A summer expedition – Indian Himalayas

I recently returned from a 3-week expedition to the Indian Himalayas with the British Exploring Society. Having previously lead on expeditions with BES as a science leader to Arctic Norway and Svalbard, I decided it was time to venture further afield – to the Himalayas.

British Exploring expeditions aim to develop Young Explorers through challenging situations with a good dose of science thrown in! While in the Himalayas we discussed and looked at a whole range of scientific disciplines including botany, lake sediments, geology, meteorology, geomorphology and by no means least, glaciology! Each science leader had their own area of expertise and designed suitable projects for the explorers to contribute to including identifying various plants and soils and looking at pollination methods. One project incorporated glacial geomorphology and glaciology, looking at the way glaciers had shaped the landscape we were camping in. This involved mapping large moraines systems using Google Earth imagery prior to the expedition which was then ground truthed with data collected in the field during the expedition.


Geomorphological mapping of the expedition region in Ladakh using Google Earth imagery (completed by expedition participants prior to the expedition).

Of course when on expedition, or fieldwork for that matter, nothing ever goes exactly to plan; especially when dealing with altitude and young people. It took us 4 days to slowly make our way to basecamp at Pensi La due to the steady acclimatisation period. We travelled from Leh located at 3505 m up to 4400 m. Even arriving in Leh, the effects of altitude could be felt but with some rest and taking it easy for a day or so we were able to head towards our basecamp. Once at basecamp we spent a few days training and gaining skills such as ice axe arrests and walking on difficult terrain. After the training phase we managed to get onto the Drang Drung glacier and camped in the valley. The Drang Drung glacier is heavily debris-covered on the right hand side and enabled us to have a look at some of the impacts of debris on a glacier system. For many it was their first experience of being on a glacier and proved to be the highlight of the trip. In addition to exploring the glacier, we explored the ridge behind basecamp and managed to exceed 5000 m of altitude.

Ice skills training including ice axe arrests and students taking a break viewing the Drang Drung glacier.

It was a great expedition with the YE’s being able to get involved in all sorts of science projects, camp life and even our own expedition Olympics! We left the 5 week expeditioners at basecamp in Pensi La and made our journey back to Leh via Kargil.

Walking back to basecamp after a long day hiking. View of the Leh monastery which overlooks Leh.

To find out more about the expedition see the BES Science Journal detailing the science projects which will be available online later this year.


Anne Stefaniak is a PhD student at Nottingham Trent University and the BSG Postgraduate Deputy Chair. The expedition was undertaken with the British Exploring Society.


How we spent our summer…

It has been a busy summer for all members of the postgraduate forum whether that be on fieldwork, completing laboratory work or writing papers. The focus of this blog is to find out what each member of the forum has got up to this summer so we can demonstrate the diversity of a geomorphological PhD!

Scott Watson, University of Leeds

‘One of my main activities this summer was a five week field trip to the Khumbu Glacier in Nepal. This was the second of three trips to gather field data for my PhD and I also used the opportunity to climb a 6000 m peak on a day off. Aside from that, I’ve been writing the second paper towards my PhD, which is investigating ice cliff dynamics in the Everest region using fine-resolution satellite imagery. I’ve also been easing my way back into trail running following a lengthy injury (acquired during the first field trip), and preparing for my final field trip in September.’

G0202481 (1).JPG

Francesca Falcini, University of York

‘It’s been a relatively quiet summer for me in terms of fieldwork, but I did attend the QRA field meeting to Skye in May. Lots of glacial landforms and rock slope failures to see, which make for an amazing landscape that lives up to the hype. Perhaps the most exciting part of the trip was being in the presence of not just one but both Benn and Evans, who arguably wrote the glaciology bible.  I also enjoyed a week in Ireland helping fellow BSG postgrad forum rep Lauren with her fieldwork. In between those trips I’ve been in the office working on my upgrade documents, method development and planning papers.’


Rachel Hurley, University of Manchester

‘It has been a relatively uneventful summer for me with a solid block of labs, barring one week in the Cretan mountains. I’m working to finish off all of my analytical work before the new term so that I can get my head down in my writing up year. I have also been putting together the first publication from my PhD  – it will be exciting to see my work out in print!’


