The School of Geosciences Community BEES group have had a super busy year of organising fantastic events for student and staff. Check out their blog to see what they have been up to as they reflect on the year!
The School of Geosciences Community BEES group have had a super busy year of organising fantastic events for student and staff. Check out their blog to see what they have been up to as they reflect on the year!
It’s currently mid-way through Semester 2 and our MSc in GIS class has just handed in our formal Dissertation Plans. Only a few weeks of classes left and then we move into full-time dissertation project work! I can’t believe how fast this has come up!!
2017 has started off excellently – I wasn’t able to go home to Australia over the mid-semester holidays, so I stayed in Edinburgh for the winter. I got to celebrate Christmas in Scotland, had the Hogmanay fireworks right next to my dorm and went for a quick holiday trip to Norway and Sweden! The beginning of Semester 2 has been the busiest part of the year yet (if you’re an incoming student – be prepared for February to go FAST), but even though it’s meant a few late nights in the Drummond St computer labs (my second home), I’ve still had enough free time to go on some day trips to Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Fife, North Berwick and the Scottish Borders, go to weekly seminars (there’s always a great bunch on every week, in GeoSciences and beyond!), watch 6 Nations rugby matches down at the pub and catch a few really good movies! Even if sometimes it feels like there’s not enough time to do everything, it’s definitely still possible to fit in fun things around study.
I was prepared for a cold and rainy winter, but the weather in Edinburgh has stayed incredibly nice – still a lot of blue and sunny days! As an Australian, I was very excited to get two (!) days of snow…. I only wish there could have been a bit more of it 😀 But spring is fully on its way – there are flowers popping up all over town and easter eggs in the supermarkets. I’m looking forward to diving in to some project work!
As part of the Festival of Creative Learning (FCL) I once again organised art to be exhibited in the Crew Building (King’s Buildings). This year I tried to really test people on being creative and came up with a slightly obscure theme- the unappreciated world.
In our busy day-to-day lives we often don’t take the time to appreciate the world around us. For this year’s art exhibition I wanted staff and students to think about this theme and send me photos, paintings and even sculptures for the event.
We had almost 40 submissions to the exhibition (see images above) and it was wonderful to see a great balance between the number of submissions from staff, PhD and undergraduate students. On the Thursday of FCL we had a drinks reception where people came and enjoyed the art over a glass of wine. Our guests this year were The Arty Scientists who came and talked to us about some of the cool stuff they were doing as part of FCL. One of the highlights of the afternoon was giving out prizes for favourite pieces. First place when to “The Circles of Leaf” by Andy Griffiths who is a PhD student within The School of GeoSciences. Andy has kindly provided some information about his research which inspired his submission.
“Largely the result of serendipity, both photos were taken while conducting fieldwork along an elevation gradient in the Montane Cloud Forests of the Peruvian Andes. My research focuses on the plant group Miconieae, and aims to understand potential evolutionary and functional constraints on the elevational distribution of plant species. A number of environmental trends are associated with changes in elevation, for example, the reduction in temperature of approximately 0.5°C for every 100m of elevation gain. Such trends allow elevational gradients to be used as natural laboratories of environmental change, in which we can study how different environments influence species distributions.
During one of many nights spent camping out in the forest, I chanced upon the interesting effect of backlighting my leaf collections with a head torch. In the resultant photo, the light illuminates numerous tiny trichomes, a morphological adaptation, believed to reduce herbivory by impeding the movement of insects and other organisms across the leaf surface. Herbivory is thought to decrease with elevation; as such we might expect fewer adaptations such as trichomes in plant species found at higher elevations.
In order to measure a number leaf traits, such as the ratio of leaf area to dry weight, I used a ½ inch diameter craft hole punch to cut leaf discs of a known area – easier to dry and process in the wet and humid environment of the Montane Cloud Forest than complete leaves. Looking at a pile of discarded discs I was struck by the contrasts of form and colour – many shades of green – and took a photo. Perhaps this photo has a future on the impossible jigsaw puzzle shelf, between to the baked beans and buttons!”
The drinks reception was finished off by some live music provided by GeoScience staff and students, which was great fun for everyone!
