At the end of 2017, I spent two months on a scientific expedition into the Southern Ocean to look at Cretaceous climate and tectonics with the International Ocean Discovery Program and ECORD. It was an incredible experience with many stories still to tell. Here I produced a video with filming and editing work by Cristiane Delfina for BBC Future about what life is like onboard a world at sea. Watch the video at the link below. You can check out where the boat is now and what scientific secrets it is uncovering here.
An article for the BBC's Blue Planet II season about islands and their importance for the biodiversity of this planet. I've visited a lot of islands around the world and I am always amazed at how each one is totally different even to those right next door. They are all unique and haven's for life both underwater and on land. The future is uncertain for Earth's incredible island worlds...
Latest article for BBC Travel about celebrating Eid in a village in Indonesia. Last summer I was doing fieldwork in the jungle in a remote part of Northern Buton, an island in Indonesia and we were invited by the locals to celebrate Eid with them - the festival that breaks the fast at the end of Ramadam. It was an awesome and humbling experience that I will ever forget - read about it here.
It's been 3 years since I was in the Yukon doing fieldwork, but it was such an amazing experience exploring the wilderness of the Yukon by helicopter and on foot that I had to write about it for BBC Travel. The trip was part of my research when I was a geologist at Harvard University and we were looking for rocks that nobody has ever seen before on mountains that don't even have names as so few people have ever been there. The rocks record a time when the entire planet was covered in ice - known as the Snowball Earth and we wanted to find out how and why that happened and whether life survived.
After visiting the Preseli Hills in Wales I became fascinated by the mystery of Stonehenge's rocks. Half of them come from these hills in Wales over 260 km away. You can see it when you are there, they look exactly like the rocks that make up parts of Stonehenge, but it baffles the mind as to how they got to the site at Stonehenge. I started to read more about this prehistoric mystery and talking to scientists and I learnt about how much we do and don't know about this monument so I wrote about it for BBC Travel. I am still amazed at Stonehenge and what it may represent, I think there is still a lot that we don't know about this place but scientists are working hard to understand what prehistoric man was up to all those years ago.
I was interviewed recently by Firepot Food about my recent trip to the wonderful volcanic island of Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean. Firepot are a great company making delicious dehydrated expedition meals straight from their farm kitchen in Dorset with local ingredients and no additives. I highly recommend their meals for your expeditions if you want your stomach to feel normal after weeks of eating food from a bag!
FIREPOT in the Field: Réunion
Olivia Lee talks to geologist, climber and photojournalist, Vivien Cumming
Réunion is a French island just off the coast of Madagascar, so small it could fit inside the county of Dorset. The subtropical rainforest is home to some of the most diverse wildlife in the world. Mountains drop away into the ocean, clouds cling to sharp peaks and volcanoes bubble with lava and steam. Dr Vivien Cumming from Exeter has just spent three weeks exploring this dense wilderness, eating FIREPOT when she went remote.
I’m a geologist by training, so Réunion fascinates me. It grew out of the ocean some three million years ago and life just took hold, evolving into the diverse island we see today. It’s a melting pot of different cultures, races and religions — but there’s no conflict. It’s curious how such an inclusive society grew out of such isolation.
Neighbouring Madagascar is regularly cited as a place that has undergone extensive ecological rape over the last century. How is Réunion faring?
So much is still so wild. There is some deforestation for farmland, but this has lessened since 40 per cent of the island made the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2010. Parts are like a real-life Jurassic Park — few people, few settlements, just rainforest for miles and miles.
What was your greatest accomplishment on this expedition?
Réunion was about climbing for me — getting up high and seeing the rainforest from a different perspective — so reaching the highest point on the island was a big achievement. It was a gruelling, almost vertical ascent up to 3,690m, but I’d do it again. We could see the whole island stretched out before us, with its dense forest, jagged peaks, and the Indian Ocean beyond.
And your biggest frustration?
My initial plan was to go to Réunion in February, but everyone had warned me against it because of the wet weather. Instead I went in March, only to be greeted by a cyclone, and a volcano that had stopped erupting three days before my arrival. I wish I’d seen it blow.
If you could go back to one place on the island, where would it be?
Without question, the rim of Piton de la Fournaise. There’s nothing like staring into the crater of one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
Thanks to Huw James and Joby Newson of Anturus for the camera work, Dan John and Adam Proctor of the BBC for the edit, the rest of the Anturus team and anyone else involved in the edit and big thanks to volcanologist Halldor Geirsson of the University of Iceland for telling us all about the science.
My photo of the milky way over the desert in Namibia was featured recently as number 1 in BBC Travel's '50 reasons to love the world'. My reason - 'Because lying under a tree in the Namibian desert mesmerised by the Milky Way above me, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky we are to be able to call a planet that gives us such an incredible variety of life our home.'
Share your reasons with the #LoveTheWorld
In the February issue of BBC Earth Magazine read my feature about the Bajau sea gypsies - the spearfishing ocean nomads of Indonesia, struggling to cope with dwindling fish stocks and having to settle in one place. Really happy with the way this article turned out, the pictures look awesome so grab yourselves a copy while its not too late :)
In June and July 2016 I was exploring remote jungle regions of the island of Buton, just off Sulawesi in Indonesia. Read about these islands and their unusual wildlife here...