Being a mature student

It felt like the planets aligned for me in perfect orientation. It was the start of September and the job I’d been doing for a year came to an abrupt end. I didn’t know what to do next: I had been toying with the idea of a distance learning degree through the Open University, but the thought of six years studying didn’t appeal.

A brief telephone conversation with the University of Brighton’s admissions team, and suddenly over the course of a few days I found myself enrolled on a full-time bachelor’s degree course. Still in a state of shock, three weeks later I am sat in a lecture hall listening to the Vice Chancellor welcoming me and my fellow ‘freshers’ to the University of Brighton. Wow!

Even now at the end of three years of study it still feels a little bit surreal. I have loved every minute of it, but as a mature student (and single parent) it is a very different journey to most of the students you share lecture halls and laboratories with.

In a strange twist, my son and I began university courses at different institutions in the same week. He studied International Politics at Aberystwyth University, whilst I studied Earth & Ocean Science at Brighton. This gave me a unique insight in to the process he was going through, but also meant my fellow students were the exact same age as my own child.

Of the approximately 300 students in the School of Environment and Technology for our year group, I was the only one over 25 (and nearly double that age at that!) My fellow students were an amazing bunch of people, who I loved working and studying with, but the generational gap was ever present.

The teaching and support staff at the University of Brighton do an amazing job under increasingly difficult circumstances. On one hand you have a student body that struggles to turn up on time, and when they do: turn up 20, 30, 40 minutes late for a lecture; think nothing of walking to the front of the lecture room; noisily empty their bag; talk to their friends; and generally disturb the rest of the room, whilst encased in a shroud of their own self-importance and oblivious awareness of the disruption they are causing. I am neither religious or violent, but at those moments I was praying for the god Nemesis to perform her primary role and administer divine retribution on the moron interrupting my learning.

I felt true sympathy for the teaching and support staff at the University, battling unforgivable student behaviour on one side, whilst being undermined, undervalued and overworked by the University administration on the other. Like so many parts of the education system in the UK, the University system is now a profit-making business ran by accountants with academic excellence and research a very poor and distant second place.

Everything from the quality, ethos and work ethic of my fellow pupils, to the workload and pressures on the teaching staff describes a system where the only thing that counts is the numbers enrolled on a course, that are subsequently paying £9000+ each year each.

I need to make it very clear I am not attacking any individual within the contact staff at the University, they are individuals who are passionate and determined to do the best they can, but they are working within a system that rewards quantity over quality.

On a personal note, I need to say a huge personal thank you to the following people who have made my undergraduate experience a life changing, exhilarating and thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Dr P Teasdale                                 Dr Norman Moles

Dr Jake Ciborowski                        Pete Lyons

Magda Grove                                 Dr Chris Carey

Dr Corina Ciocan                           Prof Chris Joyce

Prof David Nash                            Dr Annie Ockelford

Dr Ray Ward                     (apologies to anyone I missed off.)

When I enrolled as an undergraduate at the age of 47, I was already a little bit odd. Having worked well-paid jobs, and been completely unsatisfied with them, I had made the decision that personal fulfilment rather than financial gain would be my main motivator. But, as a single parent of two amazing children, and being their only financial support, it was only through their love and support that I could take us all through the arduous journey of undergraduate life in a society that does not respect education for its own sake, rather than as a tool to earn more money.

To my children Paige and Taylor, I can never thank you enough for your unwavering support.

Another thank you goes out to Heather, a very good friend who was always happy to help with my dissertation, in the sample collection process, regardless of the weather. She was always there to let me discuss findings and developments in my dissertation project, and most importantly was there to give me a kick up the arse when I thought I wasn’t good enough to do the work, when I doubted myself, or when I was just sick of the workload. Thank you.


To anyone thinking of going to University as a mature student, I would say unequivocally ‘do it’, you will never regret it, not for one second.

