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Climate change is slowing Atlantic currents that help keep Europe warm

Posted by Ajay Chauhan at Apr 13, 2018 10:46 AM |

by Peter T. Spooner

File 20180412 584 n22937.png?ixlib=rb 1.1Natalie Renier/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Author provided
Peter T. Spooner, UCL

The ocean currents that help warm the Atlantic coasts of Europe and North America have significantly slowed since the 1800s and are at their weakest in 1600 years, according to new research my colleagues and I have conducted. As we’ve set out in a new study in Nature, the weakening of this ocean circulation system may have begun naturally but is probably being continued by climate change related to greenhouse gas emissions.

This circulation is a key player in the Earth’s climate system and a large or abrupt slowdown could have global repercussions. It could cause sea levels on the US east coast to rise, alter European weather patterns or rain patterns more globally, and hurt marine wildlife.

We know that at the end of the last major ice age, rapid fluctuations in the circulation led to extreme climate shifts on a global scale. An exaggerated (but terrifying) example of such a sudden event was portrayed in the 2004 blockbuster film The Day After Tomorrow.

The recent weakening we have found was likely driven by warming in the north Atlantic and the addition of freshwater from increased rainfall and melting ice. It has been predicted many times but, until now, just how much weakening has already occurred has largely remained a mystery. The extent of the changes we have discovered comes as a surprise to many, including myself, and points to significant changes in the future.

The circulation system in question is known as the “Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation” (AMOC). The AMOC is like a giant conveyor belt of water. It transports warm, salty water to the north Atlantic where it gets very cold and sinks. Once in the deep ocean the water flows back southwards and then all around the world’s oceans. This conveyor belt is one of the most important transporters of heat in the climate system and includes the Gulf Stream, known for keeping western Europe warm.

Climate models have consistently predicted that the AMOC will slow down due to greenhouse gas warming and associated changes in the water cycle. Because of these predictions – and the possibility of abrupt climate changes – scientists have monitored the AMOC since 2004 with instruments strung out across the Atlantic at key locations. But to really test the model predictions and work out how climate change is affecting the conveyor we have needed much longer records.

Looking for patterns

To create these records, our research group – led by University College London’s Dr David Thornalley – used the idea that a change in the AMOC has a unique pattern of impact on the ocean. When the AMOC gets weaker, the north-eastern Atlantic Ocean cools and parts of the western Atlantic get warmer by a specific amount. We can look for this pattern in past records of ocean temperature to trace what the circulation was like in the past.

Another study in the same issue of Nature, led by researchers at the University of Potsdam in Germany, used historical observations of temperature to check the fingerprint. They found that the AMOC had reduced in strength by around 15% since 1950, pointing to the role of human-made greenhouse gas emissions as the primary cause.

In our paper, which also forms part of the EU ATLAS project, we found the same fingerprint. But instead of using historical observations we used our expertise in past climate research to go back much further in time. We did this by combining known records of the remains of tiny marine creatures found in deep-sea mud. Temperature can be worked out by looking at the amounts of different species and the chemical compositions of their skeletons.

We were also able to directly measure the past deep ocean current speeds by looking at the mud itself. Larger grains of mud imply faster currents, while smaller grains mean the currents were weaker. Both techniques point to a weakening of the AMOC since about 1850, again by about 15% to 20%. Importantly, the modern weakening is very different to anything seen over the last 1,600 years, pointing to a combination of natural and human drivers.

The difference in timing of the start of the AMOC weakening in the two studies will require more scientific attention. Despite this difference, both of the new studies raise important questions regarding whether climate models simulate the historical changes in ocean circulation, and whether we need to revisit some of our future projections.

The ConversationHowever, each additional long record makes it easier to evaluate how well the models simulate this key element of the climate system. In fact, evaluating models against these long records may be a crucial step if we hope to accurately predict possible extreme AMOC events and their climate impacts.

Peter T. Spooner, Research Associate in Paleoceanography, UCL

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.



