Today marks the 150th anniversary of the confirmed presence of manganese nodules on the deep ocean floor. The first person to give a formal lecture in Geography at Cambridge University, the Scottish chemist and hydrographer JY Buchanan, was central to this discovery. The birth of oceanography is generally taken to be the 3.5 year circumnavigation of HMS Challenger, 1872-1876. On 7 March 1873, the Challenger's Chief Scientist, Wyville Thomson, reported that a deepwater haul in the Western Atlantic had revealed 'a number of very peculiar black oval bodies about an inch long … when handing over a portion … to Mr. Buchanan for examination, he found that it consisted of almost pure peroxide of manganese.' Following his lecture in October 1889, Buchanan's career in Geography was not a success (he resigned in late 1893), quite unlike his earlier, stellar career in pioneering oceanography.
Using a one hundred year old photograph found in the archives of the Royal Society in London, Tom Spencer has been able to show that this image forms part of the record of early discussions on modern coral reef science, instigated around the Second Pan-Pacific Science Congress held in Melbourne and Sydney in August/September 1923.
On the exact 70th anniversary of the catastrophic 1953 storm surge along the east coast of England, listen to Tom Spencer, Emeritus Professor of Coastal Dynamics, Department of Geography talk about the governmental response at the time, the challenges for the management of low-lying coasts now, and the work of the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit in a BBC Radio 4 programme, Seriously... Learning from the Great Tide.
100 years of Australian coral reef science was celebrated at a special centenary meeting of the Australian Coral Reef Society in Brisbane, Australia, 25-27 November 2022. The Cambridge Coastal Research Unit's Tom Spencer gave the opening keynote address 'The Great Barrier Reef Committee and the making of modern coral reef science' at the Queensland Museum.
Tom showed how early Anglo-Australian collaborations led to the 1928-29 Great Barrier Reef Expedition (leader: Maurice Yonge, Zoology Cambridge; Head of Geographical Section: Alfred Steers, Geography, Cambridge). The Expedition's emphasis on the relationships between reef growth and environment, and the critical importance of their study in the field, effectively set the template for much of modern coral reef science. An accompanying Museum exhibition included the original Expedition dive helmet, used for some of the earliest studies of the variation of coral growth with water depth.
Most coastal flood risk assessments are over-simplified and only a small number of possible scenarios are considered – not enough to build in the uncertainties of the climate changes we face. Now a new digital tool, developed by the Department's Cambridge Coastal Research Unit with researchers at the consulting engineers Arup and the National Oceanography Centre, allows the consideration of the economic impact of tens of thousands of potential scenarios of rising seas and mitigation activities. Applied to flood risk in the city of Hull, UK east coast, it's the first time the full scope of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sea-level rise projections can be seen in an interactive way.