However…. be prepared to feel isolated in a system that is geared up for kids fresh out of the Higher education system.

Cuckmere Haven


Situated east of Brighton on the south coast of England, Cuckmere Haven sits in the midst of the iconic chalk cliffs and the South Downs national park. The Cuckmere valley is a stunning wetland environment that has salt marshes, saline lagoons, shallow wetlands, and wet grasslands.

But….. it is incredibly popular with tourists and locals alike, and to enjoy the stunning landscape fully I like to have it all to myself (almost anyway).

An early start (in May, that means up at 4AM) gets you to the Coastguard cottages car park just outside Seaford before Sunrise.

Image from Google Maps.

A short walk through the pre-dawn light brings you to the cliffs overlooking the sea and the Cuckmere estuary. It’s a beautiful and tranquil time, with the wildlife around you just waking up. Then comes the sunrise over the far side of the valley, and it looks like the hills are on fire. And the best thing of all is you get to revel in this majestic spectacle all by yourselves.

By this time it was about 5.45Am and this was the cue for the birds, rabbits, and insects to wake up fully. The quiet soon disappeared beneath a growing cacophony of bird song, and insect buzzing.


A truly beautiful place, and well worth the early start to the day.


All images are copyright S Hall.

Geohazard report – Tokyo.

Following the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Northeast Japan in March 2011, is Tokyo at greater risk of destruction?

Plate tectonics as a theory to explain earthquakes, volcanism and continental migration over geological timescales is a mature theory that has developed and been refined since Alfred Wegener first proposed his theory in 1912 (Wegener, 1966), through to the development of the theory in the 1970’s (Dickinson, 1974). The movement of these tectonic plates, and the subsequent frictions in the upper 10 to 15 KM between them is the principle cause of energy release which manifests itself in the form of earthquakes and sudden displacement of large sections of these plates. Below the upper crust boundary (10 to 15 Km depth) the crust accommodates plate movements through ductile deformation, whilst elastic-brittle characteristics are dominant in the upper crust, thus most earthquakes originate from depths less than 15 Km (Maggi et al, 2000).

The friction between the boundaries of two joining tectonic plates and the speed of plate movement dictates the frequency and magnitude of the plate movement when it occurs (Lachenbruch, 1980). In a low friction environment frequent lower magnitude quakes can be a sign that energy is being released, thus preventing the accumulation and subsequent release of larger magnitude events (Kanamori and Anderson, 1975).

Release of energy in the form of earthquakes causes earth movement and shaking, but if the event occurs within a subaqueous setting, and there is either a substantial movement of seabed either in the form of plate thrust and uplift, or a major seafloor avalanche then the sudden displacement of large amounts of water can cause a tsunami (Song et al, 2017).

Tsunamis can travel through deep waters such as found in the open Pacific at tremendous speeds, and as experienced in the ‘boxing day tsunami’ of 2004 (Farrell et al, 2015), coastal areas physically remote from the location of the earthquake can be dramatically and devastatingly affected. Because of the remote nature of tsunami threats, the extensive seismic activity surrounding the north Pacific coastlines of East Asia and North America, the so called ‘ring of fire’, means the threat of a tsunami source is extensive (Kânoğlu and Synolakis, 2015).

Japan sits to the West of a number of major subduction zones, with the Pacific plate subducting beneath the Okhotsk plate, as well as the Philippine plate subducting beneath the Amuria and Okhotsk plates (Figure 1) (Schellart et al, 2011). The rate of plate movement in this region is amongst the highest in the world (Figure 2), with Tokyo itself being located on the Okhotsk plate and very close to all other plates’ subduction margins mentioned above (Uchida et al, 2016).


Figure 1. Map showing the tectonic plate configuration surrounding Japan. Plate movement direction (large red arrows) and subduction zones (red lines) marked. Also marked is the focal point of the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Source: Ozawa et al, 2011.


