Centenary Bursaries help students

As part of the celebrations of the Department of Geography's centenary year in 2008, bursaries funded by past alumni were set up for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. These bursaries have enabled support to be made available for fieldwork essential for Masters dissertation or MPhil/PhD research or for hardship cases generally.

The extremely generous donations from the department's alumni have enabled three bursary schemes to be set up: the Geography Postgraduate Fieldwork and Hardship Bursary, the Geography Undergraduate Field Class Bursary, and the Masters-level University Bursary. As a requirement of the Postgraduate Bursary, recipients had to write about their fieldwork and how the award helped them.

You can now read about last year's awards and the difference they made below.

The Department is very keen to keep in contact with its former members, and we acknowledge that without the kind donations we would not have been able to establish these bursaries. You can find more details about maintaining links with your department by following the "Alumni" link (left), and of course, we are always particularly pleased when former students can offer support to our current and future students.

Margi Bryant: Volunteering and nature conservation in Kenya

A Centenary Fieldwork Bursary helped Margi Bryant meet the cost of carrying out fieldwork in Kenya for her MA dissertation in Human Geography. Her research explored the relationship between international volunteering and nature conservation in a postcolonial context, through a case-study of a small Kenyan wildlife organisation which hosts fee-paying volunteers. She spent a month working there as a volunteer, using participant observation and semi-structured interviews to examine the perceptions, priorities and aspirations of international volunteers and local participants, and how these interact with each other.

"Living and working as a volunteer in Kenya was a crucial part of this research, allowing me to observe processes and relationships at close hand," Margi says. "Interviewing volunteers in the UK would have provided only half the picture." Margi found that volunteers' attitudes and approaches to conservation often differed from those of local stakeholders, but were generally accorded priority status. Day-to-day interactions reflected North-South dynamics of power and knowledge, which sit uncomfortably with the ideals of volunteering. She hopes her research will cast useful light on the rapidly growing phenomenon of international volunteering and its potential impact on conservation agendas.

Margi has now begun working towards a PhD in the Department, funded by the ESRC. She will be continuing and expanding her examination of North-South volunteering, especially the interactions of volunteers and local stakeholders, and what this means for environmental knowledge and management practices.


Margi (front, seated) with other international volunteers and local community members in Kenya

Christopher Lloyd: Glacial Overdeepenings in the Italian Alps

Christopher Lloyd is currently undertaking PhD study, examining the geography of glacial overdeepenings, and has recently been on a short period of fieldwork to the Italian Alps, in order to experience the glacial environment and explore the glacial landforms of the area.

Chris found it to be a thoroughly worthwhile learning exercise, particularly as this was his first visit to a glaciated region. The trip was made possible by a Centenary Postgraduate Fieldwork Bursary.


Hochjochferner terminus, Ötztal Alps. Autumn 2009

Osaretin Oviasu: Data Collection Experience from the Hospital in Edo State, Nigeria

Findings from trip to Nigeria
My research study is on the spatial analysis of chronic kidney disease (CKD) in Nigeria using one of its states – Edo state – as a study area. One of the noticeable aspects in regards to health and Kidney disease was that there was now an increased awareness of the issue of kidney disease amongst members of the society. Informal discussions with family members and friends in Nigeria showed that they are aware of at least one person who is either suffering from CKD or has died from the disease. One of the reasons for the increase in awareness of CKD can be attributed to combined efforts of the Nigerian Association of Nephrology (NAN) and a few NGOs, as they conducted several awareness programs, the media, as well as the grass-root initiatives. However, many people are still of the opinion that there is still a lot to be done.

Experience at UBTH
UBTH is the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, which is located in the state's capital called Benin City and it is the tertiary health institution used as a focal point of reference for most diseases by all other health institutions within Edo state. As such, the hospital is currently the only institute responsible for the treatment of CKD in the state and even for neighboring states. This made UBTH the ideal place for accessing the records of most diagnosed CKD patients within Edo state. All patients that have ever been treated at UBTH have a health file opened for them which are kept in the records department. On my first day at the hospital, I was taken to the records department where patients' files were cataloged according to their hospital identification number.