Danielle Alderson, University of Manchester

‘After the wonderful summer that I had last year visiting Florida followed by an undergraduate field trip to India, I have unfortunately been experiencing solely the climes of Manchester this year! As I approach my submission pending year I have largely been glued to my chair in front of my desk analysing data for my third and fourth papers as part of my PhD. I generally seem to have two computers open at all times in addition to something on Netflix to keep me sane! It finally feels like everything may begin to come together at some point soon which is certainly a very exciting feeling and one that every PhD student seeks. I have had a busy September, firstly attending the Plymouth AGM (particularly the conference dinner in the National Marine Aquarium!) followed by an undergraduate field trip to Keswick and finally a week away in Turkey!’


Lauren Knight, University of Portsmouth
‘It’s been a very busy and exciting summer, full of fieldwork. In May I was back in the Wicklow Mountains, Ireland, for a second (very sunny) field season. I also attended the QRA Skye Field Meeting, where the geomorphology was amazing. In July I helped a colleague with fieldwork atHardangerjøkulen in Norway. We camped on the southern side of the ice cap and collected a lot of useful data in some challenging conditions. Finally, in August I returned to Wicklow for my third and final field season. Despite horrendous weather I managed to finish all the required geomorphological mapping and sedimentology. I even managed to continue triathlon training with several local runs and evening swims in a nearby lough. Now I’m back in the office, starting on analysis, which feels very strange after busy and active summer!’

IMG_4735 %281%29.JPG

Anne Stefaniak, Nottingham Trent University

‘This summer I spent 3 weeks in the Indian Himalayas in Ladakh with a group of young explorers on expedition with the British exploring society. The aim of the expedition was to take the young explorers to a new environment and look at a range or scientific and adventure projects. As well as going on the Drang Drung glacier and climbing our way up to over 5000 m of altitude, we also had a go at learning a variety of scientific techniques. The projects ranged from geology, meteorology, lake studies, geomorphology and not least glaciology! The work from the expedition will be presented on a few different posters at the BSG conference this September.’


Daniel Sperl, University of Cologne

‘When Danielle asked me about my PhD life summer activities, I first thought: “Daniel, what did you do during summer and what should I write about?” My summer was very diverse: (1) I stayed away from Cologne for one month at the catholic university at Louvain-la-Neuve to prepare samples and discuss my work with my co-supervisor. (2) After I returned, I helped pack our “collection of stones” (more than 3 t of rocks), due to the reason that our department is moving into a new building. (3) I attended a summer school in Germany on “Dates and Rates of Change in Quaternary”. It was a great week, meeting friends that I made during the Windsor Workshop last year. We had a great time together and are planning a future trip to the Highlands of Scotland. (4) Finally most of my time was spent writing papers during a rainy summer here in Cologne, as is displayed in the picture!’

2016-09-01 21.10.39_resized.jpg

Owen King, University of Leeds

‘Like Scott, the biggest focus of my summer so far has been preparing for and carrying out a second field season in Nepal. We were back in the Khumbu valley this May to repeat surveys we carried out last October/November, and I’m currently working through the processing of this second huge batch of data. Some preliminary results look really exciting though, and the rate at which the Khumbu glacier is changing and losing ice is really alarming. Sadly that’s my fieldwork completed now, but the next couple of months should be really interesting writing the fruits of my labour up into a second paper towards my PhD.’


We hope fellow postgraduate members of the society also had wonderful summers! Please get in contact if you would like to tell us about them, or if you have anything you would like to raise with the postgraduate section of the society!

Danielle Alderson (danielle.alderson@manchester.ac.uk)

Twitter- @BSG_Postgrads

Facebook- BSG Postgraduates


My time as BSG PG Forum rep

I am sitting on a train on my way to London for my final meeting as BSG PG Forum chair. It, therefore, seemed to be the perfect time to reflect on my year as chair and my time as part of the BSG committees. I have learnt a lot during my time in the forum; that it is worth taking on these extra roles even if you feel like you’re too busy; that the west coast of Wales is too remote to consistently make meetings (we just have too much weather affecting our trainlines!), and that there are some brilliant postgraduate researchers out there doing amazing geomorphology!