Map of the Month

Posted by Ajay Chauhan at Apr 05, 2018 09:00 AM |

by Nick Mann

india atlas.jpg

india atlas-panoa.jpgFor this month’s map I have found a lovely sheet which originally was part of the Atlas of India. It covers the area of Pakistan north of the Sindh province just around the area of Khairpur with the River Indus running through the top left.  It is an original 1874 map with the survey general named as Sir Henry Edward Landor Thuillier.  There are additions / corrections added in 1895 and these still can be seen on the sheet.  There is a nice colour wash added to the map and would have cost an extra two Annas, the map itself was only 12 Annas. The sheet was requested by a student who wanted to use it as part of their coursework.

Another fascinating fact about Sir Henry Thuillier was not only was he the surveyor general for India at the time but he was responsible for printing the first stamp of India in 1874.

Another quirky observation is that the "Taluka Panoa" area (top right) has the lettering upside down on the sheet, the reason for this unusual typography is unclear (See the enlarged section).




Palestinian refugees lament as Trump funding cuts create job insecurity and a pension crisis

Posted by Ajay Chauhan at Mar 26, 2018 04:05 PM |

Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, UCL

The livelihoods and long-term futures of thousands of Palestinian refugee families across Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Gaza and the West Bank are at risk due to Donald Trump’s catastrophic decision to cut the American donation to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

The US president’s decision to contribute only US$60m to UNRWA in 2018 – instead of US$125m – has been widely denounced as a brutal form of collective punishment for the Palestinian people.

To fill the gap in UNRWA’s budget, on January 22, its commissioner-general, Pierre Krähenbühl, launched a major emergency fundraising campaign. The #DignityIsPriceless campaign aims to mobilise donor states and civil society worldwide to secure funds to keep open the 700 UNRWA schools that educate 525,000 Palestinian children. It also aims to ensure that UNRWA can continue providing lifesaving emergency food aid, emergency cash assistance, and essential medical services to millions of Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. Krähenbühl said: “At stake are the rights and dignity of an entire community.”

There is clearly an urgent need to fill an immediate gap to keep schools and medical services open. However, a related, unspoken crisis is also threatening Palestinian refugees’ future in another way: if services are at threat there is also a looming employment crisis for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who provide these services as UNRWA staff.

Palestinian jobs and pensions at risk

UNRWA is both an agency that provides services and assistance, and the employer of 30,000 Palestinians, including doctors and nurses, teachers, psycho-social workers and administrative and support staff.

UNRWA’s budget has been precarious since its inception in the 1950s and in December 2017 it had a deficit of US$49m. Because of this, in addition to its full-time employees on fixed-term and indefinite contracts, UNRWA has long employed thousands of people on daily contracts, often for years and even decades on end. These precariously employed “dailies” are called upon to fill short-term gaps as they arise, including as substitute teachers and doctors to cover sick leave.

Many UNRWA employees – including the Palestinian teachers, guards and sanitation workers I have been speaking with across Lebanon as part of my ongoing research – fear that their jobs and very futures are at risk. Potential redundancies in Lebanon’s educational vocational centres have already been announced. My interviewees inform me that dozens of UNRWA “dailies” have either been made redundant or have not had their contracts renewed since Trump’s announcement.

Exceptional measures and major insecurities

On January 17 2018, UNRWA headquarters in Amman, Jordan sent UNRWA employees an internal Area Staff Circular noting that, “in view of the severity of the funding shortfall that the Agency currently faces,” the commissioner-general was announcing a series of exceptional measures.

The circular – which a number of my interviewees personally showed me – announced that UNRWA would no longer grant any extension of service to those over 60-years-old, the official age of retirement, and that posts that become vacant because of retirement would not be filled “until further notice”. The conversion of fixed-term appointments to indefinite appointments was also suspended. This means that staff with ten years of continuous service would no longer automatically be eligible for an indefinite appointment.

Sara, a Palestinian teacher I interviewed in early February, told me her heart dropped when she read this circular. Born in a camp in Lebanon, Sara – whose name has been changed – was first employed as a “daily” teacher, and, for the past eight years, as a fixed-term, full-time UNRWA employee. Since 2012, she has been teaching Palestinian children from Syria who arrived in Lebanon seeking sanctuary. She explained why she felt that her future had been pulled out from under her:

If my contract is not converted to an indefinite one, I will have nothing to support me or my family after I am 60. As a ‘B’ employee [the term Palestinians use to refer to workers on fixed-term UNRWA contracts], I would only receive my own savings (tawfeer) as a lump sum, with no contribution from UNRWA.

