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2021 – winners announced

The 2021 competition, generously sponsored by Páramo Directional Clothing, focused on identifying and capturing evidence of a process in physical geography.

While the theme of the competition changes every year, the ethos remains the same: to encourage students to explore the land around them and photograph an aspect of physical geography, explained in their extended caption. There are two age categories, 11–14 and 14–18, and prizes are awarded to the top three entries in each category.

We challenged students to find a process that might be observed directly (in action), or a feature that was the result of a past process that that may occur again – and then to explain the process on view. With over 250 entries submitted it was clear that many students enjoyed getting out and about to take up the challenge of finding physical geography and we had quite a range of aspects photographed with some fantastic results. We congratulate everyone who entered and we hope you enjoy looking at the winning entries.

The judging was, however, quite a challenge. Most entries offered a generic explanation of the process, with very few considering the particular conditions and/or features on show, so all too frequently the explanation didn’t match or highlight what could actually be seen in the picture. Our judging comments reflect something of this year’s phenomenon, and we aim to devise a future competition that gives students more opportunity to take a critical perspective.

As in previous years, the information sent to the judges did not include the names of the students or schools on their entries. This year this has resulted in one school winning all three prizes in the 14–18 category – congratulations West Island School!

(Above) West Island School competition winners with their prizes and school Principal Chris Sammons

11–14 category

1st prize: Phoebe Morrish, Weald of Kent School

Title: The sculpted limestone pavement at Malham Cove

Phoebe’s description

Whilst staying at a camping barn near Malham Tarn, my family and I walked along part of the Pennine Way to Malham Cove.

We explored the limestone pavement; it was surrounded by stunning views as the top is nearly 80 metres above Malham Village. During the last Ice Age, the limestone was uncovered by ice scouring the soil away. Then, the melt-water and the water from Malham Tarn eventually created a waterfall by eroding the rock. The horseshoe shape is a result of the waterfall’s flow being strongest in the middle – this is where it had the most energy to erode.

This meant that the middle was being eroded quicker and more efficiently than the sides. The limestone pavement at the top of the cove was eroded by water and weathering, forming a collection of interlocking limestone slabs. The different cracks (grykes) and fissures in them (clints) are each unique, making this a place like no other!

It was interesting to see the marks in the rock where the water had carved it so long ago. There is now a stream flowing from the cave system underneath the cove, called Malham Beck. In conclusion, these erosion processes created what you can now see today as Malham Cove – a wonderful habitat for many plants and animals and also a peaceful place to sit and enjoy!

Judging panel comments

This photograph has interesting perspective to capture this feature. Using ‘sculpted’ in the title puts the idea of process in the mind from the start. The description is engaging, concisely explaining the shape of the feature as it has developed over different states of environment, with reference to the Ice Age to explain why many surfaces in the area are bare and the subsequent action of meltwater.

There is an impression that the whole cliff was formed by a waterfall; in fact this is a fault scarp but the process, focussed along the centre line of the cliff, is highlighted. Less well noted is the process for the pavement formation with no mention of water acidity and reaction – simply ’eroded by water’. Clint formation is not fully explained to describe the production of blocks (described here as slabs).

A note distinguishing the weathering (limestone dissolving) and the erosion (flowing away through cracks) would have made it into an ideal explanation. However, there is a strong engagement with physical geography process through the photograph and explanation making this a worthy winner.


2nd prize: Olivia Koryciorz, St Bede’s Catholic High School, Lytham

Title: The cliffs of Old Wick

Olivia’s description

This picture shows the layers of rock that have built up over time to create this beautiful rock and this process is called sedimentation.

Sedimentation is a process to make sedimentary rock. Sedimentary rock is many processes and in order they are transport, deposition, sedimentation, compaction and cementation. Simply, a river carries, or transports, pieces of broken rock as it flows along. When the river reaches a lake, sea or the ocean, its load of transported rocks settles to the bottom. We say that the rocks are deposited. The deposited rocks build up in layers, called sediments. This process is called sedimentation.

The weight of the sediments on top squashes the sediments at the bottom. This is called compaction. The water is squeezed out from between the pieces of rock and crystals of different salts form. The crystals stick the pieces of rock together. This process is called cementation. Sedimentary rock may take millions of years to form.