I agreed to the role in March 2014, when the end of my PhD seemed very far away, and taking on the chair role, after my initial one year stint as deputy chair, was something that would happen a long way in the future. As with everything, though, the time disappeared and now I am sat contemplating what I have and haven’t achieved. Being part of the BSG has been a great opportunity: I have chatted to a lot of academics I wouldn’t have met without this role; I have coordinated a wonderful group of postgraduate to produce some great blog posts; I have been frustrated at the lack of people who we’ve reached with our great newsletter; and I’ve realised you always have time to squeeze in things, even if you don’t think you have any time left. I have loved getting to know the ins and outs of the BSG and of reconnecting with geomorphology at the annual conference. I have found the lack of time I have been able to devote to the role, both in my short time as chair and on a day-to-day basis, frustrating. I had grand plans to make postgrads a greater part of the BSG, not just in numbers (where we are an overriding majority), but also development of the society. I quickly realised I had to scale back my plans and use my best asset, my organisation skills, to streamline the forum and make sure the little time we had to offer as a group was used wisely. This led to monthly blog posts, more emphasis on social media and less on producing brilliant, but little read, newsletters.


My regret for my time as chair is that I didn’t get the forum better known by the society’s postgrad members. I hope I have developed the forum enough that Danielle, the new chair, can build on what I have done and really get all BSG PG members involved. This is where you lot come in – there are loads of you out there, and we want to be there for you, but we need to know how you want to connect with us. To do that we need to decide what we can offer you, and the best way to get in contact with you. The forum is doing a brilliant job of representing you in all the BSG’s committees, and maybe that’s enough, but we don’t think it is! Some of our ideas are a PG conference, PG fieldtrips and getting our instagram account full of amazing geomorphology photos. But before we put the effort in to these we need to know what people think. We are always looking for new postgraduate forum members as well, so if you wan to do something career-enhancing and interesting, then get in touch on Twitter.


Being postgraduate forum chair may not have been a huge role, but it has been important to me. I have seen how many passionate geomorphologists are out there, and how much they want to share their science. The BSG has got a lot of things right, one of the big ones being the support they provide to postgraduates with their grants. I’m leaving my role feeling sad I am no longer a part of the society’s organisation, but sure I will be back in the future!


God luck Danielle.


Over and out…


Morgan Gibson

(PhD at Aberystwyth University)

Publishing your first scientific paper

By Kate Winter


You have written your scientific paper, addressed co-author comments, and now you are ready to show off all your hard work – congratulations! Now you just need to decide where to publish your work and battle through the submission process. Here are a few tips to make the process as easy as possible:

1.Choose your journal

If you haven’t already done so, the first thing that you need to do is target an appropriate journal. It may be tempting to submit your article to one of the top journals in your field but remember that these journals are very competitive and the projects that they publish tend to be ground-breaking studies with great significance. If you don’t feel that your research has a large inter-disciplinary significance, therefore ruling out popular journals like Science and Nature, but you aren’t sure exactly where your work should go, take a look at your reference list and note down which journals publish the papers that interest you most. Now go and have a look at the websites of these journals.


Most authors compare journals by looking at their impact factor, cost to publish and even speed of publication. The impact factor, which tends to be a well-advertised single or double digit number is the easiest way to compare journals as it signifies the average number of times that articles from the journal have been published over a given time span (often two years). A quick comparison of impact factor values could therefore give you an indication of how many people will reference your work, and therefore how many people will get to know your name and your research findings.

N.B. If you are just starting out on the writing for publishing journey, choose your journal before you start writing – the process will take a while and you don’t want to get to the end and find you need a rewrite to fit to your chosen journal’s specifications. 

3) Register for an account 

Once you have chosen the journal that you would like to submit your work to you should register for an account with the journal. This is free and easy to do, but worth doing early as it takes a while. From there you will be able to look up author guidelines on word, table and figure formats. The most important thing is to find out if your manuscript fits the specified word and figure limit of the journal. If your paper fits these specifications you can start to look at other details like whether the article should be written in British or American English, how the reference list should be laid out, how figures should be saved (pdf, eps etc.) as well as what resolution and size they should be.

2) Write your covering letter

After editing your manuscript to fit the journals specific requirements, the next port of call may be to write a cover letter to advertise your fantastic manuscript. As with all letters, it is best to use letterhead paper, with your institution, postal address, e-mail address and date on the right hand side. Address the letter to a specific editor if possible and in the opening paragraph ask them to consider the manuscript for publication. Include the title of your manuscript along with a brief statement (a sentence or two) about why you think the paper is important and why the journal should publish it (i.e. summarise the main conclusions of the paper). The letter should be short and succinct so aim for about half a page to a page of text then sign the letter off with your signature and full name (typed out).

