Natural Environment Blog

Student Blogs Around the Web

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2015

A blog written by the students and academics of the London NERC DTP.

Fantastic Beasts and How to Clone them

Who wouldn’t love the opportunity to borrow a time-machine, go back in time and see some of the incredible species sadly extinct today? The idea of de-extinction – bringing extinct species back to life – offers a way to reverse the extinction process and counteract these past species losses. But how exactly might scientists achieve this?

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Where there’s a whale, there’s a way – rebuilding a Victorian whale

Earlier this year, UCL’s Grant Museum sent out a call to the public, asking them to help rebuild a 157-year-old whale. For almost 70 years, the whale’s headless skeleton had sat in several boxes, dotted around the museum like a giant, unfinished puzzle. His skull, the only part of him on public display. The museum staff were keen to unearth their whale skeleton, give the bones a good clean, and reunite his body with his head for the first time in a long time. Mostly, they were curious to see just how much of the skeleton was actually remaining.

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Whales: Another Reason to Save Their Bacon

It might have been banned for 30 years, but hunting remains one of the biggest threats to whales worldwide. The continued breach of the international ban on whaling for the long-term survival of these gentle giants is deeply concerning. Not only that, their meat might be inadvertently poisoning consumers.

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Do we really know where the Ocean is?

Believe it or not, scientists still can’t agree on where the continent ends, and the ocean begins. On the Atlantic coastlines of North and South America, or the western coasts of Europe and Africa, for example, we don’t know exactly where the real oceanic sea floor starts. I know, you may think, “who cares?”, but the location of the divide between continental crust and oceanic crust might determine whether they build an oil rig in front of your favourite beach in Portugal, can affect the rights of countries over the sea, and has an interesting scientific side, too.

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Reef conservation in the Philippines – It’ll blow you away!

How do you fix a problem like the global demise of an ecosystem? Well, It’s tricky! Over the last couple of years, the news has been full of dire reports about the death of coral reefs, following the third global-scale bleaching episode, which caused widespread coral mortality. On top of these global issues, local impacts such as typically high levels of pollution, sedimentation, coastal development, destructive fishing, and resource extraction add to the woes of the reef.

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Bang – Crash! How the Icelandic Volcano Caused Chaos

On 14th April 2010, Eyjafjallajökull, a volcano in southern Iceland, began to erupt explosively. The eruption was not particularly powerful – ordinarily it would have only attracted the attention of those living nearby, along with a few volcanologists! However, on this occasion, the type of explosion combined with unusual weather conditions led to an unprecedented, total closure of the airspace over northern Europe and the North Atlantic. During the 6-day closure, 100,000 flights were cancelled and 10 million passengers left unable to travel.

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Un – Belize – able: botanical autopsia and local knowledge

“Hello plant”
Take a step back, look.
“What do you look like?” “What’s your texture? What’s the colour of your bark?”
OK, so I’m asking a plant questions. Perhaps worse, I’m asking a plant questions in my own head. Apparently that’s what a two-week NERC Advanced Training Short Course (ATSC) from RBG Edinburgh does to you. During this training, I expected to gain knowledge about different tropical plant families. What I did not expect was to gain a fairly individual set of personal skills to identify plants. What surprised me even more was that I gained insight into a much less tangible aspect of my PhD research.

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The world is your lobster: sustainable fishing in Madagascar?

Sustainable fishing makes perfect sense – right? If fishers only catch what a wild population is capable of replacing, then it remains ecologically sustainable. Following this simple rule enables fishers to go out year on year, landing catch that is ecologically and economically sustainable. Simple?

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Why urban green space is underrated

City dwellers are continuously subjected to air pollution levels above what is considered healthy, putting people more at risk for respiratory diseases, strokes, heart diseases and lung cancers. Leaving behind the busy day-to-day life and escaping to urban green spaces is becoming common practice for people living in cities, who go to green spaces like parks to relax and enjoy the greenery. They walk their dog and let the children play wild and free. And while the city folk are enjoying the park, hardly any of them are aware of the many other benefits these green spaces are quietly providing them.