This is because upon retirement, only UNRWA employees who are on indefinite contracts (known as “A” employees) are eligible to receive the full “Provident Fund” lump sum or what Palestinians refer to as ta’weed: the full compensation paid by UNRWA for their many years’ service.

Ta’weed combines monthly contributions that are deducted directly from Palestinian refugees’ monthly salaries (the tawfeer), plus an UNRWA contribution. As UNRWA employees receive no monthly pension after retirement, without the combined payment Sara would effectively only receive her own savings (tawfeer) in one lump sum, which would never be sufficient to support herself and her family as she grows older.

My interviewees told me they were partially relieved to receive a second UNRWA circular on January 21, stating that “the conversion of fixed-term to indefinite appointment is reinstated.”

However, they remained concerned that with UNRWA’s ongoing financial insecurity, it won’t actually be possible for fixed-term staff to be offered indefinite contracts in the coming years. And they also remain concerned about the future of their pensions.

A fair future

In light of what UNRWA itself has called the “worst financial situation in its 70-year history”, Palestinian staff members are being implored to continue serving the refugee community.

However, UNRWA employees and their families are facing increasing insecurities. They fear for what the future may hold, both for their employment prospects, and for their lives beyond retirement.

The ConversationFor each UNRWA staff member whose contract is not made indefinite, for each person made redundant or removed from the “daily” roster, for each potential employee not recruited to fill a gap left by retirement, and for each person whose full “Providence Fund” (ta'weed) may not be paid by UNRWA, an entire family’s and community’s livelihood is being undermined.

Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Reader in Human Geography and Co-Director of the Migration Research Unit, UCL

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


New York City Teenage Angst

Posted by Ajay Chauhan at Mar 05, 2018 09:00 AM |

By Angelos Angelidis

Over the winter break, Angelos explored New York as well as his interest in photography. Read on to hear how he is expanding his skill set and broadening the scope of his academic studies while abroad.

Angelos Angelidis1.jpg

I think that for a lot of people going through university, uncertainty with regards to our future career path is perhaps one of the major factors causing anxiety. Personally, I went into university as a physical geographer but I am currently particularly interested in working in the arts. Whether that would be in the film industry or at a museum I do not know yet and I am not even sure if this is just a phase that will eventually fade away. However, I know that as a person I cannot constrain myself in terms of what I am genuinely interested in, even if that means that I end up being a jack of all trades but a master of none. Therefore, I am embracing the multifaceted nature of my identity and I am seeing my year abroad in University of Toronto, as an opportunity to broaden my academic curriculum specifically to include art history, cinema studies and photography courses.

Angelos Angelidis2.jpgAfter having completed a “Photography 1” course and working with a film camera for the first half of the fall semester, I was very excited to shoot film in my winter break. Being a mere 12-hour bus ride away from Toronto, I went on a trip to New York City with a good friend of mine and I carried around a Kodak disposable camera (with a Kodak Max Versatility Plus 800 colour film) and a Nikon FM10 (with an Ilford 400 black & white film). We stayed in the city for six days and it was buzzing with life. The saying that New York City is the city that never sleeps was true since even behind the walls of our hotel room we could still hear cars and sirens late at night, making them an integral sonic element of the dazzling urban fabric. It was surprising to see how the metropolis that epitomises the peak of capitalist consumerism was not as “modern” as it is usually perceived to be. The old public transport infrastructure alongside the large number of skyscrapers that were built in the 20th century, give the city a sense of history deeply embedded amongst more contemporary buildings towering above one’s head. Generally, the soaring height of most buildings provides more space for architects to experiment with eye-catching designs, that create a very iconic skyline.

The most shocking aspect of the city was the large number of homeless people sleeping in the streets of Manhattan and inside subway waggons. It is so easy to make yourself immune to the sight of homeless people in New York City just to avoid accepting the falsity of upward social mobility that the American Dream promises to the masses. In a way, being able to live and survive in New York City requires you to be brutally individualistic at times. The notion of individual freedom that is so famously represented by the Statue of Liberty masks and hides an underlying obedience to the forces of capitalism.

