27 September 2012

Up the ladder

Bring a carpenter who moves like a panther up a ladder. And all is well!

The last time I was in Bedford Consols I had clambered up a chute. From that chute one could clamber up another. That one was hard to get out of, so that time I didn't; there were people waiting and nobody seemed keen. But from that chute you could see a ladder. And that ladder talked to me. I wanted to go up!

The picture I took that previous time, with the enticing ladder

When the same venue was on the list this week I figured this was a Lionel-and-Margot adventure in the making. So I texted Lionel, suggesting we'd go there, and if we should perhaps bring a pole of sorts, to make the clambering out of chutes somewhat easier/safer. No response.

Then I mailed. No response.

Then I phoned him. He had no recollection of the whole place! But he was willing to have his friend Finbar bring a pole.

And then it was Tuesday. No Finbar, no pole, but surely a keen Dutchwoman. Hugh and I were ahead; we reached the ladderway that goes up from "ground level" first, and therefore also the chute some tens of metres behind it. I figured Lionel knew where I was heading, and went up. Hugh followed.

When Hugh was out of chute 1 I went up chute 2. Or rather; I tried. It took a while. He didn't think the whole expedition was such a good idea and went down. Instead, Lionel and Alex came up. By that time I had found my way up the second chute. Lionel didn't like the look of it; he figured he could get up, but could he get back down again? I by now was a bit jaded: we always manage, really. So why not this time.

Lionel at the top of the second chute

I went up the ladder. Carefully; it probably had been standing there, decomposing, for at least 100 years. And surely, one rung gave under my weight. Luckily I had expected something like that, and I had half my weight suspended from my arms. The top looked enticing, but a bit tricky. All that old wood!

I went back to see how Lionel was doing. He had seen some wood lying around; maybe we could wedge it in the chute, to make coming up and down easier? Piece of wood #3 did the job quite nicely, so in no time they were up as well. Time for another attempt at the ladder. I had found bits of wood that fit the gaps where the missing rungs had been! The ladder was good as new. Alex would later call me a veritable carpenter.

The hole in the platform the ladder comes up through; due to the low standpoint you can't see it, but this platform has rails

With Lionel keeping an eye on me I climbed up. The ladder lead to a wooden platform; a bit dodgy, evidently. But not uncharted, by the looks of it; I found a recent-looking candy bar wrapper... So I was careful, and had a small look around. Nearby was another ladderway! And we heard Dave's voice. Would it be the ladderway one passed at ground level? It looked different; this one was messier, with more collapses. And Dave could't see the light of our lamps, and neither could we see his. So we didn't really understand the geometry of the place, but we enjoyed this new view. It was a stope with several wooden platforms in it; one even had rails! I took a few pictures, but then we quickly came down.

A messy compilation of two pictures taken, obliquely up from where I was sitting, above the wooden platform of the previous picture. In the jumble of collapsed bits of wood the intact ladder can't be distinguished. 

At the level below the ladder we took time for another few pictures, and then we joined the rest below. And after a small scurry into the depths of the mine we headed for the exit.

Cute little ladder on an intermediate level

The people in front of us had scurried into a small side level; it had a tiny, sub-vertical stope in it! As if we can resist that. Lionel and I went up. Always fun. But then it was really time to get out and go to the pub, so that's what we did.

In the pub we had a look at the pictures I took. Not the best in the world, but pictures of a place nobody we know of in this club had been before! And Lionel, who acknowledged that one should tread carefully on such old wood, and in that context claimed I "move like a panther" (he can stay!), was glad he had, in the very end, paid attention to what I had been harassing him about. A good lesson to learn!

25 September 2012

Maritime museum

How could I not have thought of the maritime museum? Hugh loves ships! And museums. When I dragged him to Amsterdam we visited the National and van Gogh museums. And that was very nice, but this time we really had to see the Maritime.

 View from the museum back to the station

Our flight left 15.40, so we had the morning for the museum. We walked there from Central Station over all the new pedestrian bridges. I like these! And the museum lay, looking promising, with its replica Golden Age merchant ship moored right next to it.

The building itself is well worth a look. It had only re-opened last year, after a 4 year renovation period. The architects had tried to preserve the historic feel of the building, without compromising the demands of a modern and busy museum. I think they were succesful!