The art is still up so please feel free to pop by and see what the unappreciated world looks like to our staff and students. Maybe you will be inspired to look a little closer at the natural world around you too!
As an Ecological and Environmental Sciences student last year we were required to study over the summer; part of our course involved a field project to do during the holidays….but it was worth it for two reasons; A) it was fun and interesting and B) it means that this semester I only have to do two courses instead of three. And I have been taking full advantage of my extra free time.
The last few weeks there’s been lots going on and I have managed to go on two fantastic weekends away. Being parts of societies at the university of Edinburgh is great fun! Early February wasn’t as snowy as hoped for; so when I went to the Cairngorms with the mountaineering club we had fantastic walking conditions; and some folk had great fun climbing. On the Sunday I was very lucky to get on a winter skills course to top up my navigational and ice axe skills.
Then this past weekend I went to another of Scotland’s iconic areas; Glencoe. It was another great trip. On the sunday me and a friend had a great walk and as we went we identified the flora!
Sadly the weather wasn’t all as fantastic as it could have been but it was snowy on the tops and very atmospheric!
One criterion that strongly attracted me to the University of Edinburgh’s Environment, Culture and Society MSc programme is its commitment to interdisciplinary studies. Studying the environment crosses multiple academic disciplines, including the social sciences, the natural sciences and the humanities. This is the very spirit of the Framing Interdisciplinarity film festival, which highlights the connections between the environment and the arts, including a screening last week of Wolf Totem in the Institute of Geosciences, followed by a short panel discussion led by programme director Prof. Emily Brady.
Wolf Totem is a Chinese language film (with subtitles) directed by Jean-Jacques Arnaud and is generally based on the book of the same name. It is a story of human intervention in the environment set in Outer Mongolia during China’s Cultural Revolution. In short, it demonstrates the tensions caused in the environment when human beings interfere with nature, including driving species to (near-)extinction.
This film is difficult to watch for several reasons, not the least of which are the frequent scenes of human cruelty toward animals. Whilst the cinematography of this film is fantastic, the story and the script both drew criticisms from the academic panel. First, the film diverts from the orignal book in that it softens the book’s even harsher depictions of cruelty toward animals, and the film’s ending shows the main characters making peace with the wolves at the end; the book’s ending maintained the harsh, bloody tone. Also, the panel took issue with the way that it depicted Mongolians’ views of the wolf versus the way the culture actually does and historically has. The film showed the wolf as a revered creature in their cultural identity, with the post-screening panel suggesting that the Mongolians actually viewed the wolf as a predator which needed to be eliminated at all costs as a threat to their sheep.
These criticisms notwithstanding, this film still provides powerful examples of the dominance that Homo sapiens has over the natural environment and how our behaviour makes a very strong impact with long-lasting effects. Despite its flaws, Wolf Totem sends a strong message that others ought to heed.
This year will be the third time that I run an art exhibition where GeoScience students and staff celebrate the natural world. I really enjoy this time of year as the art exhibition creates a great buzz in the Crew Building (where the exhibition takes place and where I spend the majority of my time). In my role as a University Teacher I am lucky to interact with many students but I find this event gives me the opportunity to talk to staff and students about what they are planning to submit (many of whom I haven’t seen before).
My overall aim for the exhibition across years is to help us communicate our interest in science and nature better. This year I am asking a bit more of people and I want them to focus more on the unappreciated world. This could be things that you encounter on your way to work or field site which you never take time to enjoy it’s splendour. For staff and students doing research there maybe things in your data collection that is actually really beautiful but is overlooked.
This year the event is called See and Inspire and that’s exactly what I hope to achieve from the event. Not only for people to be inspired by the beauty of the painting/ photograph or sculpture which is being displayed but also in the natural environment or research on which it was based.
If you are interested in participating in this event you better get your art in quick as spaces are filling up fast! If you would like to submit a painting/ sculpture or photograph please contact me asap to reserve a space for your art (Christina.Coakley@ed.ac.uk).
Deadline for photograph submissions will be Wednesday the 15th of February.
All art work will be displayed from Monday the 20th of February and a formal drinks reception with special guest, prizes and potentially live music will take place on Thursday the 23rd 2-4pm in the Crew Foyer.
