Friday, 30 September 2011

Globalisation: Walmart video notes plus notes from todays lesson

Okay, so a little birdy told me that apparently I was typing up the notes that I took from the Walmart documentary that we watched in Geography lessons this week, so here goes - I must warn you though, my notes were not that great as I am not that good at concentrating on films so if you have more to add then feel free! I am also going to add in some of the things we covered in my lesson today (leaving out all the stuff about cooking and hotels in Iceland, whales and Facebook that is!)......
 Here is the full film incase any of you missed it, on
want to check a few facts...
  • TNCs are often known as the agents of globalisation as they enable (and often provoke) the large-scale movement of people, goods, capital, services and markets around the globe thus accelerating the process of globalisation which is the increasing interconnectedness of global markets, politics and culture, due to the powerful influence they have on both local economies and international relations.
  • The presence of TNCs often provokes cumulative causation in the developing countries that they occupy. Therefore, if developing countries are able to attract TNCs, in some cases, in the long run, it can aid and accelerate development.
HOWEVER, in some cases the presence of TNCs does not benefit everyone......

TNCs like Walmart, created in 1962, originally based in the USA and are the largest non-oil based TNC, do not source their goods from within the country but from countries like China. There are many reasons for TNCs to locate to other countries and this includes:

- To escape trade tariffs; this seems to effect the EU market the most with TNCs often choosing to produce goods within Europe to escape the expensive tariffs that would otherwise be placed on trade.
- In an attempt to see the lowest cost location for production facilities; this is often driven by the search for the cheapest possible labour hence why many production facilities are currently based in Asia as it offers a large, available, accessible and cheap labour force in countries with little enforcement of health and safety regulations and workers rights such as those present in Europe.
- Wanting to find an easier more effective way to reach into foriegn markets; this often provokes movement by TNCs as overseas developments do not just increase sales but they can also help to reduce the unit costs of each item produced or sold worldwide.
- Arguably the intial reason for TNCs to develop operation overseas is the fact that it enables them to exploit and effectively utilise the minerals and resources that they need.

Walmart have based the vast majority of their production facilities in China, where they pay workers less than $3 per week, make them work 7 days a week and, due to the abundance of workers can manage to keep production going practically 24/7. The workers in the film emphasised the poor worker conditions, the way in which they are tied in to continued work for Wal-Mart whom to some extent dictate things like where they live and work long hours for poor wages. Bangladesh is another country where Walmart have developed production facilities and it is estimated that they employ 189,000 female workers who have to put up with inhuman working conditions. Consequently, something that can be assembled for $0.18 is retailed for atleast $14.96 in the USA. This maximises profits for the company and with Walmart exporting $18 billion worth of goods from China to American stores in 2004 alone, it is no wonder that so many TNCs are attracted to this part of the world.

Walmart employs 2.1 million people around the world, including 1.4 million in the USA, in more that 9,600 retail units operating across 28 countries (4,400 of these retail units located in the USA) with Walmart estimating within which they serve customers 200 million times per week. The employers interviewed for the documentary we watch very strongly gave the impression that people are not happy with the way in which Walmart treats its employee's as they fail to hire enough staff, expect people to work more than their set hours, fail to pay sufficiently and offer benefits (with special regards to the health insurance - remember this is a huge problem in society in America). The health insurance issue came across as a real sticking point with it believed that the cost is shifted onto the government to be paid for by taxpayers at an estimated cost of $157,000,000.00 in America!!! Much of this poor treatment has been blamed on the managers who are greatly against unions. Walmart currently faces (when the film was produced, not 100% when this was) lawsuits in 31 states across America for unfair treatment of workers, exploitation of illegal immigrants and discrimination against women. From an environmental persepective, they have been fined in the past and continue to be for 'Environmental Violations' like, for example, in Texas in 2001 when they were fined $10.1 million for water contaimination. This has lead many to believe that Walmart clearly cares more about its property than the people and the environment; a belief furthered by the number of fatal/serious, and arguably avoidable, crimes that have occured in their premises.
2 minute review of the main points coverd in the film
TNCs are also not very popular with local businesses in the areas that they decide to develop as small, family owned local businesses cannot compete with the low prices that Walmart are able to offer as consequence of low labour and production costs. Going a little off track but I think it is quite interesting to think about what is going to happen as oil reserves continue to dwindle and it becomes increasingly difficult and less finanically viable to transport goods across the globe. How are TNCs going to cope then? Could we see a shift back to smaller, local businesses that can, athlough at a higher cost, source and produce goods locally? If this shift was to occur, how detrimental would it be to the developing countries and NICs?

Anyway, the criticisms for Walmart do not stop there! The wages recieved by the average employee compared to that of the companies CEO has recieved much attention with the CEO's hourly rate believed to exceed the yearly income of a new employee. Last year it is estimated that the CEO earned $35 million which apparently translates to $16, 826.92 an hour whilst the average employee starts out at $8.75 per hour which works out as $13, 650. Despite this, and the fact that in the last financial year, Walmart reached net sales greater that $260 billion; the Walton family only donated 1% of their wealth to charity. Workers collectively, and voluntarily, donated $5 million to a hurricane recovery effort a few years back (again whenever the film was made) whilst the Walton family only donated $6000. In contrast, that provided $3.2 million in political support in 2004 whilst recieving a $91,500 per tax break.

The film gave the clear impression that Walmart is not good news for towns/communities and consequently some have started to try and resist Walmart from taking over - something which is increasingly difficult as many TNCs are larger in relation to the income of the coutries in which they are located, meaning that it is very hard for governments to enforce national laws on them. Inglewood, in 2004, was the first example of a town who refused and then won their battle to prevent Walmart from developing in the town and since then many more communties have successfully fought against this huge TNC.

This is clearly all the negative stuff so are their any benefits to TNC presence and are their any 'winners' apart from company owners, share holders (and perhaps politicians)?

Well, generally speaking, governments actually normally want investment from TNCs as they generate jobs and incomes, train local workers in new and transferable skills, bring new technology and the taxes that they pay can be important in stimulating economic development via cumulative causation. TNCs and the appending Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has, in some cases for both developed and developing countries, become so crucial for their economies that they are willing to compete against one another for their investment - a competition that often involves incentives such as tax breaks, pledges of governmental assistance and improved infrastructure. Unfortunately, in extreme cases, this can also involve the introduction of even lower wages and a relaxation on controls over wages/workers rights. On the other hand, TNC presence in the working sector can intiate a standardisation in working conditons and environmental laws etc. on par with those in operation in the developed world where the consumers are located. As a result, in the long term, developing countries who are able to attract TNCs can be considered as winners as their presence kick starts cumulative causation thus accelerating development. At this stage it is, perhaps, important to remember that every TNC is different and so should really be considered seperately to others, with regards to discussing positives and negatives of their occupation of countries, and that the documentary we watched focused on the negative side of Walmarts role in American society, politics and economy and that, as in every case, there are also a few benefits.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Processes of Globalisation

I am guessing that you have all probably done a substantial amount of reading regarding factors affecting development, especially colonialism, over the last week or so, thus I thought I would skip out that bit and instead focus on globalisation, starting at the very beginning.....

