Another Ice Age?

We’re in winter now, and some of us may be feeling the chill. But it could be worse. It has been worse. And it will be worse again…

Throughout Earth’s 4.5 billion years, there have been five big ice ages, some of which lasted hundreds of millions of years. The most recent major ice age occurred in the Pleistocene period, about 2.6 million years ago, and lasted until about 11,700 years ago. Researchers are still trying to understand how often these periods of deep winter happen and how soon we can expect another one.

Across various periods of time, a quarter of our planet’s history has been held in the grip of a major ice event.. In between these ice ages, there have also been many smaller ice ages called glacials, and therefore some warmer periods, called inter-glacials.

The last mini ice age, which scientists call the Maunder Minimum, plunged the northern hemisphere into a series of bitterly cold winters between 1645 and 1715. It was caused by incredibly low solar activity. During the Maunder Minimum, the River Thames froze solid. The ice was so thick that the people of London could walk or skate from one side to the other without needing a bridge (as depicted above). However, although the winters were much colder than average, they were not life-threatening as they would have been in a ‘big’ ice age; If the citizens of the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth century could survive the extreme cold without any form of central heating, then the next mini ice age will not be deadly for the human race.

It is a steady, severe drop in levels of sunshine that brings on a mini ices age. Solar expert Piers Corbyn, of forecasting group WeatherAction, warned that the Earth faces another mini ice age. “We are now in a decline of solar activity… This can cause a shift in the jet-stream, making it move further south and as a result it turns very cold in temperate latitudes including Europe, Britain and North America. We are anticipating temperatures to drop leading to ocean water freezing and ice drifts washing up around the coasts in Europe – we expect the next mini ice age.”

Corbyn and his colleagues have predicted that between now and 2020, the decrease in sun spots will continue. This fall in temperature will trigger the next Solar Minimum, which scientists think could last approximately 15 years. Work by the UK’s Met Office goes on to report however, that the effect of this mini ice age will be offset by an increase in global warming. This means that, rather than being faced with rivers that are frozen from top to bottom, and harsh temperatures that will keep us huddled around the fire, we will merely have to face winters that are much colder than we have become used to- so don’t rush out and buy those ice skates just yet.

At the present time, one of the worst storms in American history, Tropical Storm Harvey (seen below at full strength), is laying waste to east Texas. It also generated the worst hurricane to hit Texas in fifty years and is  causing unprecedented flooding in the city of Houston. The neighbouring state of Louisiana is also beginning to feel its effects. Harvey, which made first landfall as a category 4 hurricane, has brought flash floods and extreme winds across the land; claiming lives, destroying the environment, and damaging the long term economy. Tropical storms can include hurricanes as was originally the case here, or cyclones and typhoons, or a combination of all three. With them comes heavy rainfall, mudslides, and floods.

As tropical storms need intense heat in which to form, they only occur either just to the north or south of the equator, where the sea temperatures can reach up to 27ºC. Generating where the air above a warm sea rises, it is this combination of temperature between the water and the sky that causes the sort of atmospheric low pressure which can spark a tropical storm.

When superheated air rises, it begins to spin, forming the eye of a forthcoming storm. Once that air has risen it cools rapidly, condensing into massive clouds. Compacted air within these clouds creates areas of intense low pressure. In turn, that low pressure sucks at the air around it, creating incredibly strong winds. Only when the storm blows inland, where the air and ground cover are cooler still, do these major weather events begin to blow themselves out.

To make storm weather data easier to track and record accurately for future meteorologists and historians, tropical storms are given names. These names are alphabetical and alternate between male and female. It means that the next tropical storm in America will be given a female name beginning with the letter ‘I’.

Due to the erratic nature of the air pressure near the equator, it is very difficult to accurately predict the path a tropical storm will take. This means that evacuating people and livestock from a threatened area is not easy. For example, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, over 1,800 people died and 300,000 homes were destroyed before the area could be completely evacuated.

The social impact on an area hit by a tropical storm can often be major and long term. Power is often cut, with vast populations being left without electricity for many weeks, if not months after the storm has passed. Homes have to be abandoned and many will be destroyed entirely. Mass migration from the affected area leaves entire communities temporarily, or permanently, homeless. Neither is it certain that affected communities will return entirely. In fact it is more probable that a significant number will not. It is estimated that around 50,000 of the population left or did not return to New Orleans after Katrina. What will happen to Houston remains to be seen.