This year’s event is in collaboration with The Arty Scientists and The Community BEES. The Community BEES are a group set up to help create a sense of community within the Ecology and Environmental Science Programme, click here to read their blog. The Arty Scientists are a group of scientists who also want to communicate science through art. They are hosting two workshops in FCL, make sure you check these out (click here to visit their events page).
We look forward to seeing you art!!
Christina Coakley (University Teacher)
To learn about our past events please use the links below.
I celebrated New Years with my grandparents in Colima, Mexico, enjoying an entire week in this tropical paradise. This post describes a day in Colima, a day trip to Tapalpa, an afternoon in the magical town of Comala, and shows the Colima’s residents unique relationship with el El Volcán de Colima, formed from two majestic peaks.
A Day in Colima
I wake up to the screechy squawking of the chachalaca bird, then go downstairs for breakfast, el desayuno, with my grandparents. I feast on fresh fruit, toast with chia seed jam, and a cup of cold milk or orange juice. Once in a while we have tamales, an absolute treat. Knowing lunch takes place at two or three in the afternoon, I stuff myself with as much food as possible, then change into my bathing suit. After coating myself with an absurd amount of insect repellent (to avoid being infected with diseases like Zika and Dengue) I head over next door to my aunt’s house to meet up with my little cousins. We read books, play cards and hop in the pool once our breakfast has been thoroughly digested. I watch the kids splash around in the icy winter water while I absorb every ounce of Vitamin D as humanly possible. Sometimes I jump in with them, but it seems like children under the age of 10 have an incredible tolerance for cold temperatures in exchange for the fun of a swimming pool. While the water was freezing, the air temperature hovered around 32 degrees celsius.
Post-pool everyone gets ready for lunch, el almuerzo. It can be quite the event when both houses, my aunt’s and my grandparents, join together for the meal. Lunch is the biggest and most important meal of the day in Mexico, and in my family the menu could include cold avocado soup, octopus and shrimp mixed with romeritos (ancient native greens), leftover paella, steak, nopales, and chicken with green or red mole. After lunch is la siesta, nap time. After filling ourselves with delicious food, the warm weather and a comfy armchair are the perfect recipe for a nice long snooze.
In Mexico we typically have a merienda, or a light snack, instead of dinner. Sometimes we buy pan dulce from la panaderia, the bakery. This sweet bread comes in many shapes and sizes, such as conchas, garibaldis, and orejas. If we’re extra hungry we sometimes whip up quesadillas stuffed with cuitlacoche (corn mushroom).
The Climb to Tapalpa
Tapalpa is a “magical town,” recognised by Mexico’s government as historically and culturally significant, a title attracting tourists and bringing pride to residents. The road crosses over deep valleys as it climbs up the mountainside. The view from the bridges with the volcano in the background makes the car ride equally as impressive as the town itself.
Tapalpa is a colonial-era mountain town in the state of Jalisco, with small cobbled roads on steep hills. Residents of the large neighbouring city Guadalajara retreat to Tapalpa for the weekend, relaxing in their “ranches” just outside this little town.
After several hours of driving we arrive at my uncle’s house around mid-day and immediately begin cooking the giant paella. The small children run around the garden while the adults drink some agua de jamaica, or hibiscus juice, and enjoy each other’s company. The paella served about 20 people, followed by cake and coffee. The property includes a few farm animals, such as ducks, roosters, chickens, and rabbits. We were very lucky to have nice weather that day, normally it is quite chilly due to the high altitude. We set off just before sunset, to avoid the danger of driving at night in Mexico’s open desert.
Ice-Cream in Comala!
Comala is another one of Mexico’s magical towns, known for inspiring the important literary work Pedro Paramo. A 20 minute drive from Colima, Comala’s beautiful town square stars this magnificent church.
My family decided to take a quick trip into Comala, treating ourselves to local ice-cream in a cafe near the town’s square. We walked around los portales, tasting the food and buying some story books.
Los portales is a type of market-place along the front of the buildings lining the town square. Comala’s portales are decorated with colourful piñatas and sell a range of goods, from food and alcoholic beverages to books and clothing.
