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2016 – winners announced

In 2016, more students than ever took part in the competition with over 200 entries for the judging panel to scrutinise, which included a wide range of features and landscapes from all over the world. It took several rounds of deliberations before a final decision was made.

This year’s ‘Earth Enquiry’ theme fulfilled the competition’s key aims:

  • promote students’ observation and awareness of physical geography in their environment
  • create opportunities for young people to apply their knowledge of physical geography in an informal context
  • inspire young people to observe and interact with physical geography through imagery.

‘We set quite a challenge for the competition this year; a quality photograph had to be accompanied with a caption that was geographically accurate and that depicted an enquiring mind. It became obvious to the judging panel that students were being curious about the physical environment in much more than a casual way.’

Duncan Hawley, competition judge and Chair of the Physical Geography Special Interest Group.

The winners received a selection of products from competition sponsor Páramo Directional Clothing Ltd, while all the Highly Commended entries received a copy of the Longman Student Atlas (produced in association with the GA). The prize winners also received certificates at the Awards ceremony at the GA Annual Conference in April 2017.

Fiona Park, from Páramo Directional Clothing Systems Ltd, said:

What a terrific way to engage secondary school students in geography, and to get them outdoors with a camera!

‘Going outside to explore the geography of an area as an outdoor photographer, you don’t want to be worrying about whether your kit will stand up to anything the weather throws at you.

‘Páramo are proud to sponsor this competition with a selection of prizes. It ticks many of our boxes: better understanding of the environment, venturing outside and capturing what they find, that thrilling sense of discovery and realisation of what is ‘out there’ making for accessible geography for students on their own terms.

‘Congratulations to everyone that has taken part in this fantastic competition – you are all winners!’


Winning entries

14-18 age category – Harry Rowlands

Clitheroe Royal Grammar School
Enquiry Question: How does the rate of retreat of the Nigardsbreen glacier change throughout the year?
Location: Nigardsbreen, Jostedal, Norway

Caption: To investigate I would gather data on the discharge of the meltwater stream which flows from the glacier, since changes in the discharge of the meltwater would represent changes in the extent of ice in the glacier.

To do this I would use a waterproof tape measure to measure the width and depth of the meltwater channel at the snout of the glacier. From this I would calculate the cross sectional area of the channel. Next, using a flow meter, I would measure the velocity of the water in the stream at the same location. I would repeat this five times across the width of the river, at equal intervals, to find an average velocity at the surface of the stream. I would multiply this value by 0.85 to calculate a more accurate velocity for the whole channel. Multiplying this by the value of cross-sectional area would give me the discharge of the stream.

I would conduct this on the first day of the month, once during daylight hours at 12pm and once during the night at 12am to calculate an average discharge for the whole day. I would repeat this every month throughout one year, and produce a graph of discharge against month to examine the correlation. I would expect that the rate of retreat would be highest during the warmer summer months and lowest during the winter.

Judging panel comments: This is a beautifully composed shot with great colours. You can see the blueness of the glacier ice with its thin black dirty topping and the turbulence of the meltwater stream. The photo captures the dynamic of a glacial snout neatly expressed in the enquiry question posed. There is some thought and logic to the method, which has measurement and a timeframe to the investigation to control possible variables, although the implied wading into the meltwater stream to collect the data would not be a good idea!


11-14 age category – Megan Loades

High Storrs School, Sheffield
Enquiry question: Llandudno beach – on some days, the beach has a very large amount rocks scattered on the beach, however on another day, there are next to none. Why is this?
Location: Llandudno Beach, North Wales

Description: To investigate and answer this question I would do the following:

  1. Firstly check whether the tide is in or out as this could affect how far the sediment travels up the beach.
  2. Then, I would check the wind direction, by holding up a piece of paper and seeing which way it blows.
  3. After, I would use a special device to measure the strength of the wind because if it’s a windy day, the pressure would push the rocks further onto the sand.
  4. Finally, I would conclude my results by seeing what happened in my investigation and whether or not it affected the amount of rocks coming onto land.

Judging panel comments: This is an interesting and well composed shot of an ‘ordinary’ beach scene that draws the eye across the landscape and the variably sized sediment nicely scaled by the gulls, in spite of the sloping horizon in the far distance. It is coupled with an intriguing enquiry question that reveals strong observational curiosity.