Judging panel comments

A well-composed and interesting photograph captured in focus (not an easy achievement) showing the feature well and bringing out the attractiveness of these rocks. They are layers, but beds would have been a more precise term to use. The explanation of the sedimentation process is clear, offering a strong image of how these rocks were laid down and more, how they came to be consolidated.

The cementation process is often overlooked. However, it would have been more complete by adding a note on how the ‘salts’ get into the water to allow cementation and how the chemical composition of the ‘salts’ (iron oxide) is indicated by the colours (rusty browns, reds and yellows).

As a result, some key physical features of this photo are left out – not only the colours but also why some stick out and others are recessed plus a more precise idea of the timescale to form these rocks. Nevertheless, this really good close-up of the strata with the origin context explained merits this photo worthy of a place in the prizes.


3rd prize: Ethan Rimmer, St Bede’s Catholic High School, Lytham

Title: St Anne’s Pier jetty

Ethan’s description

Following a fire in the 1980s, the jetty in the photo became separated from the rest of St Anne’s Pier. The jetty actually has three levels but changes to the navigable channel of the River Ribble caused sand to build up and cover the lower levels of the jetty.

The harsh environment is causing the jetty to slowly disintegrate, rust and become more and more damaged. There are many reasons for this. One is that, because it is by the sea, there are no buildings to stop the wind, and it is constantly being hit by tiny grains of sand being blown into it and slowly destroying it.

Another factor is the tide, which regularly wets the metal parts of the structure. This causes iron oxide (rust) to form. The process is accelerated by the fact that there is acid in the rain. This means that the metal just slowly dissolves. You can see some of the iron oxide on the wooden parts of the pier. Although this is a shallow beach, the waves can still force air into the gaps in the wood, which breaks the structure apart further.

Judging panel comments

This is a striking photograph, composed really well to add a dramatic effect to a man-made structure. The lighting is perfect and all the features are sharply in focus. The eye is drawn into the structure.

The explanation covers three processes – sedimentation, chemical weathering and abrasion. There is some sharp observation here in spotting the features and realising there is a link to physical processes. Sedimentation is an easily overlooked aspect and the evidence is clearly presented here, but we wanted to know where the sand originates and what causes it to build up. This would have made a really good, interesting, and different feature and process which are often not thought about. Abrasion is briefly explained but there is no indication of where this is process is most severe.

Application of the technical geographical term (abrasion) would have helped refine the process explanation. The description of the chemical weathering on the metal is muddled – the process is oxidation and reacting (dissolving) in acid rain does not play a part in this. The idea of wetting and rust is good use of ‘common knowledge’ and there is an understanding it is chemical but the process here is wrongly attributed.

It may have been better to have focussed on the explanation and impact of just one of these processes. However, the photograph has a ‘cleverness’ that should be rewarded, with encouragement to probe more sharply when looking to explain the processes of physical geography that can be observed. As such it merits a place amongst the prize winners.


14–18 category

1st prize: Edward Lowe, West Island School, Hong Kong

Title: Ground-breaking

Edward’s description

Only a few metres away from the waterfront of Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, the ground has shifted. I have walked past this every day for the last few years, but I along with many other people, tend to ignore it.

Most of the land around here was part of the water 50 years ago. Then it was reclaimed, along with many other sites around Hong Kong, to make extra space. When they first reclaimed this land, it would have been a flat surface. However, the seabed of Victoria Harbour is made up of soft alluvium, clay and sand which is unstable.

Over time the seabed has resettled, possibly caused by minor seismic activity over the years as there are many faults close by, and the reclaimed land on top has also slumped. The effects of this are clear on the surface and it can be seen in the photo that some padding has been placed on top of the previous surface and new tiles have been laid whose different colour shows they were laid at a different time.

While this may merely cause a slight annoyance to some (and have no effect on others who are preoccupied with their phones), this presents no significant obstruction or danger. However, in the future, this phenomenon may reoccur. Perhaps under a road or the foundations of a skyscraper. This may be the beginning of the sea reclaiming the land.

Judging panel comments

A well composed photo of an interesting example and evidence of physical geography and a process that most people would overlook. There has been some thought applied here to the (physical) context of the image linking it to a place where physical aspects might not seem obvious or significant.

The explanation is well researched, sound and clear to understand, invoking sediment settling and compaction as probably induced by seismic activity. The effect here is small but if continued over time it would cumulatively lead to a significant change in the physical geography.