Figure 2. Global tectonic plate boundaries with plate movement direction shown by green arrows, blue arrows indicate the rate of subduction, and red arrows indicate the rate of trench migration.

Source: Schellart et al, 2011:Figure 2.


Due to the regions extensive and frequent experiencing of seismic activity, the Japanese have rigorous building control measures in place (Imamura et al, 2018), as well as public awareness programs (Esteban et al, 2018) and sea defences in preparation for earthquakes and subsequent tsunamis (Suppasri et al, 2016). The magnitude of the event is key however in deciding the degree of preparation required. The last decade alone has seen 15,343 earthquakes in and around Japan between 3.5 and 7.5 magnitude event (See figure 3 for area parameters: USGS, 2018), with 124 events in the last 100 years ranging from 7 to 7.9 magnitude (Figure 3) (United states geological survey, 2018).


Figure 3. Earthquakes occurring near to Japan in the last 100 years equal to or above magnitude 7 intensity. Yellow line indicates highest previously recorded event of 8.5 magnitude, with the red circle highlighting the 11 March 2011 event of magnitude 9.1.

Source (Area parameters used 47.142° (N), 25.618° (S), 120.85° (W), 152.93° (E).

Hazards arising from any earthquake event can be separated in to two key areas; earthquake related hazards such as liquefaction, landslip/landslides, ground shaking, and ground rupture; and tsunami hazards from land inundation by catastrophic volumes of water displaced by seafloor movement, directly related to the earthquake (Dunn et al, 2012). The magnitude of the 2011 event has meant that legislation, preparation and mitigation of future seismic events now incorporate the expectation and possibility of megathrust earthquakes happening (Santiago-Fandino et al, 2017).

11th March 2011 saw one of the largest earthquake in recorded history to strike Japan, registering as a magnitude 9.0 event (Ozawa et al, 2011; Hooper et al, 2013). 15,896 people lost their lives, with a further 8,694 people either injured or reported missing (National Police Agency of japan, 2018). Economic losses to the Japanese economy were estimated to be up to US$235 Billion (World Bank, 2011), with the damage to infrastructure and particularly the nuclear installation at Fukushima Daiichi causing an estimated 59,000 people still unable to return to their homes as of January 2016 (Japan Times, 2016).

Occurring at 14:46 JST (Japanese standard time), the oceanic megathrust earthquake was located 70 kilometres east of the Oshika Peninsula, rupturing an extended section of the fault plane ~500Km long (Suzuki et al, 2011; United States Geological Survey, 2016). A megathrust earthquake is one of the most destructive magnitude earthquake events (usually >9 magnitude) and is differentiated from other earthquakes by its intensity and potential to generate very large tsunami waves (Biley and Lay, 2018). The elastic energy retained within the Okhotsk Plate, generated by the frictional force of the subducting Pacific Plate passing beneath it, was dramatically and explosively released. The damage from the earthquake was then followed by a tsunami as the significant movement of the seafloor (~62m movement) displaced massive volumes of seawater (Sun et al, 2017). This reached up to 40m high tsunami waves as the waters reached the Japanese shoreline and inundated the coastal regions by up to 10 Km inland (Mori, 2011).

Whilst the megathrust earthquake was expected (Davis et al, 2012), the predicted 8 to 8.6 magnitude force prediction was significantly underestimated. As seen in figure 3 though, the unprecedented magnitude of the 2011 earthquake in comparison to the previous 100-year record demonstrates the extreme nature of the scale of the event. Research since the 2011 event is now incorporating historical data such as geological evidence in the form of previous tsunami deposits within coastal stratigraphy (Wallis et al, 2018) and historical records which are extensive in Japan which detail tsunami damage and deaths dating back millennia (Ouzounov et al, 2018).