The suggested investigation outlines a number of simple and appropriate steps to discover the extent to which the deposition or removal of sand and/or pebbles is influenced by wind and perhaps by implication the fetch of waves. However, this full sense of the connection between wind, waves and beach sediment is almost lost and would have been expressed more explicitly by stronger use of geographical vocabulary and more precise ways of measuring.

Nevertheless, the overall enquiry idea is simple yet stimulating and is captured very effectively by the photograph, which makes it a worthy winner.


Runners up

2nd place 14-18 – Joshua Ocone

Oundle School, Oundle, Northamptonshire
Enquiry question: Beach Rills – Is the water that causes rills fresh or salty?
Location: Harlyn Bay, Cornwall

Description: Rills are created by water flowing out of the beach at low tide. This water erodes and removes fine grains of sand to form tiny channels creating a pattern that looks a bit like a miniature version of the Saskatchewan River Delta! This sand is transported down the beach in the water flow.

They appear when the tide goes out and falls beneath the level of the ground water table. They are formed approximately over a twelve-hour period and are covered over as soon as the tide comes back in. The rills don’t appear over the whole beach, only where the sand is saturated so no more water can be stored in the sand.

To find out whether the water coming out of the saturated beach is salty or fresh we could use a hydrometer. We would need to take three samples (one from the sea, one from the water flowing down the rill and one sample of freshwater) and compare the hydrometer readings. However the salinity of the water may vary depending on the weather conditions so to test reliability of the results we could take one set of readings after a period of dry and warm weather and another set of readings after a period of cold and wet weather.

Judging panel comments: An arresting image that captures a lot going on in this small-scale, ephemeral feature that could lead to a number of lines of enquiry. The photo portrays a good sense of the effects of seepage from the slump scarps sculpted out of the sand above the rock. The description identifies the features that occur in the saturated areas of the beach so the question posed emerges from focussed observation and is inherently geographical.

The clear and simple line of enquiry attempts to discover the origin of the discharge from the sand, and the outcome – whether positive or negative – would prompt further understanding of what is causing the interesting patterns created by the water discharge. Overall this is a well-observed and well-focussed line of earth enquiry.


2nd place 11-14 – Sam Whithead

Colyton Grammar School, Colyford Devon
Enquiry question: Why does the lake form differently in different places around the lake?
Location: Surprise View, Derwentwater

Description: In the photo you can see varying land formations around the lake shoreline, but why?

To find out, I would take sand and rock samples from different locations around the lake and compare them. I would also take water depth measurements to help understand whether the rock and sand have been deposited there by the current within the lake; if the water depth was uneven around a certain point, it could suggest that material had been deposited there.

The shape of the lake could also be affected by the mountains surrounding the lake because they could funnel the rain water runoff towards the lake, possibly eroding the lake shore where it had entered the lake. I would check this by seeing whether streams had formed down the mountains and where they entered the lake to see if it had created a funnel. It may help to measure the steepness of the mountain where the streams run down and see if that affected the lake shoreline.

Judging panel comments: A well framed photograph that captures the wider landscape with a sense of perspective matched by an appropriate enquiry question tackling landscape at a scale not often explored at this level. It uses geographical thinking to tease out variation in the shape and form highlighted in this image.

It is coupled with an investigation that has interesting ideas about how comparisons can be made using information at a range of scales, although the sequence of data collection needs reversing – consider situation (mountains and streams) before site (deposits and currents) – for valid links to be made between processes and their products in the landscape. Nevertheless this is a very creditable bold attempt to interrogate a landscape captured here.

‘I learnt how to analyse photographs from a geographical point of view.

‘I was very excited when my teacher came and told me my photo had been selected by the judges.

‘Taking part in the competition has made me more interested in geography, because it has made me look around more and think about the geography in everyday life.’

3rd place 14-18 – Harry Curtis

Oundle School, Northamptonshire
Enquiry question: Is there truth to the old adage ‘Red sky at night shepherd’s delight’?
Location: Havergate Island, Orford, Suffolk, Looking onto the River Ore

Description: To investigate whether a red sunset is an indicator of good weather the following day I would:

1. Choose an elevated location that gives an un-obscured view of the setting sun.

2. Set a 30-minute photo time-lapse to capture the duration of the sunset.

3. Pause the time-lapse at the sunset’s reddest point and compare this against a colour chart to determine whether to categorise it as a ‘red sky’ instead of a normal sunset.

