12 November 2009

Isle of Wight

On a friday morning some stranger parked a brand new silvery Ford Mondeo Estate in front of my house and left. So what did I do? I just placed two bags in it and took it, slightly trembling, to university. It was time to go on fieldwork! And the rental company is not allowed to park on campus, so they parked at my place. And I could drive it onto campus for loading up all the gear, something with which I was finished by the time Roland showed up. So we could go! He was wise enough to not have brought his bag, so the trip first took us to his place, where I briefly met his brother. The Dutch take over town!

Off we were. Through Southern England, which I start to appreciate, we drove to Lymington, where we took the ferry. By then the weather got bad; we could not even see the island. The Durham crew, also consisting of a sea level god with a postdoc sidekick, was already there, and we started to get messages about pouring rain and cold fingers and all sorts of interesting phenomenons. So we had another coffee in a comfortable chair...

On the island we found ourselves a shop, bought enough to keep us going through the next day, and went to the house we'd rented. Nobody there. After a while Anthony and Tasha showed up, all muddy and drippy; they had started exploring around with a local archeologist as a guide. Fortunately, the house owners showed up shortly after that, so we could get in, unload the gear, and make ourselves presentable. We would dine in a nearby inn. We had to overcome some unexpected impediments for getting there, but we made it. And enjoyed a good meal with concomitant beverages. We talked ovber the map, making plans, and even acquaintances, as I had never met Anthony before. Everybody else had previously met. Not rarely known each other for years... Next day we would start business.

We got up early, received Lucy the Plymouth student who drove in, and went into the field. Off to Lucy's marsh! It was beautiful, but unfortunately it had been disturbed. So we would not use it. Which left us with the need to explore the whole rest of the island, but first things first: one of the possible marshes was owned by the ministery of defense, so they would first give us a safety briefing. So as soon as we had set up the GPS above Lucy's benchmark we went there. The retired major who briefed us warned us against hardly anything, but showed us some very useful maps of various age. And off we were! Sticking a core in any patch of possible marsh we could find, helped by an old friend of Anthony's, who was a local palynologist. Most marshes were not at all what we were looking for...

The faces already show we were disappointed in this marsh

The Isle of Wight is quite pretty!

Another marsh that looked good but did not meet our scientific demands 

                                                 High water did not stop us from searching

                                                               Really didn't!

                                                                  I'm not joking.

We would have dinner in yet another inn nearby, preceded by having some drinks with Rob, the palynologist, and his family.

The next morning our search happily continued. And we found a marsh we liked! Time was ticking away, so we stuck with it, and set off to check its stratigraphy. All too soon we were off to do that with just the both of us; Roland and Anthony had to go home. Lucy would just retrieve the GPS from her marsh, put it in our car, give us the key back, and leave as well. So we immediately missed the extra length and weight the two gentlemen represented in the coring, but we managed, and ploughed on until it got too dark. The late afternoon was for having a drink with Rob in the inn. A good tradition! This night Tasha was going to have another drink with an old friend, so we went home and quickly started cooking. She just managed to eat half a plate of pasta before the guy came to pick her up.

The weather was not so kind on us that next day

I spent my evening sieving some samples we had taken from a core, to check if the sediments were as good as they had appeared to be. And they were. But by then I was quite tired, so I went to bed, not waiting for Tasha to come back. So far we had shared a bedroom, as at the height of the fieldwork we had 4 bedrooms and 5 people. But now it was only her and me! So I conquered Roland's bedroom, a real master's bedroom with a bathtub in it. And I slept well!

We knew we had lost lots of precious time by reconsidering our site, so we lost none more, and set to work. With necessary telephonic help from Richard, our technician in Plymouth, I set up the surveying gear, and we
went to collect surface samples. And we sampled like lightning! When it got dark we really could look back on a good field day. We manged to get everything back to the car over the pitch dark path, and went home, via a shop that replenished our stocks. More pasta awaited us. And then nothing. We knew we would have to subsample our surface samples, but we were too tired, and went to bed early.