Globalisation = increasing interconnectivity of global markets, politics and cultures

Factors that have allowed Globalisation to occur:

1) One of the most important factors that has allowed globalisation to occur, and at arguably such a rapid rate, is the development of ICT, with particular reference to the internet, as its development has permitted cheap, reliable and almost instantaneous communications between all parts of the world (in theory!). This new found ability to share information, transfer capital and marketing at such a quick speed has been essential for globalisation and is something that I think many of us take for granted nowadays. Going slightly off topic but just think how much easier are lives are thanks to the internet and telecommunications, even our education and the way we learn has been greatly improved - if you ask your parents etc I doubt that they would have ever predicted that we could be sat at home, on computers, listening to our geography teacher discuss LDCs and the Millenium Development Goals at 5:30pm on a Tuesday evening!!! 

2)Anyway, this flow of information has also been supported by improvements in transport (of both people and goods) - I am guessing a few synoptic links (you know, those things that our essays are meant to be full of now to demonstrate we 'think like geographers'!) could be made to the AS Energy module here.... The increased mobility we now have has made transportation more efficient and cheaper with such developments including:
- Increased aircraft size, introduction of budget airlines, development of airfreight companies and intergrated air movement networks
- Container revolution in the 1960s along with standardisation which allowed containerisation to become so efficient and cost effective
- new computerised logistics systems for all forms of transport
high-speed rail networks and extension of railway networks
- better and more direct road links
With this ability to move goods cheaply and quickly seeming to be intrinsic to globalisation, how is it going to be affected when oil reserves run out or when it no longer exists as a commerically viable resource. I am sure you will remember the debate that exists over whether or not we have reached peak oil and if not, how long will it be before we reach this point? There, at present, exists no other resource capable of filling the void oil will leave and so can globalisation, as we know it, exist in the future?
Although, this movement of goods has been crucial, the movement of people has been equally so and although some of the above have increased our mobility, there are some other factors more specifically linked to the movement of populations....

- tourism has played a huge role in getting people, therefore cultures, moving around the globe
- increase in migration which has seen unskilled workers, who are increasingly forced to migrate illegally as richer countries try to protect their populations from an influx of workers who would be willing to accept lower wages and poorer working conditions
- brian drain/gain

3) With both people and goods moving, services  and marketing have began to move. The easiest example to see this in is probably the spreading of the advertising industry which has been greatly utilised by TNCs and increased foreign direct investment.

Transnational Corporation (TNC)/Multi-national Corporation (MNC) = at its simplest level, this is a corporation that has prodcution establishments or delivers services in atleast two countries. Interestingly, or perhaps even worryingly, some TNCs have grown so large that they have budgets that exceed those of many countries in which they operate.

It is becoming more common for TNCs to market products in a way which ensures the same campaign can be used across the globe as part of an international marketing strategy. The advantages for TNCs of such international stragegies include:

- the cost of research and development of products can be spread across many more sales, reducing unit costs and increasing profits
- brand loyalty can be encouraged as people move from one country to another
- manufacturing can move to countries and regions where production costs (particularly wages) are cheaper without needing to change the basic product which was internationalised.

TNCs are seen as the agents of globalisation and without them, globalisation would struggle to exist but is their presence always a good thing.......well that documentary we watched today regarding Wal-Mart cleary suggests not. So, does this mean that globalisation is the way to develop or is globalisation detrimental to development? Have a think about it, blog post is on its way!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Geography Picture of the Week - Highest resolution global map of ocean surface salinity

First up, the most observant of you will notice that I have changed my 'Geography Picture of the Day' to 'Geography Picture of the Week' as, in reflection, it was always high unlikely that I would post a picture everyday! Instead, hopefully, I will be more likely to post one weekly and although I am guessing that most will be linked to physical geography, I will try and find some relevant to our current human module........

So, what is my Geography Picture of the Week this week???

I apologise to any of you who are getting fed up with oceanography-related posts (my EPQ will be over very soon so hopefully I won't be so tempted to write about oceanography stuff all the time when I should really be writing about Development and Globalisation!) but I really couldn't resist posting this one!!!

The above image was released by NASA and represents the one of the first and high resolution global map of ocean surface salinity made, using data acquired by the Aquarius/SAC-D satellite, launched in June this year with the map itself only incorporating the first 2 and 1/2 weeks of data since Aquarius became operational on the 25th August. Scientists have been able to measure ocean salinity for decades by lowering instruments from ships or by deploying robotic floats, but the technology to gather data from orbit is a recent innovation.

The generation of this map has been long anticpated by oceanographers and meterologists so I am guessing there are a few very happy scientists around the world at the moment! If you have followed any of my highly unorganised posts on oceanography you might be able to appreciate why........

Well, our ability to map and thus determine salinity (basically the 'saltiness') will improve our understanding of ocean circulation, the risks of future alterations to it and also an understanding of a few key climatic processes (note that the oceans and atmospheres are incredibly closely coupled with, in simple terms, the oceans provided the memory for the climatic signals generated in the atmosphere).

So, what excatly does this map show? Well, the red and yellow colours represent areas of high salinity with blues and purples denoting those with low salinity and black showing areas with no data(note no data retrival on land). The maps clearly shows well-established, large scale features, significantly the major salinity differences between the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. With the Pacific ocean by far the 'freshest', supporting the absence of deep-water formation sites, and the Atlantic by far the most saline. The salinity of ocean water is intrinsic to ocean circulation, although most precisely thermohalince circulation, which is soley driven by density differences (salty water is denser than less saline waters and so is forced to sink, thereby helping to drive the circulation). Also apparent is the corespondance between areas of lower salinity and rain belts and the areas of high evaporation found in the subtropics (regions of evaporative enrichment). Smaller-scale features are also possible to identify like the freshwater outflow from the Amazon River which acts to dilute immediate Atlantic surface waters.
The goal of the Aquarius mission is to retrieve salinity with a resolution of 0.2 parts per thousand (a concentration change equivalent to about one millilitre of salt in six litres of water). Aquarius carries three high-precision radio receivers that will record the natural microwave emissions coming up off the water's surface; emssions varying with the electrical conductivity of the water - a property directly related to how much dissolved salt it is carrying.
Smos global salinity map
The Nasa-Conae spacecraft is not the first ocean salinity mission in orbit as Europe already have a satellite in operation (Smos) which was launched in 2009, producing the first ever global salinity maps generated from space. The intention is to inter-calibrate and combine the Aquarius and Smos measurements as, together,these spacecraft are now acquiring volumes of salinity data that dwarf all the information ever gathered in this field of study.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

ENSO: a kind of synopsis

It looks like we are going to be doing a lot of purely Human Geography for a while and so, as well as writing a post about what I learnt about development this week I thought I would write a post on ENSO, a purely physical topic, that, if I am honest, really really fascinates me but is unfortunately no longer on the A-level syllabus. Just incase you don't manage to get to the bottom of this post, I am planning on writing up atleast one detailed case study that could be used in our essays (sorry to remind you all!) and so I am looking for some suggestions on which one to do - I have a few ideas but any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

So, anyway, this one is for all you Physical Geographers out there!

