31 March 2013

Easter at Brentor

If you have an office to yourself, you can play music whenever you like, hang out your smelly running kit only at your own peril, and make phone calls without feeling guilty about disturbing anyone. But sharing your office comes, provided your office mates are nice, with more advantages. Having nice people around is always good, and office mates might function as some emergency helpdesk if you come across thing that don't do what you expect. And they can water your plants when you're away. And office mates are, literally, so close to you they might become very good friends. And I'm lucky with the ladies I share with. Two of them are not in very often, but one is; I've become rather attached to her. And it might even be mutual; she invited me and Hugh over for dinner. And a nice walk on the moors with the dog beforehand.

She had incidentally picked the nicest day of practically the entire spring. We drove up in the sun, drove straight past the house at the first attempt, but found it upon turning back, and were welcomed by her, her husband, and her dog, who immediately grabbed a sock out of somewhere and started to restlessly lug it around by means of appreciation. The children were elsewhere and the cat chooses to stay away from the dog. And after a cup of tea we gave in to the dog's almost unbearable anticipation, and went out.

Nicky lives right next to the moors, in a small village. When I grow up, I want to live that close to natural beauty too! But for now I'll enjoy it with a bit more effort. We walked over a hill, with the dog zig-zagging around us, darting from stick to stick, and enjoying himself immensely. And upon return we had a nice meal while the exhausted dog snored in his basket. If my next job involves office mate I hope that's as good as it is here!

Dartmoor in the evening light

The dog had dropped its stick in the deepest and muddiest puddle in the far surroundings

He looks a bit embarrassed about his state...

Dramatic evening sky with the silhouette of Brentor Church

29 March 2013

Trying to core Sussex

We had five cores from the Nar Valley. We had one core fromPeterborough. Each from their own interglacial. Is that enough for a three year project on unravelling sea level change in interglacials? No. So we went yet somewhere else. Where this time? We contemplated exotic South Carolina. But as we had reason to doubt to preservation of microfossils, which we need for our analyses, in these sediments, we decided against. Instead we headed for trusted old Sussex. We had been there before, at an INQUA field meeting. A chap called Martin Bates had showed us around in a landscape riddled with old raised beaches and the likes. He had spent decades digging and coring around in these sediments, and knew them like the back if his hand. With the aid of able co-workers he had made quite an impressive inventory of the interglacial sediments and their microfossil content. Enough to have a good idea of where we should core; not enough to answer our research question, as he had sampled at coarser resolution than we would need for our project. So we would now follow in his footsteps, and core up our own archive of interglacial sea level change. 
Our base in Sussex would be West Wittering. The four team members travelled there, as did Martin Bates himself. He kindly came over from Wales to show us around. So on a sunny Wednesday we set off. We had picked some of the sites he had worked on; some had been lost to science by buildings placed on top of them, or to withdrawn access, and some were known to not have very good microfossil preservation. So Martin lead the way. He showed us a quarry he had worked in, some farms in whose fields he had cored, and a beach with an erratic boulder in it. He talked us through who owned these places, how the sediments varied laterally, and more of such useful information. And then it was pub time. And then dinner time. 

 Martin Bates shows us what we see in the landscape

The next day we would put this information to use. We went to a field of which the farmer had given us permission to core in. We ferried all our heavy kit over the fence (or underneath), regarded with bewilderment by the resident cows, and we found the approximate location of one of Martin’s cores. Time to drill! Antony tried to start the engine, and, in an impeccable re-enactment of the fieldwork in Peterborough, snapped the starter cord. But as he had done this before, we knew just how to fix that. Until we opened the engine, and saw that the starter coil had snapped too. The sharp metal had probably severed the starter cord. That was more serious. We went back to the car to make some phone calls. 

Tasha is still smiling, in spite of the coil having snapped

There turned out to be a tool hire firm nearby. They were very helpful, but they didn’t have anything that was compatible with our, admittedly, ancient drill. But we were lucky; the company that had provided the drill in the first place had one we could borrow while they would see if they could repair the old one. And, by sheer coincidence, they were not far away. So we drove over there. The drill they had was much bigger and heavier than the old one, but also much newer. Not a bad deal! And we got the bits and bobs to make our jacking system compatible with it too. So off we went. Back into the muddy field! Where we started the new drill and hammered a barrel down without issues. And then we needed to jack it out. And the jack didn’t bite. This was not our day. We packed up. Tasha dropped us off at the house, and drove back to the firm that had given us the kit. She would find out we had indeed received a non-compatible part; we exchanged it for the proper one.  But the day was over. We finished it with a nice pub meal. 