3) Gather information needed for submission

After you have your manuscript and cover letter you may need to note down some more information in an old school note pad before you start the submission process (you may want to do this with a member of your supervisory team by your side). This may include;

  • Full names (including any middle initials) of co-authors, as well as their institutional postal and e-mail address.
  • A list of key words or index terms that relate to your article which can be used by future readers to search for your article. Note that these could be specific numbered terms which you will have to look up on the journals web page before submitting your work.
  • Bullet points highlighting the key features/findings of your article. These should be short and are often limited to a maximum number of characters.
  • A list of potential reviewers for your manuscript (3 – 5 reviewers are often required), including their full names, e-mail address, institution and institution postal address. Recommended reviewers should be experts in their fields and should be able to provide an objective assessment of the manuscript. If you are unsure who to put down have a look through your references to see who you frequently reference as they are likely to be the experts in your field.
  • Note down any conflicts of interest with potential reviewers. As reviewers should have no financial interest in the paper, no prior knowledge of your submission, should not have recently collaborated with any of the authors and should often not be at the same institution as any of the authors on your manuscript it is a good idea to jot down the names of anyone who fulfils this category who may well be considered an expert in your field by the journal editor.
  • If you have used any copyrighted material in your paper, from sources like the internet or other papers you may need to provide written proof from the owners of the publishing rights that you have permission to reproduce the material.
  • Information on any grants received which relate to the project and their unique numbers. You should also be honest about whether the funding sources had any role in the study design, data collection, analysis and interpretation of the data.
  • The number of words in your article.
  • The number of figures in your article and whether you want them to be in colour or black and white.

Once you have all of this information, set aside an hour or two to work through the submission process, making sure to add in all the required information as you go along, and tick all the necessary boxes. Near the end of the submission process you should be able to check your uploaded files, please make sure you do so, as a missing or old file could really hinder your chances of publication.

4) Just before heading to the pub…

Once you press ‘submit’, but before you head to the pub to celebrate remember to send out a quick thank-you e-mail to those who helped you to write the paper (remember to attach the submitted manuscript and figures). It will be appreciated and you may need their help again very soon to address comments raised during the peer-review process!

Best of luck with your submitted article!


Fieldwork report: Khumbu Glacier, 2015

By Scott Watson

Back in October, Owen King and I travelled to the Khumbu Glacier in Eastern Nepal, accompanied by two of our supervisors Duncan Quincey and Ann Rowan. The aim was to collect field data on how the glacier is thinning year-on-year, and to validate and improve our satellite remote sensing observations that have been the focus of our PhDs prior to fieldwork.


Location of our field site in the central Himalaya

The Khumbu Glacier is the highest glacier in the world and every year a small section of it becomes the home to Mount Everest Basecamp. Travel to the glacier involved a seven day walk from the nearest airstrip at the village of Lukla, which included two acclimatisation days to cover our ascent from 2,800 m to ~5,000 m. The highest elevation we reached (excluding a brisk jaunt up the small trekking peak Kala Patthar) was ~5,300 m at an unusually quiet Everest Basecamp, which was deserted following the recent earthquake.


Our campsite (left) and the lower debris-covered area of the Khumbu Glacier (below)

1Everest region background

It’s widely known that debris-covered Himalayan Glaciers in this region are losing ice mass year on year, although the presence of a thick layer of sand and rocky debris delays their response to climate change. The glaciers are currently out of equilibrium with climate, and will continue to thin irrespective of any contemporary slowdown in climatic warming. The debris cover, which is generally thickest at the terminus of the glaciers and becoming thinner at higher elevations, changes the spatial distribution of melt. Generally speaking, highest melt rates occur where the debris is thin or absent, whereas thick debris insulates the ice beneath.

Supraglacial ponds (i.e. existing on the surface) and ice cliffs are widespread on the low-gradient, debris-covered areas of the glaciers. Ice cliffs can range from several to tens of metres high, and ‘ponds’ can be over 100 m in diameter. Although data are limited, it is thought that ice cliffs and ponds contribute highly to overall melt at a glacier scale. At ice cliffs, bare ice is melted by incoming solar radiation, and ponds are similarly warmed and transmit this thermal energy to the ice below, or through conduits draining into the glacier.

The area of surface water ponding is increasing on the Khumbu Glacier and individual ponds are coalescing, which are likely to form a large glacial lake in coming decades.

Field data

The debris-covered area of the Khumbu Glacier is ~10 km long and the lower ~5 km is stagnant, whereas flow exceeds 60 m a-1 in the ice fall. Our work was predominantly in the lower 6 km where ponds are coalescing and large ice cliffs were present.