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Can a tree be identified from space?

“But how do you know that tree belongs to that species?” – This is a common question received by botanists around the world. They might answer that they typically identify trees according to the shapes of their flowers, fruits and leaves. But just as we see and identify trees using reflected rays of sunlight captured by our eyes, satellites also detect sunlight reflecting from the tops of trees. Incredibly, these images are sometimes sufficient to identify individual trees.

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What a Fluke! Whale watching in Monterey Bay

It’s a fact: Monterey Bay is one of the best places in the world to go whale watching. One of the reasons for this is the Monterey Submarine Canyon – a huge underwater canyon that runs perpendicular to the coast, stretching a mile from the ocean surface down to the sea floor in some places. This peculiar underwater geology funnels cold water from the deep sea into the canyon, bringing plenty of nutrients with it and making the perfect buffet for a plethora of cetaceans.

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Earthworms are more important than pandas (if you want to save the planet)

Not all wildlife is created equal in our eyes. Take the earthworm, which doesn’t have the widespread appeal of larger, more charismatic animals such as gorillas, tigers or pandas. Worms are never going to get a strong cute response, and they won’t ever be the face of a conservation campaign. But what Darwin rightly recognised is that – panda fans avert your eyes – worm conservation is much more important once we factor in their provision of what we now call “ecosystem services”, which are crucial to human survival.

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How penis bones help primates win the mating game – and why humans might have lost theirs

One of the most weird and wonderful products of evolution is the penis bone, or baculum. The baculum is an extra-skeletal bone, which means it is not attached to the rest of the skeleton but instead floats daintily at the end of the penis. Depending on the animal, bacula range in size from under a millimetre to nearly a metre long, and in shape, varying from needle-like spines to fork like prongs.

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Californian Elephant Seals: Models of Sexual Selection

When observing the Northern elephant seal colonies found dotted along the Californian coast from December to March each year, one feature stands out above all others: size. Female elephant seals can weigh up to 750 kg, which is fairly impressive, until you see one next to a 2,300 kg male – that’s a male:female size ratio of about 3:1, among the largest of all vertebrates. By comparison, the same ratio in humans is a mere 1.15:1.

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Field Training in California 2017

After a lot of hard work, the London NERC DTP cohort 3 have submitted their project proposals, and it’s finally time to take a break from the computer and get out into the field for the #DTPCalifornia Field Training Course 2017! Our 10-day field course aims to give the first-year PhD students a broad introduction to field sciences, including planning, preparation and teaching, as well as practical skills for studying biology and geology in the field.

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Hear, hear! Conservation scientists are listening to nature

The world is noisy. In cities, we find ourselves constantly surrounded by the moan of motors, the screech of sirens, and the prattle of people. So much so, that we often crave the peace and quiet of the countryside. But silence is hard to find, even in nature.

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How do Ice Ages & Outer Space link?

I’m sure you’ve heard of man-made global warming. But here I want to explain a fundamental cause of natural climate change, to make it easier to understand the difference between the two.

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Top tips for planning your first fieldwork

Back in March 2016, I remember that feeling of sudden dread at the prospect of organising my first field campaign. Where do you start?

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Mistletoe: “Berry” tasty or the kiss of death?

Of all the plants used for festive decorations, mistletoe is perhaps the most intriguing. It is an evergreen with a curious parasitic nature, a fascinating history, and a surprising number of medicinal properties.

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Engaging with Science Business, Industry & Policy

It can be easy to view science in its own bubble, but we need applied research to test questions that really matter to science industry, commercial business and national and international policy. It’s important that we create channels to feed research questions coming out of these non-academic organisations into Universities and academic settings, and for the hard-earned results of our research to inform their policies, designs and practises. In November this year, cohort 3 had a chance to meet some of our associate partner organisations and hear about their research questions.