Seismic monitoring in the North West Pacific region is some of the most detailed and extensive in the world (Huang et al, 2017), but as demonstrated in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami which affected the Indian Ocean originating off the Western coast of Northern Sumatra (Lay et al, 2005), travel distances of tsunami waves can be global with deaths and damage being inflicted ~8000 Km away in Cape Town, South Africa (Mail and Guardian, 2004). This extensive range of the impact of a megathrust earthquake in the form of a tsunami means that extensive parts of ‘the ring of fire’ perimeter of the Pacific could be the origin of a tsunami that could affect Japan (Hinga, 2015). So, although the 2011 event has dissipated some energy in this particular length of plate boundary through the earthquake, tensional increases in plate boundaries adjoining the affected area may have been increased (Toda et al, 1998) including plate margins close to Tokyo, Japan’s capital. This increase in potential fault stress raises the risk of tsunami sources originating close to the Japanese coastline, a major factor in the intensity of wave height experienced in the 2011 event. Japan also must consider the possibility of other areas within the Pacific ‘ring of fire’ generating significant seismic events that could impact their shorelines in the form of tsunami waves.

With a population of 13.8 million people, and an extended metropolitan area encompassing over 38 million people (Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Statistics Department), Tokyo is the world’s most populous metropolitan area (UN, 2017). With population density of  up to 14,883 people/km2 within the cities prefecture (Statistics Bureau, 2018), hazards and the magnitude of the casualties would be compounded and exacerbated by the population levels present (Uitto, 1998). Population density of the Ibaraki-ken prefecture (one of the worst affected areas in the 2011 event) was just 485 people/km2, and even though casualty figures would not be directly proportionate, the resultant numbers of injured or dead would be extreme in an event affecting Tokyo.

Tokyo, Japan’s capital and largest urban conurbation, has additional unique factors which mean that seismic hazard events are incredibly difficult to predict, with the historic record showing three major earthquakes affecting Tokyo in 1703, 1855 and 1923 (Bozhurt et al, 2007). Immediately following the 2011 seismic event to the North of Tokyo, off the Oshika peninsular, a magnitude 7.9 event was recorded close to Japan just 30 minutes after the main earthquake (Simons et al, 2011). The scale of the 2011 event, and the proximity to the countries capital has meant that city impacting hazard models have had to be revised their potential maximum magnitude (Imamura et al, 2018).

Located at the juncture of three tectonic plates, Tokyo is located close to the Sagami trench, a zone in which the complex subduction may well limit the maximum magnitude of earthquake to hit (Toda et al, 2008). Below Tokyo, due to the interaction of two separately subducting plates, a complicated layering is potentially underway known as the Kanto fragment (Stein et al, 2006), causing frictional tensions at two separate boundaries and thus increasing the complexity of earthquake prediction (Figure 4).


Figure 4. Stylised representation of the tectonic plate configuration caused by the subduction of both the Pacific and Philippine plates beneath the Okhotsk plate, and the layered configuration of the lithosphere. (Insert shows Japan in relation to the Western Pacific. Source: Modified from the Guardian Newspaper


Topography considerations are also a major factor to consider for Tokyo’s tsunami risk, as the city sits at the North Western edge of Tokyo bay, a large shallow bay with a narrow 9 Km opening (Figure 5). Modelling of tsunami risks affecting Tokyo itself produce conflicting results with the narrow entrance to Tokyo Bay potentially protecting the city or amplifying tsunami damage (Sasaki et al, 2012) depending upon the magnitude and location of source used within models.


Figure 5. Stylised 3D map of Tokyo Bay and the surrounding bathymetry showing the constrained entrance to the bay. Source: Google maps.

Liquefaction hazards in Tokyo have been identified following the 2011 event by using Lidar surveying pre and post event (Konagai et al, 2012). This process has generated high resolution results to determine areas affected, and subsequently at future risk of soil subsidence (Figure 6) (Yasuda et al, 2012). Identification of risk allows remediation and prevention works to be undertaken to prevent future earthquake damage due to liquefaction (Bhattacharya et al, 2011).




