10 July 2010

INQUA field meeting

If people ask me what I do for a living I might respond I am a micropalaeontologist. Perhaps a geologist. Or a climate scientist, or palaeoclimatologist. In a way, it’s all true. But right now, before anything else I think I assume a geographer. It feels strange, though; when I was doing my master’s you could do either geology or geography, and I most certainly did geology, and wherever you have people split in two there was rivalry. Geography was for losers! But now I am immersed in it.

My job so far was focussed on fieldwork (getting the material) and lab work (processing the material); the former is very geographical, but I got used to it quickly, and the latter basically is micropalaeontology, which is something I am fairly at home in. And it’s a lot of work to count all these samples, so even though I have almost been a year on the job, I had hardly gotten beyond that point. And then the INQUA field meeting appeared on the horizon.

I finished my Isle of Wight counts, and then had my hands free for some data processing. And things came together! Before I knew it I had a presentation that showed clearly where we were regarding the Iceland field site: the results were promising, and we were only halfway along the road to completion. This will be interesting work! And at the same time, Tasha was doing the same with the Isle of Wight, and her results were fascinating as well. So all excited we went to Arundel, of all places, to present our first results. As it was a field meeting, we would get 1.5 days of field excursions with that.

Together with Roland I had trains take me through southern England to this village near Brighton. The trip was uneventful, the weather was pleasant, the hotel the conference would be was easily found, and once inside we were greeted by Rob and Tasha, who had arrived even earlier, and Phill, the main organiser. It was all working out really well! It was a bit strange to find out I was registered as Dr. Will Sahir, but there’s worse things in life.

Arundel features a pretty castle

We just went for a stroll, and then this appeared! A real light blue Subaru 1800! Oh! It even had a wheel barrow inside...

My next worry was that I was gagging for a pint, but the ice breaker would only start at 18.30, which was so late it made me skittish but too early to go for a pint elsewhere. I tried to behave myself until the bar opened, and I could leisurely make my acquaintance with all the other participants. Only having been a geographer for less than a year left me fairly unconnected, but this was the moment to do something about it. Apart from the Plymouth delegation and Tasha I knew nobody, but this was my chance to do something about that. And the circumstances were excellent: it was a very small conference, and there were geographical heroes such as Cecile Baeteman and Michael Tooley; the latter had been the supervisor of both sea level gods Durham now holds, with Antony being one of them. The former, by the way, being Flemish was the only non-UK and non-Dutch participant; for some reason or another, the rest of Europe can’t be bothered to show up. She may be large in scientific stature, but physically she’s smaller then me; it was funny to hear how it was her that taught Roland, who’s more than a head taller, how you core in difficult material...

The lobby of our classy hotel. Notice the classy scholar.

The next day we had presentations. We gathered in another classy room in the hotel, adorned with chandeliers, paintings of nobility, and well-draped curtains. There we heard hours’ worth of purely geographical talks. I’m not used to the small scales, either in time or space! But this was my chance to do something about it. After the lunch break it was my turn to talk, so I kept an eye on Roland, who was to chair this session. He doodled around a bit, and I was surprised at his uncharacteristic lack of punctuality, until he finally asked “who’s chairing this session? Oh, me? Ah! We’re running late.” I rushed right through my presentation; a good reminder that I should force myself to take it easy. On the next conference I should have not give in to that old weakness. But then Tasha presented her results, and then it was pub time.

The conference heroes Michael and David in action, overlooked by the Duke of Norfolk (I think)

We only had ~20 participants, so that fits easily into a pub, and we enjoyed two of these. It became clear that the group was very colourful. Geographers are nutters. After dinner that became even more clear; everybody gathered in the lobby to listen to the wild stories of comic duo Michael Tooley and David Smith, who had a shared history that went back to 1965, and there seemed to not have been a single dull moment in all these years.

The next morning I was enjoying my egg in the breakfast room when a Dutch male appeared in an orange shirt. Oh no. In the course of time three more Dutch males walked in. Is there a need to mention their colour of preference? One cannot escape the World Cup by hiding in science. And chaperoned by these orange-fevered nutters we went into the field. Southern England contains fossil beaches from several past interglacials, and a modern beach as well, and there is much to see. We went back hundreds of thousands of years, poking in beach gravels tens of kilometres inland, but also looked at modern coastal issues with moving sand bars, overwashed spits, and rich people living right behind eroding beaches. More geography than you can shake a stick at! And not only that, of course; lots of silliness going on: at some point I saw David’s venerable white head move at very high speed perpendicular to the direction the excursion was going in; smug as anything he and Tasha later emerged with ice cream...

A swing at an excursion point is asking for trouble. Michael couldn't resist. "You can't take him anywhere!" was David's comment...

All that geography did not pass without consuming time, and by the time we walked from a spit in a salt marsh towards the pub we needed that. And after the pub there was a shower and then the conference dinner. That is, for the more sophisticated of us. Not for the hooligans. They had managed to have the crew serve them in the pub of the hotel, instead of in the dining room. So we enjoyed a somewhat underpopulated but distinguished dinner, with an orange-stained interruption; during halftime Roland showed up to give a speech and thank the organisers. And then buggered off again. And during the usual after-dinner-tall stories by Michael and David they all happily emerged again. Bless them.

The match has just started a minute or so ago, so here they still look calm...

Wednesday we would prance around along the shore for a bit before all would scurry off in all sorts of directions. We saw all sorts of trial-and-error beach defences; you can have a row of breakwaters for only 4 million pounds! And what that then means to those living downstream is a completely different matter. But we all had trains, planes and ferries to catch, so this field day was soon over, and then only kissing everybody goodbye and embarking on the train trip back was left to us. With enough to contemplate! I’d never done such a small conference, nor such a comfortable one; the two are probably related. And such a small conference allows getting to know the participants well. And I never saw so much geography in conference room and in the field since 1994 or 1995...

The sea makes art of anthropogenic defenses!

The defenses run from the right to this structure. Notice the beach on the left is meters lower!


The Boss said...

For those that are interested (which does not include the blogger), the match result was Holland 3 Uruguay 2. We're in the final!!! Yippee!!!!!

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