Tag Archives: Azores

GA conference 2015 materials #GAConf15

Well it’s been a long time coming but I’ve been a wee bit distracted with leading an Iceland trip and getting back to school mode! The Geography Association conference this year was ace. Really enjoyable. Thank you so much to all of you who came to my Revision Games workshop! I was truly surprised to have standing room only and flattered by the lovely comments you gave in feedback. I really hope that you can find one tiny thing that is useful and then take it and make your own.

Below is the presentation from the Revision Games session. If you download the file you can see in the comments box in powerpoint which explain each section.

I was also privileged to help with delivering a Discover the World workshop alongside Simon Ross sharing the website resources from Discover Geography . This excellent site shares teacher resources for Key Stage 3 – 5 for a range of locations including Iceland, Norway, Azores, etc. that have been created by teachers from experiences in the field and can be used before, during and after trips or as virtual fieldwork and just great case studies. I shared some materials from the website that had been created from a teacher inspection trip to the Azores, and just explained how I have modified and used these materials for myself in the classroom. If you want to have details on the different sites and what we saw in the Azores, then check through my posts from the visit in April 2014.

Finally, this year’s GA conference saw the first ever TeachMeet courtesy of David Rogers‘ badgering which was an epic success. Lucy Oxley and the GA team organised a fantastic event, and it was thanks to sponsorship from Discover the World. When we first stepped into the venue I got nervous – worried we wouldn’t pull it off, that nobody would come, that it was such a big room and I would muck up, all sorts! But it was so so good. The reason it was good? Purely down to the range of presenters in the room, the Twitterati interacting online (thanks to Rich Allaway for live streaming it), and the networking and rapport going on in the room itself. Particular credit has to go to Alan Parkinson for sharing some great ideas in a hilarious way (‘who is David Rogers anyway?’!) and to Paul Berry for closing the show in style. I had known Paul as a fairly quiet, unassuming, gentle kinda chap with a cheeky smile and penchant for vino…but he blew me away with his presentation at the end. Coming up to retirement in a few months he bounced all over the stage squawking blow-up parrots, throwing inflatable globes around, sharing all sorts of whacky and brilliant ideas, and showing that he is a brilliant educator. Loved it. All the other presentations were fantastic as well, and great to see new people who haven’t spoken before too – I merely mention Alan and Paul because they made me laugh so much. Epic evening so thank you all. David has a full run down of the event and the Google Hangout video archive on his blog here. Cannot wait for next year’s!

My own TeachMeet 6 minutes was based on a title thrown on me: ‘Bill Shakespeare was a Geographer’ and just has a few ideas with quotes from text for how to embed good old Bill and literacy in general into geography lessons. Ticks the boxes of ‘literacy in every lesson’ and ‘we are all teachers of English’ as well as just being good fun, useful, enlightening, and ultimately improving literacy and writing analysis which good geographers have to be able to do. If you want to know what I was rambling on about during each slide then look at the video on David’s blog, scroll to about 44mins and you’ll be able to hear some waffle.

All in all, GA Conf 2015 was great. Really enjoyable sessions attended and great to take part in. Roll on Derby 2016.

Discover the World – Presentation on Sustainability & Tourism in the Azores

This is the presentation given today at the Discover the World Climate Change & Sustainability conference. Within the powerpoint are some weblinks so do download and click into them to see what it was about. A commentary is underneath the powerpoint. Mostly this links to the original posts I wrote about the Azores in this blog during the April 2014 teacher inspection visit so you can read there for detail. The activities are based upon the Discover Geography website that has free resources for teachers on locations such as Iceland and the Azores. The Azores resources were mostly compiled by Simon Ross when you click into the website, so credit goes to him. On the powerpoint when it says ‘e.g. Resource 24’ that is what I am referring to! In true Louis Walsh style though I have generally ‘made it my own’ by taking the suggested activities and then amending them. I also refer to Digital Explorer resources which are great for looking at oceans. Anyway, have a look and if you like an activity then try it and let me know!

Background on the Azores:

The Azores is a volcanic archipelago of 9 islands located in the mid-Atlantic on a triple junction along the Mid Atlantic Ridge. Sao Miguel is the main island and by far the most popular with 69% of all tourists staying here. This is largely due to being the only island with direct flights rather than going via Portugal. Ferries and internal island flights exist across to other smaller islands. The least popular island for tourism is Corvo, closely followed by Flores. Generally most tourism is domestic from the Portuguese mainland (56% in 2013) with Sweden, Germany, France and the UK then being the most common countries of origin. Tourism has been reasonably steady for the past decade although with troughs due to global recession. There is a seasonal variation with July and August not surprisingly being busiest. When we visited the Azores it was clear that the infrastructure is still needed to be put in place to encourage mass tourism – and that copious E.U. funding is being gleaned on every street corner. Currently the islands still retain their distinctiveness and remoteness, with only 5% of the whole chain being urbanised. For four consecutive years the Azores as won the Sustainable Tourism Award for Portugal, and won a global award this year. There are multiple UNESCO Biosphere reserves on the island, European Geopark status and Quality Coast marks, and the main industries and employers are still agriculture and increasingly services.

Slide commentary:

Slide 8 linkhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5NiTN0chj0

Slide 10: Google Earth tour file. Email / tweet me if you want a tour file. It’s not that exciting but something!

