Flag Maths In The Classroom

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When I was teaching, I always had a number of geography students who were obsessed with country flags. I am sure they would have loved to play around with flag designs in this ‘maths meets flags’ exercise I came across on Twitter. Thanks to @simongerman600 for this example (originally from http://www.reddit.com):


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Fly Over Iceland – Reykjavik’s New Attraction


Back in December, I took my family to Disney World in Florida. My six year old grandson insisted on testing out all of the adventure rides, and I had the job of accompanying him. I quietly really enjoyed myself, and my favourite ride was ‘Soarin’, which was a fantastic simulation ride that took you on a flight over various world landmarks, including the Great Wall of China, the African savannah and Antarctica.

As I prepare for this year’s trips to Iceland as a Field Studies Tutor for Rayburn Tours, I am looking forward to trying out a similar experience that opened last summer in Reykjavik.

‘Fly Over Iceland’ is the latest tourist attraction to spring up in Reykjavik, and just like the Disney version, utilises state-of-the-art technology to give a feeling of flight over Iceland’s exhilarating natural scenery in front of a 20-metre spherical screen. Special effects, including wind, mist and scents, combine with the ride’s motion to create an unforgettable experience.


FOI-3-e1575299626788-1536x700Like most other attractions in Iceland, it is not cheap – with adult tickets costing 4490 Icelandic Krona, the equivalent to £28. A ticket for a child (under 13 years) comes in at 2245 IKR, or £14. The ‘flight’ itself lasts for less than 10 minutes, but the ticket price does include some additional attractions that help set the scene for the main event, and extent the visit to over half an hour. Before the flight-ride experience, guides and resident troll Su Vitra escort visitors through two adventures. Firstly, ‘Step into Our World’ is a journey through an ancient Viking longhouse where a storyteller explore the early life in Iceland. Then it’s ‘The Well of Time’, where music and video brings the natural forces of Iceland to life, along with the story of settlement over time.

imagesEHEQZ95NFly Over Iceland is located in the new harbour area known as Grandi – an up and coming part of the city just a 5 minute stroll from the centre. It has been recently redeveloped to include shops, restaurants, a food hall, museums, and other tourist attractions like the excellent ‘Whales of Iceland’ exhibition. It is well worth a visit when in the city.

At Fly Over Iceland there is an in-house café, and a free shuttle bus is available to the attraction from various locations in Reykjavik, details on the web site.



Web Site: https://www.flyovericeland.com/

If Fly Over Iceland is anywhere near as good as Disney’s ‘Soarin’, it will be well worth the money for such a unique and exhilarating experience. I look forward to giving it a try!

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New Eruption For Iceland?


Image: Daily Mail

At this time of year, I am preparing for my first trips of the season to Iceland as a Field Studies Tutor for Rayburn Tours. I have been watching with interest the reports of new volcanic activity in the country.

This is taking place right now in the south west of the island, on the Reykjanes Peninsula – right next to the world famous Blue Lagoon, and only 8 miles from Keflavik airport.


Blue Lagoon. Image – icelandmonitor.mbl.is/Þorgeir

An ‘inflation’ has been detected (since January 21st) centred below Mount Thorbjorn. This swelling of the surface has been unusually rapid – around 3 to 4 mm each day, totalling a full 2 centimetres to date. The inflation is most likely a sign of magma accumulation below the surface. Scientists describe this as a small build up – but also quote figures of one million cubic metres, which doesn’t sound small to me!

There has also been a notable earthquake swarm in this area at the same time. On January 24th, two of the many earthquakes were recorded at 3.3 on the magnitude scale. Although swarms like this are common in Iceland, the fact that the inflation is happening as well has been a cause for concern.


Image – vedur.is

So what might happen? The magma accumulation will most probably cease or it could continue for some time without any eruption taking place. However, it is possible that continued magma build up will lead to increased seismic activity in the area – possibly resulting in earthquakes up to a magnitude of 6.

The third possible scenario is a volcanic eruption. There hasn’t been one in this part of Iceland since the 13th Century, but should one occur now, it is likely to be relatively small in scale and last for between a few days and a few weeks. It would be an effusive eruption – with no explosions! Lava flows would be expected along existing surface fissures, and it is possible that a brand new lava field would be created, measuring between 5 and 8 square miles.

