Tag Archives: Scotland

Avalanche! How Trees Hold the Secrets of the Past…

Jen Dickie

Stob Ghabhar, Scotland. This image was taken from the Geograph project collection. See this photograph's page on the Geograph website for the photographer's contact details. The copyright on this image is owned by Richard Webb and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. Last month, tragedy struck in the Scottish Highlands when an avalanche swept four climbers to their deaths. The experienced mountaineers were descending the Bidean Nam Bian peak on the southern side of Glencoe when the avalanche hit, causing them to fall 1000ft (c. 300m) before being buried under dense snow.  In a report for The Independent, Richard Osley describes how the tragedy occurred shortly after the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) issued a warning that human-triggered avalanches were likely in the Glencoe area and the risk was rated as ‘considerable’.  The SAIS reported that on the day of the avalanche, there did not appear to be much depth of snow on the hills of Glencoe, however, there were areas of “mainly hard, unstable windslab” that overlay “a persistent softer weaker layer”; in these conditions more compact blocks of snow can separate from the surrounding snow resulting in a ‘Slab Avalanche’, this type of avalanche is responsible for the majority of avalanche-related fatalities.

As the popularity of the winter sports industry grows, there is increasing pressure on scientists to predict where and when avalanche events will occur.  Dedicated research centres such as the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research are continually improving our understanding of avalanche formation and dynamics and therefore providing increasingly reliable warning services, however, they highlight that we are still unable to accurately predict “why, when and where an avalanche will be released”.

In an article for Area, Mircea Voiculescu and Alexandru Onaca describe how they have applied dendrogeomorphological methods to assess snow avalanches in the Sinaia ski region in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains.  By combining climatological and nivological (physical properties of the snow) analyses with information on disturbances recorded in tree growth, they argue that historical avalanche activity can be reconstructed, including the frequency, magnitude and return-period characteristics of the events.  This knowledge, they argue, can be used to make assessments of risk in areas such as the Carpathian Mountains, where the geomorphological understanding of local avalanches is limited.

As winter sports become more popular with non-expert communities, there is growing pressure to identify high risk areas and to provide appropriate warning systems that non-experts can understand.  It is clear that real-time observations and local knowledge are key to identifying avalanche risk, however, this research shows that by combining different techniques and approaches, we can increase our knowledge and understanding of hazards such as avalanches, and provide essential risk information to previously unmonitored regions such as newly established winter sports resorts.

books_icon Mircea Voiculescu and Alexandru Onaca, 2013, Snow avalanche assessment in the Sinaia ski area (Bucegi Mountains, Southern Carpathians) using the dendrogeomorphology method, Area 45 109–122 doi: 10.1111/area.12003

60-world2 Four climbers die in Glencoe avalanche, The Independent, 20th January 2013

60-world2 SportScotland Avalanche Information Service, accessed on 18th January 2013

60-world2 The WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, accessed on the 18th January 2013

“Eats, Shoots and Leaves”: Panda politics, the UK and diplomatic relations*

by Fiona Ferbrache

International relations can be far from black and white, yet one particular piebald creature plays a key role in the game of cultural diplomacy that governments play with each other. Radio recently broadcast The Politics of the Panda (2012).

The giant panda is native to western China and one of the country’s principal emblems as well as diplomatic gift of choice. Seven countries currently host thirty-six pandas; each a deliberate effort to foster positive relations between China and people elsewhere. The first diplomatic gift of this kind signified US-China relations in 1972, while the 2011 arrival of Tian Tian and Yang Guang (aka Sunshine and Sweetie), at Edinburgh Zoo, links Scotland more closely with Asia.

As seeming cuddly creatures, the panda can be viewed as an ambassador of friendship in this cultural exchange.  A similar process of cultural diplomacy took place last year when Queen Elizabeth II visited Ireland.  In The Geographical Journal, Johnson (2011) comments on this first official visit by a British monarch since Ireland became independent.

Making space and place explicit in analysis, Johnson argues that the choreographing of particular events at the Garden of Remembrance, the Irish National War Memorial, and Dublin Castle, offered opportunities for rapprochement for past conflicts.  In these shared spaces, what Johnson refers to as ‘memory spaces’, the Queen was key actor in terms of moving both states towards reconciliation.  In this way, the Queen’s role is similar to that of the panda: a diplomatic symbol of generosity and power to nurture political relations.

* “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” is the ambiguous title of a book on the state of punctuation in the UK by Lynne Truss. It derives from a joke on poor punctuation involving pandas.

Edinburgh Zoo. Visiting the Giant Pandas.

  Johnson, N. (2011) A royal encounter: space, spectacle and the Queen’s visit to Ireland 2011. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00454.x

  The Politics of Pandas, 2012 [Radio broadcast] Radio4. 20 January 2012, 1100

The Geographical Journal Content Alert: Volume 177, Issue 4 (December 2011)

The latest issue of The Geographical Journal is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break to view the full table of contents.

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Street Performance and Video Methodology

Sarah Mills

The Edinburgh ‘Fringe’ Festival will soon be opening (5th-29th August) and host a range of acts including comedians, dancers, artists and musicians.  Alongside the ‘official’ shows and ticketed events will be a variety of street performers – each becoming part of the largest arts festival in the world that has been held in Scotland’s capital since 1947 (with the Festival Fringe Society established in 1959).  Their official website states that “In 2010 we enjoyed a record-breaking 2,453 different shows staging 40,254 performances in 259 venues by 21,148 performers.”  The Fringe prides itself on being an ‘open access’ arts festival, meaning that street performers in particular can put on a show as part of Fringe with no selection process and be part of a programme that is not curated.  This creates a unique environment and arena for ‘performance’, as well as a particular type of engagement with the audience(s).