The courtyard had been roofed in a respectful way

We started by running out through the back as quickly as we had run in; that's where the replica ship is. Worth a visit! Its neighbour, a steam ship, unfortunately wasn't accessible to the public.

The replica VOC ship

The museum holds many exhibitions; e.g. on the Amsterdam harbour, whales, the Golden Age, maritime paintings, globes, and models of ships. I found some of it a bit tedious; would anyone really want to peruse tens and tens of globes? But I was quite fascinated by the Amsterdam harbour. Even if you live close to it, you generally don't really get involved with it. Especially as it is the Amsterdm one; seen by many as the risible little brother of the Rotterdam port.

Ships' ornamentation - including some nudity

By the time we had to leave we figured we had seen what we were interested in. So we had time for a sanwich in the rather atmospheric restaurant, and then we were off, back to the airport. It's quite some fun, being a tourist in your own country!

24 September 2012

Sea level in the news!

I'm not done yet with blogging about the Netherlands, so this comes a bit abruptly in between, but I wanted to draw attention to this: sea level in the news! On the BBC news website, to be more precise. 

It's an article that deals with the publication of sea level trends in the satellite era. It shows beautifully that sea level is rather complex, and that local sea level doesn't tell you much about the larger-scale patterns. And that slap bang on a website with such a wide reach! I think it's spiffing. Read for yourself!

21 September 2012

Trip down memory lane

Sometimes people ask me where “home” is. I never know the answer. Plymouth? No, that is where I live, but it doesn’t feel like home.  Amsterdam? Maybe. I lived there for a long time, and I was quite fond of the city. I still am, although I wouldn’t want to live there anymore. Where I am from? No, that isn’t home either. I was glad to leave. But it is a place of emotional significance, of course.

When I dragged Hugh to Amersfoort anyway, I decided I could show him where I had grown up. It’s only 10 minutes by train. And from the train station it’s only a short walk.

When we reached Nijkerk railway station I noticed the very long platform. That wasn’t there back in the days? Neither were the two-storey bicycle racks. And there was a new zebra crossing.

The old household school was gone. Now there were rather nice-looking houses. I thought I’d show Hugh where I had grown up, but all I could do was pointing out that so much was new. I’m getting old!

The old pond with the fountain was still there, as was the adjacent creek. We would sometimes float self-made boats there! And find freshwater mussels! And admire the ducklings!

The “park” (I don’t think you can really call a small field with some trees a park) was changed too. No gazebo, but a monument for the violence in Indonesia just after WWII.But the house was still there. And it looked the same, be it a bit better maintained. I lived in that house for 17 years! So something was still familiar.
I grew up in the house with the tiled roof...

But most wasn’t. I was shocked to see that the police station, opposite our house, was abandoned and boarded up. And the supermarket too! And all the shops along its perimeter! And the shops and houses beyond the police station. And the pet shop in the old windmill that stood in between was entirely gone.  What was left was just some fenced-off empty land! Dear!
The old police station

This empty space once held the pet shop

This building held our supermarket, back in the days...

We briefly walked into town. That was different too. Not in a bad way, though; the market square looked better than before. But this was not where I had grown up.

Nijkerk town square as it looks now

I was a bit confused when we walked back. But at least I could see the town was doing well – over our entire route the buildings and gardens looked very well-kempt. I think Nijkerk is doing well! Maybe those who grow up there now will look back at it a bit more favourably than I do…

Happy birthday to my mother

In March I decided there's more to life than science. In May that resulted in me visiting my mother again. That was a year after the previous time... And now it's September. And I went back! Four months between two visits is still a lot, but it's better than twelve.

I picked my mother's birthday as a good excuse to visit, and that turned out to be an excellent idea. My mother doesn't like conventions. She doesn't think having been born a certain number of years ago is much reason for celebration. But well, sometimes the rest of the world doesn't wait for one to get fired up about something, and just acts as if one is. And that happened.

I dragged Hugh with me. I figured it would be interesting for him to meet my mother; I think I have inherited the characteristics he finds most typical of me from my mother. And I wasn't quite sure how that encounter would go; he only speaks some three words of Dutch, and even though my mother understands English well, she hesitates to speak it.

