Welcome to the blog of the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at the University of Northampton. This will keep you up to date with both student and staff activities.

The Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences includes staff with interests in biological sciences, conservation, ecology, environmental sciences, environmental statistics, geography and waste management. We offer a range of degree programmes and have a number of postgraduate research students. For more information about studying with us please visit http://www.northampton.ac.uk/.

Monday, 27 October 2014

First year Geographers visit London

On Friday 17th October first year Geography students visited London.  Working in groups, they explored key sites in central London, taking photographs and making observations in relation to a particular theme.  The exercise was designed to help students develop skills of thinking creatively and critically about a particular topic, select appropriate information to support an argument, work effectively as part of a group, and observe and record data in the field.  Findings were reported in real time, as each group ‘tweeted’ their photographs and observations.  The themes explored included ‘control’, ‘change’ and ‘sustainability’.  The exercise also provided a good opportunity for students to get to know each other.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Landscapes south of Northampton

On Saturday 18th October two coach-loads of first year students spent the day travelling around various landscapes south of Northampton.  This trip is part of module ENV1107 Principles of Physical Geography.  

Four sites were visited: Dunstable Downs, Heath and Reach, Stony Stratford and Courteenhall. At each site the students were encouraged to work in small groups to describe the landscape. Students needed to consider topography, scale and how the landscapes compared to each other. Using inclinometers they took slope angle measurements which will help with their descriptions and allow comparisons between the four landscapes. 

Valley at Heath and Reach
At Heath and Reach each group used the inclinometers and a tape measure to measure the cross profile and long profile of a valley. Following the field trip the groups will use these data to produce to-scale diagrams of the valley. These will be presented to the tutors as part of the assessment for this module - a group interview.  

The group at Stony Stratford

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Wells for India Director visits Northampton University

Kevin Cook

On Thursday October 9th Om Prakash Sharma, the Director of the Wells for India Office in Udaipur, Rajasthan, took time out from a busy schedule of meetings to visit the University of Northampton to talk to first and second year geographers and international development students. 

The first year geographers had been set the task of raising the funds to enable the charity to provide 22 biosand filters for families living in a village in the Thar desert in Rajasthan. Each filter costs £30 and by carrying out tasks such as selling Wells for India Christmas cards, making cakes or simply asking for donations, they hope to raise the £660 for the project to proceed. Working in teams, they will be contributing to the university’s social responsibility agenda.

Om chose to concentrate on two main ideas in his illustrated talk to second year students. Firstly he contrasted the top-down, large scale approaches to providing water with small scale, community focused projects. Using the massive Indira Gandhi canal as an example, he showed that, whilst it has irrigated many thousands of hectares, it has also bypassed the poorest desert villages providing drinking water mainly for urban areas.

Referring to the work of Wells for India, Om emphasised the urgent need to return to the traditional water harvesting techniques used throughout Rajasthan for many thousands of years. He blamed large scale approaches such as the Indira Gandhi canal for downgrading schemes such as taankas leading to the ancient technologies almost being lost.

A single family taanka in the Thar Desert

These two themes are an important part of Wells for India’s philosophy. The charity works with the poorest of the poor at the village level and is providing the funding to construct hundreds of water harvesting projects in three contrasting areas of Rajasthan. In the Aravali Hills region it is using gully plugs and anicuts to increase water recharge and raise water tables. In the Thar desert it is constructing taankas and beris to store monsoon rainfall and thus reduce the distance women have to walk to get their water. In the Sambhar salt lake region it is installing roof water harvesting systems.

Fields of wheat in the Aravali Hills made possible 
following the construction of check dams across the valley

The university is most grateful to Om for joining us for an afternoon. For more information about the charity and about Om’s work in Rajasthan visit the Wells for India website.

Om and Kevin

Friday, 10 October 2014

Graduates return to the University to talk to students about careers

This week we welcomed two recent graduates back to the University to talk to our third year Geography and Environmental Science students about life after University.  Tommy Fojut spoke about his current role as a Graduate Transport Planner.  He spoke about what the role involves, what the application process was like, and about the importance of getting relevant work experience.  Matt Gibbs outlined how he had used speculative applications to gain an internship in the marketing sector.  He explained how this internship had led to an opportunity for a paid position, and described his current role.  Both Tommy and Matt answered questions from the students and gave tips on what they could do now to enhance their employability.

University of Northampton graduates Matt and Tommy

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Investigating two Northamptonshire landscapes

On a cold but mostly sunny day a coach-load of geographers set off from Avenue Campus to visit two locations in Northamptonshire. The aim of the day was to investigate two 'ordinary, but contrasting' landscapes.  

After a brief introductory talk at each site students embarked on a short walk through the landscape, describing and sketching as they went. There was then time for discussion about the processes involved in the development of the landscape at both locations.  Finally students were encouraged to compare and contrast the two landscapes.   