UBTH renal department's new project of creating a digital database for their patients was found to have a well detailed format on which the necessary data for each patient can be imputed. However, in the absence of a data entry officer, the job of logging-in patient data is the responsibility of the house officers who have other duties that equally require their time and therefore, the digital database which is currently ongoing is incomplete and in some cases inaccurate. This therefore made it difficult to sort out the files needed for my study, as such; extra time was required just to sort out those files that were for CKD patients and were also within the time period for my study, which is from 2006 – 2009. My experience during the fieldwork can be described as successful even though there were a couple of setbacks. The most important information I needed about each patient was their address, sex, age, and also their diagnosis, which was available on almost all the documented data available on each patient.


A patient on a dialysis machine due to kidney failure

Joe Pomeroy: Climate Change Cover-up Operation

Here is the forecast. General outlook: retreating glaciers, collapsing ice shelves, wasting ice sheets, warming permafrost, disintegrating sea ice, and reduced snow falls, resulting in rising global sea levels and a rapidly warming polar realm. The future of the Cryosphere seems bleak indeed, even under modest IPCC climate change scenarios. Given the nature of the dramatic changes occurring it seems appropriate to quote a little Lenin; "what is to be done"? Is the situation so urgent that we need to resort to global scale geo-engineering projects such as pouring tonnes of iron into the Southern Ocean in the hope that it will fertilise algal production and draw down carbon dioxide? Or shoot sulphur into the stratosphere to mimic super-volcanic eruptions and so filter out solar radiation? Are we comfortable with such planetary scale engineering? Could it ever work? Do we have alternatives?

Prior to beginning the new MSc course in Alpine and Polar Environments at Sheffield University I was a geography teacher in schools and colleges. For the best part of twenty years I seem to have been banging out the same 'Green' messages to students; think globally, act locally; reduce your carbon footprint; walk lightly upon the earth – cycle, eat greens, use the bus, and all the rest of it. In my experience, all most students want to do is learn to drive at the first opportunity and to set about defining themselves through acts of conscious mass consumption. Perhaps I just wasn't a very good teacher, but if trying to change behaviour through education seems a doubtful road to attaining a sustainable future, then what about a global political deal on climate change? It could be argued that the regime change in the USA may have a positive impact but global agreement on carbon emissions, at least at the scale and speed many experts think is now necessary, seems a long way off. So I repeat, what is to be done?

For my dissertation I wanted to do something that might make some small contribution to the debate. I decided to work with the geo-textile covers (GTCs) that are increasingly being used in high altitude Alpine ski resorts to preserve snow. I wanted to see if the covers could be successfully employed in other parts of the Cryosphere vulnerable to climate change, such as the High Arctic region of Svalbard and the maritime and ephemeral snow regime of Scotland. The GTCs are manufactured from non-woven polyfelt and have high tensile strength. They are between 2.5 and 3.5 mm thick and maintain high surface albedo across the visible light spectrum (the best covers mimic fresh snow and reflect up to 85% of shortwave radiation). This combination of high albedo and insulation renders the GTCs extremely effective at reducing snowmelt in regimes where radiant energy dominates the energy budget, as it does in high elevation Alpine regions. Indeed, Olefs and Fischer (2008) from the University of Innsbruck have shown that a 66% reduction in summer snowmelt can be achieved in the Stubai Alps using the best GTCs.

I was extremely fortunate to be awarded a bursary from the Geography Department's Fieldwork Fund which enabled me to test the effectiveness of two GTCs in Svalbard and in Scotland. In Svalbard I used the covers to protect a melting snowpack during a two week trial which formed part of my studies on the Department's Centenary Expedition, in July 2009. The best GTC reduced snowmelt by 80% compared to an adjacent uncovered area, with radiant energy the dominant factor in snowmelt. Indeed, calculations suggested that GTCs could significantly reduce the rate of glacier melt by delaying the date on which the overlying protective snow cover was removed in summer. Aldegondabreen, like other glaciers in west Spitsbergen, has had a negative mass balance for a number of years and there is some evidence that the rate of glacier retreat is accelerating. Melt water from these glaciers feeds directly into global sea level rise. My estimates suggest that, had GTCs been deployed over this glacier for the last twenty years, then the mass balance deficit would have been reduced by 87%.