El Volcán de Colima: It’s Complicated
El Volcán de Colima is studied worldwide as one of the most active volcanoes on earth. It is an excellent case study of lava, ash, and impact on humans, a gem for the scientific community. The most active volcano, el Volcán de Fuego, lives in the state of Colima and is known for its spectacular lava flows and ash clouds. The larger, snowy counterpart peak stands in the state of Jalisco, aptly named el Nevado de Colima.
For the residents of Colima, the volcano holds a deeper meaning, in a natural and spiritual sense. The volcanoes place the little state of Colima on the map, and locals have expressed their love/hate relationship for this monumental geographic formation through art forms such as visual art, books, and poetry. Folklore and fables originating from Colima are filled with stories about the volcanoes. People go on hikes and even paraglide near them (ash conditions and weather permitting). The volcanoes are featured as a Snapchat geotag, portrayed as cute little cartoons in the photo below, on the right. The city’s newest and most luxurious neighbourhood is actually located quite close to the volcano, in the countryside, far away from the bustle of the city. The community includes a country club, attracting tourists to play golf while enjoying the scenic backdrop of a volcano. My family sometimes goes to the club’s cafe, hoping to witness the spectacular plumes and some lava flows as we sip our afternoon coffee and tea.
However, the downsides of living 31.7 kilometres from a volcano are pretty obvious. While there is no eminent danger of lava reaching the city, ash frequently floats down into residential areas, coating the streets and cars in a thin gritty layer. It must be wiped away carefully so not to scratch car windows. The ash also has negative health impacts, such as inflicting lung problems and a slight burning sensation of the eyes. As Europe experienced in 2010 when Eyjafjallajökull erupted in Iceland, air travel is severely affected by nearby active volcanoes. The screenshot on the left below is a news article from the day before my flight was due to depart from Colima. A 1.5 kilometre ash plume had just been emitted, shutting down the airport for an entire day. My cousin was not so lucky, because her flight (set to leave the morning after this ash cloud emission) was cancelled due to high levels of ash.
What is Diss?
Dissertation season is in full swing as the April 6th deadline races relentlessly towards us. For both Human and Physical Geographers, the laborious process kicked off in February 2016, with the submission of our dissertation proposals for Research Design. This six week course allowed us to explore methodologies and literature pertaining to our chosen topic while developing a strategic plan of attack, I mean outline and timeline for our dissertation. That was one year ago. Plenty has transpired over the course of 12 months: topic changes, presentations, surveys, sporadic tears, interviews, and fleeting feelings of accomplishment. I now invite you to hop on the “diss” bus and ride the bumpy road to a 12,000 word undergraduate honours dissertation.
***DISCLOSURE*** This is from the standpoint of a human geography dissertation. Also I have not yet reached the (so close yet so far far away) finish line, so as an expert level 3000 procrastinator this is my own unique experience.
I am researching Intentions and Receptions of Public Art in the Washington D.C Metro (a working title). I began by a literature review consisting of public art in public transit systems throughout the United States as well as Europe. I looked at both geography and art journals, news articles, and transportation magazines and reports. As a commuter of the D.C Metro (I’m from the state of Maryland) I noticed the often bare and grey walls of the underground transit system. While the massive vaulted ceilings of the underground stations are artistically designed, the general aesthetic of the metro, while classical, is from a different time (1970s) and commuter demographics/purpose has dramatically diversified since then. My research consists of looking to why certain public art installations are chosen for certain stations, and how the commuters and surrounding communities respond and interact with the pieces.
Flash forward to summer 2016. The typical diss plan involves getting it all done in the summer. I do in fact know of a few students who successfully met this challenge, entering their final year of Geography with diss all done, however I was not one of them. As always, life gets in the way. Because I was considering a career change into education, I worked full time in a nursery-preschool back home during the summer. It was the best experience of my life and made me confident about my decision to pursue primary education teaching after completing my undergraduate degree. Meanwhile I was slowly but surely getting on with my research by doing readings and contacting most of the people I would need to be interviewing. This proved to be a time-consuming process. Contacting 30+ individuals through their email addresses, phone numbers, and speaking with them was not always as simple as a quick google search, contrary to my expectation.