Slides 12-22: I just described a bit of background on the main locations we went to on the trip to give some context on the Azores. You can read about all these in this blog if you search. In a nutshell just commenting that there are opportunities to use the Azores to teach about eutrophication and its reversal, land use change, social conflict (ie. farmers having land reclaimed), ecology with botanical gardens, geothermal power and comparisons to Iceland (43% of all Sao Miguel island’s energy is from geothermal power, aiming for 50% across the whole chain by 2050 with the Azores being part of the Green Islands initiative, coastal geography at Ferreria, Pico mountain, whaling and the rise of whale sightseeing tourism (in 2011 48’000 tourists did whale watching, supporting 200 jobs for previously unemployed whalers and fishers), Faial island botanical reserve protecting and breeding endemic species (since only 7% of all vegetation in the Azores is currently endemic), and Capelinhos volcanic peninsular and it’s interesting behaviour. You can see the whole commentary guide in the blog or on Slideshare here.

Slide 23: http://www.discover-geography.co.uk Just submit your email address and get approved then off you go.

Slide 24: Using Resource 23. I used this as either a categorising card sort, or to get students to locate each activity on a map or on GIS, or create a travel plan and evaluate the impact of each activity.

Slide 25: Using Resource 15 which contains key facts on the use of energy in different islands. I’ve structured the tasks using Solo language since this is now a common language in school, so students have the choice of either a Relational or Extended Abstract activity to use weblinks to compare and contrast two islands.

Slide 26: Using Resource 27 which asks about the challenges of sustainable tourism and gives information on the current issues and implications of tourism growth. I suggested creating a mock interview /  documentary based on the issues and internet research. A chance for some empathy and to consider different views (stressing the importance of a balanced argument and to ask questions and compare).

Slide 27: Using Resource 25 which has raw data on accommodation and country of origin for tourists this is a chance for some numeracy links. Students can choose from Bronze/Silver/Gold level and are encouraged to try a new skill. I would also correlate this with using the skills webs at KS3 and KS4.

Slide 28-33: Just simple photo stimulus using own images and questions. These would be a ‘Do Now’ activity in class as students enter.

Slide 35: General activities that could be used for a variety of lessons. http://www.bing.com for the every day changing image and reminding people about the free 1:25’000 OS maps layer.

Slide 36: Tell me a story. Always making explicit links to literacy. Also reading and sharing exemplar travel writing and descriptive writing.

Slide 38: Simple diamond 9 sorting activity with statements based on the DtW resources facts.

Slide 39-40: Venn sorting exercise with descriptive statements for students to categorise, sort, discuss – just emphasising that sustainability is a balance of all three.

Slide 41: Self-explanatory! Used this with KS3 classes as part of the Amazing Places unit to design a sustainable solution to different places.

Slide 42-43: Lovely links to numeracy again – we are all teachers of numeracy lol 😉 Again choice of activity of different complexity.

Slide 46-47: Using www.wordle.net or www.tagxedo.com to create word clouds based on impressions of the Azores, or using text from web research. You can then analyse the patterns and discuss these.

Slide 48: Flickr.com stimulus for a photo slideshow as your ‘Do now’ activity. Welcome to use my images if you want to.

Slide 49: Learning grids – which I’ve explained elsewhere in here so have a look.

Slide 51: Practise Decision Making Exercise just based on Azores tourism (just about the same as used for Iceland and Dubai etc.)

Slide 52: VCOP writing frame to structure writing / scaffold.

Slide 53-59: Just to explain SOLO bits briefly. Not because it’s the only tool I use or the be all and end all, but because there is some use for it to help show and guide progression sometimes through the descriptors. Slide 57 shows a template for guiding an increasingly complex answer through the stages. The sheet could be given at the start of a topic when students fill in what they can (most likely the first two boxes), then referred back to at mid point and end of topic to complete with what has been learned. Slide 59 Solo hexagons I’ve explained before but basically used to tessellate information about sustainability before writing an extended answer. The aim is to make as many connections / have as many sides touching as possible.

Slide 60: An example of how I model case study answers to practise doing 3 developed points using point, evidence, explain, link.

Slide 61: Sign up to Microsoft Partners in Learning to get free cool software like Autocollage. My year 7s used it to create a collage of distinctive features in the Azores based on the Flickr images, then they interrogated each other on their choice of image and whether something was really distinctive or not. They were fascinated by the spiral staircase on the lighthouse and the engraved whale bones bless them.

Slide 62: Get kids doing their own placemarks and tours on Google Earth then sharing with each other. Time consuming at first but worth it, especially if you want to create similar works in GCSE for skills.

Slide 63: Have a shared Pinterest board. You can invite by email in to a particular board and then can post links / images into it. Be careful in terms of it being social media so use kids school email addresses but it doesn’t give sensitive information. Can then be used to all collate resources for a project.

Slide 64: Digital Explorer another awesome website for free resources. Great for coral and polar oceans in particular with resources for all key stages, fact sheets, and even simple experiments you can do in school with buckets of water, ice cubes and food dye to show thermohaline conveyor system, impact of glacial melt, etc,. The Azores has cold coral reefs which are starting to become fragile from the impact of fishing nets and also ocean acidification, and there are resources in here that can help explain all that including some great student made videos.

Slide 65: Ocean Health Index shows global patterns of oceanic health and then specific data on 244 ocean regions. Oceans are rated and scored out of 100 based on health, fisheries, carbon storage, tourism, etc. and then ranked for their global position. The Azores is 91/244 and set to improve. You can then compare to other regions. The least healthy areas are predominantly coastal Africa, which leads on nicely to a comparison with a region in Africa and a region in Asia…ooh, did we just tick a statutory box somewhere? 😉 Also relevant for new KS4 curriculum.

