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UK Graduate Wins National Award for Soil Erosion Research

Jessica Kitch completed her dissertation in 2018 and graduated with a First from the BSc (Hons) Geography programme

A Geography graduate from the University of Plymouth has won a national award for her research into impacts of soil erosion.

Jessica Kitch completed her dissertation, which involved using sediment fingerprinting to assess soil properties, last year and graduated with a First from the BSc (Hons) Geography programme.

She has now been awarded the 2019 Marjorie Sweeting Dissertation Prize from the British Society for Geomorphology (BSG), with a formal presentation due to take place at the Society’s annual conference in September.

For the project, Jessica worked closely with world-leading scientists at the University as well as officials from the Environment Agency and the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Groups.

She applied river basin diagnostic tools developed in a recent Horizon 2020 project, integrating isotopic techniques with Bayesian modelling for improved assessment and management of global sedimentation problems.

For the project, she had to carry out field work on the Merriott Stream Catchment in South Somerset, collecting samples and then analysing them in the lab.

EM 1 montage item IMG 0272She then used dedicated computer software to develop a picture of how erosion is occurring throughout the area and how that knowledge could be applied in a real-world situation.

Jessica, who is now working as a Research Technician on a project assessing the impacts of soil erosion in Chile, said:

“It is a great honour to receive this award as I know the quality of the other entrants was very high. But I worked extremely hard on my project and had to overcome a number of challenges in order to make it a success. It allowed me to work on both physical and human geography, giving me a more holistic approach and a better understanding of links between society and the environment. Since graduating, I have continued to use the skills and experience I learned through the project and am now applying them to my new research in Chile.”

Will Blake, Professor of Catchment Science at the University, was Jessica’s project supervisor and is Principal Investigator on the research in Chile. He added:

“Jess’s project is a great example of the kind of research-led education that characterises our School. She took on board recent developments in applied river basin diagnostic tools, shared in class from a European Commission funded project, and saw opportunities to apply them to a real-world problem in the region, working to the highest professional standard. We are delighted that BSG have recognised her outstanding research achievements.”

Dr John Phillips, Technical Specialist for the Environment Agency, added:

“The Environment Agency was pleased to have the opportunity to support Jess’s dissertation project which was a mutually beneficial experience. We were able to provide an opportunity for a promising student to address a real-world problem, from which the Agency has gained new insights into the physical processes linking land management, water quality and flood risk which have a relevance beyond the study catchment.”

EM 2montage item IMG 20181216 WA0007 WEBThe Marjorie Sweeting Dissertation Prize is awarded annually for the best undergraduate geomorphological dissertation undertaken at a UK university.

The winner receives a £200 prize, plus funded attendance at the BSG Annual Conference and a year’s free membership of the Society

By Alan Williams, University of Plymouth

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