What excatly is the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO)?
The term 'El Nino' has been applied, in the past, to somewhat different oceanographic events in the tropical Pacific but, nowadays, is commonly used to describe the anomalous warming of the sea-surface temperatures (SST) that occurs every few years in that region, although typically focused in east-central equatorial Pacific. El Nino events last several months and are associated with widespread changes in the climate system (dominating climatic flucuations observed on interannual timescales). These climatic changes have huge socio-economic impacts on countries, affecting agriculture, infrastructure, health, energy and, of course, development.

What is La Nina and the ENSO cycle?
La Nina is the term used to describe episodes of cooler than normal SST in the tropical Pacific (easiest way to think of it is the opposite of El Nino). The Southern Oscillation bit of ENSO is the term used for the atmospheric changes that occur in the tropical Pacific and accompany El Nino and La Nina events. Both events involve strong interactions between the oceans and atmosphere and tend to alternate (although not always the case) and this whole process is referred to as ENSO cycle. The ENSO cycle is not regular with various sizes and durations in both events but ENSO is a natural phenomenon and proxy evidence (principally from coral growth rate measurements) suggests ENSO has existed for thousands of years.

What causes El Nino?
As simply as I can put it, the ENSO cycle is the consequence of slow acting feedbacks in the ocean-atmosphere system, helped by strong air-sea interactions in the tropics that permit long-lived long-range connections to operate in the system.

Normally, the equatorial Pacific ocean has a pool of relatively warm water in the upper ocean to the west and a shallower layer of relatively cool water in the east; easterly surface winds are intrinsic to the maintainance of this balance. The first few tens of metres of oceans are well-mixed and lie above a thin thermocline, with cold water below.

The exact trigger of El Nino events is still debated and, due to a lack of observations, not a great deal can really be said about them with much certainity.There are a few possbile triggers though - Raised SSTs in central/east Pacific can be caused either through the action of westerly windbursts (short-lived storm-like events in West Pacific), or the gradual development of the ocean waveguide which moves the thermocline. Increased SST influences the atmospheric winds which, in turn, influence the upper ocean and the thermocline such that the SST is further increased = positive feedback. Only when the conditions are favourable will this feedback generate an El Nino event  where you get increased SSTs, reduced easterly winds and a 'flatter' (for want of a better word) thermocline across east to west Pacific.
La Nina

El Nino events then also cause gradual changes throughout the tropical Pacific ocan which develop in such a way that the SST across the equator slowly returns to normal, thus ending this event. However, the system normally overshoots and the feedbacks act to amplify small cooler anomalies, initiating a La Nina - as said before, it is basically the opposite with strengthened easterly winds and a increase in thermocline gradient. As this process is self-limiting the cycle continues....

What are the meteorological consequences?
Global impacts of El Nino
If you have managed to stick with this to this point, this is probably the bit that will interest you the most - bringing in a bit of Human Geography you could even link this to the development essay as ENSO has, arguably, hindered development in countries across the world!

 During El Nino events changes in SST, alterations to atmospheric circulation, temperature and precipitation occur; with these alterations, via atmospheric dynamics, extending far beyond the tropical Pacific region. As the impacts vary with location, it is practically impossible to identify a general pattern but generally speaking the eastward shift of precipitation in western Pacific tends to provoke huge deficits in the Philippines, Indonesia, north and east Australia, whilst central Pacific experiences increased rainfall.

Global Impacts of La Nina
I was fornutate enough to get to quiz an ENSO researcher at the Met Office,  about everything related to ENSO and I saw lots and lots of similar maps to those opposite - one question that instantly came into my mind was why excatly do the maps suggest that ENSO has no impact whatsoever on Europe. Well, in short, the European region is only relatively weakly effects and there is substantial variability in the observed conditions. Therefore, only when you analysis a long historical record of events will you see the impacts. Such analysis suggests that there is a clear late winter response associated with moderate strength El Nino events; with the tendency for cold conditions in northern Europe and mild southern Europe, with an increased precipitation in a wide band across central Europe (accompanied by decreases elsewhere). Due to this though, it is hard to distinguish between the different factors, with El Nino just one, that are capable of generating such climatic anomalies.

What are El Nino 'flavours'?
I had never, ever heard of this idea of El Nino 'flavours' before and my knowledge is limited to what I am about to write (definetly requires a bit of further indepth research on my behalf!) but I thought I would mention it anyway as its quite an interesting idea. This topic has recieved quite a bit of attention in recent years, due to the slightly differing impacts. The 'normal' El Nino witnesses SST warming in eastern and central Pacific, while the 'dateline' or 'modoki' (apparently Japanese roughly translating to 'similar but different') type primarily experiences warming in the central equatorial Pacific. It has been suggested that the main difference is the influence in Atlantic tropical storms, with such storms typically fewer in 'normal' El Nino years, with 'modoki' events not reducing hurricane activity.
So, I think that is probably the basics of ENSO and I think, before I move on to talking about modelling it and how is it measured, I will probably have to write a post on the basics of climate modelling (it will be the real basics as all this modelling stuff is like a totally seperate science which I won't be able to tell anyone about in any great detail - trust me, its tricky stuff!) and, when I get my head around some scientific papers on ENSO the Met Office provided, I will also write a post on extrinsic forcing factors that effect ENSO. Just one last think to leave you with, follow the link to see up to date measurements taken in the Pacific as part of the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean project.

Taken yesterday (14/09/2011)

I am guessing that most are probably aware that we have just come out of a La Nina (cause of flooding earlier this year in Australia etc.) but at the moment scientists are divided over what will happen next as, although SSTs in Nino 3.4 started to rise again, they have since started to fall again - causing a split amongst researchers as to whether we will remain in the 'normal' state or go back into a La Nina (no one really seems to think we are going to go immediately into an El Nino). If you are interested and catch me around college, I have some plots, and ensemble forecasts which illustrate this.

I hope this made some sense (and was interesting), let me know if you didn't quite get everything as I realise that I am not great at explaining things but I am more than happy to try my best to explain it in a more understandable way if necessary. I am quite intrigued by the idea of El Nino 'flavours' and so if anyone knows anything more about it, please let me know!!! Especially things like what dictates whether an El Nino turns out to be of the 'normal' type or 'modiko' type?

There is some development stuff on the way, along with a few book reviews and a post primarily for all the new AS Geographers on 'Flooding, Farming and the Future'. Millie has emphasised the importance of knowing some case studies really well, with reference to development and colonialism, so I thought I would try and write a post on atleast one, sometime over the next few days, so let me know which one you would most like me to write about - its up to you!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Development and Colonialism - places to go if you are struggling for ideas...

This is only going to be a short post but I thought, seeing as I got the impression that some were perhaps struggling with linking development and colonialism, that I would try and point you in the direction of a few resources that may help you form you own opinions on the topic.

"To what extent are the low levels of development in much of sub-Saharan Africa a result of European colonialism"

First up, I feel the need to clear up a bit of confusion that arised in my lesson on Monday and was a topic of much debate amongst a few in my class. Where is sub-Saharan Africa? So, for those of you who weren't quite sure, its the darker bit with all the labelled countries.....