On its own this would obviously have been an insignificant 'drop in the ocean' in terms of combating sea level rise. But could we not use such GTCs on a wider scale? Jason Box, an American Glaciologist thinks so; he has suggested that the most cost-effective way of tackling sea level rise is to wrap the entire Greenland Ice sheet up in GTCs!

My work in Scotland was on a more modest scale. I wanted to see if the GTCs could be used to increase the number of ski days possible each winter, an important consideration for an industry that exists on the margins of profitability and at the mercy of notoriously unpredictable weather conditions and unreliable snow falls. I deployed the covers on the upper slopes of Aonach Mor in the Nevis Range Ski Area, near Fort William during a spring field campaign. Scotland can get good dumps of snow in winter, but they often drift and melt rapidly as depressions sweep through, especially at low elevations. The GTCs could be used to protect Nursery Slopes, for example, during such warming events. They are designed to 'roll on and roll off' with relative ease. However, the Scottish snow regime is dominated by turbulent sensible and latent heat fluxes rather than radiant energy, so I wanted to test the GTCs under a range of 'typically' Scottish weather days to see if they would work. And they did! Even with relatively warm temperatures, high winds, and plenty of rain, the best GTC still gave a 64% reduction in snowmelt compared to an adjacent uncovered area. The project demonstrated one potential application of the covers in Scotland, but there could be others. For example, rapid winter warming events leading to snowmelt are often a cause of basin flooding. Covers could be used to manage this hazard better. Further research is required, but I believe the potential to do something positive, however limited the scale, has been demonstrated.

Joe Pomeroy
MSc Student (Distinction), 2009


The diagram above show the high albedo of the GTCs used as measured in the geography lab using a calibrated spectrometer.

GTC cover

The image above shows a mound of snow which has been preserved beneath a GTC whilst the surrounding pack has melted. Aonach Mor, Nevis Range, late-April, 2009. The cover can be seen discarded towards the top right of the image. The cover was removed after 3 days. The depth of snow preserved was about 20 cm

GTC cover

Aldegondabreen, west Spitsbergen, Svalbard, July 2009. Snow preserved beneath a GTC. The cover was removed after 10 days. The depth of snow conserved was approximately 27 cm of snow water equivalent

Yang Yu: People's Land-use Decision-making in the Process of Land Degradation in the American southwest

Thanks to the centenary bursary, I have successfully completed my oversea field trip New Mexico, US.

In New Mexico, rapid urbanisation during past 50 years not only impose social costs such as lowering local quality of life, but also led to desert landscape fragmentation, degradation, loss of biodiversity and shortage of water resources. My research investigates the role of people' s land-use decision-making in the process of land degradation in the American Southwest, emphasizes the nexus between decision-makers and environmental changes in the dryland areas in the contemporary urban context. We ask: how actors make decisions to use and manage the land, how these decisions impact on the land degradation and how land degradation in turn influences actors' decision - making?

By interviewing actors from different groups, land developers, land owners, local officials, NGO, and local residents, I have been told many life stories, and some interesting findings are emerging. Land-use decision-making surely plays an essential role in contributing to the land degradation and environmental degradation in the desert, sustainable land management needs to consider carefully maintaining a sound balance between resource use and different people needs.

It is expected that the findings of this study will contribute to the broader literature on decision-making and environmental changes under the pressures of urban sprawl in dryland regions and enhance sustainable landscape changes in the regions of the American Southwest. Moreover, it can also contribute to other dryland regions which have similar problems with the American Southwest. It will raise the awareness that contemporary activities such as recreation and construction are becoming greater threats without consideration of environmental consequences in the urban areas. From this research, people can be aware that the way they made decisions to use land should be in a sustainable manner. It is also expected that the findings will provide vital data for policy makers for resolving other related development issues.

GTC cover