We sampled everywhere; also in not very evident places

The last full field day was for coring! That was easier said then done. We really missed the men. The Plymouth corer has a long handle, something which is mainly practical if you're Roland-sized, but we aren't. We also missed the sheer bulk to jam that thing right into the tough Eocene stuff all our sediment of interest was laying on top of, and which may have helped prevent the softer stuff above it from sliding out of the core gouge. So the sediments kept falling out, stretching, not coming out at all, and engaging in all sorts of such annoying behaviour. If we managed to get a full section we generally had not managed to drill all the way down. Frustrating! And we would not get another day.

Beside the time pressure it was quite an excellent fieldwork. It was a beautiful marsh, with picturesque autumn colours and impressive cloudy skies. Most of the time the weather was quite nice as well. Tasha is a pleasure to work with. Richard was always willing to help me out if I got myself into trouble with the gear. Roland and Anthony were regularly texting advice and encouragements. Rob dropped by almost every day, doping things such as helping us identifying the flora, or just having a chat and bring us apples from his own garden. It would have been so good to have had more time!

We did the best we could, and again packed our stuff in alost total darkness. This time we set off to the inn, where we would have dinner, which we thought we had deserved. Of course we found Rob there with his family. He had turned into our patron saint of sorts. And after dinner the day was again quite over. Another night f deep sleep! The next day we would use for subsampling. I had to have the ferry by 1 o'clock, so the day was short...

Goodbye to the Isle of Wight!

And subsample we did. In the beginning slightly distracted (me at least) by a charming neighbouring cat who gave off the impression that giving him lots of cuddles was a matter of life and death, but he was soon retrieved by his owner. Beside that Tasha and I were a well-oiled war machine again. She labelled the sample tubes, I put the subsamples in, then she packed the car wile I did synchronous sampling and lunch making (less disturbing than it seems), then Tasha vacuumcleaned the place, and then itwas time to leave! We had borrowed all kinds of things from Rob, so we set off to his home to give them back, and have ourselves a quick coffee. He had one of these dream houses that Allard would describe as a Turkish Bazar... with a cute cat as a finishing touch. But I had to leave. We'll have to come back to retrieve more material, and I do hope we'll meet Rob again then!

In beautiful weather I drove to the ferry. Now I had to get home, on my own, without satnav, in unknown terrain. It was bound to go wrong. And itdid, to a certain extent. I knew I would not likely manage to read the printed out instructions on time, in the very urban area on the other side of the ferry. And I didn't. So I ended up on a road that did go west, but unfortunately was littered with traffic lights and other speed-limiting accessories. It took me ages to get to Poole. But there I got onto an acceptably fast road, and would not levae such roads untill reaching university. The first hours that was fun! Beautiful countryside. The acquired taste is kicking in.

Further on it got dark. And became rush hour. And theweather turned to torrential rain. This meant the driving was not as fun anymore, but luckily the road signs easily guide you home. And my brand new car had window wipers that could go extra fast! A very useful gadget. At a slow rush hour traffic light in Plymouth I read that Roland wanted me to just park on the campus, and go to the restaurant where he would eat with his guest. For the earth scientists: Eelco Rohling was in town. That saved me having to unload all the stuff in the crappy weather, and bring the car back to the rental company! Lovely!

When I reached university at 6 Roland and Eelco were still in the pub, so I got a well-deserved pint before we set off to the restaurant. So no rest for the wicked. Right from the mud into networking! But it actually was a great way of ending a fieldwork. And after dinner I walked home quite satisfied. And we'll be back.


Hanneke said...

I see sloe berries!! Did you pick any? You can make sloe gin out of them, I prepared a bottle which should be ready by Christmas :) We tried really hard to find some more berries while in England but couldn't find any... I was in Lymington twice last week, guess I should have taken the ferry ;)
You're sure busy with fieldwork, sounds like fun!

Margot said...

So that's what they were! I had no clue. For all I knew they could have been massively poisonous. So no I didn't pick any... but they were ubiquitous! So next time you're in the vicinity in sloe berry season...

And yes it's fun indeed! I figured it would be enjoyable to be a swamp scientist...