4. After each recorded sunset, return the next day at 8:00, 13:00 and 18:00 and record: (i) Air pressure (using a digital barometer) (ii) Ground and air temperature (using digital thermometers) (iii) The degree of cloud cover (Oktas Scale) rating skies from 10 if completely clear to 0 for totally obscured.

5. For accuracy: (ii) Using the Met office’s Synoptic weather charts, conduct 20 experiments under a low pressure system (that typically form normal sunsets) and 20 under a high pressure (where red skies are more prevalent). This will ensure an equal number of readings for ‘normal’ and ‘red sky’ sunsets.

6. Conduct a bipolar survey (qualitative data) the following day (-3 to +3) with a local shepherd to determine their degree of ‘delight’ with weather conditions after every sunset.

7. Collate the data for both ‘normal’ and ‘red sunsets’ and calculate the average value for each experiment. If the weather characteristics on the day following a ‘red sunset’ are significantly more temperate than after ‘normal’ sunsets, and correlate with a positive response from the shepherd, then the saying is correct.

Judging panel comments: A nice image of a setting sun framed effectively and with an authenticity reflecting the theme of the enquiry, although the slightly sloping shoreline creates some uneasiness about the composition that made one judge think they were tipsy! There is a clear, precise and detailed sequence of investigation that provides a scientific framework to discover if folklore has validity for physical geography.

The judges liked the unusual idea of sampling the degree of delight of the shepherd, though it is unclear what particular weather conditions would make the shepherd delighted and a similar vagueness in defining ‘good’ and ‘temperate’ weather just takes the edge from the investigation. Nevertheless this is a very meritable earth enquiry.

‘I love the sea and frequently camp on a vegetated spit in Orford of the Suffolk Coast. I’m an opportunist and took the photo whilst cooking some baked beans.

‘Through the competition, I learnt how sunsets are formed and the okta scale (I didn’t know what it measured beforehand).

‘I have always been really interested in physical geography especially. The competition allowed me to exercise this deep interest in whatever way I wanted without a syllabus to abide by.’


3rd place 11-14 – Eden Greaves

Haberdashers’ Monmouth School for Girls
Enquiry question: What physical factors caused the soil erosion on this tree?
Location: Nine Springs Country Park, Yeovil

Description: This picture is an example of soil erosion. Soil erosion affects all land forms. It refers to the naturally occurring process of the topsoil being worn away and the soil being left bare. The causes of soil erosion come into three main categories: natural (e.g. slope of ground), animal (e.g. overgrazing) and human (e.g. deforestation).

A question that could be posed is: ‘What physical factors caused the soil erosion on this tree? Is it the rain falling down the bank or the river flooding up?’

To investigate this question I would measure the depth of the river, measure the amount of rainfall using a measuring cylinder and observe the drainage. I would try to find out how much soil is being eroded by measuring the gap between the bottom of the root and the top of the soil, measuring the same part of the root each time. I would do this once a month for a year and make a chart with my results from which I can draw a conclusion using this information. I would also be able to see which months make the soil erode more and if there is a link between the amount of rainfall and the amount of soil being eroded.

Judging panel comments: There is some real physical geography drama captured in this photo through the steepness of the bank, its subtle shades of colour and the exposed roots which give the impression that the whole bank is creeping towards you.

Most people probably walk by this ‘process in action’ without giving a second thought, but there is clear evidence of observation and thinking enquiry here attempting to link to the ‘bigger picture’ of geography, although the suggestions about the river doesn’t quite fit the scene as photographed. However the task is taken seriously with some useful measurement and data collection methods suggested, including a timeframe as a way of establishing the rate of soil erosion. Overall this makes for a captivating earth enquiry.

‘Our family enjoy walking and being outdoors. I had this competition in mind, so every time we went out I took my camera. I saw the tree when we were walking beside a river in Yeovil and thought it looked interesting. I took the photo and thought about how it had come to look like that, so I found out by researching soil erosion.

‘Geography is all around us if we take the time to look.’