Phewf. Hope something was useful in there for those that attended and any of you that made it to the bottom 😉

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it connected to the rest of the world” (John Muir)

Discover the World focus group to #discoverazores Day 6

We actually got up after sunrise today which was a pleasant treat! And the Pousada Jouvades de Pico provided a simple but nice breakfast of fresh local bread and jams with cereal that went down very well (we didn’t get breakfast really at the Pousada Jouvades de Lagoa as for some reason they only open up from 0830 which is after we leave each day!).   Today was exploring Pico island itself. A fairly chilled way to end the week. First stop was Dos Lajos de Pico village. This is an old whaling village. Whaling was first introduced to the area by visitors and settlers from Nantucket and other areas, and there is a clear influence of North American style on the architecture here as well as sometimes a slightly Scandinavian feel in terms of wood cladding and cabins, as well as the paint colours. Whaling was done here until the 1980s and was still conducted in a traditional low scale manner with rowing boats and hand thrown harpoons. The whaling museum is quite interesting, albeit depressing and a sad tale of the habit. However this was an important income for an area struggling economically. Nowadays, the negative has been turned into something positive with whale and dolphin tours available at a very low price. You also have much better odds of actually seeing them compared to a Iceland and other areas where whales are now rarely sighted due to changing sea temperatures.   We moved on around the coast to the Vineyards of Pico. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site where fig and grape plants are cultivated still in a traditional sense. Lava / basalt rocks are split and seeds planted within into the ashes below. The basalts are porous and also retain heat when they soak up the sun, and so this helps provide good conditions for growing in an otherwise harsh and exposed salty and windy coastal environment. Basalt rocks are built into small walls and enclosures around the plants to protect from wind. And a local windmill in the area also served to thresh and crush corn and cereals in the past. The visitor area here provided an excellent local lunch of spicy sausage, soft breads, and a range of traditional flavoured liquors and wines for us to sample. All with a slight earthy and volcanic aftertaste!

After this, we had a visit to Gruta das Torres lava tube caves. This is one of the largest in the world and was truly excellent. Mostly because it had been kept in a natural state – no concrete flooring, no lighting – you are just guided through walking on rough volcanic floors and with torches. Students and adults would love this. You can see great vast caverns, collapsed lava benches, pahoehoe and aa lavas (which the locals call ‘biscuit lava’ due to its rocky nature, reminding them of traditional twice-baked rockcake biscuits) and the growth of rare lichens and bacteria as well as some small lava stalactites formed at the time of the lava flow as it slowed and dripped down from the ceiling. A very interesting and unique cave, and the time passes so quickly inside – we spent over an hour but felt like a few minutes. At one point we switched all torches off and just got a sense of how intensely pitch black and silent it is, very awe inspiring.

Finally we headed back to the hostel and had a locally made dinner provided by our hosts from the local youth council who have set up the five Pousadas on five different Azorean islands. We had a sample of foods from the island of Terceria which was delicious; meat stew, local fish, some sweet doughy cakes made with milk and beans, and the obligatory locally made wines and liquors – well, would be rude not to 😉 Our hosts told us about a youth card available for those aged 13-30 which is well worth investigating if you wish to do island hopping with students. It costs €42 in the first place but then provides 50% discount in the hostels, 20% off inter-island flights, all ferries cost €7, and there is also 20% off many tourist attractions and activities such as the mountain biking, kayaking, etc,. Well worth considering.

We went for a stroll of the town and brought an end to the trip. There is much to reflect on, and my next post in a few days will look at what I think you can get out of a trip to the Azores in terms of exciting places to visit and academically useful activities to do – but I shall reflect a little first. There is real potential here, but a lot of logistics still needs sorting.

An excellent trip though and very well run and led by Discover the World. It has been great to meet and work with other geographers from around the country, and to share ideas – we’ve even had some nice heated discussions and debates about the purpose of overseas trips generally and pedagogy which is all good fun. I’ll also develop some teaching resources once back in the UK and will post these soon through slideshare. But I need a few days rest now – it’s been good, but exhausting! Thanks DtW.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Discover the World focus group to #discoverazores Day 5

Waking up (fairly stiff and sore from Mount Pico) we took a ferry to Faial, to the town of Horta. Faial is a small island but Horta is a large well developed town including a professional training college, the Central islands’ hospital, and a variety of tourist-centric facilities such as cafés, restaurants, boat trips, etc,. The ferry was brand new, and we were filmed by the local paparazzi as everyone boarded. It brought yet another comedy moment of ‘sponsored by the EU’ as we have spent the whole week playing EU bingo – almost everywhere you go seems to have benefitted from EU funding somehow, and yet not being developed to capacity. It is as if the Azorean government followed a policy of ‘if you build it, they will come’ in some areas, but has not had a clear plan and drive to actually encourage and develop tourism throughout the islands. Quite odd.

 

First stop was the national Botanical Garden at Faial. This is part of a BASEMAC project for protecting native and endemic species of vegetation through seed bank preservation of seeds, propagation, protection and maintenance of a variety of species. They are also working on the reintroduction and breeding of plant species once thought extinct in nature.

 

Only 7% of all vegetation species on the Azorean Islands are actually endemic. Many plants are artificially introduced foreign invasive species such as laurel, hydrangea, ginger, etc,. Most of those were introduced in the 18-1900s for a purpose, e.g. Bamboo was introduced in order to create natural fencing and hedge shelters around terraced crops as windbreaks, Japanese Cedar was introduced so the leaves and wood could be used for baskets to transport oranges by sea as it was observed that they did not lead to bacteria or insect problems, etc,. There are just 300 species considered native on islands, with 700 species introduced by man.