Millie has started running these online workshop sessions on her blog on Tuesday evenings starting at 5:30pm. The first one was tonight and even if you missed it, like me, I would strongly recommend that you catch up on what she discussed. All you need to do is go along to her blog (if you look at the very end of this page, under the blogs I read bit, there will be a link directly to the relevant post unless she has written something since then!) and just listen to it and follow the text. It was very useful as an overview of the factors we will be expected to cover in our essay, she suggested some good case studies for us to research further, provided some links to places to look to for a basic introduction to colonialism and also covered structuring and essay writing technique for all A2 essays. It is definetly worth catching up on if you missed it - I really could not emphasise this enough!!!

Now I realise that I have not really written many relevant/useful posts about development over the holidays but my head has been filled with lots and lots of oceanography based stuff and pure physical geography and I suppose I have utilised this blog to expel some of my frustration about having to cut much of the wonderful and highly interesting science out of my EPQ - so I apologise, I will get back into the swing of blogging regularly once our lessons really get under way and I will try and write about lots more human geography stuff to balance it all out over the next few weeks as I realise that physical geography is perhaps not everyones favourite thing. Below will be a few links to some posts that are sort of relevant and should hopefully provide some extra knowledge:

Contemporary colonial carve-up???  This post is based on neo-colonialism, which is an issue that I suppose could be mentioned in up coming essay, and some of the impacts (both positive and negative) that it is having on countries at present are incredibly similar to those that colonialism had/has. There are a few references to the 'scramble for Africa' which is an issue that will have to be covered in the essay at some point! There are many other factors that have hindered development but I have mainly focused at the moment on climate....Is there a link between civil conflict and climate patterns? If I am being honest this post was an excuse to talk about a physical topic that really really interests me (ENSO) whilst also covering some human geography stuff and it is very relevant to the essay with a few case studies that could be mentioned. I don't think you really need to understand all the ENSO stuff and specifics of it but just the idea that climate has either helped or hindered development and, in the case of sub-Saharan Africa, greatly hindered it.  Climate plays/played a huge role in development and writing this post made me think back to the stuff we have learnt about the DTM and the Rostow Model of Development as for countries to move through the stages of both, therfore to develop, changes in agriculture are one of the first to happen as they help to generate an active and growing economy, reduce CDR by securing food supplies and provide employment etc. and in much of Africa, and other less developed nations, the climate does not allow for this to happen - an issue that can be seen the Horn of Africa at present, UN officially declares a famine in Somalia.

Books and films

I have a few book/film reviews to try and find the time to write over the next few weeks, to add to those that I have already written, and there are loads of great books/films out there to read/watch, based in Africa, that will allow you to gain so much more understanding of this topic.
- Blood River, Tim Butcher I have reviewed this one so follow the link if you want to know more but, in summary, this book is mainly set in DR Congo and is perhaps one of the best books I have read regarding this topic as the detrimental impacts that colonialism has had on this country and the way in which it has hindered development and, agruably, provoked the country to under-develop are very clear to see.
- The same guy has also written another book called Chasing the Devil, On Foot through Africa's Killing Fields which is based in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Again much of the above is covered but I havent got round to writing the review for it yet so the link is to one that I got online.
If I am being honest there are loads and loads of books that would be good if you got the chance to read so I don't think I really need to list them all but basically any book about an African country would give you an insight/understanding it their development - even a book I read for the energy module, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, would help you to understand factors effecting development.

I realise that this EPQ is probably taking up a lot of your time and involving a lot of reading so watching some related films may be a good way to ease yourself back into this Geography module and there quite a few out there..... some suggestions are (see links for my reviews along with links to this current module):
- Blood Diamond
- Darfur
- Invictus
- Goodby Bafana
- Cry Freedom
- Constant Gardener
I have yet to watch/ reading something that takes a more positive view to colonialism and development but there are some, which are often easy to forget! All of these are set in African countries and perhaps it is important to remember that other parts of the world were colonised too, with some case studies showing the benefits of colonialim, and so reading/watching stuff about them too could be quite a beneficial think to do.

The afore-mentioned are just a few things that I found really helped me extend my knowledge of the topic over the summer holidays; if you have any suggestions let me know!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Contemporary colonial carve-up???

It is becoming increasingly common for wealthy countries and corporations to acquire huge expanses of arable land in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, for use in industrial agriculture. These multi-billion-dollar deals have led to many farmers and families being stripped of the land they have occupied for generations...... Does this echo the 'land grabs' of the colonial era and are there actually any benefits for the local people?

With many African nations already struggling to feed their own
population can they afford to lease out much of their limited
fertile land to other countries so that they can secure food supplies?
In what has been described by the top ranks of the UN as a new neocolonialist trend, land is now frequently changing hands between developing countries and buyers who range from national governments to huge food producers and speculators on the international stock exchanges. Instead of buying, or leasing, this land with the aim to preserve its environmental value the influential organisations appear to only be interested in turning these marginal lands into profit. Critics of this neo-colonialist trend are worried that it parallels the infamous 'scramble for Africa' by colonial powers during the late 19th century; with many of these land acquisitions coated with humanitarian considerations to shroud the fact that they are instigated by cash-rich resource-poor countries who are desperately seeking to secure reliable food supplies and reduce their dependency on the vulnerable global market. These 'land-grabs' seem popular with countries with large populations (e.g China and India) who see 'offshore' food production as the most sustainable and affordable way to support their expanding populations and secure not only food but also water.
Is the increasing need for food and water in the developed world
driving the 'land grabs'?

The majority of the recent land deals have been characterised by long-term leases; most 99 year renewable agreements that effectively hand the land over in perpetuity at a rate that reflects the historical tradition of establishing plantations in European-owned colonies. Despite the clear parallels between these deals and events in Africa during the late 19th century, there are some fundamental differences with, perhaps, the largest being the driving force. Back in the 19th century, the colonial powers were grabbing territory but the contemporary land acquisition is driven by market forces. Many of these deals are being triggered by the search for food security, biofuels and minerals which has been instigated by food and energy price hikes that have occured over the past 5-10 years. The 2007-2008 food price hike was one of the most signficant and recent and many feel that it was this event that has highlighted just how vulnerable food-importing nations are to fluctuations in the global market (seems to have a similar effect as fluctuations in the price of oil). On the other hand, others feel that because the world food production has stabilised at 50% above what we need (when you consider how many people in the world go hungry everyday surely that only emphasises how much the developed world wastes!) that a move to biofuels is the largest driving force. To a certain extent, statistics support this as the World Bank estimates that 21% of the land deals in 2009 were for biofuel production. With the land extremely cheap there is no shortages of investors and, although not neccessarily proven in reality yet, in theory there should be some benefits for the countries leasing the land. Leasing the land should generate more jobs, lead to better and newer technology, improve infrastructure and attract extra tax revenues, whilst the World Bank agrues that it could also 'jump-start' agricultural growth via large-scale farming - all factors that could kick start cummulative causation and help accelerate development. On the other hand, across Africa, rural dwellers, pastoralists and herdsmen have been forced off of the land they have occupied for generations. Although there is disagreement as to the exact amount of land purchased by international organisations, the epicentre of this trend is, without a doubt, located in Africa. In 2009 alone, the World Bank estimates that 70% of the 45 million hectares of land deals were struck over were in Africa. The International Land Coalition suggests that this figure should be much higher. They estimate that 80 million hectares of land was exchanged, with 64% (so around 50 million hectares) being located in Africa.

