24 May 2017

New reference collection

Nothing shows students what forams look like like forams. You can have pictures or pen drawings but the best thing is an example. During the June field trip we make the students identify a hundred intertidal and shallow subtidal foraminifera; it tends to be the first time they see the critters. We used to have a rather nice reference collection to take with us, so we could show the students what to expect. It also helped if they confused two species that look quite similar in a line drawing, but don't in real life. Very useful! But it moved with James.

I decided to make a new one. I had noticed we still had the forams the students had picked the year before; I could harvest these for that purpose. So when the marking was mostly done I went back to the lab. I hadn't seen forams for a while! It was nice to re-acquaint myself. And the more rarely encountered forams I had to forget about; I figured the original reference collection was based on quite a number of years of the field trip. But I have the most common types! And of the more abundant forams I made sure to make three slides each, so three students can look at that species at the same time. Of some species I only managed one or two. And if the students find more of the rarer species I can make a few more slides there and then. I don't know if this exercise will be kept going in the long run, but well, a reference collection is a joy forever. Might even take it with me if I have to go!

 Work in progress

What I'll make do with during the field trip (there are forams in there, honest)

23 May 2017

Small new mine

New for us, that is. We drive very, very often through Nant Ffrancon on our way to some underground venue or other. I drive through it for other reasons too. And pretty much as soon as you drive into it from the coastal side, you see a small mine on your right. You see some little holes in the hillside, and some modest spoil heaps. I had never been there. Neither had David. It turned out that Phil had; many years ago, with his then rather young son. They hadn't explored the entire place; that wouldn't be a good idea with a child. But now we would have a look! We chose this place this week as Phil could come but only if the venue wasn't too far away from Anglesey, where he would have been working during the day. And this place was perfect for that!

We gathered and changed. We chose some bolts and such for rigging the place. Then we set off! We had the dynamic due Dan and Flic with us; that doesn't happen very often. We walked to the entrance and slipped inside. Soon we came to a place we recognised from Phil's pictures; a hole in the ground with rails pendant above it. You could get past the hole thanks to the rails. It was down that hole we wished to go. And there was a continuation of the level a bit higher up, but it looked impossible to get to it, and trying meant risking falling down the hole. That needed more bolting. We had to first figure out where to place the bolts for both directions we wanted to go. David had brought a drill.

Walking up; as usual, Phil is racing ahead. 

Nice views from the way up. 


While David was pondering I explored ahead; there was the bottom of a shaft or winze there. And nice blue and green dripstones! But not much else.

David tried a bolt here and there but the rock wasn't very good. Neither were the bolts we had brought. In the end we decided to forget about going up, and go down by rigging from the rails. I was the first to go down. When I was only two meters down Phil said he wasn't happy with the rigging. He wanted it differently! Oh dear. It sounded like that needed more gear, and David would have to supply it, but I imagined that would lead to shouting again. He had just sat down with a cup of tea! And I was happy with the rigging. It is situations like that that give you practice in managing people. I clearly need it, as I should have let Phil sort it out with David and not get involved. I really hate being shouted at! But I didn't handle the situation optimally, addressed David directly and yes, I got shouted at. FFS. But we re-rigged and then I could just go down. Even on this dry day, there was a lot of water coming down the hole, so it was wet business, but I got down and could start exploring. I went left and found rather deep water rather soon. I wasn't quite dressed for it! Oh dear. Then the next person appeared: Dan, who was even more badly dressed to the occasion. We decided to walk into the level, though, until the end; it was blocked (surprise, surprise) and the water came up to my belly button. Cold!

Dan looks into the level; the water keeps getting deeper

When we went back I explored the other side, while more people appeared from above. There wasn't much on the other side. I passed the time by asking Dan and Flic to light up some pictures for me, and then I could go back up. It was a slight faff to get past a beam with large rocks perched on it, but I was OK. I was a bit cold though! I had a cup of tea with Mick who had decided not to go down at all.

Dan and Flic lighting up the level and a wood tub for me

The next person up was Dan, and then Jason followed. We were all cold (because wet) so Jason and I decided to go check the next level up; there we would find the top of the winze we had seen from below. Mick had gone to have a look while we were down below. We scampered up and took some pictures. There was a continuation of the level a bit higher up (deja-vu!), but you couldn't get there without risking falling into the winze (more deja-vu), and we were too cold to fancy getting the drill and bolting the place. And the rock here might be a bit iffy too. And anyway, the chance that there would be much ahead was slim. We took some pics and went back down.