It all went well. My mother spoke Dutch, and I would answer in English. Hugh would gather from what I said what my mother would have said. And in case of confusion I could translate. It was a nice gathering! Lots of coffee was drunk.

This picture was taken in September '78. I don't sit on her lap anymore! But some essential things haven't changed since. 

Later that day we sneaked a visit in to Henco and Maaike; I had never visited their house in Amersfoort! But that has now changed too. Much home-grown vegetables were eaten, much beer was consumed, and there was much rejoicing!

That Sunday was my mother's actual birthday. And she had told her neighbours she would be having a glass of wine with me and Hugh in the garden, and that everybody was welcome to join. And it turned into a veritable birthdaty party! Lots of people turned up. My mother is turning into a conventional party animal in her somewhat older age! I think it's a good thing. I had a good time!

My next destination is Helsinki. I'm enjoying this new life that allows for family visits! I should make sure to see my father and other sister too before the year is over...

19 September 2012

Science blog article out

I promised to blog about my most recent publication on my science blog. Did it! Here it is.

Gratuitous picture of Arctic sea ice, taken from a research vessel that was not at all involved with the research in the paper in question...

Can I rig it? Yes you can!

I didn't think we'd make it to this rescue practice. And I also figured we'd have difficulty leaving before the day was over. But all turned out well, and it was a very good rescue practice. I got to rig!

It started a bit improvised: I was going to be picked up in town together with another member, but that person dropped out, so now I had to bike to Plymstock instead. That's OK! It means I get to flirt with Dave's dog before we leave.

We were approaching Buckfastleigh when Dave's phone rang. It was a message from his work: two intruders had been spotted. Would Dave go and check it out? He would. So he turned the car and headed back to Plymstock.

Dave works in Moorcroft Quarry; I had never been there. So when he drove through the gate a whole new world opened up. It's a beautiful place! Big rocky holes in the ground, enormous machinery left and right, strange rusty pipelines going everywhere... but no intruders to be seen. So he reported back, and we just hit the A38 again. I wondered if we would do more than decide it had gotten too late and just turn back, but that was pessimistic.

It wasn't even that late when we turned into the parking place. And Jon, one of our coordinators, was still there. I thought he was waiting for us, but it turned out he just needed to take a phone call and was therefore still at the surface. But it did come in handy: Jon could look after Dave's car keys. So we quickly changed and went down the mine.

Near the entrance we found Rick, who was manning a heyphone. The other one was down at the bottom. When we got there I got the heyphone pushed into my hands. I had had mountains of time to familiarise myself with it in Kents Cavern, so that was fine! Then Roger revealed the plan for tonight: he would be a casualty that needed to be stretchered up the slope. And the slope is quite steep; you can get up and down without a rope without problems, but when you have to carry someone it gets hard. So the stretcher needed to be rigged from the top. And Roger figured it should be Julian and me rigging it. With Dave watching over us. I was chuffed!

Julian and our fabulous rig

As a stretcher is quite heavy we decided to use Z-rigs; feed the rope through two pulleys in order to have to use less force. And I learned to rig these on a Norwegian glacier a few years ago. But I'm crap when it comes to actually remembering how to start. When the beginning is made I know how to proceed! Luckily we had Dave who helped us getting started. He also kept an eye on details I would miss; how high do you attach your ropes? Do you make sure you don't run the risk of dropping kit down the slope? Do you keep the ropes out of your way, so you don't step on them or trip over them? 

By the time we had a beautiful rig with a hauling rope and a safety rope in Z-rigs and two fixed handlines the stretcher team was impatient, but hey, we're learning something here! Bear with us.

As Rick had vanished over the hill with heyphone and all, and the stretcher team was too far away for shouting, we needed a chap to stand midway and relay messages. But it all went well! In no time was Roger lying at our feet. We had noticed some things we would do differently next time, but altogether it had gone really well. And now I am much more confident I could rig something like that! 

Rupert takes a relaxed approach to not being able to get into the car and change

We got Roger out of the stretcher, de-rigged, and went back to the cars. Where we saw a big empty space where Jon's car had been we figured it might be a long night. No Jon, no car keys! But luckily, a quick phone call revealed he wasn't far away, and would hasten to correct this faux pas. 

It was quite late, and I still had to bike home from Dave, so I supported the suggestion of skipping the pub this time. By the time I got home I was tired, hungry, thirsty and smelly, but satisfied with how the evening had gone! 

