Geography is the field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabitants and phenomena of the earth. As second year geographers, we were given to opportunity to explore and research the world further on a fieldtrip to Almeria in Spain. The trip was based around assessing semi-arid environments and human activities within a newly-developed region. We undertook several hands-on investigations, including vegetation surveys, mapping of river channel geomorphology and assessing coastal geomorphology and change over time.
As students at LJMU, we are both actively involved within the course, acting as both course representatives and key members of the Geography Society, engaging with students on a personal and social level. Furthermore, fieldwork acts as a brilliant opportunity to engage further with the course, actively conducting research and engaging with other students even further.
We are passionate about the study of the earth and its interaction with humans, but what does a geography degree and fieldwork actually involve?
Day one: Rambla de Tabernas
Day one was based in the Rambla de Tabernas, a 110 square mile nature reserve in Almeria. This area is considered the only real desert in Europe, and is the location for several spaghetti westerns filmed throughout the years. The area has seen some of the greatest legends of the silver screen, including Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford.
Left: Tabernas Desert. Right: The Black Museum set
Our work here however was solely based on the physical properties of the land. We observed the common features of the Badlands, assessing the different determining features such as topography, soil composition and river systems in the area. Badlands are characterised by steep slopes, minimal vegetation and ephemeral rivers, which for the majority of the years are dried up. The fieldwork we conducted in this area highlighted the active processes occurring in the Tabernas desert and enabled us to make strong conclusions on the local environmental in the first day.
After fieldwork was completed, our next stop was a fleeting visit to the set of the Black Museum, episode from the Netflix series Black Mirror. Throughout the week we continued to stumble upon a number of film sets including Fort Bravo, Texas Hollywood and the set of Indiana Jones’ The Last Crusade.
Day two: Sorbas Desert and Placo Quarry visit
Day two was centred around the Sorbas Desert and Placo Quarry in Sorbas, Almeria. Here our studies were focussed on vegetation surveys where we assessed the frequency, height and distribution of the species in relation to the soil type. Unlike the soils of the Tabernas basin, the soils of the Sorbas basin were dominated by Gypsum soils. This Gypsum formed some 5.8 million years ago when evaporation exceeded precipitation in the area. Historically, agriculture dominated the area of study and this is evident from the terraced landscape. Furthermore, cattle skeletons were found, providing further evidence of historical agriculture.
Left: Remains of cattle in the Sorbas Basin. Right: Terraced fields of the Sorbas Basin.
Once fieldwork in the Sorbas Basin was complete, our next stop was to visit the Placo Quarry. This is the biggest Gypsum quarry in Europe, producing 3 million tonnes of Gypsum a year, with an estimated 20 years of reserves left. Placo has a particularly good environmental record, and are focussed on reverting certain areas of the quarry back to its natural state. Placo ensure that the revegetated areas contain the same species as the natural environment which are all native to Almeria.
Placo Quarry in Sorbas
Day three: Rambla Indalecio and Sierra Alhamilla
Another day in the Badlands led us to assessing gullies and river channels. Situated within a dried-up river channel, we estimated the flow velocity and peak flow for the river channel, by observing the features. The stability of nearby gullies was measured by looking at infiltration rates and slope angle. Although the river was empty, it was found that it once was a fast flowing river due to the environment, characterised by high surface run-off.
And every field trip leads to a well needed break…ours consisted of ice cream at Sierra Alhamilla with a picturesque view of the Mediterranean. The area was famed for its natural hot springs of 52°C, previously the site of roman baths.
LJMU Geography second years at Sierra Alhamilla
Day four: Cultural Geography in Almería
After a short walk into Almería City Centre, we assessed the globalisation and development of the city centre by using clone town surveys, shop diversity indexes, footfall counts and tourist profiles. This was the only human geography part of the fieldtrip, so the trip to the city centre allowed us to explore and discover a lot about the newly globalised area. Therefore, within a few years it is possible that the area will become a popular tourist attraction with a variety of worldwide tourists. This day ended with an emotional trip to Los Refugios de Guerra Civil, the civil war air raid shelters. During the civil war, the city was bombed over 52 times, and the shelters were made to protect 52,000 people at a time.
Left: Rambla Indalecio. Right: ancient raised beach in Nijar, Cabo de Gata Natural Park.
Day five: Cabo de Gata (Natural Park)
Day five was based on the volcanic beaches of the Cabo de Gata Natural Park. This area is the largest protected ecological site of the whole Mediterranean. This day was centred around comparisons between ancient and modern beaches, focusing on clast size, beach profiles and raised beaches. The weather (despite what the picture shows) was not the best on this day, with us even witnessing some rare rain!
Day six: Campo de Dalias
The final morning saw us visit Las Palmerillas, a horticultural research area to give us an insight into crop production in greenhouses. Almería has the largest concentration of greenhouses in the world, covering 26,000 hectares. Agrobio is extensively involved in biological control within the greenhouses, using bees as a natural form of controlling pests and enhancing production. The afternoon was a little less educational, basking in the sunshine of Berja, a small mining town in the Sierra de Gabor. This town came into prominence in the 19th century, during the peak time of the lead mining industry. Once our leisurely afternoon was complete, we returned to the hotel and had a final meal together to round off the trip ready for our return to Liverpool in the morning.
Interested in taking part in field trips like this? Find out more about LJMU's exciting Geography course.