Overall, the trip was a great experience and an opportunity for me to practise my photography skills a bit more. This coming semester I will be taking a “Photography 2” class since I felt that the “Photography 1” course allowed me to explore my creativity and gain new skills that might one day prove to be very useful in terms of pursuing the right career for me. I am still unclear as to what I want to do and new options have been put on the table, such as working in the film industry, which is stressful in terms of not feeling qualified enough to pursue my interests. However, I remind myself that I should view my anxiety about the future as a marker of privilege of having enough options to choose from rather than it being caused by lack of opportunities. Therefore, I am glad that this year abroad has given me the freedom to further broaden the scope of my academic studies and gain new practical skills.

Angelos Angelidis3.jpg

Map of the Month

Posted by Ajay Chauhan at Mar 01, 2018 09:00 AM |

by Nick Mann

This month with the "Beast from the East" hitting the UK and causing us to all to shiver - I thought it would be fun to see what the Russians were indicting in 1954.  The map is of the January average temperature from a Russian 1954 Atlas produced in Moscow that we have in our Atlas collection.


Click here for more information on the Map Library.



From Physical Geography to Political Ecology: A Journey to Tie Them Up

Posted by Ajay Chauhan at Feb 27, 2018 12:04 PM |

by Loan Diep

The beginning of the adventure was no piece of cake. I come from Brittany (France), and after only a year in London with a shaky level of English, I took the plunge after some years away from academia and signed up for a BSc in Environmental Geography. In all honesty, I struggled quite a lot. During the weekend and on several evenings I was working as a manager in a bar, which was giving me little time to improve my reading and writing skills. But lecturers and friends I made on my course encouraged me a lot, and that helped me throughout the three years of the degree. I even got the chance to study for 6 months in Adelaide, Australia, which was an absolute blast. My interest in environmental impacts and hydrology grew over the years. My background was in physical sciences, which was really relevant, but I was missing something political in my approach though I was not sure how to go about it. Eventually I graduated after completing my dissertation on Hydrological Modelling and Climate Change Impacts in South-East Asia.


[Image 1: Modelling Alcudia Lagoon Hydrodynamics, BSc Environmental Geography fieldwork in Mallorca]

Following my degree at UCL Geography, I enrolled straight onto the MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development at UCL’s Bartlett School of Planning. The MSc came as a real revelation where I started to explore another aspect of environmental issues in societies. At the DPU, the research environment, the lectures, my classmates, and our fieldwork in Peru were very inspiring. I discovered totally new approaches to water problems, including that of urban governance and resilience. However, I missed the physical science angle, and so I started to reflect on science integration and knowledge in urban planning. This is also when I started to develop my interest in green infrastructure, to which I came back to several years after.


[Image 2: Working in contexts of eviction, or how improvised focus group discussions are most insightful, Lima fieldwork]

After graduation from the DPU, I worked as a consultant for the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). I was offered fantastic opportunities to work on cities, urban resilience and resource efficiency for UNEP. I even got to go to the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) world congress in Seoul where I presented this research with IIED.

In parallel, I joined Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP). It started with an internship in Monitoring and Evaluation. I was part of the teams supporting well-established programmes in Kenya, Zambia, Ghana, Mozambique, Madagascar and Bangladesh. That was a first experience in the development sector, opening up a whole new world of challenges and diversity of interests. In the middle of this realm of strategic power games, I was endlessly wondering if there was an escape to alleviate misery in the ‘slums’ for which we were working. I then worked for the consultancy arm of WSUP, which was a very small but fast-growing team. It functioned a bit like a start-up in its structure, so I got to do a lot of things there. I helped to manage all types of projects, including a particular one in India, advising the government to stop open defecation as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission, the national Clean India Campaign. That’s also when I discovered sanitation and that all the ‘shit’ it involves, was in fact a very trendy topic…

At WSUP, I also led what became one of my most fascinating research projects in the Middle East and North Africa region. I worked with IIED and UNICEF on water provision during conflicts and population movements to advise government and non-government actors in Jordan and Lebanon, but also Syria, Yemen, Palestine and Iraq. I particularly remember attending a very inspiring community workshop in Jordan, about which I wrote a short piece. This project has been key in my life because I was given a whole panel of opportunities to learn, debate, act, write, present, and much more to reflect on.


