Do We Need To Name Our Heatwaves?


Recent Temperature Map – From ‘The Sun’, Of Course!

This week has seen record temperatures set in parts of the UK, railways disrupted by extreme heat, and well-being fears for the elderly as we experience a genuine summer heat wave.

Researchers at the London School of Economics have responded by suggesting that the Met Office should start naming heatwaves in the same way that it names severe storms. This would then highlight the health risks of hot spells and the growing impact of climate change, and help the public treat them seriously.  By attaching a name to a weather event, it has been found to help people track its progress, and also prepare people for and avoid dangers that might come along with it.


Storm Names For 2019-20 (Met Office)

The Met Office started naming our storms in 2015, and this year has already seen storms Freya, Gareth, and Hannah batter Britain. Next up will be Storm Idris. But with far more people having died from recent heatwaves than from storms, perhaps it is time to to start applying names to both. Maybe we will soon hear warnings on the radio for elderly to close their curtains and avoid going outside during the hottest part of the day as ‘Heatwave Alexander’ is predicted to arrive?

What would your ‘Heatwave Name Alphabet’ be?

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Painted Cliffs At Sidmouth



Photograph; P Berry

The Triassic sandstone cliffs at Sidmouth are a famous landmark in Devon, noted for their earthy red colour. However, they made the news last week when the local Council was accused by a geologist of “corporate vandalism” for painting them the “wrong” shade of red.


Photograph: Daily Telegraph

East Devon district council have recently carried out work to stabilise the cliffs in Sidmouth by installing bolts set in concrete into the rock face. This has allowed the walkway under the cliffs to remain open and keep the public safe. Following the intervention work, contractors painted the concrete sections red to “help it blend in with the surrounding stone”.

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Photograph: Sidmouth Herald

But the new paint job has been criticised as being the “wrong” shade of red for the 220 million year old sandstone cliffs. It is never easy to replicate nature!

What colour would they need to use for cliffs or exposed rock in your area? Is there anything on the Dulux colour strip that matches?


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Lava Caving in Southern Iceland


Icicles – Leidarendi Lava Cave. Image: PBerry

As I eagerly await the beginning of my summer programme of visits to Iceland with Rayburn Tours, I have managed to find a little time to reflect on trips made back in the spring.

IMG_3290Back in March, I had the opportunity to visit a new location – the Raufarholshellir lava cave near the town of Hveragerdi in southern Iceland. Lava caves (or tubes) were formed when surface-flowing lava solidified – while molten lava continued to flow in a tunnel (or tube) below the surface. The tubes eventually drain as the lava flow ceases, and the rock cools to leave a long, narrow cave.

Raufarholshellir is 1360 metres long, and ranges between 10 and 30 metres wide. The height of the cave averages around 10 metres, and the feature was the product of a fissure eruption some 5,200 years ago. The roof is around 12 metres thick, but has collapsed at three points to open the cave to the sky. During the winter months, snow blows in through the roof windows to create giant ice columns that add to the mystery of this place. A red-brown iron stain marks the basalt around the roof openings, but is absent from the far end of the cave where there is less exposure to the open air.

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I have been fortunate enough in the past to visit a number of lava caves in other parts of the world such as Hawaii and New Zealand, and have now also managed to explore a number of lava caves in Iceland. They are all quite different, with each cave having its own special character.


Shark’s Tooth Lava Stalactites, Leiderendi

One of the more adventurous complex of lava caves in Iceland is Leidarendi, located just a few miles south east of Hafnarfjordur, one of the southern suburbs of the Reykjavik metropolitan area. They are found in a giant scoria crater called Stori Bolli (‘Big Cup’), and were first opened in 1992. The caves were created around 2000 years ago when a major eruption produced a huge lava field in this part of south west Iceland.

On my last visit to the caves, my group was met by the excellent guides from ‘Iceland Expeditions’, who kitted everyone out with safety helmets and head torches. The entry into the cave system was pretty narrow, but once inside it was possible to walk through the old channels – with a few spots demanding a crouched posture or all-fours, and one or two a bit of a crawl with chest on the cave floor.

While underground, we were given some fascinating information about the volcanic activity in the Reykjavik area, and were able to explore a good length of the lava tube system. With our head torches lighting the way, the smooth cave walls were clear to see – and it didn’t need a great imagination to visualise how flowing lava streams had sculpted and polished these channels.

One distinct feature of the Leidarendi system is the presence of lava-icicles – stalactites and stalagmites on the cave floor and ceiling – formed from dripping and splashing lava. The ‘stalactities’ are sometimes known as ‘shark’s teeth’ lava. Lava flakes that had fallen from the walls and roof due to frost and erosion littered the tunnel floor beneath our feet.

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Back in the winter, it was a strange feeling re-emerging from this sheltered underground world back into a raging snow storm – but a great experience that really brought alive the scale and wonder of the volcanic activity that has formed this unique subterranean landscape.

The Mariuhellar lava cave is found in the Heidmork Nature Reserve, Just 20 minutes from Reykjavik. ‘Hellar’ means ‘cave’ in Icelandic, so Mariuhellar translates as ‘Maria’s Cave’. There are actually 3 accessible caves here, formed in lava flows that date back around 4,600 years.

