El Niño linked to 19th century droughts

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Article by Professor David Nash, published in the Argus 27 November, 2015.

New research has established a long-term link between El Niño and droughts in southern Africa where crops are already under threat.

Research led by the University of Brighton, published online in the journal Climatic Change, used historical newspapers and materials written by colonial authorities and missionaries to identify variations in rainfall between 1836 and 1900 in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal.

The study’s senior author, Professor David Nash of the University of Brighton’s College of Life, Health and Physical Sciences, said: “Given that this year’s Pacific El Niño event is likely to be the strongest ever recorded, these are potentially worrying times for the people of the subcontinent.”

The findings come on the heels of the World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organisation predictions that as many as 29 million people in southern African countries are food insecure and that that lower rainfall in the region will lead to reduced cereal yields and higher prices.

Professor Nash said: “Results indicate that the region was affected by severe or multi-year drought on eight occasions (1836-38, 1861-63, 1865-66, 1868-70, 1876-79, 1883-85, 1886-90 and 1895-1900). Six wetter than average periods were also identified (1847-49, 1854-57, 1863-65, 1879-81, 1890-91 and 1892-94). The timing of these events agrees well with independent reconstructions of 19th century rainfall for other parts of southern Africa, suggesting subcontinental scale variability.

“The timing of droughts shows a strong relationship with El Niño events, particularly during the latter half of the 19th century. Drought events were particularly severe during the rainy season immediately following an El Niño event.”

Professor Nash said combining the results of this study with other annually-resolved records of past climate from southern Africa and surrounding oceans shows that mean summer rainfall has been declining progressively over the subcontinent for the last 200 years.

“We knew from our previous research that historical documents held huge potential for reconstructing the climate of the past. What we never expected was the level of detail we would find in materials from KwaZulu-Natal. From newspapers such as the Natal Witness we could build up an almost weekly picture of the weather from across the region.

”Our work not only identifies rainfall variability in KwaZulu-Natal but also confirms that the link between El Niño and drought in southern Africa is long-standing.”

The research, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, was conducted in collaboration with the University of Nottingham, Hedmark University College (Norway), King’s College London and the University of Sussex.

The Climate Change article can be read at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-015-1550-8

For more information on Professor Nash’s research, go to:

Past Human and Environment Dynamics research group

Read the full article in the Argus 

A view from the Acropolis

Post by Joseph Hall, Lecturer in Human Geography

IMG_1389_Greece Nov 2015We have just come back from a fantastic field trip to Greece with our first year Geography and Environmental Science students.

As part of the trip we spend a day in Athens exploring contested histories and representations at the Acropolis site and in the Acropolis museum. Students were tasked with thinking about how the Acropolis site is being excavated, preserved and represented to tourists by thinking about which histories are being memorialised and which are being erased and forgotten.
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In the Acropolis museum students develop these understandings by thinking about meanings and values that are attributed to various artefacts, particularly the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles, which are ‘missing’ from the exhibition. These are currently held at the British Museum in London, although where the Parthenon Marbles belong is fiercely contested. Students were asked to consider these debates while thinking about Greek national identity and global citizenship, particularly who can/should be able to access the Parthenon Marbles and where.
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For this ‘taster’ of cultural and historical geography students use Participant Observation as a key research method in human geography and evaluate how we can understand the world and visitor interaction at the Acropolis site, in particular, through this methodological approach.

Rural geography field trip

A field trip took place in May 2015 as part of GY258 – Contemporary Rural Geographies module, which is convened by Dr Paul Gilchrist.

A small group of students visited Tablehurst and Plaw Hatch Community Farms in Forest Row, East Sussex, to learn about the philosophies and practices of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).We learned about the challenges of organic farming; the ideas of Rudolf Steiner on biodynamic agriculture; the range of business enterprises a farm can support; livestock management and processing; the dietary benefits of unpasteurised milk; as well as gaining practical tips on composting and salad growing.

Katy Cross, now a final year BA Geography student, has kindly produced this short video about our day. Thanks go out to Katy for producing the film, Neil Ravenscroft (Professor of Land Economy) as our guide for the day, and the farmers and growers at the farms for making the trip so informative and memorable.

A first taste of fieldwork

Post by Professor David NashIMG_2471

In October, 75 first year students on our BSc Geology, BSc Physical Geography & Geology, and BSc Earth and Ocean Science courses travelled to Fishguard and St David’s in Pembrokeshire for their first taste of geological fieldwork. The trip was led by Dr Norman Moles and Dr Stewart Ullyott, with support from an additional six staff and postgraduate students. The week was split into two halves. The first included a guided introduction to the geology of the area and the development of key skills such as field sketching and the use of a compass-clinometer. The second comprised small group work mapping the basic geology of an allocated area along the Pembrokeshire coastal path. All in all, the week was a chance to make new friends, get to grips with the rigours of fieldwork, and enjoy exploring one of the most beautiful areas of the UK.