As well as homes, businesses, towns, farms and power stations are all vulnerable to destruction. The looting of abandoned homes and shops can also come from criminal and desperate locals alike. On a national level, resources such as petrol can’t be taken safely into a hurricane hot spot, which means fuel prices rise, as does the cost of food and clean water. Houston will be a prime example, as it produces a great quantity of the oil America runs on, let alone exports. Tourists also stop coming to the area, and as most places on the equator rely heavily on tourists from countries with cooler climates, the economic impact can be extreme. An industrial city like Houston might not feel this, but New Orleans certainly did.

If a tropical storm burns itself out quickly, then the environmental, social and economic costs can be quickly mitigated. When storms of the ferocity of Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey hit, however, the costs are far higher- and can take decades to overcome.

800px-Library-shelves-bibliographies-GrazTo obtain the best grade when writing a project, report, or dissertation, a student should make sure they read as many related books, articles, and periodicals as possible.

In order to show your tutor the resources you have used to gain an understanding of your subject, all the documents you’ve read should be listed at the end of your work in the form of a bibliography.

So that you don’t forget which sources you have read once you get to the end of your study, it is a good idea to jot down the details of each item you’ve read as you go. You will need to make sure that you have details of the work’s full title, the author, place of publication, publisher, and the date of publication.

A bibliography should be written in alphabetical order and split into sections, beginning with books, then periodicals, and finally online resources (check with your tutor to make sure he or she prefers this standard format or if they like to have online resources listed first).

Below are some examples of how to reference different types of study material.


Author’s surname, Initial, Title, (City of publication, Publisher, Date).
E.g., Kane, J., Another Cup of Coffee, (Cardiff, Accent Press, 2013)

Periodicals and Magazines

Author’s surname, Initial, ‘Article Title,’ Name of magazine. Volume number if applicable, (Date) page numbers.
E.g., Bellamy, J., ‘The Coterel Gang: An Anatomy of a Band of Fourteenth Century Crime’, English Historical Review Vol. 79, (1964), pp.1-39


Encyclopaedia Title, Edition Date. Volume Number, “Article Title,” page numbers.
E.g., The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1997. Vol 7, ‘Gorillas’, pp.50-51

Blog via the Internet

Author of blog, (Date). Subject of message. Electronic conference or bulletin board (Online). Available e-mail address if given.
E.g., Jenny Kane, (September 22, 2014). The Story Behind Another Cup of Coffee,

WWW: Author, Web Address
E.g., Oxford Open Learning,


Diwali Fireworks in India

Diwali (Dīvali, Dīpāwali, or Deepavali), is the Hindu festival of light. One of the most popular of all the South Asian religious celebrations, Diwali begins on the 15th day of the month of Kartika in the Hindu calendar, and is extended over five days. This year it will be celebrated on 23rd October.

The observance of Diwali honours Rama-Chandra, the seventh incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. It is believed that on this day Rama returned, victorious, to his people after 14 years of battling the demon king, Ravana.

To celebrate Rama’s success, Hindu’s light up their houses to declare the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. Light, in the guise of fireworks, lamps, candles and bonfires, is used to symbolise the festival. The word “Deepawali” itself means “a row or cluster of lights.” In India oil lamps are often floated across the river Ganges. It is regarded as a good omen if the lamp travelled across the river without sinking.

Alongside the lifting of spiritual darkness by Rama, the goddess Lakshmi (who symbolizes wealth, happiness and prosperity), is also worshipped during the Diwali festivities. Hindu’s believe that Lakshmi roams the earth during Diwali, entering every house that is pure, clean, and bright. Consequently, during Diwali homes are spring cleaned, candles are lit in windowsills, and assorted temptingly aromatic sweets and savouries are baked. Sometimes windows and doors of homes are left open so that Lakshmi can come in.

Hindu’s dress in their finest clothes for Diwali, and sometimes the women have their palms decorated with mehendi. This is a temporary henna decoration, which looks a little like an intricate tattoo.