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Sweating it out now to make water available later

There is something strangely satisfying about conquering a full day of dirty, dusty fieldwork in the thorny African bush, in the kind of heat that cooks your lunch for you if you forget it outside. True story. Surviving hacking out soil samples in 45 degrees for many many hours does give you a serious sense of achievement and some epic tan lines to go with it, but why this trial by sunburn?

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Organising a Conference

Co-Organising a conference for the first time is like doing a PhD, just in six months and as a group. You begin your endeavour with only a vague idea of what lies ahead of you, later realise that things take longer/are pricier than expected and everything culminates in a stressful climax mixed with gratification and relief that everything somehow worked just as expected.

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Dinosaur hunting in Cretaceous Park

The rather grandly named Dinosaur Provincial Park is a world-famous geological site in Alberta, Canada. It is perhaps the best place on Earth to find the remains of dinosaurs, which has earned it the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site. In August 2016 I paid a visit to DPP and the Tyrrell along with a group of 15 undergraduates from Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL).

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Welcome to Cohort 3

A huge welcome to the third cohort of the London NERC DTP, who started their PhD’s today!

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Was climate change the real dinosaur-killer?

What killed off the dinosaurs? As one of the most famous events in geological history, you might expect scientists would long have resolved the answer to this simple question. If asked, most people would probably tell you that the dinosaurs were killed by a meteorite. But the widely held view, that an extra-terrestrial rocky behemoth slammed into the Earth in Mexico and immediately wiped out almost all life, is vastly oversimplified. In reality it was a lot more complicated than that.

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Threesome: the hidden partner in lichen symbioses

Groundbreaking new research has revised our understanding of one of the oldest symbiotic partnerships on Earth; scientists recently discover that lichens comprise more than just two mutually beneficial organisms. Almost 150 years ago, lichens became the most prominent example of symbiosis, a mutualism between an ascomycete fungus and a photosynthesising symbiont. The new study, published in Science last month, suggests a third partner has been lurking in the mix.

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The Present is Key to the Past

When I tell people that I’m researching past environmental change, they probably think that I spend my time in the dusty corners of a lab, studying fossils or ancient mud. While this is partly true, what might not be immediately obvious is that understanding how modern environmental systems work is an essential first step to any research on past environments. The concept of studying modern environments in order to understand the past remains important to the present day, and has turned out to be a key part of my PhD.

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Planning a conference: An organisational step too far for an academic?

When the organising committee for the joint DTP conference were approached to write a blog on our experience, I wasn’t really sure where to start. What do I want to say? Do people even care? So, I did what any good PhD student would do, and turned to Google. The first thing that came up was a Guardian article on “How to organise an academic conference – 10 tips”. Great! Why didn’t I do this earlier?

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Top 10 Highlights of the INTIMATE training course

For those who don’t know, INTIMATE stands for INTegrating Ice core, MArine and TErrestrial records, just to get that one out of the way. In Quaternary Science, the INTIMATE network aims to better understand the mechanisms and impact of climate change by bringing together scientists to reconstruct and model past climates by integrating palaeological records. From 5th – 11th June this year, I took part in the INTIMATE Example Research Training School in Stara Kiszewa, Poland, alongside 20 other early career scientists.

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Would you like to learn about poo?

Talking to strangers isn’t my strong point – public speaking usually coincides with a quite a bit of stress and nervous sweating. So when the opportunity to volunteer and be trained in public engagement with the British Ecological Society (BES) came up, I hoped it would chuck me right in the deep end, and I’d get over it. What really happened is that I spent a thoroughly enjoyable weekend in a lovely sunny field, asking festival-goers whether they’d like to learn about animal poo. If that doesn’t help you get over a fear of public speaking, nothing will.

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Rising tempers: climate change and war

Is climate change fueling war? Over the last decade, many prominent figures have raised concerns that climate change could be linked to conflicts and unrest. However, a direct link between climate change and war is not so easy to prove, and out of the spotlight, the academic debate ranges on.

