About Professor Simon Haslett

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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, 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.

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