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

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Saturday, 15 October 2011

Peer review

Running the peer review gauntlet (from

Several recent articles from different sources have addressed how to write a good review of a research article, and many start with the assumption that few PhD students are given any training at all in how to approach peer-reviewing. Not the case for ESPM students however, as we have been learning how to helpfully review each others' manuscripts, and also picking up everyones' favourite buzzwords along the way (is four uses of 'elucidate' in one ms too many?!).

Two useful places to start are Drubin (2011) 'Any jackass can trash a manuscript, but it takes a good scholar to create one' and Nicholas and Gordon (2011) 'A quick guide to writing a solid peer review'. Further ideas, and reasoning for why to do the review anyway comes from the always informative Nature Careers section, with Gewin (2011) 'Rookie Review' interviews a postdoc who wins awards for his reviews.

Other useful articles in related areas, are:

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Occasional geomorphic educational toy#1: PhET interactive glacier

The PhET Glacier Simulation

Click to Run

An interactive glacier simulation tool as part of a series of online, research-based science simulations from PhET at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The glacier model allows you to investigate the effect of changing climate on glacier dynamics, and "Adjust mountain snowfall and temperature to see the glacier grow and shrink. Use scientific tools to measure thickness, velocity and glacial budget", it even makes terminal moraines when it retreats - hours of fun! The "scientific tools" may look a bit basic, but actually they make the sim more useful for understanding glacier processes, and this is meant to be high school level stuff (although preliminary research indicates that it keeps doctoral-level researchers happily occupied for quite some time...).
Also recommended, their 'John Travoltage' sim (if only he danced) for learning about static electricity at an undergraduate level, and a huge array of more useful physical concepts, all as Java downloads.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

A hypertext for the appreciation of glaciers and how they work

Glaciers and Glacial Geology is a useful website from students at Montana State University giving information about all aspects of the cryosphere, for complete beginners (Introductory section) and those of us who are just forgetful (Advanced section). Lots of illustrations, some hand drawn, and animations and even more enthusiasm. The reference list is missing, but then this is an undergraduate project...

Friday, 29 July 2011

St Beatus Caves field trip with Philipp Haeuselmann

The XVIII INQUA Congress mid-conference field trips also offered the opportunity to stay a little closer to Bern and learn about the erosional history of the Berner Oberland. Philipp Haeuselmann and Frank Preusser led a double-header to the Aareschlucht and St Beatus Caves.

The Aareschlucht is a spectacular gorge incised into a limestone riegel which transects the Aare valley east of Interlaken. The Aare is a sizeable river here, and enters the gorge beneath vertical cliffs 10-15m apart. The most incredible feature of the gorge, though, is the way the walls on both sides develop amazing overhangs; at one point the walkway above the river occupies the whole gap between the walls on either side. There's also some impressive Swiss engineering to have put in a walkway down the gorge at all...

The St Beatus Caves represent the easily-accessible part of a giant cave system used by Haeuselmann et al. (2007) to investigate the longer-term history of the region. Using cosmogenic isotope burial dating of cave sediments, Haeuselmann et al. discovered a 10-fold increase in incision rates in the Aare valley at the Mid-Pleistocene Transition. It was fantastic to see some of the caves involved in the study, the complex history of phreatic (under the water table) and vadose (above the water table) caves in the system, and the incredible volumes of water moving in subterranean rivers after heavy rainfall! Plus our short walk represented a tiny fraction of the entire, enormous cave network.

