Glacial geomorphology, fluvial geomorphology, hillslope geomorphology, submarine geomorphology, tectonic geomorphology...

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Friday, 30 April 2010

Modelling glacial mass balance

Lots of talk about glacial modelling this week after Roger Braithwaite's talk, which included New Zealand as the place with the highest glacial fluxes and mass balance sensitivity in the IPCC reports. A particular favourite at the moment is the recent Anderson et al., (2010) paper looking at the response of the Brewster Glacier to climate change. Their results show the huge sensitivity of New Zealand's glaciers to even a small rise in temperature, which has significant implications for global sea level.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Occasional YouTube video #6 - Eyjafjallajökull jökulhlaup

Just a reminder that ash clouds aren't the only consequences of Icelandic eruptions...

Friday, 23 April 2010

Pseudo-weekly GoogleEarth placemark #8 - La Hermida Gorge

La Hermida Gorge is the undoubted geomorphological highlight of the University of Manchester 3rd year trip to northern Spain. Incised into the Carboniferous limestones of the Picos de Europa thrust sheet, the relief in the gorge exceeds 1km in places. The road weaves its way down the gorge between Potes and Panes (ha, ha - lost on the Spaniards), passing through Lebena and La Hermida. Several times it crosses bridges to afford a great view of the Rio Deva, while frequent metal netting is deployed to try to catch the rockfall from the valley slides. Features on display include giant rockfall boulders, caves, scree cones and terraces. A spectacular setting, well worth the visit, though perhaps not the best place for a nervous driver...

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Soapbox moment

The sell-out public lecture by Prof. Brian Cox at the University of Manchester last night went down a storm to a packed house of staff, students, schools and the general public. Questions ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, a small kid asking "why can we sometimes see the moon and the sun at the same time?" making a bit of light relief from some serious inquiries as to why the Higgs boson might have mass.
However, apart from a whirlwind tour of the Large Hadron Collider and the beautifully simple equation that describes how the three most important forces of nature work (gravity doesn't count), Brian was keen to discuss UK government funding for science in the run-up to next month's general election. Whilst as a BBC employee, he was not allowed to tell us who he would be voting for, he could impartially say that in relation to science funding budgets, the Lib Dems' manifesto is the most detailed, and that the proposed 1% increase in national insurance would produce revenue that could potentially triple science funding. This graphic from the Guardian was included in his slides to illustrate the current level of funding;

(The black circle top left is total UK research funding for sciences and humanities)

CERN meanwhile costs each British taxpayer £2.80 per year - very good value!

Converting New Zealand grids

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) has a very easy-to-use handy tool to convert between the various geodetic datums used in New Zealand and UTM, or any other datum that you might like to use. Useful as most of the data available is given using the local grid, which is difficult for a program such as Matlab to understand.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Success for ESPM researcher

Basin Research Studentship Prize 2009

Good news this week within ESPM as Basin Research announced the winner of the 2009 Basin Research Studentship Prize. Our very own superwoman Deborah McCormack (see above) was highly commended for her poster titled 'Linkages between Gulf Stream behaviour and ice-marginal landsystems during the deglaciation of northern Scotland' at the Annual AGU Conference in San Francisco (December 2009). This follows hot on the heels of a similar flying success this time last year by David Foster, for his studies of glacial buzzsaw along with climatic and tectonic feedbacks in the Basin and Range Province, USA.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Brian Cox explains what luminescence is


Sometimes it needs a physicist to make things clearer. After months of luminescence dating (OSL) and still struggling with the "so, electrons in a grain of quartz, energy goes in, electrons get trapped, more energy and then they jump out, releasing photons..." arm-waving explanation of what luminescence dating is actually measuring, it was nice to see Prof. Brian Cox doing a better job of it, whilst explaining time itself, in this clip from BBC2's Horizon 'How Do We Know What Time It Is?'.

