24 April 2012

Norfolk fieldwork - the real thing

The men arrived two minutes late. And they spent the evening making camping jokes. We were on fieldwork in Norfolk; Tasha and I had prepared the way, braving the elements on the local camping, and now the men came in to be there when the actual work would be done. I drove them to the massive cottage we had rented for the week…

Quite a change from the recce: our accomodation "Rustic Lodge"

The inside: plenty of space for office work and a double micropal lab!

Tasha and I had sent the men a powerpoint presentation with the update, with the message to print and bring it. Rooting through that kept them busy for a while. And then it was time for a vegetable chili.

We had made a plan. We would go back to where Tasha and I had found the Nar Valley Clay, so they could get a feel for it too. So we went back, this time with both coring kits. Tasha and I had managed to get 3 metres down; now, with more people and more kit, we could push further. And we did. We cored more clay, and more, and more, and then it got hard. We hit something. Bedrock? A piece of flint? No; it turned out to be wood, in peat. The freshwater beds! Exactly what we needed! This was turning out well. We couldn’t penetrate into that woody peat, but we knew it was there. Good! And we tried again a few tens of metres away; we still couldn’t penetrate it there, but it was much closer to surface. We tried yet again somewhere hundreds of metres away, but that only yielded sand. And in the evening I could put my microscope into use. Lots and lots of forams! I won’t have to be bored the coming years. Not that that was my concern…

The men pulling their weight

Forams! In abundance!

The next three days we spent coring near an abandoned railroad, in a currently unused part of a quarry, and in some old pit that had once probably been used once for extracting sand. Now the proper kit came out… Tasha and Antony conjured the percussive drill out of their big SUV. It’s basically a jackhammer with an adapter so it fits on a coring rod instead of a big industrial size chisel. Pretty cool stuff! A veritable testosterone plaything. Makes your moustache curl. It gets big rods quite deep into the ground. And it has a thingamabob with big muscle-powered levers to get the whole thing back out of the ground again. And generally these levers do their work, but sometimes the ground sucks so much (literally!) that you have to put you full weight on them, two people on each side, and then rock up and down. Extremely tiresome, though occasionally hilarious! But luckily, that’s only a small part of the time.

Starting the engine of the percussive corer; it didn't always look that spectacular and polluting!

The drilling team in action

Levering the barrel out of the borehole

This is how I like doing that: this way one does not need much height! Pic by Roland

The quarry was a nice experience; I had phoned and mailed the company in advance to ask permission. They were keen to give it! Nice people. Monday morning 9AM we showed up in their office, and they were quite happy to talk with us, drive us around the farthest reaches of the quarry, talk us through the entire geography, and give us a key, copies of bore logs from inside the quarry, and a business card for in case some uninformed quarry workers questioned our presence. Excellent!

The quarry workers had saved an unfortunately positioned tree... for now

Processing a core in the quarry.

The only disadvantage was that the bits of the quarry they were done with were then used as a landfill. And we were working downwind from it. It also attracted thousands of sea gulls, of which we were afraid they would defecate on our heads. But they luckily didn’t.

We had a routine going; Antony worked the drill, as you need to be tall, strong and healthy to do that, and he's the only one of us who qualifies. Tasha would help him, as they are quite a team. Roland and I came in for ferrying stuff around, extracting the rod from the borehole, and logging and packing the sediments. We became a well-oiled war machine.

One has to sometimes be careful with where one sticks an auger down

And after work we sometimes were just tired and hungry, as we occasionally cored on until 7pm. Then we would just go home, cook, have a shower, check some samples and go to bed. Sometimes we were out of the field earlier; twice we made it to the pub for a snifter! It was a good fieldwork on all days, but these were extra nice. And the level of cooking was impressive. And the company evidently impeccable. On two days we were with five; Roland had flagged the student down that would later do the pollen analysis on our sediments. This student, Rachel, turned out to be a splendid addition to the already quite marvellous team. Norfolk might not be the most spectacular place one could imagine, but all together it worked quite well for us. The sediments, the foraminifera, and the people made the landscape irrelevant.

Looking out over the quarry. Pic by Roland

Later in the week the weather deteriorated, but the sediments and their microfossils remained delightful. And there's always more one wants to do, but we had to leave. Time was up. The Durham tough guys would stay all the way until the end; the Plymouth lot left half a day earlier because of family reasons. But altogether we collected an impressive number of cores, and lots of samples in bags. We’ll have lots of work. And Norfolk is only 7 hours driving away; we can always come back if, after analysis of what we brought back, we think we've missed the icing on the cake!

Pic by Roland

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