Although this seems to be focused in Africa, it is occuring elsewhere and here are a few current case studies:
  •  January 2011 - A large Chinese rice and soya producer acquired thousands of hectares of soya beans, wheat and oilseed rape in Argentina's Rio Negro province and then shipped the produce back to China. The same organisation have also been reported to have signed an agreement to develop 200,000 hectares of land in the Phillippine province of Luzon. China has also been granted the rights to grow palm oil on 2.8 million hectares of Congolese land. It has been suggested that China operates 80,400 hectares in Siberia, which it purchased for US$21.4million. With China's rather large population, a forever increasing hunger for energy, lack of water security, lack of fertile land and a climate that hinders agricultural growth it probably does not come as much of a surprise that they are one of the main countries involved in the purchasing/leasing of land in developing countries.
  • Not 100% sure if this plan is still going ahead but earlier in the year, it was proposed that South African farmers would take over failing state farms in Libya.
  • Before Sudan split it leased 376,000 hectares of land to Saudi Arabia to grow wheat and rice. Saudi Arabia have also suggested that Saudi businesses groups should take control of 70% of the rice growing regions in Senegal. Leasing land in Sudan has continued, even after it split and prior to the offical split, South Sudan issued leases on 9% of its land.
  • Qatar leased 20,000 hectares of land for fruit and vegetable cultivation in exchange for funding for a US$2.3billion port in Kenya.
  • India has invested US$4billion in agriculture, including flower-growing and sugar plantations, in Ethiopia. Again, to most of you, this wont be much of a surprise. India's population is predicted to exceed that of China by 2030, they have even less water security than China, rising sea-levels threaten to claim much land and provoke mass migration from neighbouring Bangladesh and, as they continue to develop, they are consuming more and more energy.
  • Madagascar are in negotiations with Daewoo Logistics Corporation, negiotations which are believed to have played a significant role in the political conflict that provoked the overthrow of the government in 2009, to lease 1.3 million hectares of land for maize aand palm oil plantations - a figure that is practically half the country's arable land!  
  • Countries such as China and Saudi Arabia have shown lots of interesting in leasing land in Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and parts of post-Soviet Central Asia. China have been involved in negotiations to lease a million hectares of Kazakhstan farmland for rapeseed and soya production whilst Saudi Arabi are also interested to land there for grain production and cattle raising. It is reported that a British hedge fund, known as Dexion Capital's Global Farming fund, are in the process of trying to raise US$280million to purchase around 1.2million hectares of land in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukrainie along with parts of Latin America and Australia.
What are the main problems that arise as a result of these land deals between large corporations and developing countries? Firstly, the cultural and capacity gap between investors and the local communities leave huge scope for misunderstandings and this, combined with insufficient laws on land ownership and ensuring meaningful consulations, have lead to issues from the very beginning. Misunderstandings even revolve around payment with, in some cases, locals believing that money given is compensation for the transfer of usage rights only, whereas companies considering the payments as for the transfer of ownership rights. The fact that many of the deals are shrouded in secrecy, with the terms very rarely made public, creates a strong air of suspiscion, one that many consider to be well placed with the vast majority of land being sold or leased for notably less than its real value. Another issue is the displacement of locals who live on the land being leased out to international organisations. Small-scale farmers cannot compete with these big industrial-scale farmers and many are displaced with pastoralists losing their grazing land and rural people losing access to crucial common property resources. Pastoralists are hit quite hard as fences marking the land owned by these international companies restricts their movement to find water during dry seasons (an issue that has resulted in conflict in the extreme cases) and, although those displaced are sometimes reallocated land, the land they are given is of poor quality and some distance from infrastructure, resources and roads. Land grabs are also believed to widen the gender gap in developing countries with women suffering the most due to the land women rely on for collecting wood, medicinal plants, food and water being the most likely areas for external investment. Men are most likely to benefit from the greater accessibility of employment in plantations and processing plants. As well as the obvious impacts for the local people, what about the environment? The huge plantations that are being developed use vast amounts of water and fertile land, with significant interest being given to land along the Nile, where Sudan and Ethopia have, over the years, successfully sold millions of hectares of land, and so its use for irrigation and the surrounding land use change has surely got to have impacts for other countries such as Egypt and the surrounding environment/ecosystems.
Do the positives outweigh the negatives?

I think I have focused slightly more on the negatives but there are some positives to such deals and not only for the investors. A lack of money is one of the main factors that restricts countries from developing (i.e think about comparisions in transition speeds of countries through the DTM...) and so the injection of money as a result of the presence of rich countries/companies can allow for the execution of government ambitions to improve health care, education, infrastructure etc and so the quality of life for its people. It can also led to an injection of knowledge into local communties regarding better farming practices, amongst other things, which could eventually lead to mechanisation of farming - a move that was incredibly significant in accelerating the development of those nations considered to be developed today.

Is this an example of modern-day colonialism? Well, I think it is hard to argue that this isn't but hopefully, if managed and controlled accordingly (and better than at present!) it can be colonialism with a difference, colonialism that can benefit both sides. Neocolonialism is an interesting idea, which presents positives and negatives and is, understandably so, a debated topic that I am guessing is going to come up at some point during our current module. What do you think? Can these land grabs every truly benefit everyone? Can they every be both environmentally and socially sustainable? How closely does this echo the 'scramble to Africa' by colonial powers in the 19th century? Do you think Neocolonialism is a good idea - should it be encouraged? Is this the future for countries with growing populations and limited resources? Will this help or hinder Africa's development? Let me know what you think!

Darfur - A student's film review

My Geography film of the week this week was Darfur - a film that was suggested we watched for the Development and Globalisation module. Before I write any more I have to emphasise that Millie's warning about this film is one to strongly consider before watching it as it is very graphic (really not one for the faint hearted) and is a film that I would suggest you watch with a cushion nearby to hide behind - trust me, it is more graphic and horrifically shocking than 'Shooting Dogs', that film Millie made us watch at Christmas!

This film tells the story of the journey taken by a group of international journalists in the Darfur region as they search for evidence that suggests genocide has/is happening. Unaware of what they might find, this group of international journalists visit a small village in Darfur under the protection of the African Union (AU). They manage to persuade their guide to take them to a village in Janjaweed territory and when they arrive, the journalists see how the Sudanese live daily in fear of rape, torture and murder by the government and rebel militia. Whilst interviewing the Sudanese men and women for accounts to take back home to convince the UN that genocide has occured, the Janjaweed militia turn up and threaten to kill the journalists if they do not live immediately.......

