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Geography students investigate the hydrology of ephemeral river channels in Spain
Dr Wes Fraser and Dr Sam Smith took a small group of undergraduate Geography students to the Cabo de Gata National Park in Andalusia, Spain.
The 5-day field trip investigated the hydrology of ephemeral river channels in Europe’s most desert-like region. Ephemeral channels are episodic features of dryland landscapes that only contain free-flowing water for a short period of time (days to weeks) on a very irregular basis, perhaps once per year, or maybe only once every 10–20 years; in Southern Spain these are often referred to as a ‘Rambla’. However, when these channels do flood, it is a major event, with estimates of river discharge in the region of tens of thousands to millions of litres of water per second flowing along the usually bone-dry channel! During the fieldtrip the students trekked up to the top of the Sierra Cabrera, took in the sights of the Tabernas and Sorbas basins to better understand the major sources of water in this region, and explored the rugged volcanic landscape of the Cabo de Gata complex.
Under the guidance of the tutors, the students used a physical basis to quantify river discharge of the Rambla Alias during its most recent flood event, investigated the influence channel bed particle size on water flow velocity, and determined the most efficient and reliable methods for conducting physical measurements of ephemeral river channels while in the field.
Wes Fraser said of this exciting trip: “It’s brilliant to see the students really engaging with the physical environment and conducting some novel research studies in the field that so far, they have only seen in theory. I think this kind of experience truly enhances their understanding of the natural world, and provides them with the skillset necessary for any independent research they may take up in the future.”