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The anonymous science rebel

an you name 10 famous biologists? Even if you are a scientist, you will probably struggle to answer this question. If not, then probably just Darwin, and a handful of other names will come to mind. This is hardly surprising, Charles Darwin’s face is everywhere, especially in the UK, where his characteristic beard can be admired on every 10 pound note.

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A Journey to the Unrest Beneath… The Earth’s Mantle

So much for slowing down as you age. Earth’s plates are moving faster now than at any point in the last 2 billion years, according to the latest plate movement study.

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In CASE you’re interested: Analysing reefs in 3D

When I joined the London DTP, one of the big draws was that I could create my own PhD topic, and that the partnership worked with organisations like the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), who are highly renowned for their work in my area of interest – marine conservation.

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A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

April 2015 saw the 4th, and largest release of captive bred Regent Honeyeaters into Chiltern Mt-Pilot National Park, VIC, Australia, and the start of the first field season of my PhD. The captive breeding and release of these birds is a huge collaborative project between BirdLife Australia, Taronga Zoo and The Victorian Government Department of Land, Water and Planning (DELWP).

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Assessing ecosystems from space

The role of satellite remote sensing in ecosystem risk assessment, particularly in how it is used as part of the Red List of Ecosystems (RLE), was discussed by Dr Emily Nicholson, from Deakin University in Australia, at the ZSL Symposium on Remote Sensing for Biodiversity. Originally posted by KCL EOES Hub.

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An uncertain future for England’s Chalk Streams

Picture your idyllic afternoon. Mine would be walking next to a crystal clear stream overflowing with life; green plants, splashing salmon, rustling water vole – all of which should be characteristics of England’s 224 chalk streams. Sadly, this image was shattered when I read the headline of the WWF’s 2014 report on The State of England’s Chalk Streams.

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The limpet of light virtue

Recently, while on fieldwork in Norfolk, I came across several shells of the Slipper limpet (Crepidula fornicata), on the beach. Hardly worthy of comment, you might think, but the Slipper Limpet shouldn’t be here. Looking at its known distribution range, it was reported in Norfolk for the first time just a few years ago. Yet, there it was, now during my marine field trip, and in considerable numbers. First introduced into the UK with imported oysters towards the end of the 19th century, the slipper limpet has now spread to 20 countries.

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Water Words Profiles Kelly Gunnell

Kelly Gunnell is a King’s Water researcher in the Department of Geography exploring cities, ecosystem services and future climate change. She was awarded a NERC funded PhD studentship via the London NERC DTP in 2014.

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The CASE of increasing salinity in the Broads

I’m lucky that my studentship includes a CASE collaboration with the Broads Authority, who are responsible for the conservation, navigation and planning permission of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads National Park. There’s a misconception that turning up at a lake with a boat and taking away some samples is an easy process – who’s going to notice some missing mud from the bottom of a murky lake? In reality, obtaining the correct permissions is essential, especially when it comes to later publishing the data.

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Does reductive scientific enquiry into human behaviour destroy free will?

When I was 17 my physics teacher told me that all biology was chemistry, all chemistry was physics and all physics was maths. “And maths?” I asked. “Ask the philosophers” was her reply. This is an excellent example of the reductionism inherent in much of scientific enquiry. Broadly speaking, reductionism supposes that there are causal mechanisms underlying all phenomena, with further causes underlying these mechanisms, which can be detected if we only know where and how to search for them.

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Why Science Engagement Matters

You have thousands of samples to sort, a growing stack of journal articles to read, data to analyse and a thesis to write. Engaging the public in your research is not a top priority. But it should be. Taking the time to explain your research to a wider audience, engage the public in science and inspire the next generation of researchers is an important part of your PhD (and your scientific career!). Here’s why:

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Preventing Volcanic Disasters: The Critical Nature of Communication

Volcanologically speaking, 2015 was an exciting year for new eruptions, and marked several significant anniversaries of volcanic disasters. Most commemorated perhaps was the bicentennial of the largest eruption in recorded history, at Tambora, Indonesia, but it was also the 35th anniversary of the Mt St Helens eruption that killed 57, and the 30th anniversary of the Nevado Del Ruiz disaster that killed 23 000 people and wiped the Colombian town of Armero off the map.