[Image 3: Community workshop with women representatives on water challenges in Jordan during conflicts and population movements]

I am now back at UCL, as a PhD candidate at the Centre for Urban Sustainability and Resilience (USAR) of the CEGE department. Here I focus on green infrastructure project design and implementation in dense cities. This is where I am now bringing all the pieces of the puzzle together: urban governance, its challenges for ecosystems development and low incomes, the struggle for nature conservation, flood risks, but also social inequalities in cities. USAR has enabled me to explore both the technical and socio-political aspects of societal problems and my aim is now to do something about this to inform decision-making for the future of cities.


Coventry Bomb Damage Map

Posted by ucfanlm at Feb 01, 2018 09:00 AM |

by Nick Mann, Learning Resources Co-ordinator

This month I have put up a map that has recently been donated from Coventry University. It is titled “Central Reconstruction Area. Bomb Damage Map.”  There is no date and was produced by the City of Coventry Planning Department.  It is interesting that there are no roads labelled and the addition of silhouetted airplanes which I assume are the bombers, that are aligned in a north easterly direction.

Coventry bomb damage

UCL Geographer to Fast Streamer

Posted by Ajay Chauhan at Dec 06, 2017 04:15 PM |

This is the next article in a series of blog posts from UCL Geography alumni, talking about how their degree led them to where they are now….

by Gemma Kane

gemma-kane.jpgThroughout my degree, I didn’t have a clear idea what I wanted to do once I graduated, except that I probably wanted to work in the public sector, and do something that had a positive impact on people’s lives. I studied BA Geography, although took both human and physical modules, and graduated in 2016. It was the variety of the Civil Service Fast Stream - and the opportunity to see many different parts of the public sector - that attracted me to the scheme. It meant I could rotate frequently and see which areas I liked and disliked, as I didn’t really understand how government worked and the different roles available before I started. I’m doing the Generalist Fast Stream, although there are now fifteen different schemes ranging from Communications to Science and Engineering to Commercial. I only applied to this and Ofgem’s graduate scheme, as these were the only two that sparked my interest, and there’s not very many public-sector grad schemes compared to other industries.

The scheme is four years long, which is a lot longer than most graduate roles, and comprises of four six-month postings, including a secondment out of the Civil Service, and two year-long postings. It’s designed to be a fast track route in a management position, and in the longer term, into a senior civil servant role.

My first posting was in the Home Office’s International Strategy and Engagement Team, where I got to work on some really interesting issues such as counter terrorism, serious organised crime, and migration. My main role was coordinating UK attendance at multilateral events, and I was lucky enough to travel to Los Angeles and Rome to see how these work and international relationships are built.


Figure 1: ‘Perks of the job’ Visiting the US Customs and Border Protection for a multilateral meeting with the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in Los Angeles, California.

Next I moved to the Ministry of Justice to work in their Transformation team, which aimed on build a simpler, smarter and more unified department. I worked on changes to the departmental operating model and this gave me a real insight into all the corporate back of house functions it takes to run such a large organisation. I learnt valuable project management and finance skills, which although don’t sound the most exciting, are key for most roles in government.

Currently, I’m on secondment to the NHS at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, working on digital strategy. It’s really valuable to get out of central government and see how wider public organisations interact with the centre. Plus, it’s a fascinating place to be working - it’s the largest Biomedical Campus outside Europe and I’ve met some incredibly interested, talented and motivated people.


Figure 2: Cambridge Biomedical Campus, which houses stakeholders ranging from NHS Trusts, pharmaceutical companies, the University of Cambridge, and multiple research institutes.

One of the advantages of the Fast Stream is that I get to use both the content and the skills I learnt in my degree. Geography is really broad and has strong links to a lot of government policy. For example, when working at the Home Office, modules such as ‘Migration and Transnationalism’ really aided my understanding of some of the complex issues I was dealing with. Plus, I’ve had to do a lot of written briefings for senior colleagues and Ministers, and the communication skills you pick up in a degree have been crucial to helping me do this. As much as I knew I didn’t want to be an academic, it’s nice to know that I can use what I learnt at UCL Geography. The scheme is mentally very challenging so you always feel like you’re being stretched which is rewarding when it pays off.

I also personally find it really interesting to work on issues that impact people’s everyday lives and that you see all the time in the news. It reminds me how important the work of Civil Servants is, particularly in light of Brexit; I think it’s a fascinating time to be working in government.