18 September 2012

Mine of the zombie gnats

I had been in Great Rock before. But it had never before had all these dwellers. Live dwellers. Dead dwellers. And some of which I wasn't sure.

This trip to the mine was so well-attended we decided to split up in two groups. One group would do the "usual" adits, while the other one would look at some adits most of us hadn't seen before. So with only seven we set off, and soon we reached the first entrance. Gnats covering the rock in all directions! And a few very busy spiders.

There were thousands of these!

This chap (or lass) looks healthy and well-fed...

It was a nice little adit. We even found an abandoned drill. Altogether it was one of these typical, slightly leaning, purple-glittery (which is difficult to catch in a picture: here I managed a bit) Great Rock adits. When we came out we almost had to abort the rest of the mission: the chain with which the adit had been locked was nowhere to be seen. Dave had some chain in his car, but it would be tedious to walk up and down to get it. Luckily Rupert found it in the mucky water in the end; it seemed to have defied gravity quite a bit! But now we could move on to the next entrance.

Box-standard Great Rock adit: always pretty!

Here the purple of the walls contrasts nicely with the unexpected orange of the floor.

Rupert and Lionel looking for the chain

This one was rather small, but also quite pretty. And gnat-infested, like the previous one. When we came out  I noticed some funny shapes on the wall: white fluffy gnat-shaped things. What was that? I looked closer, and it looked like it were gnats that had died sitting there on the wall, and were then taken over by fungi who feasted on them, without obliterating their general shape. Or had the fungi caused their deaths, maybe? Like the fungi that create zombie ants? They were surely eerie...

Zombie gnats? 

We had time for one more. That adit I had been in before, on a training evening with DCRO. Then we had not been allowed us to go past a collapse, but hey, this time we were not in function, so we explored a bit further. Quite nice! A bit of a pity that we spotted something blue near the end of the level. Copper staining in an iron mine? No, a car, that had been thrown into the shaft... that was a bit of a disappointment.

But this evening wasn't. We even had a stream next to the car park to wash all purple glitters off again! Even though I always do that with a bit of regret: purple glitter is nice...

14 September 2012

Moved into new office

On Monday morning I tried to settle into my new, empty office. I had brought the laptop I had borrowed from university for the Kiel conference. So in a forgotten corner I improvised away, hoping my computer would be brought soon.

Late in the morning it arrived. Only the basics! I have a plethora of bells and whistles attached to my computer. Partly to make working life more comfortable: I have speakers and a digital pen. Partly to make working life less environmentally unfriendly, and to put my office to social use as well: I have a webcam and a headset. And partially to make it less accident-prone: I have three external hard-drives, as this university scandalously does not have a central backing up protocol. (Comment from one of the PU IT chaps: "that would be way too much data to store!" Help me.) And all these thing together also create the need for two USB hubs, so everything fits in. And then I also need and extension lead with 4 sockets; the hub, one of the external hard-drives, and the speakers need external power. But none of that had been brought.

The Portland Square building (where my office now is) in the evening sun

It's not as if anyone tells you such things, but the movers were not allowed to bring anything other than the stuff owned by the university. Their insurance won't cover the rest. So I had to go back to my old office and pick all that stuff up. Even the mouse mat! That's not a standard PU mat so the movers can't touch it. Sigh.

So then I had to plug everything in. Easier said than done! My desk is placed in the corner, with a hole for cables in the furthest corner. Quite some of my cables had plugs that wouldn't fit trough, so the cables had to be inserted from below. That would evidently be some crouching under the desk.

This is the kind of view the luckier people have

It was worse! The desk has vertical panes at the edges, and the hole for the cables was placed on the other side of the pane... who came up with that? So I had to lay down underneath my desk, flat on my back, squeeze my head underneath the vertical panes, and then fumble the cables through. Hardly dignified! But at least I got it done. And work could start. Not entirely; I wasn't connected to a printer yet. I still am not. But that's not so bad as long as it doesn't last too long.