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Why put a rock in a hard place?

Many aspects of our lives are directly linked to the how rocks respond to the stresses and forces within the Earth. These range from catastrophic natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanoes, to our on-going reliance on hydrocarbons like oil, for energy generation as well as the production of many common items such as plastics and tyres.

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Where the rewilded things are

In the not too distant past, many seemingly exotic animals, from brown bears to beavers, and pelicans to wolves, have called the British Isles home. Further back still, lions and hyenas once stalked the plains of Norfolk and hippos wallowed in the Thames. But what makes a ‘native?’

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A battle against the odds: Restoring the Thames in the face of increasing urbanisation.

Looking out over the River Thames, its murkiness can give the impression of a polluted and lifeless river. This couldn’t be further from the truth however, as the river provides a broad range of habitats for a large number of species that many people would not expect to find in London. In fact, the Thames not only represents one of the cleanest urban river catchments in Europe, it is also the result of one of the most successful large-scale river restorations in history

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Does NASA’s recent Antarctic study disprove climate change?

Recent findings from NASA have shown that the Antarctic ice sheet is gaining more mass than it is losing each year. While this might sound like cause for celebration, this fact alone changes precious little; masses of ice worldwide are still responding negatively to a changing climate.

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Cowboys will save the Amazon rainforest

A solution exists that can change the fate of the Amazon Rainforest. A solution that would alleviate poverty, increase food security, restore biodiversity and reduce demand for deforestation. It seems counterintuitive, but these benefits can all be achieved by establishing agricultural systems that combine forestry with cattle, known as silvopasture

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A matter of life and Death Valley

Of all the varied landscapes of the North American continent, none boasts more extremes than California’s Death Valley. Named for its harsh environment and capacity for doing away with poorly-prepared travellers, it boasts the continent’s lowest point (at 86m below sea level), the world’s highest reliably recorded air temperature (56.7 °C, at the aptly-named Furnace Creek), and sees only 60 to 70mm of rain per year on average. Death Valley is the perfect place to look at biological adaptations to desert environments

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Lyme: a disease of environmental change?

With the advent of antibiotics, vaccines and sanitation, it looked as if we had conquered infectious disease. Some tropical diseases, such as malaria, remained in certain places, but in the industrialised world, we were entering what promised to be a healthy new era. However, as the decades have passed, old diseases have resurfaced, existing ones have spread, and new infections are emerging. Lyme disease is one that has risen to prominence over the last few years and now affects more than 100,000 people each year in temperate regions.

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Is 7 seconds long enough to react to an earthquake?

If you had only a few seconds to prepare for an earthquake, what would you do? Following Japan, Mexico and India, the US Geological Survey has recently announced its plan to implement an $80million earthquake early warning system for California. The system is designed to detect earthquake signals seconds or even minutes before the earthquake hits, with the aim of mitigating any damage before it occurs. But is a few seconds really enough time to diminish the effects of an earthquake, and can we justify the costs of such a system?

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Franz Josef Glacier: where has it gone?

I was taken aback last summer whilst in New Zealand, when returning to visit the Franz Josef Glacier, 14 years after I had last seen it. Only this time, I didn’t see it. The Franz Josef Glacier has both retreated and grown since 2001, but its most recent retreat of 800 meters, between 2011 and 2014, is the fastest on record.

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Reptile Highlights of Southern California

As a child I had always been fascinated by the BBC’s The Natural World”. One of my particular favourites was an episode about the Grand Canyon, and I had been dying to visit California ever since. So I was chuffed when California was announced as the destination for the London NERC DTP field trip in 2015. Most of the episode, as far as I remember (I was about 5 at the time), focussed on the unique reptiles of the region. Before we flew out, I did some research and found that two of the species featured – the common chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater) and the desert horned lizard (or horny toad, a great but somewhat misleading name; Phrynosoma platyrhinos) were present across a number of the sites we would be visiting.