Brian will be giving a lecture at the University of Manchester this week, discussing the universe. His brand of rockstar-physicist (TM) astronomy has proved so popular that all the tickets were snapped up in 12 hours, but a live webcast of the lecture can be viewed online.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Pseudo-weekly GoogleEarth placemark #7 - Cotahuasi-Ocoña Canyon

Understanding canyon incision on the margins of the Andes illuminates the uplift history of the range. Cotahuasi-Ocoña Canyon is one of the deeply incised canyons along the western edge of the Andes. Schildgen et al. have just published a study of canyon incision and knickpoint migration, using apatite 3He/4He thermochronometry. While the technique, based on the spatial distribution of 4He within an apatite grain, is a bit of a head-scratcher, especially to non-geochemists, it is extremely powerful, giving a detailed cooling/exhumation history from a single grain, rather than the multiple samples that more traditional thermochronological techniques require. Schildgen et al. deduce that the incision of the Cotahuasi-Ocoña canyon took place by knickpoint migration, rather than the uniform onset of rapid incision.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Pseudo-weekly GoogleEarth placemark #6 - Denali (Mt McKinley)

Denali has the greatest relief of any mountain on Earth, and so represents an important exception to the glacial buzzsaw hypothesis... The height is due to the strength of the granites it is made from, and uplift due a bend in the Denali Fault (which has also moved Denali from ~200 miles further east since it started rising about ~5 Ma).

Some additional GoogleEarth resources for Denali:
US National Parks layer
Topographic map overlay
USGS Real-time earthquakes

The 3rd November, 2002 Denali Fault earthquake was actually ~100 km east of Denali. Resources for this include a comprehensive multimedia gallery and a surface rupture map available in various formats.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

It's official! Mt Everest is 8848m tall... or is it?

Controversy reigns over the height of the world's tallest mountain! News comes today that Nepal and China have finally agreed that the sensible way to measure Mt Everest/Chomolungma/Qomolangma/Sagarmatha is to the top of the rock, rather than the top of the snow, and that they have settled on the height determined by an Indian survey in 1955, 8,848m. However, the National Geographic Society disagrees; in their expedition of May 1999, the height was surveyed using GPS to be 8,850m. That's apparently 2m of uplift in 44 years, 45mm/yr! At that rate it's probably 8,850.5m by now...

(Mostly) Free GoogleEarth tools

Yet another good thing to come out of Idaho, Earth Point is a collection of free (at a limited use level; first 200 lines) GoogleEarth tools developed by Bill Clark that allow users to do useful things such as convert lat/long data from an Excel spreadsheet to a .kml file that can then be viewed in GoogleEarth. Unlimited use is very reasonably a fraction of a penny per line, or free for academic use. I've been using it to make nice maps of climate data collection stations in New Zealand.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Possibly even more occasional book review - Stop what you're writing, and read this

Not only is David Schultz the newest addition to Atmospheric Science at the University of Manchester and our favourite expert on orographic precipitation, he is also the author of the excellent Eloquent Science, a practical guide to becoming a better writer, speaker and atmospheric scientist. Covering such essential topics as how to plan your manuscript, use the much-abused colon and make beautiful figures for scientific publications, this book opens up the possibilities of how to share science without putting the conference room to sleep. Also covered in practical detail are many topics of interest to any research scientist, including how to resolve ordering of author lists and so have happy collaborators, make presentation slides that don't need ibuprofen to sit through, all round 'be a better researcher' advice and it is of course a pleasure to read! Apart from being very glad I read this before making a start on the thesis I think it would also have been great to learn the principles of effective communication as an undergrad.

Available from

Occasional YouTube video #5 - Surging glacier

To follow the glacier time-lapse photography videos, here's some time-lapse footage of the 1982-1983 surge of Variegated Glacier, Alaska. As a special bonus, this one also has a fun soundtrack...

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Thursday, 1 April 2010

OS Maps for all!

The Ordnance Survey has started free download of its maps. The free products can be accessed directly here (although the site has been slow today...) Hopefully it will make life considerably easier for anyone working on the geomorphology of the UK (and searching for a little more information than GoogleEarth provides...! Click here for further commentary and a guide to what is available.