Diwali is the most publically celebrated Hindu festival within the UK. Hinduism is the second largest non-Christian religious society in Britain, with more than half a million Hindus comprising one percent of the total population. In many towns and cities such as Belfast, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leicester, Diwali is celebrated with firework displays, dances, plays, street lighting, lanterns, traditional Indian food, the exchanging of gifts and the playing of music.
The Times of India sums up the modern meaning of Diwali: “Regardless of the mythological explanation one prefers, what the festival of lights really stands for today is a reaffirmation of hope, a renewed commitment to friendship and goodwill, and a religiously sanctioned celebration of the simple – and some not so simple – joys of life.”

512px-ChamanIt is estimated (Linguistics 2011, 2012) that before the arrival of Columbus in America, 350 languages were spoken in Mexico and Central America, and 1450 in South America. At that time, a significant part of the world’s languages were indigenous American languages. Nowadays, that number is far reduced. So what has become of them?

Today’s linguistic reality in the region, says Russ Rymer (2012), is very different; numerous Native American languages have become extinct, especially those formerly isolated in the Amazon. Some of the survivors are lucky enough to hold official status, along with Spanish. This is the case of Quechua in Peru and Bolivia; Aymara in Bolivia and Guarani in Paraguay, Bolivia and the Argentine province of Corrientes. However, centuries of stigmatism and racist policies against indigenous communities have had a devastating effect on many native languages between the younger generations, overpowering most attempts at preservation.

In other cases, external assistance has made a huge difference when it comes to revitalising a language. The Seri people of Mexico were fortunate when the American linguistics experts Edward and Mary Beck Moser moved to their community in 1951 in order to study their language, Cmiique Iitom. Their work with the Seri has since continued to help raise the number of Cmiique Itiom speakers and now it is estimated to be between 650 and 1000. Today the language has its own dictionary, started by the Mosers and finished by their daughter and her husband, Steve Marlett – himself a linguistic who continues work on the topic, and who has published several papers on it.

Other initiatives such as the campaign from the organization of Cultural Survival are considered an excellent way to revive the Native American languages. These could be extended to all Latin America countries and be effectively supported by local and regional authorities and governments, as well as institutions like UNESCO. The promotion of teaching and learning native languages in schools, of valuing and rewarding bilingualism between regional populations, could be another way of preserving them, along with a compiling of the grammar and vocabulary of those that are simply spoken languages.

It is known that many Latin American countries have other important, pressing issues such as political corruption, economic recovery, social inequality and poverty, environmental problems and more, and at times it may seem trivial to be concerned about old languages. Perhaps that is part of the problem. If so, this is a shame, because unlike all its problems, South and Central America’s languages are disappearing fast.

We should ask ourselves, do we wish to hold to the romantic idea of Native American languages as part of the heritage of the pre-Columbus era and simply keep them as a legacy of a lost world? Should we be pragmatic and recognise that a language is born, evolves according to the needs of its speakers and eventually, when it has no means of communication anymore, dies and disappears? Or instead, do we believe that the vanishing of these indigenous languages, far from being a triumph of Spanish, Portuguese or English, would be a sad signature of our modern world, a failure to ourselves, and probably a future source of regret for their loss, when it is too late for even more languages.

If you found this subject interesting, below are some references to source material.

• Cultural Survival non-profit, human rights organisation,
• Linguistics 201: Native American Languages, appeared on 27 June 2013.
• Rymer, Russ (July 2012) , Varnishing Languages, National Geographic magazine


By Itziar Simo Arroyo

Itziar is a Spanish tutor with Oxford Home Schooling


Aquae Sulis, Bath.

The Roman Empire was so large by 100BC that it bordered all of the Mediterranean Sea and stretched across most of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, right as far as the Red Sea.

Britain first came to the attention of the Romans after they conquered France (Gaul). Having heard about the rich supplies of cloth, tin, corn, gold and slaves Britain had to offer, the governor of Gaul, Julius Caesar, wanted to expand the Empire across the Channel.

In August 55BC, Caesar, with 10,000 men, including cavalry soldiers, landed on the English coast, near Dover in Kent. The journey across the English Channel had been rough, and on arrival the troops were travel weary, with many of their ships damaged. Greeted by armed and resistant locals, the Romans faced fierce fighting against the Britons almost immediately, and were forced to retreat.

One year later, in 54BC the Caesar and his Roman troops made a second invasion attempt. This time they were better prepared, and quickly moved inland, taking control of the hill-fort at Bigbury, near Canterbury, Kent.