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Creating the field guide: the challenge of merging Biology and Geology

As you may or may not know, the main change to the London NERC DTP California field course this year is that it is has been predominantly student-led. Since October 2015, student representatives and staff have taken part in weekly Skype meetings to decipher the complex logistics of running the California field class, and I have been lucky(?) enough to take part in these meetings as the representative for the “Past Life and Environments” research theme. With guidance from staff, DTP students have designed and created the 10-day itinerary, booked accommodation, arranged entry to National Parks, organised food stops, liaised with overseas colleagues and even (brace yourself) appointed a student Health and Safety representative to cover the important and extensive risk assessment!

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Practicing Palaeoecology

Ever since California was confirmed as the destination for this year’s London NERC DTP field training course, I’ve been excitedly planning my teaching session. As a specialist in ice age mammals, I pushed the organising committee again and again to include the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles in our itinerary. Here, the fossilised remains of more than 600 species of animals and plants have been found, providing a unique insight into life during the last Ice Age.

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Field Training in California

Our second cohort have submitted their project proposals, and it’s finally time to take a break from the computer and get out into the field for the #DTPCalifornia Field Training Course 2016! The 10-day field course aims to give the first-year PhD students a broad introduction to field sciences, including planning, preparation and teaching, as well as practical skills for studying biology and geology in the field.

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Conflict over conflict: have humans always made war?

Is warfare encoded in our genes, or did it appear as a result of the pressures of civilisation? Could a willingness to fight neighbouring groups have provided our ancestors with an evolutionary advantage? With conflicts raging across the globe, these questions have implications for understanding our past, and perhaps our future as well.

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Dig and they will come: Why drastic pond-restoration strategies pay off

Sit quietly at the edge of a pond on a warm summer’s day and you’ll be rewarded with an abundant display of wildlife. You’ll see dragonflies hawking in search of prey over a mosaic of brightly coloured water plants, which are in turn visited by a host of bees and other pollinators. Where sunlight penetrates below the water surface, myriads of insect life can be seen; mayflies, damselflies, water beetles, scorpions and snails – many of which spend most of their life underwater in larval stages.

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The Silent Killer: PCB pollutants threaten dolphin and killer whale populations in the UK and Europe

In 1962 Rachel Carson wrote the iconic book, Silent Spring, alerting us to the horrific effects of man-made chemicals on the natural world. She predicted a planet where unexplained illness and death were the norm and species disappeared overnight. The world fell silent as birds vanished from our trees, poisoned as intensive agriculture turned to more obscure chemicals for pest and weed control. In part, the world heeded her warning – stricter controls were put in place, and some compounds were removed from production – but were we too late to save some of our most iconic species?

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Why mud matters

Why should we study glaciers that no longer exist? And why should we examine the sediments they leave behind? We currently cannot predict the future behaviour of glaciers and icefields with much certainty because our records of glacier change are limited. But changes to the World’s ice sheets will have a huge impact on our own future – shrinking icefields threaten water supplies, whilst the meltwater they produce puts the lives of downstream communities at risk of catastrophic flood, and contributes towards sea level rise.

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How an earthquake shook the scientific community

In early 2009, the city of L’Aquila in Italy was struck by a seismic swarm; a devastating series of many small earthquakes. The swarm culminated with a mainshock on the 6th April 2009, measuring 6.3 on Richter scale and killing 309 people.

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Nanoparticles: Can small really have it all?

Nanoparticles. Depending on whom you listen to, these miniscule particles are either big news, or big trouble. They’re becoming common in a variety of products, and so have the potential to end up in the environment in huge quantities. But, is that a bad thing? Should it be stopped? What are the cold, hard, teeny tiny facts about these futuristic flecks?

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A past paradise in central London?