 

Of course, the Azores are very isolated islands. 1000miles from mainland Europe, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The nearest land south is Antarctica, and the islands are relatively young geologically. So this leads to the question of dispersal. How did the pioneer seeds get here in the first place? The most likely suggestions being wind, wave, and bird. There is also the influence of sea level change and volcanism, particularly uplift. During the last ice age, when the Azorean islands were being built taller by volcanic activity, sea levels were lower. Therefore islands across the Atlantic such as the Azores became much more exposed, and so perhaps wind, wave and bird dispersal became easier.

 

We were guided around the centre by a very passionate and well informed centre guide and biologist. The facility has many educational activities for a range of ages, and a purpose built classroom with library, and investigative equipment such as microscopes, etc,. You can do insect studies and investigate these under microscopes and compare what exists in different habitats, plus you can look at succession, the necessary conditions required to colonise, compare and contrast species and biodiversity in different areas, etc,. I would recommend this centre as an excellent base from which to do biodiversity and ecosystem studies at different key stages. Particularly since the gardens are divided into two halves: endemic vs invasive. On one side, you have the carefully maintained and restricted endemic species area, where you can see the natural Azorean landscape as it would have been had not humans introduced species from abroad – you can see that the Piconia Azorica is the natural climatic climax. On the other side of the gardens you have a representation of the invasives. Here you can compare and contrast how succession looks and is altered after the influence of humans, and see that now the plagioclimax species is Japanese Cedar. It would be possible to do studies into soils, microorganisms, vegetation and how these compare and contrast under different circumstances and see the influence of humans and management.

 

There is a clear conservation aspect at the centre with recreating different biomes and propagating species that are endangered. Eg. There are small coastal and alpine biomes that are endangered by rats and rabbits, here species that are now extinct in the wild are being bred and can then be reintroduced. Water levels in natural bogs on the island were disturbed in 1998 by earthquake, which led to a drop in the water table and subsequently to damage / death of native species. So an area has been recreated in the botanical garden to replicate this and breed species.

 

After this we were taken on a short tour of the island. We had to abandon the Ten Volcanoes Trail due to heavy rains leading to deep water and unpassable paths, and we could not see the view over the Caldeira due to poor weather and no visibility. However we were still taken on a hike around the Caldeira from the viewpoint up and down around the rim and then eventually down towards the lighthouse and Capelinhos area. This walk would be lovely on a clear day, but fairly pointless otherwise. The path is steep and slippery, and is certainly not something to do the day after climbing Mount Pico. However you do see the influence of clean air here with abundant lichen growth, and some interesting plant species growing out from a rift / canyon that is heating by steam vents. You feel as though you are walking through a rainforest almost in places, as if in Costa Rica perhaps.

 

The Capelinhos walk down to the coast and around the volcanic peninsula was excellent, although you do need to allow a good amount of time for this. You are walking on volcanic sands and ash and pumice, and can find various evidence of the 1957 eruption that created the peninsula and added new land to the island. Lava bombs, broken trees, and heavily eroded hillslopes are coated in soft ash and sand. You then head to the Lighthouse and the award winning visitor centre.

 

It was easy to see why this has won various European tourist centre awards. We were shown around by a very enthusiastic and easy to understand geologist who clearly loves the job and the area. The centre has a variety of photographic and video displays to explain the creation of the peninsula and the timeline of the eruption. It also explains the structure of the earth and tectonics in general, as well as the evolution of each of the 9 islands of the archipelago. Fantastic wall displays showed famous volcanoes and volcanic behaviour from around the world, such as Kilauea, Surtsey, Stromboli, etc,. So students could easily learn and compare different volcanic types and behaviours. There is an excellent step-by-step series of 3d relief models that show the 1957 eruption and subsequent land creation and modern coastal erosion: you could perhaps get students making their own versions of these for other eruptions or flipbook timelines or similar.

 

Interestingly, we learnt that the Capelinhos eruption actually should have had the honour and credit of being the first studied and noted Surtseyan style eruption. The 1957 activity preceded the arrival of Surtsey but sadly was not made public enough or patented, otherwise the submarine volcanism and island creation activity we now know as Surtseyan should actually have been called Capelinhosian – but perhaps this is too tricky to say anyway?! Very interesting though. The period of eruption lasted over 18months with alternating periods of submarine or aerial volcanism. In the beginning, all activity was submarine with the volcano located off coast underwater. First came underwater effusive lava flows leading to above surface steam and huge ash production. This continued to build up until a small island of ash and pumice broke the surface. Once above surface, volcanic behaviour changed to be more explosive with large lava flows and more ash and pumice production now spreading over the peninsular and creating new land. The lighthouse began to be buried – it is now buried to the second floor and preserved in this state as an arrested time memorial with the tourist centre built into its basement floors.

Under the influence of destructive waves, the new land of soft ashes was eroded back until the activity became submarine again as the volcano went into a quiet period. So these cycles of submarine and aerial eruptions kept repeating for many months. Eventually the eruption stopped and a new peninsular had been formed, with many local villages buried and destroyed. Nowadays, some 60% of this new land had been eroded back by wind, rain and wave and it is thought that in time the volcano will again become largely submarine until another eruption. All very interesting. And a great example of volcanic behaviour and coastal influence for students.

 

There is a theory that this area acts as a ‘wet spot’ rather than a hotspot which leads to different behaviour. The Azores is located on a triple junction of tectonic plates, but with the influence of the ocean it is suggested that the melting point of submarine rocks is actually lowered so that submarine volcanism here has more of a dramatic influence. A new type of behaviour has been observed here (and patented this time) at Serrata, where submarine volcanism is leading to the creation of lava balloons. This phenomenon is like the formation of lava bombs but is submarine: as lava at the sea floor is effused it rises to the surface, cooling as it does and forming a crust still with liquid lava inside. When these balloons hit the surface they then explode outwards, popping like a balloon, and the shrapnel rock and lava droplets from it then drop back to the sea floor. So this has been termed Serratan behaviour. It is likely in future that this volcano will also penetrate the surface to form a tenth island in the archipelago.

