Seminar on Physical Geography, 8 February 2006 The one day seminar on Physical Geography organized by the Geography Department at the University of Malta was an enriching experience for all the participants. The seminar was spread over 5 presentations carried out by three prominent lecturers coming from the University of Portsmouth in the UK; Dr Paul Farres, Dr Rob Inkpen and Dr Malcolm Bray.

The seminar was inaugurated by a speech from the Director of the Mediterranean Institute, under which the Geography Division falls, Dr Simon Mercieca and by Dr Joseph Mifsud, Director of the European Unit. Dr Mercieca spoke of the importance of Geography for the Mediterranean institute. He also said that whereas many geographers ended up as teachers in the past, this situation has been reversed in the last two years and many geography graduates are nowadays finding jobs in other sectors. In his speech Dr Mifsud emphasized the links between the University of Malta and the University of Portsmouth and encouraged the students present to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the EU to participate in ERASMUS Mobility Programmes.

After the first presentation on the University of Portsmouth and in particular to the Geography Department and the various courses offered, Dr Paul Farres spoke on the different analytical approaches of geographic investigation and the third one provided examples from staff research projects and student work undertaken at the University of Portsmouth. In “Modelling in Physical Geography: Experimental and Hardware Approaches”, Dr Farres mentioned three types of models which geographers use to investigate and interpret the processes that occur in the natural world namely: the conceptual model which communicates reality, the statistical model which provides estimations and the mathematical models which provide simulations and future predictions. The latter are nowadays the most important tool for risk assessment and prevention. The presentation was supported by various examples from field experiments conducted by Portsmouth University students both in the UK and on an international scale. The talk ended with an interesting discussion whereby Dr Farres and his colleagues suggested practical and simple models that can be developed for research studies and dissertations.

Dr Rob Inkpen spoke about the Philosophy of Physical Geography which is very often underestimated. He spoke about the way physical geographers interpret the surrounding environment. The nature of the reality that physical geographers deal with is examined in three stages: first through the concepts of paradigm shifts and research programmes, secondly through the philosophical approaches to understanding reality (logical positivism, critical rationalization and critical realism) and thirdly through the cause and effect phenomenon. The latter is referred to as the abductive reasoning whereby physical geographers identify an effect and test a number of hypotheses to determine its cause.

The seminar ended with a very interesting lecture on Shoreline Management in the UK presented by Dr Malcolm Bray. Dr Bray introduced the subject by giving a tour to the coastline of the UK, highlighting the geology and geomorphologic features, the nature of coastal hazards faced and the history of coastal defense. This lecture brought out the similarities in the physical processes and human pressures faced by the Maltese and British coastlines. The lectureer then moved on to describe the nature of Shoreline Management Plans undertaken along different stretches of the UK coast. Dr Bray mentioned that although Coastal and Shoreline Management Plans fall under a Voluntary Plan, they are fully supported by the British government who is the sole provider of financial support. The set up of a Shoreline Management Plan and the Considerations that are taken into account were brought to light. Amongst these considerations one finds four main points that determine the implementation of a project/plan: technicality, economic benefits, environmental mitigation and social acceptance. Dr Bray then provided examples of the various plans that have been implemented, most of which involve engineering techniques that are classified as Hard or Soft engineering techniques. The lecture closed with some thoughts of what the future holds taking into consideration climate change and sea level rise and the importance of knowledge dissemination and information.

This seminar has been a successful event in providing interesting lectures and in building stronger links with the University of Portsmouth. The Geography Division would like to thank the University of Malta Geographical Society that supported this initiative. A word of thanks also goes to the Communications Office and the University House Management, for all their support in the logistics and set-up of the Conference Room, which helped to make this seminar a success.