(Photos – L:; R:

In my younger years, I was rather more flexible and a little thinner in waistline – and able to face the some more advanced challenges in the area around Grindavik, on the Reykjanes Peninsula. Hiring my own personal guide, I was taken to some really difficult to access caves and tubes that really tested my limited ability as an underground explorer. A great experience, but one that is beyond me now with my present body-shape!

There is a huge number of other accessible lava tubes throughout Iceland. For instance, the Lofthellir Cave near Lake Myvatn in north Iceland contains some impressive lava sculptures, while the Víðgelmir lava tube situated in the Hallmundarhraun lava field in west Iceland claims to be the largest in the country. Maybe I will get chance to explore them on future trips. Meanwhile, I will have to confine myself to making up new stories about the trolls that use the caves as a network of dark shelters while plotting dastardly deeds to terrorise the local people.

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New Interactive Relief Map Tool

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I stumbled across an interesting map tool today, via the excellent Simon Kuestenmacher – who tweets regularly about all things maps as @simongerman600.

It is a free interactive online tool that allows you to create a relief map view from anywhere in the world. It is a little tricky to manoeuvre, but the search tool works well. Play with the zoom tool to get the best looking image.

Check it out at:

Here are some images I created:

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Mount Etna

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Mount Vesuvius

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Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland



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New Interactive Iceland Resources

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The travel company ‘Discover the World’ have just launched an excellent resource for geography teachers and students with an interest in Iceland.

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‘Experience Iceland’ is an interactive GIS map featuring 40 videos of various locations across the country. It is possible to zoom into the map to see detailed satellite maps of different landscape locations, and also  watch stunning footage with commentary from Geographer Simon Ross.

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To view ‘Experience Iceland’ follow this link:

There are also many (free) resources about Iceland on the main Discover the World web site.

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Ten New Mega Cities By 2030 – Some New Data for the Classroom

According to the World Economic Forum, ten world cities are predicted to achieve mega-city status by the year 2030. Mega-cities are urban areas with over 10 million inhabitants, and there are currently 31 of them across the world. The continued increase in their number is the most visible evidence of the accelerating global trend towards urbanization.

In 1950, cities were home to  less than one-third of the global population, and there only two mega-cities to be found in the world –  New York and Tokyo. Today, 55% of the world’s population live in urban areas , and within just one generation, that proportion is set to grow to 68% of the total population.

We are all familiar with the names of some of our mega-cities – New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, and Cairo – but some of the cities that the UN predicts will break the ten million mark by 2030 are less familiar. Nine of the 10 cities projected to become megacities between 2018 and 2030 are located in developing countries.

The ‘new’ mega cities list:

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These tables show the existing mega cities (2018), and the ‘new’ list of mega cities predicted for 2030:

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This PDF contains some great data for geographers teaching about world urbanization:

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For instance, it explains how between 2018 and 2030, Delhi is projected to increase by more than 10 million inhabitants, and overtake Tokyo (declining by almost 900,000) on the list of world cities ranked by size:

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Other interesting points revealed in this document:

  • 90% of the shift to urban areas will take place in Asia and Africa
  • Currently, 22 of the world’s 33 mega cities are in Asia and Africa, as are all except one of the 10 set to join them by 2030
  • All of the top 10 fastest growing cities in the world are in India
  • China will gain two more megacities, with Chengdu and Nanjing adding to the six already topping the 10 million mark (Shanghai, Beijing, Chongqing, Tianjin, Guangzhou and Shenzhen)
  • Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, is predicted to be the fourth biggest city in the world by 2030, with 28 million inhabitants
  • There is a notable exception to Asia’s population boom, in ageing Japan. Twenty years ago Osaka was second only to Tokyo. But the population of its metropolitan region peaked at 19 million, and is now actually shrinking. By 2030 it will have dropped out of the top 10 altogether
  • Surprisingly, no new megacities are predicted at all for the Americas. Sao Paulo and Mexico City are currently the 4th and 5th largest in the world. But by 2030 they will have dropped to 9th and 8th respectively
  • In 1950, the United States could boast six of the world’s 20 biggest cities. By 2030 it will have just one – New York
  • Europe has seen the largest number of cities actually losing population (particularly in Poland, Romania, Russia and Ukraine). But it also contains the only place outside Asia and Africa predicted to achieve megacity status between now and 2030 – London
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Landscapes From Old Books


I came across a fascinating web site this week showcasing the work of Montreal-based artist Guy Laramee. He practices a form of mixed media artwork called ‘altered books’ that changes a book from its original form into something with a different appearance and/or meaning – a funky example of upcycling.

I was particularly interested in Laramee’s 3D landscapes created from old dictionaries, encyclopedias and other large books. Laramee carefully carves out wonderful representations of mountain scenery, glaciated uplands, and even tsunamis.

What do you do with your old books?

Here are a few more images of Laramee’s landscapes:




This news report explains how Laramee creates his masterpieces:


You can find out more about this amazing artist from his web site:


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