett, Lindsay Davies, Jane McNeil and Helen Puntha (Nottingham Trent University).

Data from Bennett et als study distributed at the Conference.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Chile-Pacific tsunami aftermath

The tsunami warning fo the Pacific has now been cancelled and the threat is over. Other than near the earthquake epicentre in Chile the tsunami appears not to have been very large or damaging, unlike the 1960 tsunami that was spawned by a much bigger earthquake at 9.5 magnitude.

Chile tsunami interview on BBC Wales

I was interviewed this morning on BBC Radio Wales's Good Morning Wales news programme. The programme can be heard for about 7 days after broadcast. My interview is about 5 minutes into the programme. Click on the blog title or this link to listen: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00r0zkw/Good_Morning_Wales_28_02_2010/

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Chile tsunami update

Watched live footage of tsunami in Hawaii, appears to be more of a gentle surge rather than a bore. About 1 m water rise on Big Island, and was almost an hour after their predicted arrival. There was also talk on CNN about seiching in Hilo Bay in Hawaii due to its funnel shape.

Elsewhere, on the Juan Fernandez Islands, where initial reports suggest a 40 m high tsunami, 3 fatalities have been confirmed, and another 10 missing. These islands are close to the epicentre and would have had little warning other than feeling the earthquake itself. Tsunami could refract (bend) around the islands focusing wave energy as the tsunami crest compresses so increasing wave heights. This would be particularly so on the eastern islands in the archipelago, such as Robinson Crusoe Island.

CNN broadcast photographs around 8.50pm (GMT) of tsunami entering a bay at Huatulco on the Pacific coast of Mexico and an eyewitness, Kathy Taylor, described the relatively small wave and the damage it caused. Further north at Ventura, California, some damage is reported.

There are also reports that tsunami up to 2 m high have hit the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, and given these islands are typically low-lying, there could be considerable damage there. But on Chatham Island the tsunami seems to have been only 20cm high.

Pictures are also now starting to be broadcast on CNN as I write of damage caused by the tsunami at Talcahuano (Chile)where large boats have been washed ashore and piled together in places. Judging from these pictures it is likely that the death toll will rise here, but one must remember that the 9.5 magnitude earthquake that struck this area on 22nd May 1960 generated a tsunami that killed 200 people only, so the 147 total for todays event may not grow too much.

Chile earthquake and Pacific tsunami

I've been watching events unfold in the Pacific today following the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Chile at 3.34am (local time) on today. The quake spawned a tsunami that must have arrived very quickly, within 30 minutes, on the Chilean coast as the epicentre was only 3 miles offshore. Unlike the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that arrived in the day, todays quake happened at night, so the number of people on Chile's beaches and seafronts should be minimal (let's hope). The tsunami was less than 1m high along most of the Chile coast, but was around 1.2 m at Valpariso and 2.4 m at Talcahuano near Concepcion. The offshore Juan Fernandez Islands were right in the path of the tsunami and I've seen unconfirmed reports that massive waves up to 40 m high battered Robinson Crusoe Island in the archipelago. As I write reports are coming in that the tsunami has reached the Chatham Islands on its way to New Zealand, and it is predicted to hit Hawaii in about 30 minutes from now! The evacuation sirens have been sounding since 6am (local time) there, so everyone should be out of the way by now - no one needs to die there, or any where more than an hour or so away from the epicentre.

Times Online - Eureka Zone - WBLG: Haiti tsunami is a warning to the UK

Times Online - Eureka Zone - WBLG: Haiti tsunami is a warning to the UK

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Leaving Nova Scotia

Woke up to quite heavy snowfall, with a few inches falling overnight. I was a little concerned about my flight, but it turned out that Halifax airport had far less snow than Wolfville. Rob Fensome kindly drove me to the airport.