If the magma rising underneath Grindavik were to reach the existing fault systems, then this map shows some of the potential fissure cracks that might erupt based on historical records:


Image: visir.is

A state of uncertainty has been declared for the area, and Iceland’s Met Office has enacted a yellow warning, which will result in increased monitoring. Already, new tilt meters have been installed. In case of any form of eruption, around 5000 people would need to be evacuated, including all of the residents of the fishing community of Grindavik, tourists visiting the Blue Lagoon (can be 1500 each day), and workers from the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Station. The decision to evacuate would be taken by the Department for Civil Protection, and advanced warning could be a few hours – or even just a few minutes. A local meeting was held in Grindavik on January 27th to share information with residents and discuss possible tragic plans.

Nearly all incoming visitors will pass through this area on their way from the airport to Reykjavík and other parts of the island, and my first trip in a couple of weeks includes the Blue Lagoon and other sites on the Reykjanes Peninsula. As I write, inflation continues at a rate of a few millimetres each day – so watch this space!

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What To Do With My Plastic Coffee Pods?

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I have been gathering some information this week about decomposition times for some of the many items we condemn to landfill. I have included some of them below:

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Time figures do vary from source to source, but it is very clear that the timescales associated with throw away plastics are particularly frightening. All of the graphics I had collected had real impact, and certainly made me think about what lifestyle changes I could make myself to avoid using or at least reduce use of some of the products I usually confine to the rubbish bin. But one figure I came across in my research really hit home – the one that highlighted the frightening lifespans of my beloved coffee pods.


Sales of coffee pods are booming – George Clooney’s TV adverts have a lot to answer for – and once used, almost all find their way into landfill. Apparently, a coffee pod machine features now in almost one in three modern kitchens, and in Britain we spent £112 million on single use pods in 2015, with that number set to treble by the end of next year.

But with the convenience of good quality coffee comes a major cost. 350 million coffee pods are thrown away in the UK each year. Coffee pods are generally made from either multi-layer plastic or resin-coated aluminium, and once they end up in our rubbish system, neither disappear quickly. Aluminium hangs around in landfill for around 150 years, but plastic remains with us for more than three times as long, taking up to 500 years to decompose.

Some pods may be technically recyclable, but this would involve dismantling each individual pod, emptying them out, then cleaning them before putting them in the recycle bin. Very fiddly, and very time consuming.

Nespresso Pods cannot go straight into your domestic recycle bin because the mixed materials aren’t accepted by most UK plants. However, the company does make the claim that its aluminium pods are recyclable, as you can take them to one of the brand’s boutique shops or post them to one of its processing centres. Even so, just 28% of their pods are collected through their recycling schemes.

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Fortunately though, there may now be a viable alternative, as compostable pods are on the increase.
These are made of materials that biodegrade quickly into harmless substances either via industrial composting following being placed in kerbside food bins, or by being added to a home compost heap. Compostable capsules can be made of biodegradable materials such as corn starch, sugar cane, and even thistle, which mimic the properties of plastic but break down quickly.

However, if you want to make an ethical choice of coffee pod, it is important to understand the range of terminology that may form part of your decision. Here are some of the terms I came across while exploring different possibilities:

• Biodegradable – will break down to nothing by natural processes (although this can sometimes take a very long time!) Most brands that use this label use pods that will take less than 6 months to disappear.
• Compostable – often confused with biodegradable, but with a key difference. A compostable product will break down to become nutrient rich soil. Composting might mean at home, or it might mean via industrial processes.
• Recyclable – aluminium pods can be recycled through household collections, but would need to be rinsed out first.
• Plastic-Free – brands should only make this claim if there is no plastic at all in the capsule, or in the associated packaging.
• Organic – coffee grown without chemical additives.
• Fair Trade – where farmers are paid a fair price for their coffee. It is possible to search for brands that pay above the set fair trade minimum price.

Of course, one of the big drawbacks is that compostable pods can be considerably more expensive to buy. One of the big coffee players – Lavazza – now sell a compostable pod, and are trying to convert its entire range to eco-friendly ones, at the same retail price. The company claim its new bio polymer-based ‘eco caps’ break down into compost in as little as six months when combined with food waste kerb collections. It is important not to bulk store compostable pods as they are porous, and over time, can lose their flavour.

So what choices of pods can I consider for the future? I need to do quite a bit of research first, and probably experiment with a few to rate price and flavor. At least now, there seems to be an alternative.