If you visit Trafalgar Square today, you will undoubtedly be surrounded by tourists, grinning down at unnatural angles at their smartphones as they try to get a decent selfie with Nelson. However, if smartphones and Nelson’s column had existed in London 120,000 years ago, then they’d probably want to look up from their phones and… Read More ›

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Modelling risk from a potential Cornish tsunami

If you live in England, tsunamis are probably not a major worry. When people think of tsunamis, they think of distant, tropical locations in seismically active regions such as Japan and South East Asia. Few would think of England as being at risk from tsunamis, but some scientists believe a Cornish tsunami could be just around the corner.

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Lazy lawn? Not in my back yard!

I was recently dismayed to see a van delivering an artificial, or ‘lazy’, lawn to a residential property near my home. The idea that living lawns are being replaced with sterile carpets of plastic grass troubled me and, while I had hoped this was a relatively uncommon occurrence, further investigation revealed the popularity of lazy… Read More ›

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Breaking news: El Niño causing a swell time

Spot the archipelago surrounded by three category 4 hurricanes last August. Right in the middle you can find the not-so-idyllic-after-all, Hawaiian Islands. I was stuck on the Big Island at the time, and instead of discovering tropical wonders, I found myself discussing with my neighbours whether or not to stock up on groceries – just in case. Whilst the extreme weather ruined the sunny bounty beaches I had envisioned, a few others could not have been more ecstatic. The surfer community, with nerves of steel, were preparing for the enormous waves to come. It has been suggested that the extreme weather is a result of the current powerful El Niño.

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Sexy Sons and Choosy Mums

Have a look around in nature and it doesn’t take long to find things that look, quite frankly, ridiculous. Jumping spiders have a strange, staccato dance that looks suspiciously good when put to the tune of YMCA; stalk-eyed flies, as the name suggests, carry their eyes on the ends of enormous stalks by blowing up their faces; and peacocks make it nice and easy for predators to spot them with those gigantic, gaudy tails.

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Popular Writing – a Key Skill for PhD Graduates

This year we set the second cohort of the London NERC DTP a new task – we asked them to write for the public, on a topic of their choice. I know from experience that this can be an extremely daunting prospect for many PhD students – after years of training in scientific writing and communicating with your peers, the idea of writing for an audience with such a varied knowledge base can be quite intimidating. It can be very hard to remember which of the terms and concepts, which seem so fundamental now, were alien just a few years ago. Remembering how to write with flair, how to tell a story rather than just report data, and when to leave some details out – these are skills many PhD students haven’t practised in years.

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What can a CASE Partnership do for you?

Collaborative awards in science and engineering, also known as CASE studentships, allow non-academic organisations to partner with PhD research. The scheme aims to provide PhD students with equipment and expertise from outside the University environment, and to allow stakeholders to influence research at the earliest stages, to ensure that studies provide relevant data and answer meaningful questions. Implemented well, CASE partnerships can improve job prospects for students, and maximise the impact of research beyond academia.

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El Niño Monitoring in Tanzania

UCL Geography and London NERC DTP PhD student, David Seddon, is in Tanzania working with colleagues from the Tanzanian Ministry of Water and Sokoine University of Agriculture. They are establishing automated, high-frequency monitoring facilities to examine how the heavy rains associated with the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) replenish vital groundwater resources.

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Nature in Cities: should we care?

When most people think of ‘natural spaces’ they envision the wide-open countryside, elephants roaming around Africa, or maybe somewhere deep in the heart of the Amazon. But what about the nature right under our noses?

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Feral cats… they’re so un-Australian

I want to take a look at one particular animal that’s been receiving a great deal of media attention of late – the feral cat. According to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, there are somewhere in the region of 20 million feral cats in Australia… and they kill about 75 million native Australian animals every night.

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Invasive alien species

The aliens have landed. They’ve taken up residence in our waterways, our cities, our farmland and forests. Their negative impacts to both the environment and the economy are enormous, and they aren’t going home any time soon. So what are ‘alien species’? In short, they are animals, plants or other organisms that we have introduced to areas outside of their natural range. They are considered to be ‘invasive’ when they become established, disperse and have negative impacts on people and / or wildlife.

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