 Roland's face illustrates rather well that the jacking kit didn't work

The next day we tried it again. We had no issues hammering the core barrel down. And then we needed to bring it back up. And that wasn’t so easy. The ground was soggy. The idea is that you jack the barrel up. How it worked out was that we jacked the jack straight into the ground. Soon it was almost a foot down. But centimetre by centimetre, the core came up. We found some wooden beams at the edge of the field, and placed them under the jack; we broke them instantly. But then we just rearranged them. To my surprise, we managed to get the core out. It wouldn’t have been the first time a core barrel would get stuck underground, and would be left there!

Roland, the kit, and the normal inhabitants of the field we would core in. 

With the new drill and the new jacking butterfly we could get started!

 This is what the drill hole looked like when we were done...

It had also started raining rather hard. And with all the kit being as muddy as it was, we all looked like mud golems when we returned from the field. We were running out of places to put our kit – the house came with a garage, but we didn’t have access to it. You sure don’t want fieldwork geographers in your clean rental house! Upon coming home, I also changed the kitchen into a field lab (as we do), but unfortunately, the microfossils we hoped to find flaunted their absence.

 What we looked like at the end of the day

The next day we made sure we first bought some very sturdy wooden beams, to place underneath the jack, before we would sink a core down anywhere. We knew of a quarry that had interesting sediments in it. We didn’t have permission to core in it, but we sure could core somewhere near. We tried the hand auger beside a path; we hit lots of gravel. We tried a bit further: we hit lots of gravel. Antony wandered away to ask the farmer on the adjacent field if we could perhaps core there. We could! But that would be something for a later day. We now went home, to discuss the Iceland paper I had been working on. The Durham crew came up with excellent suggestions. That paper is going to be rather spiffing, if nothing goes wrong along the way.

Trying our luck somewhere else

We started our Sunday early. We went back to the farm where we had obtained permission to core. Unfortunately, we wanted to do that on the far side of his field: that meant lots of lugging of very heavy equipment over quite a large distance. But we managed! And we started coring, unhindered by gravels. We cored meters deep, until we hit gravels again. We ferried our kit back using the farmer’s wheelbarrow, which he had kindly offered us, and then we were out. Off to the field lab! Where, unfortunately, I would find no microfossils whatsoever. This wasn’t our smoothest fieldwork so far. Five days, and no result yet!

The much greener field we cored in later

 It was cold! If you click this picture to see it full scale, you might just see some tiny little snowflakes on the background of the men's dark clothes

We don’t give up. We just plough on. The next day we drove to another farm, and started to drill a hole. This location surprised us with wet gravel. And that’s not good; when you withdraw the core barrel, the borehole will collapse, and you keep on coring through the same gravel layer. And with a bit of bad luck, the barrel at some point gets caught behind a large chunk of flint (that was what the gravel was at this location) and you can hardly get it out. And guess what? That happened. We applied all the strength we had to the levers of the jack. And then some. And it hardly budged. It was a slower repeat of the first coring day: even with the solid chunks of wood under the base plate, we pushed the jack slowly into the ground.  Straight through the wood, which soon lost its solidity. Pure and dogged determination got that barrel back to the surface again. And when we were packing the whole gear up, I noticed we had even managed to push small flint pebbles into the PVC of the pipes that support the jack, and that we had also bent the solid steel bottom plate. We decided to call it quits. This area was not suitable for manual coring and/or core extraction. This was a job for a professional drill rig. We would come back with one of those!

The last field: in the back garden of a well-of farmer

We pushed the system into the ground asymmetrically, which didn't help. Antony is trying to straighten things up a bit.

23 March 2013

Poldark mine

I should just have googled it. I knew the Cornish mine explorers had some storage space somewhere called Poldark, but I never imagined that to be anything more spectacular than some shed. And then, one day, came a message: if people were willing to do some maintenance work at that mysterious Poldark place. It seemed that the club could store their stuff for free, in return for some help with cleaning or painting or repair or such things. And I quite enjoy the Cornish trips, so I decided to show up and do my thing. And Poldark, whatever it was, was on the map.

I arrived at a deserted parking lot. It did have a sign"Poldark Mine", but where was everybody else? What was going on? I thought I'd call one of the guys, but there was no signal. Then I saw somebody walk there. I approached the person: it was one of us! So I was at the right spot. Dave, for it was he (the Cornish Dave; any UK caving club seems to need at least two men called Dave) welcomed me, and showed me where the few other members were working. One guy was putting a metal collar on a shaft, and another one was painting a shed. While walking around there, I realised this was a tourist mine! (Look here!) I had no idea. It was quite nice; lots of equipment still in place, and some more displayed in convenient places, and lots of information plaques and whatnot. I should have known about this place!