Similarly, this photo has cumulative impact – it keeps drawing the viewer back to spot slight changes in different parts of these steps. This is a worthy first prize winner to illustrate a physical process in evidence and action.


2nd prize: Patricia Hao, West Island School, Hong Kong

Title: Terraces at the Mammoth Hot Springs

Patricia’s description

This is a photograph of the Mammoth Hot Springs, located at Yellowstone National Park which sits above a hotspot.

So how are the terraces that make up the hot spring formed? When rain and melted snow seep into the earth, they are warmed by heat radiated from a magma chamber underground which is a remnant of a volcanic explosion that occurred 600,000 years ago. The hot rainwater then rises and reacts with carbon dioxide which is coming up from the magma chamber. Some of the carbon dioxide is dissolved in the hot water and a weak acid is formed.

Large amounts of limestone which were deposited at Yellowstone 340 million years ago are dissolved by the acidic solution as it works its way up through layers of rock to the hot spring on the surface. Once above ground and exposed to air, the dissolved limestone can no longer remain in the acid as carbon dioxide leaves the solution.

Therefore, it solidifies and becomes the white, chalky mineral that forms the terraces as it is deposited. In life, there are always many changes happening even if you don’t realise it, just like how we only see the surface of the hot spring and not all the interesting physical geography happening below.

Judging panel comments

This is a well-framed photograph that captures the dynamic of the ‘flowstone’ developed on these terraces – the image invokes a feeling of the whole face tumbling towards the viewer, even though it is ‘static’ on a day-to-day timescale.

This sort of precipitated rock is ‘travertine’ and it would have been helpful to have used the term in the explanation. Overall, the explanation of the process gives the viewer a reasonable idea of how the travertine is formed in this location, but some aspects need more attention. The heat is transferred from the magma chamber by conduction, not radiation. The significant process of how the limestone is re-precipitated is not clearly outlined – an explanation of why/how the carbon dioxide degasses from the limestone solution would have added to the answer.

Another hanging question is why does the precipitation form cascading terraces in the lower part and rounded masses in the upper part? However, this is a good effort to capture and outline in principle a process that results in this spectacular natural feature of physical geography, and as such it deserves a place in the winners’ line-up.


3rd prize: Colin Mikhail Singson – West Island School, Hong Kong

Title: Drainage flooding caused by high rainfall in a highly urbanized environment

Colin’s description

This photograph was taken in Des Voeux Road West, Shek Tong Tsui, Hong Kong; it shows the result of heavy rainfall in a heavily urbanized area. Murky, brown water is seen overflowing from drainage openings, inundating the surrounding areas.

This is an example of drainage flooding caused by heavy, long-sustained rainfall. This ultimately resulted in the drainages filling up completely, thus forcing excess water to flood the areas above ground. Additionally, the high amount of precipitation as a direct result of heavy rainfall accumulates and causes extensive flooding. Hong Kong has a humid, sub-tropical climate and rainfall is abundant.

Furthermore, the photograph was taken in the month of August, which is the month with the second-highest average precipitation annually. Hong Kong’s drainage systems, though more complex than those in other cities, simply could not cope with the sheer amount of rainfall produced in such a short period of time. The concrete grounds of urban areas such as in Hong Kong act as an impermeable layer that prevents the rainwater from infiltrating and percolating into the ground, therefore exacerbating the severity of the flooding.

Essentially, this photograph highlights the high risk of flooding in the area. We can see multiple pedestrians standing in front of the building entrance, hesitant to walk along the sidewalk due to the flood, indicating that this phenomenon disrupts human activity in the city, and in more extreme cases, can cause long-lasting damage to infrastructure and the economy.

Judging panel comments

This is a well-observed photograph and interesting capture of a physical phenomenon in process – it is a dynamic image. The explanation accounts for the flood by describing the convergence of geographical conditions that has caused this event. These are very relevant and they are quite well explained, but they could account for the conditions creating any similar event.

The process forming the (central) focus of this photo – the lifting of the paving bricks – is not mentioned; this is evidence of the power of floodwater and the way such forceful concentrations of (water) energy can literally reshape the world. The causes offered in the explanation are background to that active reshaping process so clearly seen taking place in the forefront of the photo.

This photo has done well to take advantage of a dramatic event and whilst there is a useful outline of the process(es) leading up to the event the central process on view has been glossed over so the explanation does not fully add up to the whole sum. However, this is a very creditable effort and a worthy prize-winner.

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