Stopped off at Montreal for a quick meeting in the airport with Professor Cynthia Weston from McGill University. Cynthia is Director of the Learning and Teaching Unit there, so my counterpart. We drew up quite a list of activities that we could collaborate on, one of which is that she is now likely to do a keynote at the Newport NEXUS Conference in June. All quite exciting.

Just waiting now to get on my flight to Heathrow - should be on time.

Atlantic Geoscience Colloquium - Day 2

Day 2 of the Atlantic Geoscience Society 36th Annual Colloquium at the Old Orchard Inn, Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

The sessions started at 8am and I kicked-off the day with a talk by Sheridan Thompson-Graham from Memorial University, Newfoundland.For her Masters she is looking at coastal erosion at Mistaken Point in Newfoundland. The site is now famous for the oldest occurrence of Ediacaran fossils for which UNESCO World Heritage status is being sought. However, the coastal site is eroding and the need to get a handle on the rates. As well as marine erosion processes, the site is affected by an increasing number visitors, and the attention of palaeontologists who have extracted some fossil specimens and taken casts of other. Sheridan's study is a good, but perhaps unusual, example of applied coastal geomorphology. There are some similarities with the Dorset Coast in the UK that has already attained World Heritage status based on its fossiliferous rocks.

I then sat in on a couple of talks that dealt with mass transport off the Scotian shelf. Grant Wach from Dalhousie University touched on this and noted mass wasting in submarine canyons, but Mike Giles in his talk suggested that most of these slope movement events are probably linked to seismic triggers. He cited the example of the 1929 Grand Banks slide that was triggered by an 7.2 magnitude earthquake that generated a tsunami that killed 28 people onshore in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

For the rest of the morning I participated on a session devoted to the Bay of Fundy. Elizabeth Kosters and Brian Todd introduced the session and explained that this was third of its kind (I was at the last one too at the AGS Colloquium in Dartmouth in 2008). Brian's talk concerned mapping the glacial history of the Bay, and is able to piece together ice retreat after the Last Glacial Maximum, including the role of sea-level in determing whether retreating glaciers were grounded or floated.

John Shaw of the Geological Survey of Canada gave an interesting talk on the late Holocene history of the Minas Basin at the head of the Bay of Fundy. He has evidence that the tidal range there expanded dramatically around 4000 years ago and believes the basin mouth was blocked by a gravel barrier that breached allowing a full connection with the main Bay. He also suggested that a local aboriginal Glooscap legend, that tells of a beavers dam being destroyed by a whale, may be an oral historical account of the event. The breaching of a barrier would certainly lead to flooding around the basin margins that would have displaced any settlements located there.

There followed a series of presentations on the topic of tidal power generation in the Bay of Fundy.David Greenberg, Richard Karsten, and Gordon Fader all talked on the topic. The idea of building tidal barrages in the Bay of Fundy has been tried with, at best, limited success (e.g. Annapolis Royal Barrage), but in some cases building causeways across estuaries has had negative impacts. For example, and for reasons other than power generation e.g. at Windsor, and Moncton on the Petitcodiac River, sediment infilling rapidly followed causeway construction.

Having abandoned the idea of tidal barrages, Nova Scotia is now in the process of deploying three seabed-mounted turbines, kind of like big submarine wind turbines. The first was deployed in November 2009 in the Minas Passage, so it'll be interesting to follow how they get on.

Richard presented figures that reinforce why considering harnessing tidal energy is so important. The current thinking is for between 200-1000 turbines to be deployed in the Minas Passage area, capable of generating between 0.2 and 2 GW. To put this in perspective, a nuclear power station generates around 2 GW (around the same as two traditional coal fired power stations)! So there is real potential here to make a major contribution from tidal power.

However, although 2-3 GW is the upper target for now, the Minas Passage has 6.9 GW of extractable energy, equivalent to 3.5 nuclear or 7 coal-fired power stations, but harvesting above 2-3 GW would start to seriously affect the natural tidal system. It must be noted that the tidal flow through the Minas Passage is extreme, being up to 1 million m3 per second! The Amazon River only discharges 220,000 m3/sec and the Mississippi 16,200, so the Minas Passage is exceptional.