So, in the near future I will try some of the following:

Roar Gill
Blue Goose
Moving Beans
Rave Coffee

Any recommendations or advice would be much appreciated!



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World Wine Industry Responds To Climate Change

Steenberg Estate 2

Photo: P Berry

I recently enjoyed a wonderful holiday in South Africa – and apart from some excellent golf, one of the highlights was being able to visit a number of vineyard estates in the Cape wine region. As I sipped on yet another excellent chilled Sauvignon Blanc, nothing was further from my mind than geography work. But, after chatting with a group of winemakers at a tasting event at one of the estates, it soon became clear that the changing wine industry could provide a great ‘hook’ into investigations about climate change, particularly with adult groups.

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It seems the global wine industry has been rocked by the recently warming climate. Generally speaking, winemakers will have to move further from the equator to have favourable growing conditions.

For some more detail, let us focus close to home on Europe – the world’s leading producer of wine. This continent is home to the premium grape growing regions of France, Spain and Italy, and the EU accounts for 45% of winegrowing areas in the world. Europe accounts for 65% of global wine production, with over 3 million hectares of land covered in vineyards.

But now, Europe’s wine industry faces an uncertain future – and is certain to face significant change. The warming climate is expected to threaten the viability of many vineyards and lead to a major shake-up in the geographic distribution of Europe’s wine production over the coming decades. It is possible that the grapes that have made certain regions famous could no longer be grown efficiently in their traditional home areas.

With Europe expected to warm more than many other places on Earth, so it’s wine growing regions face a major challenge. Over the next 50 years, Europe’s temperature is expected to increase by three to five degrees Celsius. This will cause a massive shift in harvesting dates, as well as increased threat (along with increasing humidity) of pests and insect-borne diseases. Already, change is here. Current harvests come at least two to three weeks earlier than they did in the 1980s, with many regions who traditionally harvested in mid-October now doing so in mid to late September. In 2017, the French harvest was six weeks earlier than average in some areas.

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The degree to which a winegrowing region in Europe will be affected will depend upon its specific location, and exactly by how much that place is projected to warm up. Hotter areas will have fewer options to help them cope with a warming climate. The safest winegrowing areas know what their weather is likely to be year in year out. Those that make some of the finest wines are sometimes in the marginal areas. These could become more inconsistent and affect the delicate balance of conditions that are required.
Harshest estimates put the loss of grape suitability in premium winegrowing areas as high as 70%. Some areas – particularly on the Mediterranean coast, and especially in Greece, Italy and France – might become completely inhospitable to wine production by 2050. Changes in climate will lead to changes in traditional wines. A glass of Burgundy could more closely resemble a Bordeaux, while Bordeaux wines could become fruitier and have a lower alcohol content. For some of the more sensitive grapes, even small subtle changes in weather can have a make or break effect on their chemistry. Colder temperatures mean some grapes do not completely ripen, which results in high acidity, low sugar levels, and bitter flavours. Conversely, hotter temperatures produce over-ripe grapes with low acidity and high alcohol content.

Spain faces a dilemma as hotter summers produce high sugar content in grapes just as consumers are moving away from intense wines toward more subtle and lighter tastes. Hotter Spanish summers caused by climate change are forcing winemakers to move their vineyards to higher altitudes to maintain the characteristic tastes and tones of wine such as Rioja. Italy’s Chianti wine region predominantly thrives in a mild dry climate. As temperatures continue to increase the grapes are not only ripening much faster, but are drying out under the scorching heat of summer sun. Growers are noting more disease, earlier ripening times, higher levels of sugar and alcohol, and lowering levels of acidity. Bordeaux is known for its maritime and continental climate and is beginning to struggle with more subtle effects of climate change – rising temperatures and storms and excessive rain.
Winemakers say that as temperatures rise, the variety and nuance is being lost in exchange for alcohol, as hotter temperatures ripen grapes faster, increasing their sugar content.

However, there will not be disaster for everyone. Some wine regions are benefitting from dramatic shifts in climate – namely, those cooler regions that historically have trouble certain grape varieties. These areas currently on the fringes of wine producing regions could in the future begin to place themselves within the premium market.

A warming climate means that places like the south of England (and beyond Europe, places like northern China and upstate New York) will soon be able to grow a greater variety of grapes. It could not have been imagined ten years ago, that in 2020, it would be possible to taste (and enjoy) a glass of sparkling wine made in England. It would then have been considered to be too cold and too rainy, and no one would ever have been so foolish as to grow grapes there.