Studying Geography has definitely helped me during my time on the scheme. The subject is really varied, and as a Civil Servant, you need both strong written and analytical skills. The wide range of modules I took at UCL meant I could develop both aspects of this and gave me a strong foundation to build on in each of my roles. This is particularly helpful with the Fast Stream as, because you’re only in each posting for six months initially, you really get thrown in at the deep end and have to get to grips with things pretty quickly.

The Geography department at UCL specifically gives students a lot of opportunities to become involved in departmental activities, which helped me a lot both in terms of the application process and in giving me skills outside of studying for my degree. For example, I was President of the UCL Geographical Society, Chair of the Staff Student Consultative Committee, a transition mentor for first year students, and helped in the running of departmental open days. Not only is this good for CV boosting, but working with staff and students across the department gave me a solid footing for the politics and people skills required as a Civil Servant. Given its varied nature, Geography may not at first lend itself to an obvious or particular career path, which can mean job searching can be daunting. However, I think this actually gives Geographers an advantage, as they have such a breadth of skills and can fit their experience to most jobs and tends to make us well rounded candidates. So, my advice would be to leverage this to your advantage, as it’s something employers really value!


How I evolved from being a UCL Geography graduate to a marine scientist in the Galápagos

Posted by Ajay Chauhan at Nov 21, 2017 11:20 AM |

This is the first in a series of blog posts from UCL Geography alumni, talking about how their degree led them to where they are now….

by Salome Buglass

Salome Buglass-1

Fig 1: Salome in front of Darwin’s Arch at Darwin and Wolfe Islands, the most northern islands of the Galápagos. Waters here harbor one of highest biomass of sharks and top predator fish species (photo credit: Salome Buglass - Charles Darwin Foundation)

When I decided to do a BSc in geography at UCL, I never imaged that would end up being a marine ecologist working in the Galápagos Islands, as part of the first ever characterisation of deep-sea seamount ecosystems in the archipelago. I definitely never thought I would be tagging tiger sharks to study their movements in the marine reserve.

Salome Buglass-2

Fig 2: Seeing tiger shark swim off after successfully tagging it with a satellite and acoustic tag (photo credit: Harry Reyes- Charles Darwin Foundation/Galapagos National Park)

In July 2016 I touched down in the Enchanted Islands and dodged iguanas as I crunched up the gravel path to meet the team and start my new job as a marine ecologist at the Charles Darwin Foundation. My work here focuses on researching key questions on inter-tidal and deep-sea ecosystems, commercial fisheries and shark populations to support informed decision making for the Galapagos Marine Reserve. When I’m asked how I got this job, my short answer is “Saw the ad, applied, got lucky!”

The long story is …. I studied geography. I have always been interested in organisms, nature, conservation, people, and development, particularly in the context of Latin America and the Caribbean, as my maternal roots come from this region. No other degree except the multi-disciplinary subject of geography enabled me to mix and match courses such as ecology, palaeoclimatology, hydroclimatology and coastal systems, with courses on people and cities, development and poverty, natural resource management conservation and livelihoods. For my BSc thesis I did a baseline study on water quality and macroinvertebrates communities of a high-altitude river catchment in the Andes (with Anson Mackay as my supervisor) and collaborated with Cuenca’s (Ecuador’s third largest city) environmental management department.  And this, fortuitously, 8 years later, proved to be a key stepping stone to the Galapagos, as it provided me with a letter of recommendation from an Ecuadorian institution underscoring my scientific and Latin-American credentials.  However, there were a few more serendipitous detours before all the stones lined up to create my water-logged path here.

I graduated from UCL at the peak of the global economic crisis in 2009. A time when the word firing was more commonly heard than hiring across the UK and Europe, principally in the environmental non-profit and public sector. So, I went to try my luck in the job market of the twin island nation Trinidad and Tobago. This wasn’t random. I’m part Trinidadian, I had a student loan, and no savings, and I needed a free roof. I was lucky enough to join my parents, who had just moved there for my mum’s work. I ended up living in Port of Spain for three years, working as a brand analyst in a major marketing firm after unsuccessfully trying to find paid work in my field. While I welcomed the chance to pick up a complete new skill set, one that I value to this day, I continuously sought opportunities or ways to be involved in some environmental or nature related activity. From supporting the Green Film Festival and assisting the set-up of a plastic recycling non-profit, to training as a diver and volunteer coral reef surveyor in Tobago.