 Jason in the top adit; the winze is in front of him.

More cold people had emerged from the level. We decided to skedaddle! When we got down to the road we had to decide if we wanted to check some level that allegedly was a bit further down the road. Dan and Flic were too cold and they went back to their car; we walked on. We couldn't find it! Oh well. Back to the cars. By then the midges were also coming out; time to change and go home!

22 May 2017

Fieldtrip preparation

In June we have a 10 day residential field trip in South Wales. I have been participating pretty much since the very beginning of my time in Wales. It is a trip during which the students do something else in the Taf Estuary every day; they do temperature and conductivity measurements in the water of the tidal river, they do geophysical measurements in a field, they core in a field too, they look at sedimentology and suspended sediment, and survey many transects over the estuary. We hope it all comes together in the end. They see this estuary system from all angles and we hope they get some holistic insight!

I always take them into the salt marsh during the first low water of the day; we take surface samples, and take these back to the holiday park where we stay, and there sieve out the fine materials and let the samples dry. After lunch the students come back, and then they are asked to sieve the samples and then pick forams from the sand-sized fraction. They have to identify them and have the identifications checked. That tends to take to dinner time! And sometimes beyond. These are long days. The students only do it once. I do it every day.

The trip used to be organised by Colin, but he is now the dean, and has other things on his mind. For the past few years it has been a spiffing lady called Suzie who organised it; she is some superwoman who manages to combine a full-time academic job with winning loads of gold medals in European rafting championships. And being generally lovely. But this year she's on maternity leave. Colin is back as the module leader but as he's still the dean, I was asked to do the general organisation this year. Eek! That's a lot of work. And as far as I know,Suzie has done this trip as a student, so she's seen all the different aspects of it. I haven't. And now I'm in charge! It's intimidating. I do my best.

The best thing that happened was that this year it was compulsory for fewer students than before. And many of those who now can choose have chosen not to go! I think that's unwise; I think it's a marvellous opportunity, but then again, it is a lot easier to organise if you're not stretched to the max with regard to space in the improvised labs, spaces in the vehicles, number of staff available for supervising all the field elements, etc.

We already have had meeting about who and when and how and such. I will soon have to print the handouts. I hope the technicians check whether the drill works. I am trying to get the students to tell me how they intend to travel there and if they have medical issues I need to be aware of.

The run-up is already scary, but being there will be too. The students will have questions on whatnot, and I will be the logical person to turn to. Except that I only know my own assignment. And I will be locked up in a lab all day. We'll see how it all pans out!

20 May 2017

Pile of marking sorted

I handed all the dissertations I had to mark back! And there were fifteen, not sixteen, as one student had an extension. I expect his work soon. It was quite a job but it was interesting! The topics varied widely, and so did the approaches the students took. It went from diving pinnipeds via jellyfish infestations and plastic pollution of the ocean to the effect of sediment transport on infrastructure in the Irish Sea and the effect of freshwater influx on the Gulf Stream. Never a dull moment! And of course, some students did better than others. And there were a few things I noticed: 1) my least favourite thing in a dissertation is a messy reference list; 2) many students struggle with the difference between affect and effect; and 3) many students struggle with the correct use of apostrophes.


I picked up some interesting anecdotal knowledge too: jellyfish are such a diverse group they cover two (or three, depending on your classification) phyla: cnidaria and ctenophora (and salphidae, if you wish). Imagine that! We are in the phylum 'chordata' with fish and sea squirts (zakpijpen in Dutch; I admit I think that is funny) and birds and reptiles and who not. If a jellyfish would do taxonomy, would they lump us with such diverse other creatures? Including those from other phyla? One likes to think not.

File:Triphyllozoon inornatum (Bryozoan) and Polycarpa aurata (Sea quirt).jpg
A sea squirt. Pic by Nhobgood. 

A northern elephant seal was recorded to dive to 1529m depth. Impressive! (Wikipedia mentions a southern elephant seal diving to 2238m; blimey! But that number does not seem to come from a peer-reviewed source) And weddell seals contract their spleen while diving, so the oxygenated blood in it becomes available to the rest of the body. This way they can dive deeper than they otherwise could.

That sort of stuff is well worth the pain of a literature list that is not in alphabetical order, is littered with non-peer-reviewed sources, or which contains only incomplete references!