More Champagne, Sir?

France is fighting to save its Champagne. Experts say grape varieties used to make it will be ruined by rising temperatures. Some growers worry that if average temperature increases reach 2 degrees, champagne will be gone forever. This year saw the champagne region record its highest ever temperature of 42.9 degrees. Grape Harvesting used to be in late September or early October, but is now on average 18 days earlier. Currently, many growers harvest at night when temperatures are cooler to discourage fermentation. Heat and drought resistant grapes may be the saviours for the future, involving hybrids created by crosses with American varieties. Experts worry this is very unfrench. The Met Office predicts that the dreaded 2 degrees mark will be reached between 2055 and 2075 depending on emission levels. Perhaps champagne will be made in more northerly areas such as Britain?That will never happen say the French experts.

England is already beginning to mimic a perfect climate for producing champagne. A rise of one to two degrees Celsius would allow English grapes to develop more sugar and phenolic ripeness, which softens acidity and influences colour, flavour and aroma. This could lead to a real growth spike in the English wine industry. However, we still have quite a way to catch up – with just over 1,500 hectares of vines in production compared to a giant 760,000 hectares in France!

Extreme weather incidents connected to climate change could also make life particularly difficult for winegrowers. Unseasonal frosts or isolated heavy bouts of rain (or even hail) could cause untold damage to crops.

In an effort to reduce the impacts of climate change, some winegrowers are focusing their efforts to manage the microclimates around their vines. New techniques include using strategic planting of vines east to west (rather than the traditional north to south) to allow the canopy to protect the grapes. In addition, irrigation practices are changing, changing, new technology is being applied using micro-misters and wind machines, and the use of shade cloths.

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One problem winegrowers will face is that currently, strict labelling laws limit the degree of diversity winegrowers can experiment with in their particular areas. For instance, there are only three varieties of grapes that can be labelled as Champagne, and only 6 red grapes that can contribute to Bordeaux wines. These laws have their roots in a deep tradition, and pay homage to the idea of ‘terroir’ – the natural environment in which a wine is produced, including soil and climate. The terroir is said to be the vital link between where a wine is grown and it’s flavour. Perhaps it will need to be made easier for them to begin planting some of the many different grape varieties that are better adapted to warmer climates and droughts. Hybrid grape varieties that fare better in warmer climates could replace some of the more delicate varieties like Pinot Noir. Process of changing grape varieties takes a long time. New vines take up to 5 years to produce their first fruit. Any action that is needed should start now.

Some argue that producers should be permitted to add acid to certain appellations that do not currently allow this addition. Argument is based on fact that when climate is warmer, grapes mature earlier, leading to higher levels of sugar and alcohol but lower levels of acidity.

Whatever happens with our climate, it certainly looks like there will be some different bottle labels appearing in the wine rack in the future.

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Warming Stripes Climate Change Visualisations

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A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about ‘warming stripes’ and how they could be used to add strong visual images to lessons on climate change:


These ‘warming stripe’ graphics are visual representations of the change in temperature as measured in each country over the past 100 years. Each stripe represents the temperature in that country averaged over a year. For most countries, the stripes start in the year 1901 and finish in 2018, but for some countries like the UK, USA, Switzerland & Germany, the data starts in the late 19th century.

For virtually every country or region, the stripes turn from mainly blue to mainly red in more recent years, illustrating the rise in average temperatures in that country.

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I have recently been using this excellent web site to access ‘warming stripes’ for different parts of the world:


The main screen (shown above) starts with a global warming stripe, but you can dig deeper to explore different continents, and then even individual countries.

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These seem to have become popular in recent times, and you can even now order your own ties, leggings, mugs and scarves from:


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Twitter, as ever, provided me with more inspiration – and I love the idea of giant banners made up for the classroom. Here is a great example provided by @georaphy_paul:


But why stop in the classroom? Giant banners like this would make great talking points in public places like town centres, town halls, libraries etc.

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State of Nature Report 2019

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I recently came across this report form the National Biodiversity Network, titled ‘State of Nature 2019’. It provides a wide range of resources that could be very useful in supporting some geography lessons, particularly those with a theme of climate change. The report includes a detailed written report on the state of nature in 2019, a range of infographics, videos, blogs, plus a number of suggested additional materials.

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The report can be accessed via the following web link:


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