 

After this we caught the ferry back to Pico, and saw some lovely views of the island and the mountain rising up. I would thoroughly recommend that you could spend a good two or more days investigating Faial, either for academic or exploratory purposes and that children would get a good ‘wow factor’ with such a dramatic landscape. There is limited accommodation at present but the ferry ride is very regular, only takes 30-45minutes and costs €10 return or €7.50 for under 16s.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Discover the World focus group #discoverazores Day 4

So today we were up and awake before sunrise and heading to the airport. We were entertained in the departure lounge by various different sporting or musical groups including a medieval tribute youth orchestra complete in monk outfit. They sang and danced their way through customs and through to the gates which evoked much applause and brought a smile to many faces. Is this a traditional Azorean cultural activity?

We were heading to Pico island on a regular internal flight. There are various internal flights and ferries throughout the islands. I have to say, before today many of us had felt we were lacking in any ‘wow factor’ – that we didn’t know how we would ‘sell’ the Azores as a study trip, not because there is a lack of opportunity per se but because if you are offering an international residential it needs to have a combination of activities and experiences that are unique or cannot be seen back home. So we were really excited on our descent to Pico island, and became proper geeky tourists stepping off of our plane, frantically switching on phones and cameras, and getting a photograph of Mount Pico as soon as possible. We had our wow factor. Arriving on Pico is like arriving in a completely different landscape, something that would be guaranteed to arrest student and adult interest and make them have a collective intake of breath. The island immediately felt unusual, rare, exotic, and exciting.

We had been warned that we were at the mercy of the changeable weather, and that we would not necessarily be able to climb Mt Pico today. This is something to bear in mind to any of you planning future trips – you need a back up plan and flexible itinerary that if the weather is inclement you can try again another day. Luckily for us however, there was a break in the cloud until later so we had a window of opportunity. Our minibus driver raced us up to the mountain only allowing a short photo stop, and we stocked up on carbs on the journey.

One third of Pico island is a nature reserve, including the mountain. You have to get a permit to climb, which costs 10Euros each. The numbers of visitors at any time are limited and monitored, and the tiny car park up the mountain at the start point may prevent too many casual attempts. This is all due to the various endemic species of vegetation in existence, particular alpine species that are very fragile.

Pico is the youngest of all the Azores Islands at just 300’000 years old. The archipelago has developed over time in numerous stages dating back 8million years, from submarine volcanism building up successively over the ages. Pico is a basaltic stratovolcano and from a distance looks like a stereotypical ‘proper’ volcano, exactly like you would draw. As we drove towards it we could see the caldera and summit peak poking through the mists temptingly, and this gave me butterflies. I couldn’t wait to get up there! The mountain is Portugal’s tallest, and it is still an active volcano.

So we spent the day trekking. Having been told beforehand that the climb was ‘gentle’ we were all a little surprised when we met our incredibly serious but very helpful local mountain guide Sonia who warned us of the dangers and briefed us. I was grateful for the good weather – some light cloud cover and mist to prevent overheating or too much sunburn, and a gentle breeze mostly. At times on the higher exposed sections there was biting cold strong winds, and we did have heavy cloud on the return below the summit, but we had a comfortable environment to climb in. So we set off.

The climb takes approximately 7-7.5hour and I would say is a mediumly arduous hike with times that are hard. There is very uneven ground because you are walking on broken clinkers of volcanic debris lava and ash deposits and volcanic sand which us grippy with good boots but very uneven and there are some scrambling sections requiring hands. The climb is not scarily precipitous but does lead to a slow descent due to the terrain. You hike up and down the mountain over ancient pahoehoe and a-a lava fields and we even had snow fields. There are lots of lava tube relics and scars, pillow lava and ropy pahoehoe flows arrested in time cascading down the mountain in dramatic blacks and oranges. Then amongst all this there is evidence of some succession of alpine species up the mountain, although vegetation is very limited and scrubby generally.

The material underfoot was obviously igneous, mostly basalt and ignimbrite and also plagioclase and various other minerals such as trichite, olivine, etc,. This rocks made excellent grips when in large enough sections. As we went up above the clouds and the snowline, there were very few species. However there was lots of lava scree and volcano sands, again making the conditions a bit difficult and slow going in places.

The crater rim is vast and unstable so we were guided to skirt round the edge and then drop down into the pit to walk along the crater base, from where you then can choose to scramble up the final central cone. The pit crater of Pico is called Pico Alto and is about 500m diameter. This area was naked rock and lava, and largely filled with snow. The final summit is called Piquinho and is a small volcanic cond formed by the last eruption that rises another 70m of near vertical scrambling to to true summit. At the summit (2351m), a human-made rocky boundary provides shelter from winds and the natural steam vents (some up to 50C but modified by winds) provide heating for a lunch break! Truly a very unusual summit from this point of view, and the most comfortable and warm summit I have ever stopped on!

The descent was very slow for the most part, with many finding the steep unsteady and uneven sections very awkward for knees / ankles due to the rocky material. I would say that the climb is entirely doable, if you have time, but it is a long slog. It is very worth it, and on clear days you can see the other islands as well as the lower Pico valley. However, I would suggest that anyone taking a school group has a back-up plan for poor weather and also for any students who cannot complete the whole ascent as I would be surprised if all had the stamina or confidence or drive to make it all to the top. So consider your options for splitting groups, having a back-up alternative, and having enough guides and qualified staff that you can have the choice of some in the group making the summit attempt whilst others do something else.