In 54BC all the tribes of the Britons were under the control of the Catuvellauni tribe, which was headed by chief Cassivellaunus, and was based near modern-day St Albans, just north of the River Thames.

As the well organised Roman legions marched ever nearer, crossing first the River Medway and then the Thames itself, they forced the Britons to submit to them along the way. However, before Caesar had time to develop structure and the Roman way of life upon the newly capitulated southern Britons, a revolt against the Romans in Gaul, combined with a civil war in Rome itself, meant he had no choice but to withdraw his army.

It would be another hundred years, in AD43, before the Romans made a further attempt to capture Britain. Emperor Claudius sent 40,000 men, under the control of Aulus Plautius, across the Channel, but again the legionaries were fought back by the Britons.

It wasn’t until AD44 that Emperor Claudius himself organised and headed a successful invasion of Britain. Though this settlement would ultimately fail as well, the Romans left an indelible mark on our country, as can be seen in numerous towns and features (and museums) today. Examples include Bath Spa in Somerset, Chester in Cheshire, the Dolaucothi gold mines in south west Wales and Hadrian’s wall along the border with Scotland.


A cross marking the source of the Amazon, the greatest river on Earth

Rivers begin life as a trickle of water that originates high on a hillside or in a mountain range. Most of these thin runs of water, known as headwaters, emerge through the earth from underground streams. These submerged bodies of water are formed when rain or snow seeps into the ground, before the pressure of being trapped underground bubbles it back to the surface. This water is called surface run-off.

The course of a fledgling river’s surface run-off is steered by gravity, which will initially send the water flowing downhill in trickles, which will eventually meet with other parallel rills or tributaries, as it gathers momentum. Once these parallel rills unite, they form a stream. When more rills converge with the stream, a bigger flow of water is formed; a brook.

Guided by gravity and the surrounding geology, the brook flows on through the valley, its volume of water swelling with rain and groundwater. The brook becomes wider as it travels, and as its water level rises, it becomes a river.

It isn’t the weight of the moving water alone that dictates how wide or deep a new river is to become. It is the river’s load which will gorge out its path in the geology that surrounds it. A river’s load will include any rocks, stones, and other large particles, which wash along the new riverbed. As the river water pushes its load along, the bed of the river will deepen.

The speed of the moving water determines how quickly the load will erode the river’s banks, and how wide the river will become. As the river winds through the landscape, it carves out deep valleys in solid rock and deposits huge amounts of debris on either side of it.

Not all springs, brooks and streams that form into headwaters on high ground will become rivers. Many will remain small creeks, brooks, rivulets or tributaries. Those that do become rivers will forge their way through the geology of the earth until they reach, and sometimes merge with, other rivers, and then ultimately meet the sea.

512px-Hawaii_Volcanoes_NP_MagmaThe Earth’s crust is made up of huge slabs called plates. These massive plates fit together rather like a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes these plates move, and the friction that action causes, can lead to both earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

A volcanic eruption occurs when the pressure and high temperatures beneath the plates cause rocks to melt. This melted rock turns into a liquid known as magma (or molten rock), which seeps through the Earth’s crust, before gradually making its way up to the top of the volcanic mountain, and eventually form into rivers of magma that brim beneath a volcano’s surface.

The pressure in this magma chamber fills and builds, like water and steam in a boiling kettle. It is when this pressure reaches breaking point that the eruption occurs. Gases and rock shoot up through the opening in the top of the mountain, spilling over its edge. The moment magma reaches the top of the volcano it becomes lava, which flows down the sides of the volcano.

The lava flows are only part of the devastating effects of a magma explosion. As the air around the volcano blast fills with lava fragments, hot ash adds to the lava flow, as well as sparking mudslides, avalanches, falling ash and floods.

The most powerful volcanoes release a pyroclastic flow. This is a fluid mixture of solid to semi-solid boiling hot fragments that include expanding gases, which cascades down the sides of a volcano. Volcano eruptions can also trigger tsunamis, flash floods, earthquakes, and rock falls.

There are three recognised stages of volcanic action. They are either active, dormant, and extinct. An active volcano is one which has recently erupted and there is a possibility that it may erupt soon. A dormant volcano has not erupted in a long time, but there is a possibility it might erupt in the future. An extinct volcano is one which has erupted thousands of years ago and will never erupt again.