I am not quite sure how much you will know about what has happened in Sudan, before it split this year, and the events that this film is losely based on, so I will attempt to summarise some of the key points.  Civil conflict has occured on and off in Sudan for decades but in 2003, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) began attacking governments targets after accusing Khartoum of oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs. Most of the tension built up in the Darfur region which had already experienced decades of violence and tension over land and grazing rights between the mostly nomadic Arabs and farmers from Massaleet and Zaghawa communities. Government response to this rebellion wasn't approved by the international community as they admitted to mobilising what they classed as ' self-defence militia'. However the President denied all accusations that they had links to the Arab Janjaweed militia who were accused of trying to drive out black Africans from large expanses of Sudan. Refugees from this conflict say that this is wrong as air raids by government aircraft were followed by Janjaweed attacks, who would ride into villages on horses and camels, slaughtering men, raping women, taking children and stealing whatever they could find.
There has been a lot of controversy over whether or not it should be classed as a genocide as firstly they are unsure excatly how many were killed and many of those that died, died due to starvation or disease. Many human rights groups and the US have said that genocide has infact taken place but, after an investigation in 2005, the UN concluded that war crimes had been committed but there had been no intent to commit genocide. The UN has estimated that since 2003 over 300,000 people have died (mainly believe that the actually figure is much higher) whilst 2.7 million have been displaced - mainly to refugee camps near the main towns or to neighbouring Chad where, as it has a similar ethnic make-up to Darfur, the violence has spilt over. The situation in Sudan has been incredibly unstable and unsecure for years and so many aid agencies have been unable to reach those that most need the help with some even being banned from northern Sudan following the arrest warrant for the President in 2009 for alleged war crimes.
I am guessing that most of you will know enough about what has happened most recently in Sudan, with reference to its split, but if you don't there is plently to read about it on the internet!

Is this a good geography film? Well, before I watched it my brother asked my what it was all about so I told him a bit about the background to the film and his first remark was to question what excatly genocide and the recent events in Darfur have got to do with Geography. Whats the answer.......well genocide effects both people and the environment and geography is all about people and the environment and how the interact. Going down the more human geography route first, genocide has impacts that can fill all the parts of S.P.E.E.D. Often the conflict can stem from social unrest, which can be generated via political unrest, and results in huge long-lasting societal and political changes. Geopolitics can become involved due to the view taken and role played by the international community. This can, in turn, lead to trade embargoes and cause fluctutations in the global market and thus effect the economies in countries across the world aswell as the country in which the conflict occurs.  Demographically, bites would become visible in population pyramids of that country whilst bulges in others due to forced migration. The mass migration away from the affected regions provokes the development of refugee camps which further increase issues with food and water availability, sanitation, spread of disease and all the other problems that are generated by the shear volume of people in such a small area being dependent on already previously limited resources. Migration to other countries only allows the violence and detrimental impacts of the conflict to spill over into neighbouring countries - an action in some cases that only sustains the violence. You can then link it to issues with aid getting to the people who need it and what types of aid are best in these situations etc. Honestly, this list could go on and on and I am sure you could think of a dozen more links to human geography straight away without too much thought; so what about physical geography? This is slightly harder but not impossible, especially if you look into what provoked the conflict. In a previous post I have already touched on the link between climatic changes and conflict and, with particular reference to the Darfur crisis, there is debate over the role played by regional climate changes in the initiation of the conflict with many arguing that drought and desertification played an influential role in stimulating civil unrest. You then have all the impacts that the conflict has on the environment so for example, if you can remember back to when we did that assignment for the energy module which included questions on the use of appropriate technology in Rwanda to help the coffee farmers as the conflict has destroyed much of the plantations and left the land unusable which then obvisouly have knock impacts on society. So, hopefully this proves the link between genocide and geography (I did manage to persuade my brother they were linked, although not to watch the film) so now I need to answer whether or not this is a good geography film.......

This film seems to have the sole purpose of shocking the watcher and it very successfully does this by presenting some truly horrific scenes. In terms of educational content, it definetly replicates what life in Darfur in the height of the conflict would have been like for people but it leaves a lot of questions unanswered - something which, to a certain extent, can be good as it should inspire you to go away and do your own research/reading into the topic. I think in relation to our geography course it is a film to watch and then link it to what you know about development, factors that affect it and the current situation in that part of the world etc. The current situation in Africa definetly sprung to mind: why didn't NATO and other international organisations get involved straight away to provide protection for the people when they rather rapidly got involved in Libya this year? For me, as a geography film from an educational perspective, I think it focuses too much on shocking the audience than necessarily educating them, although it does pick on a few key points like issues with aid agencies and the role of the international community, and I think most people will end up spending rather a lot of the time not actually watching the film but looking away (I certainly did!).  I have to admit though that although I recognise that in some cases people need to be shocked into realising/accepting/understanding/taking action etc., I am not a big fan of it and I personally feel that this film went a little bit to far down that route. Despite this, there are many things that you can learn from the film and it is, without a doubt, very thought provoking! If you have a strong stomach then watch it and read up on the details about the Darfur Crisis afterwards, the knowledge you will gain from doing so will really help with geography in general as it can be linked to some many different topics - I think you could possibly even link it right back to colonialsim in relation to how colonial powers literally chopped up Africa, with no consideration of how they were dividing cultural and ethnic groups and, certainly in Sudan, the north saw far greater development than the south. After watching this film you will certainly be able to understand why both North Sudan and South Sudan are at their currently levels of development.

So, if you think you can cope with the simply horrific and disturbingly graphic scenes which run throughout this film then watch it, as I have said you will learn things from it, but I just hope you heed mine and Millie's warnings beforehand - it really isn't one to watch if you haven't got a strong stomach, it is probably a good idea to watch it with some who has so they can tell you to look away at certain points and it will leave you feeling rather depressed, shocked and horrified afterwards that these sorts of things have actually occured - feelings only intensified by the realisation that similar events have occured on the same, and large scales, in other countries around the world.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Met Office Work Experience - Day 5 (for 25-08-2011)

I realise that these posts on what I did at the Met Office are like a week late but I thought that, because I had such a great time and learnt an incredible amount, I would still write them! Well, what did I get up to on my last day with the Met Office?

First up was a very interesting discussion with a researcher about ice sheets. There is currently a lot of uncertainity about ice sheets and their stability, with much of this uncertainity stemming from a lack of understanding of the mechanisms for ice sheet melt. Currently, it is believed that Antarctica is the most likely to experience significant melt and this is because much of it is under the sea. If the proportion that lies below sea-level was to melt, which scientists think could occur over the next few hundred years (although this may sound quite slow, it is considered to be rather rapid!), it would raise global sea-level by 6 metres!!! Greenland melting is an area that often recieves much attention, perhaps becuase we are unsure just how much freshwater could be released or how quicly it would occur, but for now alteast, many feel that a large freshwater input is unlikely. Before this discussion, I had never really given much thought to the influence that the angle of the bedrock, upon which the ice sheet lies, on melting but it does, in fact, seem to play quite a large role. The bedrock that the Greenland ice sheet lies upon slopes away from the sea, whilst that in Antarctica slopes towards the sea and thus making runaway melting possible. When the Laurentide Ice Sheet existed it was sat upon 'flat' bedrock, something that many considered essential for the occurence of Heinrich events. Due to this, depsite the fact that models currently cannot replicate Heinrich events, it is believed that this current climatic state cannot provoke Heinrich events. The fact that surprised me the most was that increased surface air or sea surface temperatures, as a result of global climate change, are not the biggest threat to the stability of ice sheets and would not be responsible for instigating the greatest volume of melt. Instead it is increased wind speeds.....but why?
This is a bit of an exaggeration of what happens but
hopefully you get the general idea....
Well, increased wind speeds would raise the height of local sea-level and increase Ekman Pumping. Increased Ekman Pumping would provoke old warm waters from the deep ocean to be dragged closer to the surface and over the terminal morraine, which marks the end of glaciers or ice sheets, and towards the base of the ice sheet, thus causing melting to occur. This is believed to be responsible for more melting than raised surface air/sea temperatures. One thing that scientists are unsure of though is what happens to the warm water once it passes the terminal morraine. Does it hit the base of the ice sheet and then continually circle, gradually melting away the base or does it bounce back off and return to the rest of the ocean? Understanding this is, again, crucial if predictions of ice sheet melt are to become more cetain.....