Highly commended

14-18 – Chloe Neall

Woodbridge School, Suffolk
Enquiry question: Yosemite – Glacial or earth collapse?
Location: Yosemite, California

Description: To investigate whether Yosemite’s U-shaped valley was created by a collapse in a section of the earth’s surface rather than resulting from gradual glacial erosion, I would compare the geology at points on the valley floor with that on the cliffs running parallel. To investigate, I would firstly pinpoint three areas along Yosemite Valley floor and take ten rock samples at each point. I would note the most prominent rock type of each area and compare this to the most prominent rock type of the cliffs running parallel to each point, which I previously analysed.

As seen in my photograph, I would compare the geology at Clouds Rest (on the valley floor) to that of El Capitan (the vertical rock formation to the left of the photograph). If the valley was formed by a sudden drop in a section of the earth’s surface, the rock type on the valley floor would match that found on each parallel cliff (provided sediment deposited by the river itself is not selected for analysis).

However, if glaciation sculpted the box shaped valley, the glacier would have transported moraine from other areas of the park, causing the rock types of the valley floor not to match the rock types on parallel cliffs (but rather to match rock types in other areas of the park). When investigating the valley, it would also be useful to look out for striation (scratch marks in the Yosemite granite), cirques, arétes and truncated spurs, all suggesting previous glaciation.

Judging panel comments: A nice photo framed by the tree to give some depth and perspective to this ‘classic’ view, though a little over-exposed. The enquiry question reminds us that we should not take interpreting the origin of landscapes for granted, and cleverly suggests a simple investigation to provide evidence that might provide the more convincing explanation for two hypothesis about the formation and shaping of this valley.

‘I chose to base my investigation around the Yosemite valleys as I was fascinated by their magnitude whilst on holiday in California. The investigation has inspired me to learn more about the formation of glaciated landscapes and has broadened my knowledge of the subject.

‘I was overjoyed to have been awarded a prize. It has given me self-confidence and taught me that if I put my mind to something, I can achieve it.

‘The competition has inspired me to continue my studies of geography through to A level and also to better appreciate the natural world around me.’

11-14 – Molly Dyas

Wickersley School and Sports College
Enquiry question: What factors affect velocity as you go down the river?
Location: Rhodes, Greece

Description: Measuring slope steepness: Use ranging poles and a clinometer to calculate the steepness of a slope, and a tape measure to ensure the ranging poles are five meters apart. A steeper river means faster water flow.

Measuring velocity: Two people stand in the river next to the ranging poles so that they are five meters apart. Use a stopwatch to time how long it takes for an orange peel to flow between the two ranging poles, following the flow of the water. To improve accuracy I would do this three times and take an average.

Speed = Distance/time.

Wetted Perimeter: Stand in the river between the two ranging poles and, using a tape measure, measure the distance from the surface of the water on the left bank, following the river bed to the surface of the water on the right bank. Do this in the middle of the two ranging poles. The larger the wetted perimeter, the more friction there is meaning the water flow will be slower.

Bed load survey: Select five stones or pebbles from the wetted perimeter location and measure the size and roundness. For the size, measure the longest distance on the pebble. For the roundness, use Power’s Index to classify the stone or pebble as very angular, angular, sub-angular, sub-rounded, rounded, or very rounded. Compare your rock or pebble to pictures of the different shapes. A large rough bed load will means more friction and a slower river.

Judging panel comments: A really well composed photo that shows the features of this river channel very clearly. The suggested investigation is sound but shows no real application in order to help discover more about this particular location, e.g. the role of the big boulders in influencing the velocity and perhaps the pattern of riffles and scour pools along the channel bed. Nevertheless this is a highly commended effort.

‘I decided that (entering the competition) would be both something fun to do during the school holidays and also to help improve my geography skills in advance for my GCSE course and exams.

‘I was absolutely astounded when I found out that my entry was one of those ‘highly commended’ by the judges. I never would have thought that this could have happened to be honest!

‘The competition has definitely made me more interested in geography. After taking part and realising how much fun it is to be a part of. I would definitely encourage others to take part if it took place again!’


14-18 – Dylan Peacock

The British School of Kuwait
Enquiry question: In what conditions does moss best grow?
Location: Bamford, Rochdale, United Kingdom

Description: In order to investigate the conditions in which moss best grows, I would select a number of locations, each with different microclimates, and photograph them over a prolonged period of time (a number of months). These locations would be: An area in which moss is highly prevalent and is present in large amounts, an area in which moss is present, but not in large amounts, and an area in which either no or very little moss is present.