This field visit is part of ENV2123 Physical Geography Practical and offers students the opportunity to recap and reflect on what they learnt in their first year, as well as introducing them to topics that will be covered in other second year modules. 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Five weeks in Finnmark with the British Exploring Society

Naomi Holmes

In July and August 2014 I spent five amazing weeks in Arctic Finnmark (Norway) as the Chief Scientist on a British Exploring Expedition. British Exploring is a personal development charity which aims to ‘develop personal and practical skills that are of genuine long-term value to those taking part’. British Exploring allows young people (ages 16-25) to take part in scientific expeditions to challenging environments. A trainee leader programme is also run during the expedition allowing a small group of 18-30 year olds to develop their leadership skills in an expedition setting.

The whole expedition numbered nearly 80 in total, with nearly 50 young explorers who were split into five groups. The groups, known as fires, spent time exploring and carrying out fieldwork in the areas surrounding the Langfjordjökelen and Öksfjordjökelen glaciers. Each fire had an adventure and a science leader, and my fire, Stor, was lucky enough to have the expedition photographer (and Creative Media Leader) attached to us for a while.  Other leaders included a Chief Leader, a Base camp Manager, a Trainee Leader Mentor, and two Doctors.

The expedition base camp (Photo 1) was in a valley called Sörfjorddalen. All fires spent the first days of the expedition here, carrying out science projects around base camp and receiving rope, crampon and ice axe training further up the valley. Science projects carried out around base camp focussed on investigating the environmental impact of the expedition, with a particular focus on trampling/soil erosion. About 45 minutes up-valley from base camp was the lake Tenvatnet. The lake was home to an Arctic Tern colony and all young explorers spent time observing the colony. Many explorers also spent some time in an inflatable kayak (Photo 2), collecting lake depth data in order to produce a bathymetry of the lake. Freshwater ecology studies (Photo 3) were carried out on the stream outflow from the lake; with cased caddisflies a common finding. 

Following the initial period of scientific fieldwork and mountain training the fires all set off on their own adventures.  During the expedition Stor visited a number of locations, basing ourselves in each for a few nights while we explored the area.  At the first location (Fjorddalen) we spent a day on the glacier (Photo 4).  After a wet start the sun came out, spoiling us with some fabulous views (Photo 5).  The next day I spent some time with the young explorers undertaking a study on pollination of flowering plants.  This work was carried out alongside a photography workshop, allowing everyone to develop their photography skills (Photo 6).  After this, Stor returned to base camp to prepare for their next adventure – a trip to Langfjordhamn.  

After an exciting fast catamaran ride to Langfjordhamn we spent the night in a disused school.  The next morning we set off to Skalsa Bay (Photo 7), where we spent two nights.  The young explorers were to carry out their 24 hour personal development ‘solos’ here, staying in their bivi bags overnight, but due to very heavy rain, along with thunder and lightning, this was abandoned with many of the young explorers returning to the relative safety of their tents overnight.  From Skalsa Bay the group walked almost to the snout of the glacier they would be exploring next; one of the fastest retreating and downwasting glaciers in Europe.  Indeed, when I plotted the position of our camp (Photo 8) onto the 1979 map of the area, it appeared that we were camping nearly 1km up the glacier! We were definitely not sleeping on the ice.  Due to the recent retreat of the glacier a number of geomorphological features were visible (Photo 9).  The next day we had an early start in order to spend a full day on the ice.  The retreat rates of this glacier are studied and the young explorers saw a number of ablation stakes which are used to monitor the glacier.  Unfortunately the poor weather conditions meant that we did not make it to the ice cap, but after about four hours turned around and retreated down the glacier to the safety of our camp.

Following this we returned to Langfjordhamn and took the fast catamaran back to Nuvsvåg, the nearest harbour to base camp.  Two full days of science followed.  The young explorers spent a day taking water samples (Photo 10) from the meltwater stream in Sörfjorddalen, travelling from base camp up to the glacier snout.  The samples were filtered at base camp (Photo 11) in order to investigate the suspended sediment present.   A TV news reporter from the Norwegian broadcaster NRK spent the day with us and we featured on the national evening news programme ‘Norge i dag’ later in the week.  The following day the final trampling survey was undertaken at base camp.  In the afternoon Stor visited a lake in Brattnesdalen, a nearby valley, and had a go at sediment coring (Photo 12).  The last few days of the expedition were spent drying kit out at another disused school.  While here all fires prepared a ‘performance’ which they gave to some of the Norwegian residents on the penultimate evening of the expedition. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent in Finnmark and I would encourage you to take a look at the adventures on offer with British Exploring in 2015.  If you want to find out more about British Exploring visit their website or email me and I will happily talk to you about it!  [naomi.holmes at northampton.ac.uk].  If you do decide to sign up for an expedition, I'd be grateful if you named me on your application form!