Joint MSc field course in geomorphology (Universities of Bonn and Salzburg)

Joint MSc field course in geomorphology (Universities of Bonn and Salzburg)

From Wednesday to Saturday 9-12 September 2015, the geography departments of the Universities of Bonn/Germany and Salzburg/Austria, held a joint field course in geomorphology in the eastern European Alps. During these four days, 24 students master students, half from each participating university, gathered in Gmunden, Austria. Here, in the beautiful Salzkammergut, the course addressed topics of geomorphology, geoarchaeology and natural hazards. During field trips and hands-on workshops, the students conceptualized and conducted traditional drilling techniques, geophysical surveys and terrestrial laserscanning to investigate surface and subsurface characteristics in several key sites.

In the Gschliefgraben, a complex and currently reactivating landslide at the northern foot of Mt. Traunstein, the depth of the failure plane and the subsurface moisture distribution was investigated using electrical resistivity tomography. Within a nearby Weichselian sandur plain the students sought to determine the extent of the so-called Roman Villa Engelhof using ground-penetrating radar.

Wenner_129m_P2The shape and infill of a nearby located kettle hole mire (Krottensee) was investigated using electrical resistivity tomography. The figure below shows one of the resulting tomographies clearly indicating three layers with a floating mat on top in red, a body of water/gyttija underneath in blue, and the morainic kettle hole base in green colours.

P1080822Recent rockfall activity at the south face of Mt. Plassen (see picture to the left, nearby Hallstatt) and the north face of Mt. Traunstein was finally investigated and quantified by means of terrestrial laserscanning.

The field course was hosted by five lecturers from the Universities of Bonn and Salzburg, Dr. Johannes Weidinger, Prof. Lothar Schrott, Dr. Joachim Götz, Dr. Thomas Hoffmann and Dr. Jan Blöthe. This was the first joint field course between two European Universities that we organized and even though the courses in both departments had a slightly different focus, bringing these ideas together in the field was easy. We have the feeling that students from both universities benefited from the discussions and the exchange of thoughts during field work. After this very positive experience, it probably won’t be the last joint MSc course we organized.

– Written by Jan Blöthe (University of Bonn, Germany) and Joachim Götz (University of Salzburg, Austria);
Featured image courtesy of Christoph Baumgartner

Global Soil and Sediment Transfers in the Anthropocene (GloSS) – Report from the kickoff meeting in Bonn

pages_glossOpen kickoff meeting of the PAGES working group held in Bonn, Germany, 19th – 21st Aug. 2015

The open kickoff meeting of the PAGES working group GloSS aimed to set the boundary conditions that will enable the GloSS-WG to meet its scientific goals within the next three years. Therefore, this workshop focused on the development of a list of proxies/indices of human impacts on soils and sediments that will support the compilation of a global soil and sediment database. A total of 30 participants from different disciplines (geomorphology, geology, soil science, ecology, (palaeo)limnology, hydrology and geoarchaeology) and seven countries and four continents contributed to the workshop.

The first 1 ½ day were dedicated to continental reviews of proxies of human impacts on soils and sediment transfers. The keynotes were given by Gary Stinchcomb (Murray State University), Tim Beach (University of Texas at Austin), Juan Restrepo (EAFIT University of Medellin), Dan Penny (University of Sydney), Hongming He (Chinese Academy of Science), Lishan Ran (National University of Singapore), Rajiv Sinha (Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur) and Gert Verstreaten (Leuven University). The regional reviews were complemented by a keynote of Jane Willenbring (University of Pennsylvania) on a global view on sediment production and export and a contribution via skype Nicholas McKay (Northern Arizona University) on his experiences building the PAGES 2k database.

During the second and the third day the workshop participants i) developed a concept that organizes proxies of human impact on soil and sediment dynamics for hillslopes, floodplains, lakes and deltas covering different time scales during the Holocene, ii) discussed potential stakeholder, and requirements of a GloSS-database, and iii) discussed its structure and developed a road map for the first three years.

The participants of the breakout discussion group on human proxies agreed that the primary GloSS-data sets should be proxies/indices that focus on soil erosion and sediment transport and deposition and do not include other proxies (such as pollen or diatoms). While volumetric and/or mass balance proxies are generally favoured compared to length per time proxies (such as sedimentation and/or erosion rates given in mm/a), it was noted that length-based rates are an invaluable tool for constructing such sediment budgets and that for many study sites complete quantitative inventories are not available and difficult to obtain. Thus length-based rates were considered as very valuable information that should be considered but interpreted with great care. Regarding the considered timescale, a conservative estimate of the Holocene was decided to be the operational time frame for the GloSS datasets, allowing  estimation of natural base line conditions.