The next day my stuff came, and the stuff of one of my office mates. I don't have much, so I was unpacked in no time. And I took the opportunity to improve my archiving; all my folders are now properly labelled, and folders that had too much stuff in them have had their contents distributed over two. I'm quite proud of that! Except that I had to take my shoes off and prance around on flip-flops in order to be comfortable (this building is infamous for its lack of circulation, and even on a cool September day it gets unpleasantly hot) I was settling in rather well. At least I now was situated in a lively corridor with nice people! Quite unlike the social desert I was in in the old building. The best company I had there was provided by a lady who first was on maternity leave, and only came back part-time.

My desk, and my stuff! That laptop won't stay; that was mainly borrowed for IGCP588. But it came in handy when my desktop hadn't arrived in the new building yet. 

How organised is that? 

My next move was getting my hands on some book stands, as all my books were lying down. I went to the responsible lady and she handed me some. About five minutes after I had put them to use, one of her colleagues came storming in, claiming these stands were meant for somebody else and if I would hand them back. Sigh.

One thing that I like about the new building is the bicycle parking. Or rather, that of the neighbouring building.  This being a UK university, it thinks having some "staples" around campus will do. And it does! Nobody bikes here. So "my" new building has a few staples on its southern end, and that's it. But the neighbouring building, probably because it has sporting facilities in, actually has bicycle parking space under a roof! And term hasn't started yet; so far there has been plenty of space, but we'll see what happens when the students come back. And it only has space for a handful of bikes, but as long as I can park my bike away from the elements I am quite happy. And this place is also less hidden away than the one at Kirkby Place; less peace and quiet for bicycle thieves.

My bike (foreground) comfortably dangling from the wall

Another good thing is that I used to be at the ground floor; now I'm on the 5th, so I get some exercise on the stairs. Unfortunately, the move also means a loss of that: our lunch runs have gone out of the window. This building does not seem to have showers, and we'll loose our keys to the other one. And if you share an office you can hardly hang out your smelly running kit... I might have to start running in the morning, even though the morning is far from my favourite running time.

These glossy stairs don't go all the way down. The ones I use for getting to the 5th floor are much less showy. 

So altogether I will just have to make do with what I'm given. Tomorrow my office mate moves in. And an application process for a new RA is ongoing; that may become my next office mate. We'll see how it goes!

13 September 2012


'You have good veins! You even have two we could use! And if you come here in 50 years' time, we can still choose!' Lying on a bed in the bloodbank I uttered doubt on whether I would still be eligible for blood donation in 50 years' time. The lady had a look at my birthday on the donor form, declared I was a young foal, and that as long as you are healthy and able to clamber onto one of these donation beds, you can continue donating until you're 100. I was surprised!

(Not my arm)

If you got yourself a piercing, you are not allowed to give blood for six monts, even if you can can prove it has been done in an officially approved piercing studio with the highest standards of hygiene. If you are a man having had sex with another man you are never allowed again. If you have had your yearly dental check you can't donate in the next week. They really are overly, and sometimes insultingly, cautious with whose blood they take. But frail old ladies are allowed! I was pleased to hear that.

Blood donation (not where I went)

With tropical diseases spreading, they might have to refuse more and more people who have been travelling. If that gets them into trouble, they may be inspired to ditch some of the more paranoid rules they have. Or would those in charge prefer to let people die because of shortage of blood, rather than because of contaminated blood?

There was one thing going on the last months that gave me the impression that also in the blood bank, money rules over common sense. You're donating into a bag lying on scales; when you've reached the required amount the machine gives a signal that attracts an attendant to take the needle out and send you on your way to the drinks table. In the old days, the signal was a beep and a flashing light. That left no doubt regarding which donor needed the needle to be removed. But the machines were replaced.

Arbitrary picture of such a machine from Wikipedia

The new machines only beep. And if you have a plethora of donating beds all in one room, it's practically impossible to hear which bed the sound comes from. They have to check all machines closely to figure out who's done. It's clear the people working with the equipment were not consulted on his issue! So this does not bode well for how the blood bank chooses its path into the future. Fear of claims may win over the drive to make a difference. We shall see... I hope that when I come back to donate at the respectable age of 86, the bed next to me will be occupied by some gay chap, and that when he has filled the bag, it will be clear to all attendants that it will be him who is done. But I'm not holding my breath...