Semester 1 (Autumn 2016)
Throughout the semester I met with my diss supervisor who guided me as to what kind of questions I should be asking and the best methods for my research. The next requirement for diss was the Dissertation Conference, which took place on October 12, 2016. Everyone presented their projects in a powerpoint to a group of about 20 peers and 2-3 professors. This was good public speaking practice and provided much needed feedback.
It is now winter break 2016-2017.
*Record scratch. Freeze-frame* You’re probably wondering how I got myself into this situation. I, Andrea, have been a procrastinator for 21 years. Let this be a warning to anyone starting to work on their proposals: diss is like a bandaid, might as well rip it off in one fell swoop, sooner rather than later, before it starts to attract bits of dust from your jumper and get a gross little fuzzy edge. Slowly peeling off the plaster and feeling the pain of each hair and skin cell being plucked off your arm is highly unpleasant and always a regret.
Semester 2 (Spring 2017)
Anyways, in January I had an intense couple of weeks doing research, conducting several interviews and surveys in the nation’s capitol. I interviewed both artists, community members involved in art projects, and the head of Art in Transit at Metro. The surveys involved me standing outside of a busy Metro station exit holding a sign that said “15 SECOND SURVEY.” My survey was literally 15 seconds long, a fact verified by a few comedian commuters who decided to time it. I did this several times until reaching my desired amount of survey answers, as well as creating, posting and sharing an online survey. In the following weeks I will be wrapping up my research with some phone and Skype interviews alongside writing the core chapters of my diss: introduction, literature review, methodology, analysis, and conclusion. Of course, these chapters will be broken up into various sections, and I may add more chapters if necessary. The appendix will hold all of my raw data such as scans of the surveys and bits of interview transcripts. My personal deadline is Saint Patrick’s day, on March 17th, giving my supervisor a couple of weeks to comment on my final diss draft. Here’s to finishing university, and good luck to my fellow fourth year geographers!
Each semester goes quicker than the last as an undergrad. It’s probably the same for anything other multi-year commitment you make.
As a final year student I’ve been busy taking the last courses I’ll do as an undergraduate student, and there’s been lots to do.
We started the year off with our field trip to Oban (west coast of Scotland). There we had a lecture or two a day about what we’d be getting up to and the kind of knowledge we’d need to understand all the cool stuff we were going to see and do. We saw the most productive community owned wind farm in Scotland and went to the beach to learn about shoreline ecology. We planted some tree seedlings and met with park rangers to talk about forest diversity. We picked a field project topic, planned it, and gathered all our data in the last 2 days. But still had time to go to the pub once or twice.
Back in Edinburgh we had to analyse our data with our group, make a poster presentation that explains it all and display it to the rest of our class at a poster conference (tea and biscuits included). There were still two hand-ins for this field course however; the project report, and an essay from a choice of two topics.
Everyone also took a course called Critical Thinking. This consisted of a weekly journal club for the first 4 weeks or so, where we’d all meet having read the same papers over the week and then discuss them as a small group of around 5. Once we’d got the hang of that we had to organise and lead our own paper discussion. This meant picking papers for people to read (that were related) and leading the discussion once we were all together round the table. There were questions to come up with and conclusions to make. Finding a time where everyone is available sometimes seemed like the hardest part with our other hand-ins to think about, but once we’d lead our session there was a synthesis report on that same topic as our last piece. But that wasn’t due until the second semester.
Professional skills in Ecology and Environmental science. This course aimed to prepare us for the real world of science. We learnt how to effectively communicate science, how to give informative and interesting presentations (by understanding your target audience, be they children, students, non-scientists, journalists or what have you), and we also had several weeks of statistics lectures and a stats assessment using the program ‘R’ (R is great when you know how to use it).
This was the last course I’d take that actually had an exam at the end too.
I took an optional course called Conservation Science with my remaining 20 credits of that semester. All the ecology students (Geoscience and bioscience) were given priority over the other bioscience students because of it’s popularity. Although it was running for only the second year, the hype was justified.