At each different location, I would measure and record:

  • the amount of rainfall, using a rain gauge
  • the level of humidity, using a hygrometer
  • the atmospheric temperature, using a thermometer
  • the atmospheric pressure, using a barometer
  • the average level of cloud cover – measuring in Oktas, recording the daily result at each location and, from that, creating an average result
  • the altitude of each location, using a GPS system
  • the number of hours of sunlight that each location receives, using the human eye (to observe) and a digital timer (to record)
  • the proximity of other vegetation (such as grass or plants) to the location, using both the human eye’s observation and a measuring instrument, such as a tape measure
  • the age of the location, through the use of both observation and, where possible, conducting inquiries with those who have expert knowledge of the location.

Through recording the above, one can find the conditions in which moss best grows.

Judging panel comments: The ‘ordinary’ makes this image arresting and reminds us that it is not just the spectacular or dramatic that deserves the attention in physical geography. However, the photo is a little over-exposed and a little out of focus. The location has been used to consider more general ideas and the suggested enquiry investigation is thoughtful and would yield useful data to develop understanding, except for the all-important information about the substrate – would this make a difference to distribution? Overall this makes for a highly commended effort.

‘During the time that I was entering the competition, I was staying in an urban area which was without what would be considered a large amount of strikingly beautiful or spectacular natural features. However, as a key part of geography is what can be seen in the ordinary, everyday world around us, I decided that I would take a photograph of a geographical feature that is common across the United Kingdom: moss.

‘Through taking part in the competition, I improved my investigative geographical skills by going out into the local area, searching for geographical features, observing what I could find and planning how I could learn more about what I had found.

‘I did not expect to be told that my entry had been selected by the judges. Upon finding out, my first reaction was surprise, but then a great sense of pride and happiness that comes with achieving something notable.

‘I have became more interested in geography as a result of the ‘hands-on’ nature of the competition too, for it enabled me to see, first-hand, physical geography at work.’


11-14 – Jack Woodfin

Colyton Grammar School, Colyford, Devon
Enquiry question: How quickly do springs on the Blackdown Hills respond to rainfall?
Location: Staple Hill, Blackdown Hills, Somerset

Description: This picture was taken on Staple Hill, the highest point of the Blackdown Hills in Somerset. I was facing towards the NNE overlooking the Somerset levels. At Staple Hill there are a number of springs situated along the bottom of a large landslip. I would like to find out how long it takes the rain falling on the plateau to reach one of these springs.

To do this I would choose one of the springs to record my data. When it rains, rainfall travels through the permeable soil and greensand however, when it reaches the impermeable Lower Lias clay, it can’t pass through. Consequently, the water goes to the side and emerges from the hill as a spring.

To investigate how quickly springs react to rainfall, I would record the speed of the water using a flow meter. I would first record the speed on a normal day to find out the background flow rate and then record it when there is a large storm. On this day I would record flow rate at regular intervals so I could hopefully find out how long it takes rainwater to reach the spring. I wouldn’t record my data at the start of the spring as the water isn’t deep enough. I would have to travel a few metres downstream so the flow meter could function properly.

It would be interesting to see how much the flow increases against the background and how long it takes to reach its maximum.

Judging panel comments: This is an interesting, insightful and clearly described enquiry that essentially outlines the data required to create a simple hydrograph, albeit using velocity data rather than the more standard measure of volume. It demonstrates a good understanding of the local geology and its effect on subsurface drainage (although assumes the path of throughflow follows a direct line).

The photograph gives some impression of the landscape (which is well framed by the tree) and imminent rain but doesn’t quite capture the sense of water flowing through or issuing from the ground. Overall this image and the enquiry that stems from it shows there is more to physical geography than just what meets the eye and it merits a highly commended award.

‘There is a wooden cross section model at Staple Hill on the Blackdown hills which explains the geology of the area and this provided the inspiration for my enquiry. The model showed a spring line and the different layers of permeable and impermeable rocks so I based my entry around this.

‘The competition has raised my awareness about the geology in my local area. Since researching my entry I’ve also learned about flow meters and storm hydrographs.

‘I was very excited to find out I’d been awarded highly commended in a national competition and it’s boosted my confidence and enthusiasm for the subject; it has reinforced my desire to study geography at GCSE.’

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