Anyway, all of this 'stuff' is important if scientists are to make more certain predictions of the future of the MOC and there is a lot of debate over just how much of an impact melt of Greenland or Antarctica would have. Most focus is placed on Greenland, as a result of its location. Some feel that perhaps, if enough of Greenland melted, it could significantly reduce the MOC intensity whilst others believe that, due to existance of sinking sites either side of Greenland, that Greenland melt could provoke a switch in sinking sites to the western side of Greenland - a switch that could have the potential to actually warm the UK during winter. There are a couple of other quite specific topics that we covered but I think I will leave them for another blog post.

After this I attended a Modelling Team meeting which was quite interesting as it provided an insight into some of the work that researchers at the Met Office are currently doing and some of the problems they are facing at present. Following this I had a chat with someone regarding ENSO, a topic that fascinates me, and as, again, there was lots that we covered,and I am a bit more confident about talking about ENSO, I am going to write another post solely on this. The afternoon was finished off with a chat about the relationship between the ocean and atmosphere and how this relationship is replicated in models. The relationship between the ocean and atmosphere is really really complex and I literally touched the very very basics. The ocean is sort of like the memory of the Earth climate system. The atmosphere cannot store things, like signals or changes in climate, and so instead it passes the signals on to the oceans. The oceans can store this information for hundreds and hundreds of years, whilst it circulates them around the world, and then passes the signal back to the atmosphere where it provokes a short term, but rapid, response. This coupling is crucial for many things such as ENSO. It is tricky to model all of the processes that link the oceans and atmosphere and all of the exchanges that happen between them (I am in the process of writing a post on the real basics of climate modelling as it is like a whole new science).

I apologise as I realise that all of my posts regarding my time at the Met Office have been a bit all over the place but I honestly learnt so much and I am not that great at explaining things. Despite this, I still hope they have been interesting to read and have given you a bit of an insight into the work done at the Met Office and some of the things I was fortunate to do whilst up there. I really cannot thank the people who made this whole experience possible enough - I learnt an unbelievable amount, gained some invaluable advice universities courses and careers etc, got to meet some great and highly intelligent people and simply had just an amazing time!!!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Met Office Work Experience - Day 4 (for 24-08-2011)

Last week I was fortunate enough to go back to the Met Office for a few more days and, yet again, I learnt so much, so I thought I would try and briefly go over some of the stuff I learnt. So, what did I get up to on Wednesday (I should probably say us as Millie also came along for the day!).......

Well, first up was a discussion about a possible thermohaline circulation shutdown. I have to admit that I find the idea of a future THC shutdown really interesting and it is an area that I have given a lot of thought to over the past few weeks, hence my rather long list of questions (I am guessing Millie quite enjoyed the fact that, for once, she wasn't the one my list of questions were aimed at!). As with the previous discussion groups we covered an awful lot so I am going to try and summarise the key points - feel free to ask if you want to know more! Again, much of the discussion revolved around the idea of hysteresis (which refers to the dependence of the state of a system on the history of its state, with the lag in a variable property of a system with respect to the effect producing it as this effect varies - thats kind of the idea of it all, I think). Honestly all of this takes a lot of time to get used to..... trust me I have been trying since we first started our EPQ's and I am, perhaps, only just starting to make some real progress!
Sorry I know its not the best drawing of the graph
but I was trying to make it as simple as possible! Basically, MOC
strength (in Sv) is up the y-axis and volume of freshwater
along the x-axis
I realise that I have spoken a bit about this graph before but, what excatly are the key points to take from it? Firstly, that a freshwater input does have the ability to weaken the THC and that a reduction in the freshwater present is crucial to a re-initiation of the THC. Secondly, that the THC seems to have two stable states; a stable 'off' and a stable 'on' state; and that, because of this, the same volume of freshwater input can be responsible for the THC to be in two different states. Next up, is the fact that it seems to suggest that when the THC starts to re-initate, although for a while it will operate at a slightly lower intensity than before, it will return to its original state once the forcing has reached a constant or is reduced. Finally, is the idea that the graph indicates that a irreversible change to the THC is impossible/highly unlikely, as, as soon as the forcing reaches consistency or is reduced, the THC does in fact start to recover and return to its original state. So, does this mean that global climate change cannot provoke an irreverisble change to the THC? Well, this graph and many of the models do seem to suggest this (although predictions past 2100 haven't been made) but it is hard to say with much confidence as there is so much uncertainity over the stability of the ice sheets around the world and how much freshwater they are likely to input to the oceans if they were to melt. Due to this, most predictions are based on our more certain estimates of alterations to precipitation, directly resulting from global warming, and simply our 'best guess'.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing researchers at the moment is applying this graph to real life - something which is only made more difficult by the complications generated by feedbacks and difficulties in validating model projections due to a lack of observations of the MOC strength.  The feedbacks are also an area that intrigues me (there are loads involved in the earth system and I think we briefly touch on a few at A2) although, again, they can get a bit complicated..... There are primarily two feedbacks that I am most concerned about, in the oceans, with reference to my EPQ theme and that is the advective feedback and the convective feedback and it is the existence of these two positive feedbacks that generates the non-linear behaviour of the ocean circulation and determines the stability of the THC. What excatly do these feedbacks involve?

  • Advective feedback:- the THC advects salty water northward in the Atlantic, which enhances salinity and density in the north which, in turn, keeps the THC circulating.
  • Convective feedback:- convective vertical mixing continually removes freshwater from the surface in regions of net precipitation; thus prevents the formation of a fresh buoyant surface layer which is capable of inhibiting convection.
These feedbacks tend to reinforce the contemporary circulation pattern and maintain its stability once it has started. It is, therefore, because of them that the circulation can be stable in more than one state (i.e. is said to have multiple equilibrium states of the circulation which can exist) - this includes what would be classed as the extremes, a stable 'off' and stable 'on' state. The ability of the THC to exist in a stable state whilst the NADW formation is switched, both, either 'on' or 'off' is attributed to the advective feedback, whilst the convective feedback is thought to lead to stable states with differing convection patterns in the North Atlantic (so, for example, stable states with or without convection in the Labrador Sea). Understanding these feedbacks and then being able to replicate them in models is critical if more certain predictions for the future of the MOC can be made. I could probably talk about this for a long time but I think I will leave it at this for the moment (just let me know if you want to know more!) so I can move on to what else we did......