Salome Buglass-3

Fig 3: Salome distracted by a curious sea lion while counting macro invertebrates along a transect line for the ecological monitoring project (photo credit: Patricia Marti Puig - Charles Darwin Foundation)

It turned out that reef checking experience was exactly what my future supervisor was looking for and it was my ticket to being accepted for a two-year master’s research degree in climate change at the Geography Department of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada. I also have to thank Coca Cola, because working on their marketing campaign to get more kids drinking sugar across Trinidad schools made it clearer to me than ever that I had to find my way back into my true calling in science and conservation.

Rainy London had prepared me well for Vancouver, aka Raincouver, where I researched climate change impacts on tropical marine ecosystems with Dr Simon Donner. I got to lead my own field study in Tobago to investigate the resilience of coral reefs to mass bleaching events driven by  sea surface temperatures whilst also affected by terrestrial pollution. Apart from all the fascinating science at UBC, and earning extracurricular scientific diver certificates (which later set me apart from the competition to help “land” my job as marine scientist), I also got a good handle on the complex relationships between coastal communities and their seascapes.

Salome Buglass-4

Fig 4: School of endemic salemas dodging hungry sea lion (photo credit: Salome Buglass - Charles Darwin Foundation)

However, tying up my thesis was followed once again with having to face the daunting task of securing a permanent job. I definitely felt a bit of professional identity crisis at the time. I entered full job-search mode, selling myself as many things, e.g.  aquatic ecologist or environmental scientist to suit many different job openings, everything except geographer. I worked for six months as a junior ecologist consultant for a river health assessment programme, followed by working at an NGO on water resource management and governance. Both jobs were excellent experiences, but I was hoping to find full time employment in Vancouver. Due to the economic downturn in Canada this was turning out to be a tough nut to crack. I also applied for fantasy jobs, like marine ecologist in the Galapagos. Additionally, I followed my supervisor’s advice to take advantage of not being too busy (a euphemism for being between short-term contracts), to publish my thesis in a journal as soon as possible after graduating. Thanks Simon, because it turned out to be a major must-have for getting my current job.

As I had applied for so many jobs and some time had passed, I was gobsmacked when the good news arrived from the Charles Darwin Foundation. At the beginning, I admit I felt a bit like an imposter, having the marine biologist dream job, though technically I was a geographer (if titles mean anything really). However, after being here for over a year doing applied research to improve policies and management in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, I realized that my multidisciplinary background is actually a great fit for working in this place. The Galapagos Marine Reserve is one of the largest and most famous marine protected areas in the world and faces major challenges related to problematic governance, the exponential growth of visitors, pressures from legal and illegal fishing, El Niño events -- and all of this superimposed by current and future effects of climate change (interesting right? Read UCL’s Peter Jones’ paper for more info on these intricacies).  Now when I find myself bouncing from fisheries management planning meetings, to doing logistically challenging field work to assess marine habitats, to writing papers on spatial and temporal distribution of species, or in a climate change workshop, I have really come to appreciate having studied geography as it could not have served me better.

For more details about the work I am currently doing, please do visit my website:

To expand your personal network and connect with UCL alumni like Salome please join the UCL Alumni Online Community

What it means to raise the Palestinian flag in today's America

Posted by Ajay Chauhan at Nov 03, 2017 04:25 PM |

by Tom Brocket


File 20170922 17241 pmod7.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1



As American as anyone. scottagunn via Flickr, CC BY-NC
Tom Brocket, UCL


It is a wet and dreary February afternoon in Union City, the compact and densely populated township sitting on the New Jersey bank of the Hudson River. The rain leaves the streets deserted. Outside the North Bergen mayor’s office, a group of some 50 people cower under their umbrellas and crowd around the flagpoles to the left of the main entrance. The American flag is already raised atop the most prominent pole on the small patch of grass.

A new flag runs up the post behind immediately behind it. The crowd cheer and clap. When it reaches the summit, some climb onto the elevated bank and take selfies with their friends or children. The low wind takes some time to coax the flag from its entanglement, but eventually, the white, green and black stripes and the red triangle of the Palestinian flag are revealed.