In his recent article published in Area (currently on earlyview), Paul Simpson discusses the geographies of street performance and “the acts of audiencing that members undertake in relation to this” (2011: 1).  He uses street performance as an example through which to explore the role of video methodologies in contemporary geographic research.  The paper reflects on his research – during which he played guitar in Bath, UK and videoed the street performances – and focuses specifically on the giving and receiving of donations, linking these practices to debates on affect, embodiment and ethnography.  Whilst ultimately a paper that critically reflects on using video as a research method, Simpson’s research on street performance highlights debates on everyday and artistic practices, many of which can be seen at the Fringe Festival.

Read P. Simpson (2011) ‘So, as you can see . . .’: some reflections on the utility of video methodologies in the study of embodied practices Area [currently early view] 

Visit the Official Site of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Youthful Religiosities

By Sarah Mills

In their recent article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Hopkins et al (2011) explore the influence of intergenerationality on the development of young people’s religious identities.  They review current trends in new ways of ‘doing’ religion and argue that religious spaces of meaning are becoming increasingly diversified.  Drawing on research with young Christians in Glasgow and their guardians, they highlight the multiple influences on the religiosity of young people and discuss these through themes of correspondence, compliance, challenge and conflict.  They “propose a new conceptual framework for better understanding the complex interplay between intergenerationality and religious beliefs” (p.315) and demonstrate their argument through stressing the importance of “sites such as grandparents’ homes, the journey to and from church, experiences of schooling, youth group practices, peer group relationships and popular culture” in young people’s articulations of their religiosity (p.326).

A number of recent news stories and events highlight the need to take young people’s religiosities seriously and to reflect on the diverse sites, influences and relationships that play a part in developing young people’s religious identities.  Some of these relate to education, for example the recent campaign on the future of RE in schools and the English Baccalaureate.  Others can be seen as features of more formal sites of institutional religion and worship, such as this year’s celebrations marking the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible, many of which involve young people.  These short examples highlight how crucial it is to reflect on the range of influences in the formation of religious identities and the complexities of religious beliefs.

 Read Peter Hopkins, Elizabeth Olson, Rachel Pain and Giselle Vincett (2011) ‘Mapping intergenerationalities: the formation of youthful religiosities’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36 (2):314-327.

 Read ‘Campaign for the future of RE in schools’ on BBC Online

 View events during 2011 celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible

Déjà vu?

By Sarah Mills

Airline passengers in Scotland and parts of Northern England face delays and cancelled flights today due to Saturday’s ash eruption from Grímsvötn volcano in Iceland.  These scenes are similar to those in April 2010 when another Icelandic volcano – Eyjafjallajökull – erupted, prompting widespread travel chaos.  However, scientists and commentators expect the disruption to be far less than last year for a number of meteorological reasons and improved aviation regulations.  Transport Secretary Philip Hammond claims authorities have a “much better understanding” of the risks and that “the threshold for most aircraft is 20 times where it was last year…What we can’t promise is that there won’t be disruption when there is a major natural event like this.”

Amy Donovan and Clive Oppenheimer reflected on last year’s Eyjafjallajökull eruption in a recent article in The Geographical Journal.  They reviewed the scientific background of the eruption in the context of European volcanic activity and argued that “the apparent breakdown of communication between scientific research, policy makers and the public is a manifestation of a wider problem”.  Furthermore, they claimed that “transdisciplinary channels for the movement of knowledge beyond the academic community need to be enhanced” (2011: 4).  In light of this new eruption at Grímsvötn, and the supposed provisions and increased levels of governance in planning for such eventualities, the coming days and weeks will reveal to what extent lessons have already been learned.

Read ‘Volcanic ash cloud: thousands face flight delays and cancellations’ in The Guardian  

Read A. Donovan and C. Oppenheimer (2011) The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption and the reconstruction of geography. The Geographical Journal, 177: 4-11.

Aquaculture: a problem of management?

Aquaculture's effect on the environment

By Clare Boston

Aquaculture in Scotland has grown considerably since it was first established in the 1960s, commercially cultivating several types of fish including salmon, trout, cod, halibut and shellfish such as mussels, scallops and oysters.  Peel and Lloyd discuss the governance and planning regime for marine aquaculture in Scotland in Geographical Journal. They examine the changing concerns surrounding aquaculture, including water pollution, sedimentation, sustainability and the genetic effects on wild fish stocks, alongside the development of new regulations in response to these problems.  The paper concludes that the development of a regulatory framework associated with a resource management scheme, such as aquaculture, is “time intensive, painstaking in authorship, and vulnerable to the changing external dynamics and internal relations” (p. 371), often being dictated to a large extent by increases in scientific understanding and broader societal changes.

The latest concern to affect Scottish aquaculture is from new research that suggests that parasites and pollution from the excrement of farmed fish is killing wild salmon and sea trout, providing an explanation for a recent decline.  The BBC News website reports that the Salmon and Trout Association has called for a list of ‘ultra-sensitive’ sites to be developed that would be protected against future fish farm development.  They argue that whilst aquaculture, if managed sustainably, can protect wild fish stocks, the way in which fish farms are currently operated is disastrous for the marine environment.  However, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) maintains that warmer seas from global warming are a much greater threat to wild fish.  The debate continues.

D Peel and MG Lloyd (2010). Governance and planning policy in the marine environment: regulating aquaculture in Scotland. Geographical Journal 174: 361-373.

Read the BBC News Online article ‘Protection call for wild salmon and sea trout’.