There are more than 1500 active volcanoes on the Earth. Another 80 have been discovered under the ocean, and there are believed to many more hidden beneath its waves. The world’s largest, active volcano is Mauna Loa in Hawaii. It is 13,677 feet above sea level, and from its base below sea level to its summit, Mauna Loa is taller than Mount Everest.

5.4.13_Ljubljana_15_(8623814958)The United Kingdom is well known for its heavy rainfall, but what causes it to rain in the first place?

Rain occurs when warm, moist air cools down, creating condensation, or vapour. This water vapour originates from rivers, lakes and the sea, and rises into the air to form clouds of water or ice crystals. As the clouds rise higher, the air surrounding them gets colder, until eventually the cloud becomes too heavy, and the water vapour falls back to the ground as rain or even snow.

Although rain always forms in the same manner, it can be categorised into three different types – orographic rain, frontal rain, and convective rain.

Orographic rain is only produced over mountainous areas close to prevailing westerly winds, when moist air from high ground is forced upwards, producing clouds.
The geography of the UK means that this type of rainfall is most common in the north and west, and is one of the main causes of rain in the wettest part of the UK, the western Highlands in Scotland, where they receive three metres of rainfall every year.

Frontal rain occurs when a mass of warm air meets a mass of cold air. As the two masses have different densities they can’t mix together, so the less dense, warmer air is pushed up and over the cold, dense air. This creates a weather front which condenses the water vapour into raindrops. This type of rain is not subject to geographical factors, and can happen anywhere across the UK.

The final type of rain, convective rain, is most common in the warmer climate of the south and east of the UK. Convective rain is produced by clouds that are formed in vertical motions caused by the instability of the atmosphere. This instability is caused by heat from the sun warming the ground, and moisture from that ground evapourating and rising. At the same time as this, the hot ground also heats the air above it. This additional water vapour rises as well, cooling and condensing into clouds before turning to rain.

The flooding that has been so severe in the UK in recent years was caused by all three of these types of rain occurring at the same time.

Hopefully we shall not see too much rain in the next couple of months, but from past experience, that may not be too likely…

04_North_Sea_oil_rig_May_1975The North Sea Oil bonanza is coming to an end. The Chancellor is bent on squeezing every last drop from the oil shales beneath the sea floor, as are the Scots, who are hoping to attract new investment into the distinctly hostile environment of the seas around Shetland. Both could be in for a nasty shock.

North Sea oil and gas currently supplies about half of Britain’s needs. The Scottish Nationalists hope that the tax revenue generated (about £6 billion a year) will make an independent Scotland both viable and attractive to foreign investment. Unfortunately, production is on the slide, falling steadily year after year. The costs of extraction are rising and current investment is stagnant. The Shetland Islands seas are an extremely difficult environment to work in, and the oil deposits are relatively small and costly to bring on stream. Also, corporation tax, which has been raised since 2002, has choked new investment. The costs of decommissioning old oil wells has also made the industry think hard about future prospects in the North Sea.

Alec Salmond has promised a better deal for the industry and the creation of a national savings fund to smooth out the impact on the Scottish economy of boom and bust economic fluctuations, a policy which should have been adopted from the beginning. But an independent Scotland will inherit a large budget deficit making it difficult to start an energy fund for some years, unless the nationalists adopt a programme of severe cost cutting in public expenditure – something the independence party, quite understandably, do not want to talk about before September.

Britain also has problems, brought into sharp relief by our deteriorating relations with Russia. The loss of North Sea oil incomes increases our dependence on foreign suppliers, including those in politically volatile parts of the world. Over the economic life of the North Sea field we have tended to squander the earnings on rising unemployment payments and welfare (2008 – 2014). By contrast, Norway saved approximately $800 billion in roughly the same period from its own share of the region’s oil and gas.

Nor can we take much comfort from plans to exploit alternative sources of energy supply; nuclear power plants are only slowly being decommissioned, and new ones built are not yet on-stream. Fracking is massively contentious. None of this is a recipe for either a bright or warm tomorrow. If we do not make greater efforts to learn and study the problem, and those of a similar nature, the hard economic and environmental future that many predict will become the reality.

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