Over the past five years, these Palestinian flag-raising ceremonies have become an annual fixture in several New Jersey towns with prominent Palestinian-American communities, such as North Bergen, Clifton and Paterson. I spent the majority of my time between these towns while conducting research on second-generation Palestinians living in the state.

When these events are reported on via news articles and Facebook posts, they are usually met with angry comments from the wider community. Many criticise the town halls for flying a non-American flag; some voice concern that flying the Palestinian flag endorses a nation of terrorists, or even fret that raising the flag of a majority-Muslim nation implies America is losing parts of its territory to religious and ethnic enclaves.

At the heart of these reactions is a belief that retaining such ties to countries of origin is antithetical to becoming American – an analysis upheld for many decades by literature on migrant “assimilation” in the US. But it is not simply an affiliation to an “elsewhere” that can explain the incensed reaction. After all, St Patrick’s day celebrations just across the Hudson pass without critical commentary, and the claiming of Irish, Scottish or Italian heritage by post-immigrant generations rarely leads to an accusation of being un-American, at least not today.

The point is that unlike those white European nations, the “elsewhere” to which Palestinian-Americans “belong” is an Arabic and majority-Muslim nation – and one that has for several decades been painted as a terrorist enemy of the US and its values.

Refuge and opportunity

In my own research, I argue that these flag-raising ceremonies are occasions for Palestinian-Americans to pay homage to their dual national loyalties and their transnational, diasporic identities, while making a bid for belonging and recognition in the US. As one community leader who organised the largest ceremony in 2016 told me emphatically:

[These days] aren’t political … they aren’t about the city of Clifton recognising the State of Palestine or Palestinian Authority. They are about recognising the contribution of the Palestinian community to that town. It could be Palestinians, or people from South American, European or Asian countries. All these different groups raise their flags here, like us.



A flag-raising ceremony in Paterson, New Jersey. B. C. Lorio via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND



Back in Union City, a figure in a local Palestinian rights group stood up and said:

I want to thank the town of North Bergen for this event recognising the Palestinian community. We are both proud Americans and proud Palestinians. Our fathers came here and found refuge and opportunity, and for that we are grateful. Later generations were born in and nurtured by this country, and woven into its fabric, and for that, we love it.

A local school teacher speaking next offered a similar sentiment:

We as Palestinians … all of us, from the halls of Congress to the halls of academia, we have contributed in substantial positive ways to this country, we are able to flourish as a community in America, here in North Bergen and across this great country. And today’s raising of the flag is a clear reflection of all we have accomplished today. God bless North Bergen, God bless America and God bless Palestine and its amazing people.

These events are ultimately less about the raising of the Palestinian flag, but raising it alongside the American flag. Packed with second and third-generation Palestinian-Americans who have grown up between both of these worlds, flag-raisings are rare opportunities to reconcile two seemingly incompatible identities.


There is a storied tradition of American thought that sees dual identities not as a threat to a cohesive national identity or antithetical to the process of “assimilation”, but as the very definition of America itself. As the progressive intellectual Randolph S. Bourne wrote in 1916: “America is … not a nationality but a trans-nationality, a weaving back and forth, with the other lands, of many threads of all sizes and colours.”

Today, the raising of the Palestinian flag is a way to celebrate the contributions of an immigrant Muslim and Arab community against, as one speaker at the Union City flag-raising put it, “a backdrop of pervasive Islamophobia and discrimination in America”. His words rang true after Donald Trump’s first “Muslim ban”, the suddenly imposed travel restrictions that rocked Palestinians in New Jersey only a couple of months before, and the atmosphere of racialised nationalism that has hung in the air ever since Trump began his campaign in the summer of 2015.

The ConversationTo borrow a term from the anthropologist Thea Abu El-Haj, flag-raisings are also “bids for citizenship” – a way for Palestinian-Americans to demand inclusion and recognition in a country whose politics and culture have long positioned them as outsiders. To see the Palestinian flag raised alongside the American flag is to receive affirmation and recognition from their American towns – and to pay homage to the dual loyalties that have shaped Palestinian-American generations from the day they were born.

Tom Brocket, PhD Candidate in Geography, UCL

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.