Gordon then addressed some issues related to the installation of the turbines themselves, such as the unknown nature of the substrate of the Minas Passage and Channel (what will the turbines be anchored to?), the effect of tidal current scouring around the turbine footings, and the laying of expensive cables in relation to what appear to be slumps on the Passage margin.

The Bay of Fundy session was wrapped up with a paper on salt marsh sedimentation by Casey O'Laughlin, a student at St. Mary's University (who won a student prize later in the day), and my talk on student fieldwork in macrotidal environments. I used my teaching in the Severn Estuary in the UK as a case study, but made links with the Bay of Fundy.

Lunch followed with the Society's AGM. After that I took a look at some of the poster presentations, and there were some very good ones.Two caught my interest. The first by N. Crowell and others at Acadia University on processes along the coast near Antigonish in northern Nova Scotia, where examples of beach progradation (Pomquet Beach, up to 1.21 m/yr) and erosion (Dunns Beach, up to 0.6 m/yr) were presented.

Ian Spooner (Acadia Uni again) and others poster reviewed the occurence of mass wasting hazards in the Atlantic Canada region. Examples include 1) a debris flow at Harbour Breton on 1st August 1973 that wiped out several houses, killing 4 children; 2) a landslide at Daniel's Harbour on 15-20th April 2007 where houses fell off an eroding coastal cliff; 3) a cave-roof collapse at Ferryland in 1823 killing 42 fishermen; 4) an avalanche at Big Pond on 5th February 1856 where a snowlside buried a farm killing the family of 5 inside; and 5) a landslide in the Annapolis Valley at West Paradise in late April 2003.

The last couple of talks I saw were interesting. Rebecca Jamieson of Dalhousie University gave a talk a metamorphic aureole in Halifax. I had breakfast at Rebecca's table this morning and she explained that this research came about because the weather was too bad for her to take her students on a field trip, so she reverted to examining some outcrops on the Dalhousie campus, which threw up some surprising results. This is a great example of how teaching led to research, rather than the other way around as is normally the case.

Trevor Brisco and others from Acadia University finished the session with a controversial report on the discovery of possible impact craters in southern Nova Scotia. Ian Spooner and his colleagues had reported the finding of the Astrid crater a few years ago, and another impact-like structure was identified at Bloody Creek in 1987. The new study is of what appears to be a cluster of craters called the North Group (to the north of Bloody Creek). The area is now flooded by the Dalhousie Lake Reservoir, which hinders access to the landscape, but allows echo-sounding mapping from a boat.But air photos are available of the area before it was flooded. The granite surrounding the structure has been examined and shocked quartz appears to be present, leaving little doubt that the structure is an impact crater. The elliptical shape of the crater suggest that the bolide approached at a very low angle (<15 degrees), and must have exploded as an air burst above ground to produce the multiple craters seen in the vicinity. The Astrid crater was tentatively dated to 12,000 years, and could by a candidate for the Younger Dryas cooling event. Trevor also suggested that the North Group could be of this date, but added that the site, and the Bloody Creek structure, might have been ice covered at the time, reducing the impact on the landsurface. Of course, it could be older, but the feature is fresh enough to suggest a relatively recent date. If this is correct then the suite of craters in the area could be due to the progressive break up of a bolide on its low angled approach.

At the evening banquet I sat with Rob Fensome and his wife, Alan Ruffman, and Don Forbes. Rob and I discussed coordinating the writing of a report of the Teaching Evolution workshop for Atlantic Geology. And Alan, Don and I also talked about tsunami. After the Society prizes and the guest speaker, the traditional end of conference singalong was a good way to wind down. Overall, an excellent conference and well worth the trip.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Atlantic Geoscience Colloquium - Day 1

Jet lag got the better of me and I was up at 5am, but at least had 7 hours sleep. Blue skies when the sun rose over Halifax, Nova Scotia, and temperature was again around -14 degrees C.