Figure 6. Example of areas within Tokyo mapped after the 2011 event, demonstrating liquefaction predominantly on reclaimed land. Source: Yasuda et al, 2012



Building codes (dictating earthquake resilience) were updated extensively in 1981 throughout Japan, dictating that buildings should be built to remain standing when affected by an earthquake of 7 magnitude or higher (Aoyama, 1981). This is a requirement of new buildings constructed after 1981, therefore buildings constructed prior to this date (known as Kyu-Taishin) have a potentially lower resilience to high magnitude earthquakes compared to those constructed post 1981 (known as Shin-Taishin) (Sharma and Louzado, 2015). Kyu-Taishin (older, less resilient buildings) constitute ~20 to 30% of buildings throughout Japan, and therefore continue to be a potential hazard source as demonstrated in the 1995 Hanshin earthquake where 8.4% of older buildings were seriously damaged, compared to 0.3% of Shin-Taishin (building constructed to the newer more stringent building regulations).

To answer the original question, as to whether Tokyo is at greater risk of destruction following the 2011 event, we need to define ’risk’. Disaster prediction and prevention defines risk as the hazard multiplied by vulnerability, divided by the resilience or ‘capacity to cope’ (Smith, 2003). In Tokyo’s current situation, it can be argued that the hazard of a megathrust event has been increased due to the changes in tension regime along the faults near to Tokyo (Stein, 1999). Awareness of this risk, and specifically a realisation of the scale of the potential magnitude of events, which may well exceed the maxima encountered within recorded history, enables relevant bodies and individuals to be prepared. This ability to prepare and engineer for events far exceeding previously estimated maximum magnitudes can diminish the vulnerability of those within the affected area, as well as increasing the resilience and ability to cope with a major event (such as the 2011 event).

After considering all the evidence examined within this discussion, I feel even though the hazard from a megathrust event and subsequent tsunami may have increased since the 2011 event, raised awareness of the potential hazard may have diminished vulnerability and increased resilience, thus meaning risk has remained at the level prior to the 2011 event.





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6 tips to living a greener life for normal people (and save cash too).

We all know the planet is slowly being killed by our manic consumerism, but we all think “what can I do?” If like me, you’re not a tree hugger or a tofu eating hippie, then what easy changes can you make to your lifestyle that will make a difference?


As a meat-eating, driving, single parent, living in the South of England, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything bad (when compared to the people around me), but I also didn’t think I was trying as hard as I could to try and limit the damage I was doing.

So early 2018 I decided to make one small change each month that I could do (and more importantly, keep doing) that would reduce my impact on the environment.


  1. Soap

Swapping out shower gel, with the large amount of plastic packaging for the number of showers I was having out of a single bottle, was an easy one. A bar of soap (ideally vegetable based) lasts me the same amount of time as roughly four shower gel bottles. Plus, it’s so much cheaper too! My findings are backed up by a study in 2009 which found that liquid hand soaps require about 20 times the energy for packaging productions compared to soap bars (1).

As a middle-aged bloke, this one had a secondary benefit too, as I am follically challenged (bold), I don’t use shampoo, so almost my entire hygiene regime become more ecologically friendly overnight. An easy one for me.


  1. Water bottles.

I hate paying through the nose for something that is almost free! Bottled water is a purchase I despise, and so now I make sure all 500ml water bottles are rinsed, refilled, and used again. I know many people buy and use specific reusable water bottles, but I have empty bottles lying around, so I’ll keep using them until I’ve used them all.

Think of it this way; if you rinse and reuse each bottle of water you buy once you have immediately halved the amount of plastic consumed. Quick easy win, and yes once again you save money, and when you consider a recent report forecast production of these bottles will grow to 500,000,000 by 2021 something has to change (2).