After the hike we were transported to our accommodation on Pico island to stay at the youth hostel which is a converted monastery. Very interesting building and has basic clean rooms of bunks, nice hot showers and four separate lounges in different areas including a main lounge with table football, tv and some wifi access.

I would say this is a great climb, and certainly good fun. But it needs to be taken seriously. You would need students to be fit and confident, and have a good number of staff and local trained guides as it is very remote. You could easily sell this as being a challenge, the ‘character building’ or ‘push yourself to achieve something new’ activity that forms part of the overall exploration and academic trip. You could tie in the activity to academic purposes if you wished looking at biodiversity, succession, colonisation, pionerf species, invasive vs endemic species, soil quality and type, geology, landforms, impact of volcanic activity, etc,. Especially if you then compared to an/other island/s in the archipelago to compare and contrast volcanic behaviour, landform creation, environments, etc,. As such it is fantastic. Just be prepared for very changeable weather, and have a back up plan!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Discover the World focus group #discoverazores Day 3

This morning was mostly spent exploring Sete Cidades (Seven Cities) and the surrounding area. We drove out from Lagoa towards here and along the crater rim to a viewing point above town. There is a romantic legend for the area concerning two lovers, a princess and a shepherd, who were forbidden from seeing each other other again by the king. Upon this separation, the green-eyed shepherd’s tears fell and formed the green lake, whilst the blue-zeroed princess’s tears formed the larger blue lake. The point where the two waters meet is marked by the bridge joining across from the peninsula to the town. All of this is contained within the ancient caldera, although you sometimes forget this where it is now so green and densely vegetated.

 

At the top of the crater rim there is a large, purpose-built but very unaesthic hotel built in the 1990s when it was hoped that tourism was about to take off. Almost immediately the hotel was abandoned as a failure and it is now an interesting site where utilitarian almost Cold War style architecture is being colonised by successive vegetation. At the viewpoint, a marking pole with the multi-lingual quotation ‘May peace prevail on Earth’ denotes the area that is supposedly the number one tourist ‘must see’ point in the island. Yet ironically, there is very little evidence that tourists have been catered for in this region. Very few facilities, and only a simple souvenir stall (sold out the back of a car boot) in sight. It is almost as if the government does not particular want to promote tourism or the Azores as a destination, despite the increase in overseas advertising and the need for economic investment. We have been told repeatedly by our guide that the government would prefer tourists to visit in order to consume and use local resources and surplus products in order to save money on exporting these, but it does still feel very Stage 1 Butler model pre-take off and with little united or coherent planning going into developing sustainable tourism. Not that I’m saying everywhere should become tourism-centric, but it does raise questions.

 

We then spent some time doing reconnaissance work and sampling some of the activities that would be available by local (Ponta Delgada based mostly) tourist or adventure activity companies. First off was sea canoeing on the lake. It was fairly windy which made for some interesting navigation and we all got suitably soaked, but this was great fun. An easy lake for students to paddle about on, and you could set up some fun activities with this such as races, orienteering, routes to follow for competitions etc,. After this we went on a guided mountain bike short excursion around the peninsula. Generally this is very flat bough uneven ground and a few hilly sections but a nice comfortable route passing small holdings, dairy farming,  and a picnic area. Again, lots of potential for some ‘let your hair down’ fun with students to break the trip up. The company also offers pony trekking, guided walks, quad biking, canyoning, sailing, etc. and the guides were very friendly and helpful.

 

We then had some time for our own exploration of Sete Cidades town. This, along with most of São Miguel island so far, had quite an empty and almost abandoned feel as there are so few people visible in town! So far we haven’t really seen much of a community centre, of culture, of the traditional Southern European style. Many homes in the town are second residences for the wealthier citizens of the Azores or for those who have migrated to the mainland and then return here for extended breaks or long weekends. Emigration to the mainland is a real concern for the Azores, particularly since it is mostly the younger generation who go for university or for more employment opportunities and then do not return. There is a concern about brain drain and one wonders how sustainable the islands can be economically and socially in future if this continues. We are always being told how sustainable the energy and resource management is here, but can this continue and what is the point if the locals all leave?!

 

Generally this area feels more as though it is trying to cater to tourism, be that internal or international. There is evidence of new residential construction, and a few small cafés. European Union investment is leading to the creation of a new lakeside market and craft stall for the summer where locals hope to sell wares in season. A lot of the area feels quite utilitarian and military, not surprising considering the history. However there is an interesting cultural side shown (as also seen in Ribeira Grande) whereby homes are adorned with very ornate plaques above the door which depicts religious scenes or household saints, and a plaque showing the name of the family and year they moved in. There are also little insights such as hanging cabbages by doors if the homeowner sells cabbage!

 

 

After this exploration we went to a viewpoint over Ferraria – the westernmost point of the island. This felt like ‘proper geography’! Stark blackened basalt cliffs with crashing destructive waves against them. In places we saw collapsed landslide areas at the base of cliffs that are now flat, fertile and used for agriculture. There was a range of great coastal geography here and you could spend a good deal of time investigating these such as wave cut platforms, blowholes, caves and arches. You would need some very strict safety guidance and limits for student exploration however since the waves are quite violent and often funnelled up against the rocks, very dramatic. Above town along the crater rim there was also a large exposed area of pumice, a tilted and uplifted outcrop from past activity.

 

There is a very dramatic natural hot spring at Ferreira that goes into the sea. There is a small inlet area between the rocks where you can bathe that is regulated by tide. The hot spring pours out at 61C so the waters are only useable just before and after low tide when temperature is best balanced (the sea is about 18C). This was quite challenging but extremely fun. Perhaps not one for using with students unless they are strong since you have to battle waves and avoid underwater rocks. However there is also a regular swimming pool area that is still heated by the geothermal vent that opens all year round for regular bathing and would be much easier!