Snowfall last winter, as it has done over previous years, caused
major disruption to the lives of people up and down the
country. If this is going to keep occuring, should we be
more prepared? Well, some town councils have started to think
this way - my local town council announced the other day
that they had invested in 6 new shovels to use
to clear the streets if we have more snow this year -
something tells me that more would need to be done if we were
to experience 4-5 months of snow each year!
After this discussion, we talked about the impacts that a future MOC shutdown would have on the world, although primarily the UK and I should probably warn you that they do not look to great! In terms of temperature, after a complete cessation, models have projected anything up to a 8 degree drop for the UK accompanied by 4-5 months of snow cover, higher wind speeds, less rainfall, quite a high local sea-level rise and an increased frequency and severity in extreme weather events. After the problems caused by snowfall on recent years I think I will focus on how society would have to adapt if we were to annually experience 4-5 months of snow cover. The short period of snowfall experienced over past years caused societal collapse in this country as we simply did not have the means or the knowledge to adapt and so the thought of longer periods of snow throughout winter every year, as a result of a NADW cessation, should be of concern to politicians whom received much criticism for an apparent inability to deal with the situation. Agricultural patterns are likely to be the first to be affected; with growing seasons altered, a seasonal shift back to more labour intensive time consuming work, both quantity and quality of winter vegetables reduced with farmers unable to lift them during frosts and greater expense involved in keeping livestock. As with transport on a whole, food distribution would be restricted with particular issues in relation to fresh food. In January 2010, one milk producing company, who supply 80% of the organic milk consumed in Britain, had to throw away 100,000 litres of milk as tankers could not collect it and farms do not have the storage capacity. Combining the above would incur raised food prices and, in the long run, possibly even provoke farmers to move away from commercial-sized farms to reduce expenses. People’s mobility would be inhibited with roads unsafe to navigate and public transport not running, leaving those in remote rural locations and the elderly isolated with limited access to amenities, an issue that would only increase year on year if the UK’s population continued to age. Alternatively, this could promote a switch to people living more self-sufficient lifestyles with vegetable patches in gardens etc. so that they would not be as reliant on supermarkets as a food source. Further strain on already stretched health care would be generated, with accidents more likely in icy conditions, increase in time taken to reach those injured and issues with both patients and staff reaching hospitals. Education would be affected (yes, I realise that we all love it when college is closed due to snow but it would soon become a great convinence if it was to happen over a long period every year!), with snow capable of causing significant disruption during exam periods and to those who presently travel further afield to gain an education in the best possible institutions. One of the largest impacts would be on the economy, with the 2010 snowfall reducing economic growth by 0.5% in the UK, as consumer spending is often at its greatest approaching Christmas and so better contingency plans would have to be generated to minimise the impact on the economy. Increased snow cover could provoke a shift in employment sectors as construction work could become seasonal, therefore affect unemployment levels and perhaps increase the percentage of the population with office based work that, during winter months, could be completed at home. This could, in turn, reduce the number of TNC’s attracted to the country whose arrival often prompts cumulative causation. Finally, if this prolonged snow cover is going to occur frequently, then more will be expected of local councils to deal with the situation, keep roads gritted and services and schools open. That is just a few of the impacts that increased snowfall would have on the UK, and there are many other impacts associated with the other factors. So, how do you think society would cope with the impacts of a future MOC shutdown?

To finish off what was, again, a really great day, we attended a seminar on 'The Effect of the QBO on Lateral Mixing and Transport in the Stratosphere' and, to be honest, I only managed to follow like the first 5 minutes (which was still a struggle depsite the fact I tried to do a bit of reading up on QBO the day before). The other seminars I attended previously were hard enough to follow but this one very very quickly went way way way over my head! I will try and cover the real basics of QBO but I am still very unsure of it all so you will have to bare with me.....

QBO observations - note alternating westerly and
easterly phases
QBO (known as the quasi-biennial oscillation) = the layer of winds that encircle the Earth in the lower stratosphere, at altitudes 20-40km, between latitudes 15N and 15S. They blow at velocities of 25 to 50m/s. They are alternately easterly and westerly, reversing every 13 months (if anyone knows how or why they do this I would be very interested to know!). QBO was originally known as the Krakatoa winds, with this name being dervived from the role that the winds played in dispersing the ash, from the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, in the atmosphere. The QBO is a slow oscillation, in terms of both strength and direction, of the zonal wind in the lower and middle stratosphere over the Equator of the Earth's atmosphere. Overall, it has a period of about 2 years and has been observed, in climatological records, for more than 50 years now. The mechanism that drives it is apparently quite simply but, perhaps because my knowledge of the basics of atmospheric circulation is not great, I am struggling to get my head around it all and I don't feel confident that I could explain it well enough. This is a link to an introduction of the basic mechanism with a few diagrams that is, perhaps, one of the easiest to understand explanations I have managed to find online - Introduction to the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation. This other website is also worth a look at, if you are interested in QBO, as it breaks most of it down into bullet points and picks out only the main points - The Quasi-Biennial zonal wind Oscillation (QBO). In short,
Zonal mean wind as a function of time and latitude at 10mb
- oscillation in mean zonal winds of the Equatorial stratosphere between easterlies and westerlies
- period of 28 months
- westerly shear zone propogates downwards more regularly and rapidly that easterly ones
-phase of the QBO affects the location of the extratropical surf zone by moving the zero wind line
- tropical mixing extent is dependent on the QBO phase
strong mixing extends to low latitudes of QBO pahse in stratosphere
Brewer-Dobson Circulation:
- large-scale middle atmospheric circulation
- responsible for long-term persistent transport of air and chemical nutrients from the troposphere to the stratosphere
- driven by Rossby wave breaking in the tropical stratosphere
Tropical Pipe:
- Tropical Pipe model of stratopsheric transport
- Tropical region bounded by subtropical edges of the wintertime surf zone which is isolated from the vigorous mixing of the extratropic surf zones
- edges of the Tropical Pipe barriers are moving

The seminar discussed the "influence of the stratospheric potential vorticity distribution in lateral mixing and transport into and out of the tropical pipe, th elow latitude ascending branch of the Brewer-Dobson circulation" and then presented the clear pattern that apparently exists between the above and the phase of QBO. I think the idea was that the phase of QBO dictates the amount of mixing that occurs as the phase of the QBO affects PV (potential vorticity) structure in the stratosphere. So, during the westerly phase, a strong PV is expected at the Equator which would isolate the Southerm Hemisphere from mixing and allow for greater 'in' mixing. During the easterly phase, stronger PV gradients at the subtropics limits Northern Hemisphere mixing and so particles remain in the tropics, where little mixing into the tropics occurs. I not quite sure if this is making any sense at all as I think the more I write about it the more confused I get about it all - therefore it is probably best that I just leave it at that! Sorry, I realise that my write-ups about the seminars have been really bad but honestly, they have all very quickly gone way past my level of understanding so, writing about the basics that they have been based on is about as much as I am currently able to manage.

Anyway, it was another great day and I hope Millie enjoyed it too!