  1. Transport.

I’d love to tell everyone to jump on the bus or cycle every trip, but I know not everyone has the quality of service we do here in Brighton, and first and foremost this list has to be easily do-able. The easy trick we can all do though is slow down a little whilst driving. Anticipate breaking more, and don’t accelerate hard. Just doing these small changes has reduced my fuel consumption by 15-30%, which for the average household is a huge saving (3).

In the longer term, don’t buy a new car, make your old car last longer (all the time it’s economical to do so), and if you do have to renew your car think about the consumption (or go fully electric if possible).


  1. Coffee cups.

Buying a reusable (and often insulated) coffee cup was the easiest of the changes I made. The initial £2 investment has been quickly offset, with every high street coffee shop and even motorway service stations now offering a discount for your own cup. I figure I’m now ‘quids in’ and saving with every coffee I buy now. With an estimates 2.5 billion coffee cups bought and thrown away each year in the UK alone, almost all unable to be recycled due to the coatings on them (4), this is a quick win for the planet.


  1. Shaving.

Switching from disposable safety razors to a barbers (cut-throat) razor was the one switch that I was most nervous about. The initial attempts were ‘messy’ let’s say, with me looking like an extra from Sweeney Todd, blood everywhere! But, with the help of youtube tutorials and a little practice I can now shave my face (and my head: even the back) without any blood appearing. This particular change has brought big financial benefits, with my buying the equivalent of two months shaving (including foam) for the same cost of just two weeks shaving the old way, personal findings backed up in an article in the Mirror newspaper from January 2017 (5).


  1. Red meat.

This was the biggy for me, and hence why I did the easier stuff first. I come from a family of great cooks, and we all love our food. The traditional meat and two veg, full English breakfast, and BLT’s were a mainstay of the weekly diet, so trying to cut down on the meat consumed during the week felt almost like a betrayal. Initially, I reduced the amount of red meat I ate to just once a week, a change that was surprisingly easy; so easy in fact that cutting red meat out has been incredibly easy. I have now cut meat out almost completely (6).


The changes I have made are easy ones for anyone to make, and the great personal bonus is that each and every change has made me financially better off. Go on, do it! The planet and your bank balance will thank you.



All images sourced from Pexel, and are royalty and licence free.

Article references:

  1. Koehler, A. and Wildbolz, C., 2009. Comparing the environmental footprints of home-care and personal-hygiene products: the relevance of different life-cycle phases. Environmental science & technology43(22), pp.8643-8651.
  2. Laville, S., and Taylor, M., June 2017. The Guardian Newspaper.
  3. Dijkema, M.B., van der Zee, S.C., Brunekreef, B. and van Strien, R.T., 2008. Air quality effects of an urban highway speed limit reduction. Atmospheric Environment42(40), pp.9098-9105.
  4. Poortinga, W. and Whitaker, L., 2018. Promoting the Use of Reusable Coffee Cups through Environmental Messaging, the Provision of Alternatives and Financial Incentives. Sustainability10(3), p.873.
  5. Andrews, J., 2017. The Mirror Newspaper.


72 hours that will change your life forever.

Before going to Iceland, I had never been on a ‘cold’ holiday (apart from the obligatory ski trip with school, many decades ago), and really I didn’t know what to expect.

Being a mature university student, I had been studying plate tectonics and the processes the earths crust was undergoing, so a trip to Iceland seemed a perfect opportunity to expand my lectures with some real-world examples. Internet research painted a picture of a land almost from Norse fiction, too powerful, vibrant, and dramatic to be real. So, with the assumption that some serious photoshopping and exaggeration had coloured the travel writer’s gushing’s, we made our plans.

This was always going to be a trip on a shoestring, and when travelling to a remote location such as Iceland, that is almost an impossibility. Flying with EasyJet, and staying in a small apartment on the outskirts of Reykjavik seemed our most economical option.

We hired a car for the three days, and with this we didn’t skimp but instead went for a four-wheel drive vehicle in order to ensure we could travel to more places. I’ve listed a breakdown of our costs at the end of this series, because even doing this trip on the cheap….. isn’t cheap.