And while I was at it anyway, I finished marking the Climate and Climate Change exam. It was done rather well! I would have liked to see it be done even better, of course, but this was OK. My new questions, as expected, weren't popular; the students have access to old exam papers, and clearly use them for revising, and new questions aren't in there so they don't revise on them. But maybe next year they'll be more popular.

Having handed these exams back means I have my hands free now for the upcoming field trip!

19 May 2017

Checking an abscure traverse

When I had been scampering around in our usual mine with the Yorkshire people, I had come across a chamber I had never been in. It had an atrocious ceiling. And there was one passage leading from it in the middle, and another passage at the far end. The one in the middle was pristine and lead to a solid-looking traverse I didn't want to do on my own; the level at the end was absolutely horrendous. I wanted to one day go back and check them. And the weather forecast for the weekend was terrible so I suggested we give it a go. I found David and Edwyn able and willing to come along; Phil and Mick were happy to go for a stroll to the entrance. David had suggested we visit some more remote recesses of the mine while we were at it anyway; that sounded cool.

We gathered at the Lakeside Cafe. The weather forecast had improved massively! It was not such a good day for a trip like this after all, be we were committed now. We had breakfast and parked somewhere, and changed. We had to carry a lot of stuff; two ropes and drilling/bolting kit. So be it!

We went to the entrance, said goodbye to Mick and Phil (and Millie), and went in. We went down to the traverse. I though David would want to bolt it but he wasn't too bothered; he thought a safety line of poyprop would be enough. Eh, OK! Works for me. We crossed, and found another chamber. It was the last one in the row. Oh well! Now we know. We also had a look in the horrendous level; as expected, that was collapsed in both directions. Time to go back and head higher up into the mine.

The traverse

 David and Edwyn admiring det boxes in the level behind the traverse

A view of the horrendous level

None of us had been in these regions, but David had printed relevant maps, and we had received some written instructions from Simon. We started making our way up! We went past our old friend the rock drill. It was looking good! And after the drill it started to become unfamiliar. The map helped. We found our way along. It felt really alien and remote there! Quite nice, as we spend so much time in this place, it's good to see it still holds many secrets for us.

We got close to the goal of our trip; a specific bridge. Near it we found a passage from which you could look a far way down; beneath us we saw the rock drill again, looking like a dinky toy! Cool! And then we got to the actual bridge. A beauty!

The bridge

The way on was along a traverse. I started off on it. Soon I wasn't too keen on it; the rock was featureless and the rope was slack. I made it along that bit, though. More difficult bits followed. That I was carrying a big bag with a 50m rope in it wasn't helping! When I came to the last stretch I struggled. You pretty much had to pull yourself up vertically without footholds! And with the heavy bag. I decided to use my hand jammer as an aid. And it got me there!

After me David came along, also with a heavy bag. He also struggled but made it. Then came Edwyn; his bag was light, and even he struggled. And he's Edwyn! I clearly hadn't done so bad. When Edwyn was across I started on the next traverse; that one was quite easy.

We then came to a chamber from which th eobvious way was down, but none of us liked the look of the rigging that was in place. After some sandwich-eating and comfort breaks we had to go and face our dislike. David went first; he went down the fixed rope to where oen could rig a pull-through. We thought it would be a very long pitch; maybe we had to tie both our ropes together. If so, we wouldn't be able to pull them through. We would have to come back one day and retrieve the ropes! But we had to get down first. David rigged the pull-through and tried to put himself onto the rope. The location of the anchor and the configuration of the fixed rope were awful! David struggled and it was scary to see. In the end he finally put his full weight on his stop. Then he slowly vanished. The good news was that one rope was enough. More than enough!

By this time I was cold, so I asked Edwyn if it was OK if I went next. I knew I would warm up again during the difficult getting yourself into the rope! And I was right. I managed to first end up dangling in mid-air from my stop, a cowstail and my hand jammer. But how to get the latter two off? You have to get the tension off these things before you can do that! Not easy if you're dangling in free air. You normally have attachement points for the cowstails, which are only safety measures, a bit lower down. That meakes it easier to have your weight on the stop and not on anything else. Oh well! With a lot of grunting I managed in the end to sort myself out and release all that needed releasing. Now I had to tidy up a bit; I had things getting in the way of my stop left, right and centre. I got them all hanging down and then I was supposed to be off. I wasn't.