The discussion on the database content and structure resulted in the following statements: The GloSS-DB should focus on soil erosion, sediment transport and deposition of the following environments: hillslopes, floodplains/channels, lakes and deltas. There is no need to populate the GloSS-DB with other available paleo-environmental information. Instead, the GloSS-DB should be linked to other existing databases (esp. developed within the PAGES-Community) to avoid redundancy where possible.

The group agreed that human impact on the above-mentioned environments is best described by the change of erosion, transport and/or deposition. Thus, at minimum two ‘time slices’, before and after human impact, for the three variables are necessary. Due to the major challenges to define what human impact actually is and when it starts in different regions of the earth, it was argued that the number of time-slices should be maximize to allow flexible interpretations without constraining what the user can interpret from changes (e.g. climate versus human impacts).

To set the boundary conditions for the first three years of the GloSS working group, a roadmap, seven regional task forces and a database task force was build. The regional task forces and their leaders are:  i) Europe and Mediterranean (Gert Verstraeten), South Asia (Rajiv Sinha), Australia / NZ (Bob Wasson, Duncan Cook),            East and Central Asia (Hongming He, Lu Xixi), North-America (Jane Willenbring, Gary Stinchcomb), South and Central America (Juan Restrepo), Africa (Klaus Martin Moldenhauer, not fixed at this time). The database task force has following members: Jane Willenbring, Gary Stinchcomb, Veerle Vanacker, Dan Penny, Lishan Ran, Jean Philippe Jenny, Nick Mackay, Kim Cohen and Thomas Hoffmann.

– Written by Thomas Hoffmann, University of Bonn

Reflections on the BSG Windsor Workshop, December 2014

PhDs from around Europe attend once a year the Windsor workshop in the reverend halls of the grand Cumbeland Lodge in the Windsor Park. This years attendees Owen King and Fran Falcini from the York University and Lauren Knight from the Portsmouth University describe and advertize in this guest blog the workshop.

Windsor Castle. Credit: BSG homepage.

Windsor Castle. Credit: BSG homepage.

The Windsor Workshop is an annual, 4 day event organised by the British Society for Geomorphology that is designed to welcome first year PhD students into the world of academia, preparing them for the trials and tribulations they may face over the next 3 years of their project.

The Workshop is held at the grand Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Park and is a stunning location, especially on the frosty mornings and under the bright blue skies of our stay. The accommodation, catering (which is superb and plentiful) and entertainment on offer in the Lodge make it the perfect location to work and learn in a relaxed atmosphere. A wander around the Lodge, which contains some weird and wonderful pieces of artwork and statues (see below), and the grounds is highly recommended!

Sfm project at Windsor. Credit: Scott Wilson.

Sfm side project at Windsor. Credit: Scott Wilson.

After a chance to meet all the other attending students on the first evening, our workshop began with a discussion on the philosophy of science; a thought provoking exercise that made us all think carefully about what we can and can’t believe or say as scientists as well as delve into scientific rigour and method! The following few days were filled with a range of tasks including designing a PhD project (unrelated to your own) from scratch and then presenting your design for it, experimenting with models which simulate everything from the greenhouse effect to how many wolves it takes to decimate a flock of sheep, and presenting our preliminary PhD project ideas to others studying similar topics. Lectures and seminars on paper submission, open-access publishing, the peer-review process and how to handle yourself on social media all gave vital information on how to effectively present yourself and your research to the broader scientific community.

As with those that attended in previous years, we would highly recommend the Windsor Workshop to any 1st year PhD students with an interest in any aspect of Geomorphology as it is a great way to meet prominent academics with the field and well as other PhD student. It truly is a great way to help you kick-start your PhD project.

The next BSG Windsor workshop will be held in December 2015 – expect an announcement to be made this October.

By Owen King and Fran Falcini, PhD researchers from the York University and Lauren Knight, PhD researcher from the Portsmouth University

Participants at the Windsor Meeting in December 2014. Credit: BSG homepage.

Participants at the Windsor Meeting in December 2014. Credit: BSG homepage.

Active groups in Geomorphology around Europe

When setting up the first ideas for this blog Jan, Lucy and I started to research different national groups of geomorphologists from around Europe. Lucy came up with 13 contacts to groups in Europe and some were happy to write some short notes about their great work national and partly international. To give you a small impression, some contacts and visions please see the following posts by the Italian Young Geomorphologists, The Austrian Geomorphologists, The British Geomorphologists Postgrad Forum and the German young Geomorphologists.