We left Gatwick airport mid afternoon on a clear March morning, and headed off with a rucksack (cabin luggage) each. The flight is a little over three hours, and as we approached Iceland the cloud cover cleared spectacularly. Approaching along the Southern coast, we had magnificent views of Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that erupted in 2010 pushing thousands of tonnes of ash into the atmosphere and grounding flights across Europe.

Still excited about our first glimpse of this amazing island, we slowly descended and swung around over the sea to approach the airport. It was then as we glanced down at the deep blue waters of the North Atlantic that we saw a pod of whales breaching during their migration. That was when we both realised we would be saying “wow” quite a lot over the next few days.

Upon landing and exiting the plane, the first thing that hits you is the smell. During the three days, the intensity waxed and waned, but was ever present. The sulphurous smell, ‘eggy doesn’t do it justice’, is always with you, even the tap water tastes of it.

A quick and efficient transit through the airport and car hire rep, and we were on the road to Reykjavik. (Iceland drives on the right! A fact I soon realised, as oncoming cars pointed it out to me insistently.) Having never been to a volcanic island, or landscape before, I wasn’t prepared for the alien appearance we saw as we drove along the deserted highway. Black volcanic rocks, snow and lichen stretched in every direction, and the grey brooding sky seemed to merge with the horizon seamlessly.

Navigation in Iceland is relatively straightforward, with signposts clearly marking your way, and a distinct lack of roads making it relatively easy to head in the right direction. And so it was that we found the district where our apartment was located. A quick call to the owner, and the usual Icelandic approach to security, i.e. “just let yourself in, it’s all unlocked and waiting for you”, and we were settled in.

We had just enough time to drop off our bags and we were heading out again to the Blue Lagoon. An Icelandic tourist attraction that everyone needs to visit once in their life, even with the high entry costs. We arrived at 9pm and the place was virtually empty, with clouds of steam billowing in to the clear night sky. Like most things in Iceland, items you forget to pack can be very expensive to buy locally, so the swimming shorts that I forgot to bring with me would of cost £40 to buy in the onsite shop. Fortunately for me, I saw no difference between boxer shorts and swimming trunks (and it was quite dark thankfully!)

Blue Lagoon resort, Iceland, at night.

Image courtesy of

Beginning life as a geothermal plant, utilising the power of the hot volcanic water bubbling up to the surface from deep underground, the cooling ponds from the plant became a place for locals to enjoy an outdoor dip. Not wanting to miss a commercial opportunity, the recreation was formalised and made easier to access in the 80’s, and now you can relax in very warm waters under the stars.

Lying in an outdoor pool, with the mist lazily drifting up into the night sky was possibly the most surreal experience I have had in a long while. With the place almost empty and the air temperature well below zero, seeing the moon casting an eerie ethereal glow to the lagoon was breath-taking.

With the high mineral content of the water, and the complimentary facial scrub from the local mud, we left the lagoon feeling relaxed and at the same time stunned at the otherworldly beauty of the place.

Stopping at a supermarket on the way to the apartment, we stocked up on a few supplies (enough to get us through breakfast, and a light lunch for on the road the next day). With a small basket of provisions purchased, and the travel wallet the equivalent of £50 lighter, we headed back to the apartment.

To say that my first impressions of Iceland were amazing would be such an understatement, but the trip had hardly begun. Exhausted, amazed, and with extremely well exfoliated skin, we arrived back to the apartment with huge smiles on our faces.

Route 1 around Iceland circumvents the Island and is the main (and only) means of transport for many on Iceland. Image source – S Hall ©

The rest of the trip will be posted soon.

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S Hall ©

The rest of the trip will be posted soon.

Brighton Marina, an analog for climate change.