There were weekly paper discussions like in Critical Thinking, but these were interspersed with lectures and group problem solving activities related to each week’s main topic. We chose a ‘hot topic’ in conservation each and created a poster presentation to communicate our analysis. (There’s also a blog page for that course: https://conservationscienceblog.wordpress.com/)
That weekend many of us went off to the Cairngorms national park to talk to different land owners and park rangers. There they talked to us about how they manage their land, what for, and why the methods they are using are right for what their goals are. It was incredibly Autumnal, as well as being a fun weekend seeing parts of Scotland which really do differ from the rest of the UK.
On top of that there is also a dissertation to be thinking about. After choosing (from a suggestions booklet or from your own imagination) a topic and getting a supervisor assigned to yourself and your project, you can get on with planning and doing your experiments or data gathering whenever you like. Some people are really on the ball and do a summer dissertation. You could conduct an experiment in the lab or in the field, or it could be entirely research and analysis based. Either way you will have the second half of your second semester free of classes so you can focus on writing it.
In amongst all this I had time to compete at the Scottish student sport (SSS) team cup for Karate. Edinburgh has two karate clubs; I train with Shukokai, and there is also a Shotokan club. Everyone that day that competed in kumite (point sparring) won a gold medal! I hope we have as much success at BUCS this year, the biggest competition involving many of the UK’s universities.
After the term had suddenly finished I met up with a friend from an internship I’d done more than a year before, and stayed in a bothy in the Cairngorms for a night to take some pictures. It was strangely warm for December (~7 degrees C) and it really showed in the number of grouse that were flying around. We also saw two eagles, one was definitely a golden eagle and the other could have been a white tailed eagle… I’m not too sure.
In my final semester I’ll be working on my dissertation alongside two courses that only run up until the end of February: Current Issues in Ecology, and Conservation and Management of Natural Populations.
The preparation for the BUCS karate competition is also underway. My last chance must be my best one!
This course is more Environmental Science than Geology. It is a good counterpart to Earth Dynamics as it explains how life and geology interact to create Earth as we know it today. The course contained lectures given by Dr. Steve Brusatte, Dr. Alex Thomas and Dr. Bryne Ngwenya. Each week we had a 3 hour lab. The course was broken down into 4 sections:
I found all 4 sections very informative. They enhanced my view of the planet, showing the beautiful complexities of this restless being. The material selected was top notch.
The 4 sections in more detail bellow:
Origin and Evolution of Life:
This section of the course told the history of life. Steve gave us the timeline of life from the earliest microbes to modern mammals.He explained the basic principles of Evolution. He gave us a good idea how geology influenced the formation of life but in turn how life influenced the proceedings of geology. It was neat to his work in the field ranging from Scotland to China. The labs were as good as the lectures. In the lab we handled and sketched fossils. We studied and drew up evolutionary trees.
Global Climatic and Environmental Change:
In this section we touched on Earth’s Climate and its relation to global temperatures/ We learnt about key concepts like the Albedo effect, the effects of Earth’s orbit on the climate and the different techniques that are used to study past climates.
Outside the lectures Alex recorded extra videos that explained key components from the lectures. For this section we had to read scientific papers for the practical. We had to explain their contents only using 250 words. It was a good introduction to their structure and language.
This was the chemistry part of the course. It was a nice summary of the subject of chemistry, teaching the basics but dipping into advanced parts here and there. We started out with the atomic structure and finished with the laws governing chemical reactions. Out of the course the practicals for chemistry were the most complicated but in only 4 lab sessions we manged to cover vast fields like hydrology, environmental pollution, environmental chemical analysis and such. We had the chance to work in the labs of the Zoology building with a wide variety of equipment. We got plastic gloves, goggles and white lab coats giving the feel of being real scientist, working on real research. After each lab we created mini scientific reports, further pushing our skills.
Global Biochemical Cycles:
The last section of the course had a look at the 4 important chemical cycles around the globe. The 4 chemical cycles were the Carbon Cycle, the Nitrogen Cycle, the Sulfur Cycle and the Phosphorus Cycle. Each cycle was explained to us in detail including how they interacted with each other, how they affected biological life around the globe and how they influenced the global temperatures. The Gaia theory was introduced explaining how Earth might be a self regulating body. Organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings keeping the chemical balance on Earth in check, keeping global temperatures relatively stable.
This course was was very educational especially when it came to the subjects of chemistry and the global climate.