 

We then headed to our final destination today of Gruta do Carvao cave – an interesting lava tubes system. Although not one of the biggest cave or lava tube systems ever, nor having many stalagmites / stalactites it is still interesting and great for bringing kids. There were lots of collapsed lava pillows, pahoehoe lava flows and some minerals evident alongside some small ropy stalactites dripping and looking almost like teeth.

 

Finally we headed back to Pousada for an early dinner, since tonight was the first focus group planning and debrief session and getting packed for flight to Pico island tomorrow. We had a very productive session discussing logistics and itineraries which was great. Really exciting to consider some of the teaching resources that will be produced by Simon Ross for DtW and the GA with the input of the group, so that teachers can use these for all key stages in future either in conjunction with a trip (before, during and after the visit) or as stand alone resources looking at what makes the Azores distinctive and how sustainable the future is.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Discover the World focus group #DiscoverAzores Day 2

So, Day 2 dawned and it was drier!

Apparently the Azores is another area that lays claim to the legend of Atlantis. The archipelago has authority to an area of over 1million square km, however only 2’346 square km is dry land. The 9 Islands are now unified as an autonomous region but geographically form three distinct island groups.

We learned how the Azores has been a pioneer for Portugal in sustainable energy, for example creating the first HEP and geothermal power stations or wave platforms. There is a real drive for renewable sustainable energy and efficient resource use, with a series of companies such as Renault or universities such as MIT using the Azores for research and development into sustainable energy. The region is part of the Green Islands initiative with the government aiming for 60% sustainable energy by 2050, and looking to achieve at lease 50% on current trends. Geothermal energy accounts for 30% and these energy sources are allowing the region to reduce reliance on foreign imports and become more self-sufficient. Additionally, for four consecutive years they have won the a Sustainable Tourism Award. So there is a huge amount of scope to use the Azores as a case study to hinge upon sustainability and resource use. This could tie to many key stages and be interlinked to many curriculum areas.

First stop today was the Centrale Geothermico do Pico – the main geothermal power station in São Miguel island. It accounts for 43% of all of the island’s energy, with 6% from hydro and another 6% from wind energy. Admittedly the island is small and has a limited population, but then this is a good case of resources being well used on a small scale. The energy is purely used to drive turbines for electricity production, not for the creation of hot water or central heating (unlike Iceland) due to the nature of the geothermic fluid and the differing composition of chemicals that would require treating to become safe first.

After this we visited Salta de Cambrico waterfall. This involved a walk from the power station up and down some steep hills past fumeroles through the grass and to an older remote controlled HEP station. The cataract was very pretty through the canyon, but there was quite a challenging walk back out. This involved climbing over the HEP pipelines on rickety metal mesh walkways and scrambling over tumbled landslide debris and trees. All quite exciting for some adults and intrepid geographers, but would be a challenge for many! There are alternative routes out however.

For lunch we stopped at Ribeira Grande town, one of the three largest towns on the island. We strolled around and explored the town for an hour, investigating how you could use the area for a field trip. Suggestions include land use (and perhaps comparing to other areas), redevelopment and gentrification (particularly along the riverside), culture (interesting to see the differing architecture and the personalisation of houses – particularly very ornate plaques depicting the household saint and family that lived there displayed above each doorway), investigating globalisation and tourism. It is a very safe feeling and small town that would be easily navigable by students of many ages in small groups.

For our relaxation and enjoyment we visited Caldeira Velha (Caldeira here meaning <em>cauldron</em> or hot place) gardens and thermal pool. The area felt like something out of Jurassic Park or Costa Rica with dense lush tropical vegetation and steaming waters. A simple tourist centre described the area and local volcanism. Then there is a choice of two small bathing areas. At the top, a cold waterfall and plunge pool and at the bottom a bubbling hot spring leads into a lovely warm iron-rich soaking pool. Be warned though – jewellery does get a yellow coating here!

We drove across the caldera rim and observed Lagoa do Fogo nature reserve and lake, then headed back to Pousada Lagoa and visited the <em>Observatorio Vulcanologico e Geothermico Dos Acores</em> – a small volcanic activity observatory. At present this is being renovated but largely feels like you are rifling through the loft of someone’s belongings! There was a variety of artefacts of different rock types and fossils from around the world, however this is not particularly tourist friendly as yet. But there is great potential. Interestingly, the area forms one of a few places that is located accurately for measuring geological movement and so a Chinese university has placed equipment in the basement in order to track and monitor tectonic shifts over time – and the Azores is currently moving and growing by approximately 2cm per year.

So, another busy day! And we all slept well. I was route marched round the Lagoa town for a hilly coastal 30minute run by a colleague so all good training!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Discover the World Teacher Inspection trip to Azores Day 1

Discover the World are a travel company we have used a good few times for our trips to Iceland, plus a non-student trip to Morocco. I’ve always found the company so helpful, with great administration and very well organised. The tour guides we’ve had in Iceland were always excellent and really made an effort to enthuse students, sharing local stories and myths. DTW have recently starting looking into offering a new destination of the Azores, and so a group of twelve teachers (mostly Geography or Earth Science) were invited to go on a teacher inspection trip this week in order to road test the trip

The idea of this week is to visit as many locations as possible, and sample a wide variety of activities in each place that you might build into a student trip itinerary. We are also investigating the accommodation and services in order to see how feasible the trip is, and whether it would meet with curriculum requirements / health and safety / logistics etc,. Since the Azores has not been used before for student trips this is quite a big undertaking, and we have discussions throughout each day about what kinds of activities you could ask students to participate in and what they would get out of the trip itself. Since direct flights are limited (only one flight, once a week on Saturdays) this means you would be most likely looking at an 8 day trip including travel so is is quite a chunk of time to fill