The high-altitude rugged topography, hazardous access, and unstable behaviour of the debris-covered glaciers means that field data area limited and hard-earned. Crevasses are minimal on the lower Khumbu Glacier but ice cliffs and topographic highs are constantly changing as the ice melts beneath. The hummocky topography was unstable and would often slump, making it hard to cover any nominal distance. Each hummock was essentially a rocky, ankle-twisting version of the Gladiators Travelator. Our Nepali guides were invaluable in this environment for route finding and helping carry our field equipment. A fine-resolution satellite image base map on a GPS device also made locating the cliffs and ponds considerably easier.

Ice cliffs: structure-from-motion and multi-view stereo (SfMMVS)

A photographic survey tailored to the requirements of the SfM-MVS workflow was conducted around each ice cliff selected for study, which basically requires photographing the environment from as many different locations as possible (i.e. 1- 2 hours clambering around the Khumbu Travelator). Specialist software (e.g. Agisoft Photoscan) is able to match the images and create a 3d point cloud representing the ice cliff and surrounding environment. Visible ground control points were distributed around each cliff and georeferenced with a dGPS before the photographic survey so the model could be scaled and georeferenced.

A preliminary example, which can be navigated in 3D is available at: http://www.rockyglaciers.co.uk/explore/ice_cliffs.html


Example of a 3D ice cliff model

Pond surveys

The ponds forming on the surface of the glacier can broadly be split into two classes: those with active meltwater inflows (e.g. from adjacent ice cliffs), and those that are hydrologically isolated from any melting ice and thought to be relatively stable through time. My monitoring strategy involved deploying thermistor strings in a range of ponds to measure their thermal regime. These temperature loggers were deployed using an inflatable dinghy (christened HMS Khumbu), which was kindly borrowed from a fellow PhD student also working in Nepal. Most ponds were frozen at their surface by the end of the campaign, so access though ~10 cm of ice was required for logger retrieval (an ice screw/ ice axe combo worked well).

During our next field campaign, I plan to collect distributed depth measurements across a number of ponds to derive bathymetry, and hence determine the water storage volume of the ponds.


Deploying temperature loggers in a supraglacial pond


Scott Watson is a PhD student at the University of Leeds and a BSG Postgraduate Committee member. Scott’s fieldwork in 2015 was supported by a University Research Scholarship, the Royal Geographical Society, the British Society for Geomorphology, and water@leeds.



BSG Windsor workshop

A gust blog from Rachel Betson, a PhD student at Aberystwyth University.

The British Society for Geomorphology’s Windsor Workshop is an annual event held in the Cumberland Lodge, Windsor Great Park. Its aim is to introduce first year PhD students to the world of academia and to prepare them for what to expect over the next three years.

The Cumberland Lodge was a wonderful place to stay with incredible views across the park and into Windsor (I’d recommend the walk up to the Copper Horse for a particularly stunning view – the image below does not do it justice). The rooms were great and the food was exceptional – 3 course meals, twice a day! This, along with the other entertainment on offer within the lodge made it the perfect location for a relaxed learning and working environment.

Rachel1The view into Windsor from the Copper Horse

After an introductory session and evening meal (one thing learned quickly on the workshop is that all sessions were scheduled around food), the first session of the workshop was a discussion on the philosophy of science. Whilst this was a challenging initial topic (especially for 8.30pm on a Monday evening!), it ended up being a very interesting and thought provoking session.

The sessions in the following days ranged from learning how to code to creating an entire PhD project in an afternoon and then presenting the design for this project to the rest of the group – a task that ended up much less daunting than it originally sounded! There was also a session on computer modelling, which in itself was extremely varied (for example, one could simulate various CO2 scenarios or simulate a game of Tetris). We also had the chance to present our own PhD projects to small groups. This was a really helpful exercise as it allowed us to provide feedback to others and get feedback from students with a range of backgrounds and therefore with a range of viewpoints. Overall the workshops, lectures and seminars gave vital information for how to present both our research and ourselves to both peers and broader audiences.

As previous years have, I would really recommend any first year PhD student whose project involves geomorphology to attend the workshop. Not only because it provided a lot of technical training and interesting discussions, but also because it gave us a chance to discuss the more social side of a PhD and I quickly came to realise that I wasn’t the only one feeling nervous about starting a PhD!