Aletsch Glacier field trip with Meredith Kelly

View of the Great Aletsch Glacier from Chalchofu (2051 m), with the Eiger in the background
The INQUA mid-conference field trips offered plenty of choice of beautiful Alpine scenery to visit, but Meredith Kelly's trip to the Aletsch Glacier, via a very cold Grimsel Pass, has to have been one of the best trips! After a brief stop at Grimsel Pass, where, as promised, horizontal snow and cold winds made most participants regret not bringing more fleeces, we drove through the Rhone Valley to get a cable car up for a hike along the left lateral Esesen moraine. The upper Rhone Valley supported the highest ice domes of the LGM Alpine ice cap, and Meredith showed us sites where she had taken samples for cosmogenic nuclide exposure age dating to determine the LGM extent and retreat rate of the glacier, published in Kelly et al. (2004a). The glaciers in this region have flowed over tough gneissic basement rock, so that the LGM trimlines at ~2700–2800 m above sea level (Kelly et al., 2004b) are clearly visible on the valley sides, with the terrace of the Hotel Reiderfurka conveniently located for a leisurely viewing of these features over a few local beers.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

OSL 101 in five seconds

Click on the image above to view a larger version

Geomorphologists! Still confused by what OSL is actually measuring? Still think it is a weird black-box technique? While I can't offer much reassurance on the latter question, recommended reading to help answer this is Georgina King's excellent paper in Radiation Measurements from January. For the former, maybe this animation will help!

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Separating climate signals from tectonic forcing as a control on stratigraphy

A paper in this week's Nature Geoscience by John Armitage et al. from Imperial College, investigates the different effects of climate and tectonic forcing on the transient grain size distribution of geomorphic systems, and the effect this has on stratigraphy. They explore the complexities in understanding the sedimentary record as an archive of climate change and tectonic events through a numerical model, including downstream changes in grain size distribution as a key control. Their results show, for example, that a doubling of precipitation rate in the catchment of an alluvial fan causes a sharp increase in sediment flux over a 0.5 Myr period, that doubles the length of the fan. The model produces beautiful cross-sections showing where particular grain sizes occur in an alluvial fan following different types of forcing, to understand the duration of stratigraphic responses and compare this to field examples. The authors even helpfully include the equations used in their model to try at home!

Monday, 10 January 2011

Success of ESPM students at conference

ESPM ended last year with a winning spirit. The School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Science Postgraduate Conference was held on 9 December, 2010. Our ESPM students participated in the poster session and won the following prizes:

1st prize: Rajasmita Goswami for her poster titled, “Linking onshore and offshore erosion and sediment transport in the Strait of Messina, Italy.”

2nd prize: Ann Rowan for her poster titled, “Numerical modelling of climatically-driven drainage capture and sediment flux, South Island, New Zealand.”

4th prize: Oliver Duffy for his poster titled, “Landscape Response to Active Extensional Faulting and Multiple Local Base Levels: The Perachora Peninsula, Eastern Gulf of Corinth, Greece.”

Thursday, 6 January 2011

AGU10 Robert P. Sharp lecture - Doug Jerolmack

Click the image to link to the video of the lecture
One of the highlights of the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco on 17th December this year was the inaugural Robert P. Sharp lecture, given by Doug Jerolmack from the University of Pennsylvania. The Earth and Planetary Surface Processes section gave two new awards this year, Bill Dietrich being the other awardee. Doug gave a very entertaining talk titled "Noise is the new signal: Moving beyond zeroth-order geomorphology".
Doug's lecture aimed to 'celebrate variability' in every aspect of geomorphology, rather than just averaging it out to look for a primary signal. He discussed the importance of timescale in measuring rates of surface processes, and how what we call a transient feature of a landscape changes its behaviour depending on the timescale over which we observe it. This can even be seen in totally uniform grains, as sediment transport will alter the organisation of their bed structures and so change the threshold for entrainment, as seen in work by Charru et al., (2004). We had a whistle-stop tour of the behaviour of rice grains flowing downslope, avulsion timescales, how the inactive proportion of an alluvial fan decays with a harmonic function over time (Cazanacli et al., 2002) and finished up with the noise-induced stability of turbulence. All in, a great round-up of the state of play in studies of sediment transport, and the future of geomorphology. The video is available at the AGU website for those who missed it.