Rob had to pick up some stuff from the Bedford Institute of Oceanography and he gave me a tour, which was interesting, charting its development since 1962. Some of the research vessels were docked at the wharf, and he showed me the auditorium where they held a public Darwin anniversary outreach event in 2009, and possibly has the largest map of Canada on the wall!

We drove to Wolfville and he pointed out the Meguma turbidites along the way, and a small outcrop of granite. Passing over the Avon River we got to Acadia University in time for the Atlantic Geology editorial board around 11.30am. It was a good meeting, and the journal had success last year, already has a couple of papers for this year, and is financially sound. Main goal for the year is to get listed in the ISI database. This is important for the UK with the growing need for impact factors and citation measures demanded by the upcoming Research Excellence Framework.

After the Board we drove up the hill a little to the Clark Commons Building for our afternoon workshop on the Teaching of Evolution. Rob and his colleague Graham Williams did a rerun of a 2 hour outreach education workshop they do linking geological time, plate tectonics and evolution together.They use some nice teaching tools, such as fossils and rope! Good stuff, and appreciated by the mixed audience of students, high schoolteachers, and University lecturers.

This was followed by a panel debate on the topic. I was an invited panel member alongside 2 high school teachers and 2 other university lecturers. The discussion ranged from creationism to Darwin's integrity. Tracy Webb from Horton High School has developed an online open access resource which is worth looking at.

This finished around 5pm and we then went to the Old Orchard Inn, which is the main Colloquium venue.

The first session started at 7pm and I went to the Geohazards session. Don Forbes (BIO) opened up with a study of climate change impacts and adaptations in the Halifax region, and showed some good examples of coastal erosion and flooding risks. Tim Webster followed and demonstrated the use of LiDAR in coastal flood risk modeling in the Maritimes under future climate change scenarios.There were then a series of talks on the hazards related to abandoned gold mine shafts, arsenic in the mine tailings, radon gas in soils, and uranium. A good start to the Colloquium.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Journey to Canada

Arrived in Canada for the 36th Annual Colloquium of the Atlantic Geoscience Society (AGS).

The 11.05am Air Canada flight from Heathrow was a little delayed, but otherwise was fine. Most of the Atlantic was blanketed with cloud, and flying above it at around 10,000 m in the noonday sun gave a good insight in cloud albedo - incredibly bright.

The cloud started to break up south of Greenland as we approached Newfoundland. I had a window seat and had great views of fragmented sea ice, with some interesting flow structures.

We flew down the middle of Newfoundland and had great views of the coast and inland landscape. The glacial heritage is clearly visible, and some evidence for isostatic rebound going on took the form of series of isolation basins perched above the coast to the west of Deer Lake. Also, saw some beautiful fjords near Corner Brook.

Landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, around 2pm where the ground temperature was only -4 degrees C. We decended through cloud at around 1700 m, but there were some breaks that opened up to blue skies and quite warming winter sun.

I was met by Dr Rob Fensome of Natural Resources Canada. He and I are co-editors for the AGS journal Atlantic Geology, and he kindly offered to put me up tonight before we both go to the Colloquium tomorrow. Rob had visited me at the University of Wales, Newport, in June 2009 to speak at the Newport NEXUS Conference, so it was good for me to be making a return visit.

Rob and his wife took me for dinner at a pub called Jamiesons in Dartmouth, which served excellent fish and chips (haddock not cod), washed down with a couple of pints of IPA (Indian Pale Ale).

Rob is currently editing a book - Geology of Canada - as a Canadian contribution to the UN's Year for Planet Earth (2009). It sounds a great project and the book should be published this year. He's had previous success when he helped put together a popular geology book called the Last Billion Years.

As both Rob and I have palaeontological backgrounds, we have been invited to sit as panel members of a Colloquium session tomorrow on the Teaching of Evolution, so I'm looking forward to that.