Part of the evening time is given over to focus groups in order to troubleshoot and to plan suitable teaching style activities as well as considering what ‘awe and wonder’ activities you can partake and evening entertainment etc,. On our return to the UK we will also be involved with creating teacher study guide resources for teachers throughout the country or access for free (akin to the excellent Iceland and Norway study guides already available for free through the Discover the World website). Discover the World are teaming up with the Geographical Association for a three year contract to create a broad bank of resources for teachers and students to use before, during and after a trip as well as just use in the classroom to teach about place or case studies – this will be being launched soon and will build up over time to including every destination they include in their package

This week has been led by Nick and Sonia from DtW as well as Simon Ross, an experience Head of Geography, senior member of the GA and author of various teacher resources, textbooks and GeoActive resources. And the team of teachers who have been chosen come from a wide variety of backgrounds, of differing lengths of career and varied teaching styles, with a range of skills and with a wealth of experience of planning and leading school trips. So it is in good hands!

So, the trip. We had arrived fairly late on the Saturday to São Miguel Island so only really saw the drive from the airport at Ponta Delgada down to our accommodation at a youth hostel in Pousada de Lagoa. The accommodation appears very new and crisp on first impressions, and with a restaurant attached that is also clearly used as the local restaurant.

Day 1. We were collected by Eduardo our local guide who has been a really keen activist in the drive to try to bring Azores more into the public eye and to encourage tourism. He has an excellent breadth of knowledge on seemingly everything throughout the archipelago which is reassuring. We travelled to Furnas, meaning furnace which is an area of intense volcanic activity past and present. Present is purely geothermal, past included some large eruptions in the 15th and 17th centuries. There is an excellent tourist centre here by the lake Lago de Furnas. The staff of the Furnas Monitoring & Research Centre were clearly passionate and well informed. There is a broad range of information about the geological history, volcanic activity and interestingly what the local government, university and activist groups have been doing in the name of sustainability.

At Furnas the local watercourse has suffered badly from eutrophication and soil erosion as a result of semi-intensive dairy farming (with associated clear felling of vegetation for pasture and use of chemical fertilisers. The lake is within the large caldera created by the last eruption. It was discovered that within the watershed there was a clear tendency for leaching of minerals due to the heavy rains, and that these were being channelled straight into the lake causing a sediment residue build up and then subsequent eutrophication, algal blooms, vegetation blocking out sunlight and reducing photosynthesis elsewhere in the lake, etc,. So local charity and university workers decided to try to reverse this. There had also been a large problem with the introduction of non-native and invasive species such as the Japanese Cedar and Australian Box that had been used as borders around farmland and tea plantations, but which were spreading and choking native plants as well as reducing biodiversity. On top of this, the change of land use to dairy and clearing for pastures meant soils had been exposed and so soil erosion had taken place with vast channels sometimes up to 8m deep being created due to the heavy rains and lack of interception.

There is a programme in place to reclaim the lake, replace the land use and replant the area. The aim is to create a Landscape Laboratory. There is an educational and outreach aspect too. Local farmers were bought out, which has caused some social conflicts although many farmers have also been able to retire comfortably but since the area has naturally rich soils it is understandable how the conflict exists. Part of the agreement also sees farmers being offered silage and food stuffs at reduced cost that have been grown in their old lands that have now been replanted and afforested.

Planting has occurred on a large scale and is still ongoing. Reintroduction of native indigenous species such as blueberry and clover have then attracted more bees which in turn has led to opportunities for local farmers to produce honey and caramels which is then sold in local gift shops. The clover when cleared and harvested is used to create silage for the farmers for feeding cattle. They are also trying to encourage farmers to return to more traditional methods of using natural dung fertiliser to reduce chemical dependency.

It is clear that the project is well underway but has a long way to go. Many jobs have been created through forestry, beekeeping, tourism, etc,. It is hard to tell if water quality has improved much as it is early days but the flow of nutrients has at least stabilised and sediment production into the lake has slowed so that the lake bed is beginning to drop back to original levels. However, it is also clear that the project is lacking in funding for the next two years and so how can sustainability be achieved?

The centre has great resources for children of various ages, and keen staff. You can also arrange with the centre to conduct projects in the area, such as planting / tending / harvesting the area or testing water quality, soil quality, biodiversity, etc,. So this could be a really great place to call base camp for a day and then conduct your own enquiries in the area, perhaps even comparing to other sites in the island.

We also visited a tea plantation factory – the only commercial tea plantation in Europe and which is run on traditional machinery and with leaves hand picked and checked for quality

We explored Furnas hot pool in the Terra Nostra botanical gardens in the pouring rain! Feeling like crazy geography geeks we scrambled around in the cold in the gardens getting soaked and then swam around in huge hot pool for a while – alongside some swans! Very surreal. The water was heavy with iron and sediment so very brown and opaque but a lovely temperature and quite atmospheric with steam produced by the evaporating rain. We also visited some of the village fumeroles and hot springs, including the bubbling hot pools where our food was cooked – a cozido lunch. Large earthen pots laden with potato, kale leave, and a variety of meats are lowered into these pools and covered in earth then slowly boil / roast for 6 hours and then served. The meat did have a slightly eggy sulphury flavour but was very soft. And the Azoreans are very generous with their portions!

Back at Pousada de Lagoa for the evening meal some of us explored the town a little (it is very little!) and saw some fantastic crashing waves against the basalt cliffs and rocky beaches. There was also a stunning sunset.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.