12 September 2012


The problem with conferences is that networking is an important part of it. And that works best late in the evening, accompanied by a few glasses of beer. So while it takes quite an effort to listen to scientific lectures for a whole day, you are rarely in the best condition to do so. But one tries…

The venue was right next to the harbour. Do notice the probably quite accurate name of the boat in the foreground…

The Plymouth contingent participating in IGCP588, "preparing for coastal change", was lucky; we were all in the first session on sea level change. I was the last to speak. Roland had already shown my results, and their possible meaning. I was left to explain how we got to these results. That’s the most interesting part! The good thing of that was that I hadn’t spend that much time on making the presentation, and also wasn’t too excited by it; stupidly enough that lead to me finally not talking too fast. So Roland said it had been the best presentation he’d ever seen me give!

The venue: the art hall, which was owned by the university

After the sea level session there was a session on subsiding deltas. Keynote speaker was James Syvitski, who enchanted the whole room with an overview of what’s going on in the deltas of the world. They are extremely densely populated; think of Egypt! And as soon as people start living in deltas they start reining it in. And a reined in delta is a delta on the way out. Damming rivers stops the necessary sediment influx to keep the delta above sea level. Stopping channel migration has the same effect. Withdrawing water and/or oils lowers a delta further. It’s a scary tale! And more of these followed.

This clearly had not been an optimistic session. Time to cheer up: in the brewery! As this was clearly the best venue in town the organisers, who had been looking after us very well, had planned the conference dinner. And this was Germany; the dinner consisted of more meat and fish than I normally eat in a month, served with fried potatoes, and sauerkraut as the token vegetable. (But credit where credit is due: fruit and carrots were available at every coffee break!) And every table its own barrel of locally brewed beer. Blimey!

Klaus draws a tankard of beer from the barrel

Roland appreciated the food and the beer

It was a good night. I drank more than I normally drink in a week. And had a good time with the fellow congressfolk. Some were the usual suspects, of which I had seen many in Arundel two years before. New were the Antipodeans, which had showed up in large numbers. A good time was had by all. I got home at midnight!

The next day we started at 8.30. Early! The first session dealt with coastal dynamics. Spits rolled by, mangroves were eroded, lagoons were formed, and salt marshes accreted. And then it was lunchtime.

This photo may not paint an exciting picture of the conference… it’s not representative!

After lunch things got more menacing; there was a session on “land- and seascape modifying events”. In other words: storms and tsunamis. There was a talk on trying to inventorize and date tsunami deposits, in order to get a better idea of how often these events happen in a given region. There was also a talk on trying to see the difference between a storm- and a tsunami deposit through the microscope.

The last session dealt with coastal protection and impact assessment. This session contained the Germans, who now talked a bit more about the details of their Halligen project (see IGCP588 field days). It also had a policy maker; he explained things such as scientists are unlikely to think of. He mentioned for instance that if you build a house on stilts because it is situated in a flood-prone region, you should make the stilts so low that people are not tempted to insert walls between the stilts and use the ground floor as an extra room to their house…

I thought that with the conference held inside, we would have access to the expositions of the museum… by the time I found out that was not the case I had already taken this picture of a part of a modern art exhibition.

And with that rather practical session the conference had come to an end. It was time to say goodbye! But only to a certain extent; one of the Aussies, Craig Sloss, had his birthday, and he figured the way to celebrate that was (you guessed it!) by having a meaty meal and a keg of beer in the brewery. Most of the conference ended up right there…

After more drinking and less sleeping than I’m used to I almost fell asleep with my head in my plate of food. So much so I not only decided to go back to the hotel rather early; I was also so sleepy I walked away without paying. Luckily our hotel was only a stone’s throw away from the brewery, so that was quickly corrected. And then I could get to sleep…

It had only been a modest conference, with only two days of talks and less than 100 participants, but I learned a lot. I think I drank and ate more. And I met lots of lovely people! I hope to see them again at the next conference, whichever that may be!

11 September 2012

IGCP588 field days

Vamos a la playa! If you don’t like sun, sand and surf you may appreciate the scientific and engineering challenges, and the employment opportunities that brings, that the coast has to offer. There was a conference organised inKiel (Germany) on coastal change. Sea level change is a part of that, so Roland, Rob and I ventured thence with snazzy PowerPoint presentations in our bags.

It would be a two day conference with two field days before and three more after; we all decided to do one or two of the former, and skip the latter.