Brighton Marina, inner harbour water level, February 2018. S. Hall ©

The Marina’s birth

Built in the 1970s, Brighton Marina came to typify for many the twentieth century’s love of concrete and disregard for the natural world. Perched on the south coast of England in an area dominated by towering chalk cliffs, the marina which is entirely artificial juts out into the sea like a monument to the human race’s engineering achievements. Or an ugly boil on the coastline, depending on your point of view.

With a chequered financial history, and varying objectives over its lifetime, the marina is seen by many as more like a housing estate than a centre of sailing excellence. Recent high-rise developments and encroachment into the waterways of the outer harbour of the marina is a reminder of the fickle financial market we all live in, with the planned multi-million-pound residential development postponed. Or maybe cancelled?

A changing world

With this twentieth century vision of our environment dictating the structure and form of the marina, the growing twenty-first century awareness of climate change and the anthropogenic impact on the world is slowly starting to reveal a worrying future for all of us, not just those in low-lying distant lands. The universal opinion of those in the know is that climate change (we can also call it global warming if we are thinking on a global scale) is happening. The only question is how awful it will be before the rest of us wake up to the danger.

Melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, caused by average global temperatures creeping up, is causing the volume of water in our oceans to increase. These rising temperatures are also causing the water in the oceans to expand (a process called ‘thermal expansion’), so raising sea levels even further. These effects are just two of the myriad of effects changing global environments. We could also go into detail about ocean acidification, albedo positive feedback loops, terrifying perma-frost releases of methane, and increased water vapour amplifying greenhouse effects, but that would simply ‘muddy’ the proverbial waters.

Depending on which scenario is chosen (i.e. how quickly we as a species get off our arse and do something about the problem), predictions for sea level rise vary from 1 metre to over 10 metres by the end of this century. Which figure is almost immaterial, the key point is that the sea is getting higher and we need to start to worry about it. In this respect, Brighton Marina is a perfect example of what we have done, what we need to do, and how quickly we need to do it.

One hour from disaster

On a perfectly ordinary Sunday in mid-February 2018, Brighton Marina residents, shops, and visitors came within an hour of widespread flooding. This wasn’t due to the rise in sea level, storm damage or any act of God, but simply technical failure of a single piece of equipment.

Most of the Marina is built below the high-water mark, meaning that at some point each month the promenade within the Marina is all that stands between the users of the Marina and the English Channels. On the 18th of February the lock gates in the marina malfunctioned, and suddenly the defences against the encroaching tides had been breached. Luckily the problem was circumvented, and the defences were reinstated before any damage had been caused. Whether the failure was due to human error, poor maintenance or a lack of investment, the fact remains the marina came within 60 cm of major flooding.

In the same way that Brighton Marina is ready for the challenges of today, rather than tomorrow; so we can ask if society generally is falling into the same trap of building for today, rather than planning for tomorrow?

What does this mean for the future?

Does the fault lie in the original design not anticipating future sea level changes?

Does the fault lie in the quality of maintenance within the marina?

Does the fault lie in our arrogant assumption that we are masters of our environment?

Perhaps the answer, at least in part, is yes to all three. In a capitalist society the market is king, and profits dictate behaviour, so the marina will maintain its equipment and defences in such a way that allows the companies involved to make a profit for its shareholders. In the same way countries, companies and individuals will continue to consume without regard to their environment while it is economically viable to do so. The problem is the planet does have a balance sheet. It doesn’t directly impact companies profit and loss, and consequences are often borne by people, animals, and physically remote ecosystems.

How do we change this inequity in the system?

Until polluters are charged (whether that be emissions from power stations, plastics pumped in to our oceans, or chemicals on our fields destroying any organism seen as a threat, to just name a few), the planet as a whole will have to continue to pick up the tab. It will pay a high price for our shiny new cars, our gadgets, and our consumption-driven lifestyles. At some point our credit with mother nature will run out, and we as a species we will be held to account. Many think it is already too late, the question now is not if it will cost us, but just how much we will have to pay for our arrogance.