The Italian Young Geomorphologists

The “Giovani Geomorfologi Italiani” (Italian Young Geomorphologists) was born officially in 2013 as one of the Working Groups of the AIGeo (Italian Association of Physical Geography and Geomorphology). Before 2013 the Association had already organized initiatives specifically addressed to its Young members (Periodical Meetings, Fieldworks and Grants for participating to Congress and Workshop)


Currently we are about 25 young scientists from all over Italy sharing research activities. We have opened a Facebook Page:

The very first common initiative, since the group has been recently founded, was the participation to the 17th Joint Geomorphological Meeting, in Liege from 30th June to 3rd July 2014 on “The geomorphology of natural hazards: mapping, analysis and prevention”, presenting a poster with the presentation of the group.

What we want:

  • Sharing of information about events, research opportunities, grants, meetings etc.
  • Start up research collaborations among different countries

Current Representatives:

Irene Bollati (University of Milan,

Francesca Vergari (Sapienza University of Rome,

The "Giovani Geomorfologi Italiani" Group (Credit: Irene Bollati and Francesca Vergari)

The “Giovani Geomorfologi Italiani” Group (Credit: Irene Bollati and Francesca Vergari)


The Austrian Geomorphologists

The “” group is a small but firm group of Austrian Geomorphologists working in the field of Geomorphology and Environmental Change. Currently our group counts around 68 members of which around 20 members might be considered as “young geomorphologist”.

While there are no events especially assigned for young geomorphologists, the group “” is very active supplying and sharing information on (research) job openings, networking and initiating research projects within Austrian geomorphologists and with other geomorphology groups from Switzerland or Germany. All things young geomorphologists highly benefit from. This is done during our yearly meetings and by our mailing list.

Our highlight for young geomorphologists is our grant for research dissemination at international conferences. Yearly we announce three grants (100€ each) for our young members attending and presenting their work at international geomorphology related conferences.

Current Representatives:

Helene Petschko (Friedrich-Schiller-University of Jena,

Martin Mergili (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna,

Oliver Sass (University of Graz,

Yearly meeting 2013 – Dinner at a Lower Austrian “Heurigen” (Wine restaurant) (Credit: Helene Petschko).

Yearly meeting 2013 – Dinner at a Lower Austrian “Heurigen” (Wine restaurant) (Credit: Helene Petschko).


The British Geomorphologists Postgrad Forum

Who we are:

The British Society for Geomorphology (BSG) PG Forum currently represents over 220 postgraduates within Britain and further afield. The BSG PG forum outputs blog articles and a quarterly newsletter with topical articles of interest to geomorphologists, alongside helping with the BSG annual general meeting. The BSG AGM is held every September with academic/professional speakers presenting and ECR workshops ran – the AGM is commonly regarded as a great conference for postgraduates to get experience presenting to and obtain feedback from world-leading geomorphologists. Postgraduate grants for fieldwork and conference attendance are available from the BSG, with deadlines every January and September. The BSG also hosts an invaluable workshop for first-year postgraduate students, which is held every December in Cumberland Lodge within the prestigious grounds of Windsor Park. Finally, the BSG also publish postgraduate authored chapters in the Geomorphological Techniques resource – an invaluable resource for getting your first publication!

What we strive for:

  • Improving the research opportunities available to postgraduate geomorphologists.
  • Development of a strong network of postgraduate geomorphologists that will provide the foundation for later work and collaboration together – as well as allowing people to know a friendly face at conferences/workshops!
  • To provide regular updates of interesting/topical developments/projects within geomorphology, and developments within the BSG.

Current Representatives:

Adam Trueman (Durham University, @AT_ecogeoman

Morgan Gibson (Aberystwyth University, @Morgan_Gibson

John Groves (Queen Mary University, London, @johnwegroves

Matilda Biddulph (The University of Northampton, ‎

Rupert Bainbridge (Northumbria University, @GeoRu

Kate Reid (Northumbria University,

Mark Allan (Northumbria University, @_markallan_

Danielle Alderson (University of Manchester, @DanielleAldo


The British Society for Geomorphology Logo (Credit: BSG)

The British Society for Geomorphology Logo (Credit: BSG)


The German Young Geomorphologists

Who we are:

The “Junge Geomorphologen” (Young Geomorphologists) from Germany is a group of about 60 young scientists (Masters, PHDs and Postdocs) working in the field of geomorphologic research and related topics. We implement each year an international workshop for young geomorphologists in English to discuss our projects, exchange ideas, learn new methods and share a beer. Since 2014 we started organizing an international social event for geomorphologists at the EGU in Vienna, which will also take place at the 15th April 2015.

What we want:

  • A favourable platform for early career scientists in Geomorphology
  • A strong network among young geomorphologists
  • Develop and push geomorphic research together
  • No turf wars between groups
  • An active and helpful community

Current Representatives:

Jan Blöthe (University of Bonn,

Sabine Kraushaar (University of Vienna,

1st international workshop for young geomorphologists organized by the German Young Geomorphologists on the island Usedom in spring 2014. (Credit: Sabine Kraushaar)