Roland and I arrived in Kiel an hour after Rob did, so we asked him to scout out a good place for having a meal and a beer. We arrived at our hotel, decoratively located slap bang in the middle of the red light district, around eight; we were hungry by then. Rob whisked us away to the micro-brewery only a few tens of metres away from our hotel. And we enjoyed what we found!

The first field day we would be picked up at 8AM from our hotel, to drive to the Baltic Coast. An early start! We saw the Olympic sailing harbour of 1936 and 1972, and various forms of coastal protection, and absence of coastal protection, and what could go wrong with either. We also saw beautifully exposed glacial sediments from the last Ice Age, and older (Tertiary) sediments that had been squeezed up by the glaciers. And lots more!

A decorative sailing boat seen from the Olympic Harbour

Klaus explains the local geomorphology with the aid or aerial photographs

A groyne

Here coastal protection clearly didn’t exist or didn’t work!

Some people build houses really close to sea level…

Trip participants looking at an interesting cliff face

…and the cliff face in question; notice the holes birds have made. They prefer sand to dig in. The holes allow you to find the sand layers without coming close!

Many trees had come down from this cliff. This one offers hospitality to a crow.

Klaus Schwarzer, the trip organiser, had so much to show us it was again 8PM by the time we were dropped off at the hotel again. So after a quick change of clothes we were back at the brewery. We didn’t stay long; there were many diversions in town due to road works, so Klaus had told us we would be picked up at 7.30 the next day. We had a ferry to catch!

The next morning we were ready at 7.30. We left Kiel at 8. And the ferry left at 10. We only just made it! We almost had to do the trip without our drivers, as they had to park the minibuses before embarking. The ferry trip was another hour, and on the other side we would rent bicycles to get us to our actual destinations. That meant we were already doing about 6 to 7 hours of travel that day! How much time would we have for seeing anything? But we would not be disappointed.

The ferry had taken us to Hallig Hooge, one of the so-called Halligen; remarkable islands in the German Wadden Sea. It was a small island, comprised of grazing fields, with here and there artificial mounds where people lived. Up to 50 times a year the fields would get inundated by storm surges; the mounds (terps) would remain dry. So if there was a storm warning you would bring in your cattle, and enjoy the view onto the sea from your very windows, until the water dropped again. That was the idea; in 1962 it hadn’t really worked that way, and an extra big storm surge had done a lot of damage. But all was repaired, and the island could continue its existence as a tourist destination.

The Halligen (low-lying islands with terps on them) seen from the ferry

Hallig Hooge seen from the road

Lecture on the mudflat

One finds interesting mud flat dwellers!

In the information centre they had this angry-looking fish

We saw some aspects of island life; we looked at the old freshwater supply solutions, and we walked around on the mudflats. A local student, who had lived on the island for a year, talked us through it all; it was clearly more a tourist trip than a scientific one, but I was quite charmed by the place anyway.

It all got a bit more scientific when two researchers from the University in Gรถttingen showed us their monitoring stations; the islands thank their existence to the flooding, as that brings in the sediment that allows them to keep pace with sea level rise. Both sediment accretion and sea level rise are in the order of millimetres per year. And these researchers tried to find out how you can retain as much sediment of every flood. Many of the wadden islands have dykes or revetments; stupidly enough, these may stop the flooding, but they also keep the valuable sediment out… and interesting challenge to optimise things!

Matthias Deicke explains his Sedimentation/Erosion Bar

The local sheep were more interested in other things

After coffee with more cake than we could shake a stick at we get back to the ferry port. A long trip home followed, which ended at university; the next day the official part of the conference would take place, and thus this night was reserved for the icebreaker party. There was good food, good beer, good company; all you want from a party like that. And afterwards we were brought home.

The local graveyard

Death by Cake

That is, Rob and I got off at the hotel of the numerous Antipodeans that graced the conference with their presence, and enjoyed a small afterparty. I only had one more beer; I need my sleep! So far the schedule had been rather demanding. I was home by ten. Rob was home a little later. But he did what a conference is for: networking! It’s not all about the science; it’s also about having a pint (too many) with people you might end up collaborating with. And Australians (plus added Kiwi) are reliable partners in such exploits, as we already knew, but which they would remind us of until the very end of the conference…