It was David's rope; it is thick and stiff. And I was on a stop; they are not adjustable. If I pushed the handle with all my might I sometimes dropped at a very slow pace. Sometimes I didn't drop at all. I took the weight of the rope below me off my stop by hoisting up a loop of rope and clenching it between my knees; that barely helped. I tried force-feeding the stop and it barely helped. It is very frustrating to be in mid-air and not being able to come down the rope! Very, very slowly I came closer to the ground, moaning and sweating and swearing.

When I came to the point where you touch rock (but not yet ground) I decided I had enough. I put my ascenders on, got my figure of eight out of my bag, and threaded the rope through that. As these don't have a stop function it's a bit of a faff to get your weight off your ascenders when you're ready to lower yourself into them. I managed though! And then I was down in seconds. I really don't like these pitches that are more work going down than up.

Then it was Edwyn's turn; he struggled too, but got to us in the end too. We tidied up the ropes and went on; there was a next pitch down a slab. I did that on a figure of eight too! From there we weren't sure where to go; disconcertingly, the level went dead. Edwyn and David hadn't seen another way but I had noticed a squeeze into a chamber; that was the only other option. And it worked! David recognised it. It was the chamber between the one we had expected to come down into, and the one in which we had gone up. We were back!

We walked the rather well-known route back to lake level and came out in nice weather. It had got rather late but we were satisfied! We walked back to the cars and said goodbye to Edwyn. David and I ended by having a cup of tea at Mick's before going home. From there the message went out we were safe. People were keeping an eye on their phones in anticipation! We could reassure them.

By then the whole traverse, with which all had started, had been as good as forgotten! And if we ever want to do that pitch again we will want to do it only after re-rigging it a bit... And as far as I'm concerned: not on David's rope!

18 May 2017

Run the other way from the lighthouse

Last week I had parked near a lighthouse, and then run southeast from there. This week I went back to run the other way. This time it was beautiful weather all the way! I ran a smaller distance as by the time I reached Amlwch I didn't feel like running all the way through it to come out on the other side; I just turned around and went back. Midway I added an extra bit by running another path going inland, and back. Altogether I had run 70 minutes. Nice!



16 May 2017

Moonshining on a Thursday Night

Last week we hadn't been in the dig. And this week we may not get there either! Miles had injured himself again, and with too many arm injuries one might not want to a) go down a pitch (and back up) and b) do the sort of work we do in that dig. You can't really stop Miles lugging rocks around after you've blown something up. Might not be a good idea!

Circumstances made that easy; firstly, he had stuff to do in the manager's office; secondly, he had some unfinished business on the new route, at the level where you come in; and thirdly, he had to be out early.

When I got to the parking lot Miles was already up. I walked up, regretting my warm furry suit. I found Miles in the manager's office; it was looking better than last time! Especially the ceiling was looking smart. The windows were also coming along.

Miles had some extra big explosives for making a passage that forms part of his new route wider; the holes had already been drilled. We walked in; it was bigger already than it had been the week before! And a lot of loose rubble had been cleare dout. It looked really tidy. But now it was time to make it even bigger, and in the process, make it less tidy. That was more faff; Miles did have resin but there was no resin gun to be seen. We found one at the first zip line of the new route. There was a lot of kit there! We also took a pump, as the drill holes had filled with water.

When we got back up we set to trying to pump out the drill holes, and then place the charges and fill the rest of the hole up with resin, before they would re-fill again. We also rigged the place up. We had a brand new blast wire; it was a bit of faff to strip it to such extent it could be used. It was also rather short! Oh dear. These were big charges. Five of them. We just managed to get the end of the wire around a corner. Then I thought of the earmuffs we had seen at the zip line, but not brought up with us. I never think quickly enough! But at least I had earplugs in my suit. I had had these for months, but this was the first time I thought of them in time. Miles didn't want any; he would just use his fingers.

We drank coffee and tea while the resin set. We needed to be sure it was properly set with the big and wet drill holes! We blasted; I was happy with my earplugs. We inspected the damage but then it was already time to go out. The passage had been so tidy; now it wasn't anymore!

For the first time that year we came out in daylight. It was a lovely evening! After Miles had dropped me off at the parking lot and I had changed back into my civilian kit I stood there for a while; it was such a lovely evening! And it wasn't very late. It was a pity to go, but I was not dressed for another small hike and I knew that by the time I would be home, it wouldn't be quite that early. So I left. Next week back in the dig? It is waiting for us!