I was asked to go and paint stuff as well. Fine with me! They picked a wall that was dry-ish, and brought out paint in several colours, and paint brushes, and sandpaper, and a ladder, and anything else I might need. And when I was done, it was lunch time. The Poldark people provided pork sandwiches and tea! I was really warming to the place. And after lunch, I moved to the gate. I managed to paint one section of it before time ran out. But I was glad to have showed up, and to have made a contribution!

 Isn't that just one beautifully painted wall.

The first thing Dave had said when I met him was that he would show me around underground. So when I decided I was done painting (it was still a long drive home) I asked if he could do that. And he could! It was quite a pretty old mine. It had been active in the 18th Century. And he even came with a surprise: when we reached a small underground chamber, he declared "this is where I got married!" I hadn't seen that one coming.

When I left I felt bad about only having showed up one day. But it's about 3.5hrs driving to get there and back. It had been worth it though; and I hope I'll visit Poldark again! And for those who visit the Southwest: do visit it as well! And pay close attention to the white wall on your left that you pass when you leave, and the right section of the gate...

20 March 2013

More pictures from Dovrefjell

Good things come to those who wait! After the Dovrefjell hike I was looking forward to the pictures of the other photographers. And as I described: these had to be delivered to me by snailmail. This was probably due to the university firewall not letting me access the site where the other people had uploaded their files onto. So after almost three weeks they arrived: a rate of ~2kb/sec! But do enjoy this selection. The first picture was taken by Felix, and the rest, I think, is taken by Jytte. And yes I chose a lot on which I feature. So far there hadn't been many of these!

 Dinner in the youth hostel in DombĂ„s

Walking through virgin snow

Dinner in the cold

Morning water-melting duty. Luckily you can drink the walls of the kitchen in a place like this!

Some water for the group, some water for me...


On the move!

Into the void

Striding purposefully

Time for a drink

What about my fashionable goggles?

Lovely atmospheric picture of the hut at dawn

 No, I don't know what's going on here either

Arty view from behind even more orange goggles

 Lieven does wood-chopping duty

Relaxing in the hut

Dinner by candlelight

My attempts at escaping the wind pit of the hut with the pulk

 Group picture at the half-igloo

Pulking away!

Three intrepid explorers

Not-so-well-chosen spot for lunch

 Spiffing evening sky

Having fun with the lunch-focussed dogs

 And a scenic pic from the woods! That's all, folks!

19 March 2013

All hail!

This Saturday morning Plymouth was surprised by thunder, lightning and impressive hail. It was worth whipping a camera out for it!

18 March 2013

Bike repair, or eh, advice

Last week I received an email from the university Bicycle Users Group. It was an email forwarded from the university's Coaching and Community Activity Development Officer. The university offered free bike maintenance, right in front of where I normally park my bike! Such service. And my gears needed tweaking; I had already tried it myself, I had had a bike mechanic look at it, but it still didn't want to go into low gear. Annoying! Especially in a hilly place. So I went. 

I was the first cyclist to offer their bike. There were three guys doing the check-ups. The first gave it a try; he started where one normally starts, and started to tweak the adjustment screws. I had already tried that myself without success. He fared the same way. So he called the next guy. He tried the screws too, and when that didn't help, he tried adjusting the cable tension. I had already tried that myself without success. He fared the same way. So he called the next guy. So then I had three blokes fondling my bike. The third couldn't do it either! An din the end the verdict was: I need a new limiter. The old one isn't springy enough anymore. So the bad news is that I still can't get into low gear. And I'll have to spend time and money to change that. But the good news is that I now know what to do, and that my ego  is saved: that I couldn't adjust my gear properly was clearly no shame! 

16 March 2013

South Bedford again

Last week we visited South Bedford. Three days later I got an email from Rick, who had led that trip, that he thought he had found another entrance. Were Lionel and I interested in exploring it? He mentioned it was squalid and wet. Of course it would be. And of course we were interested! We would have a small exploratory trip, parallel with the normal Tuesday club trip.

We gathered at the usual place. And five minutes before the assigned time, we were complete! That's the good thing about small scale trips. No faffing and loitering! But there was confusion; Rick announced he had brought his wetsuit. A wetsuit? Would it be THAT wet? He should have said! Rick trips are always wet and squalid, but normally they're wading trips, not swimming. Well, we'll had to just see how we would fare in our normal kit.

Rick lead us to a crumbly shaft, and tied his rope to a tree. Soon he was going down. And with him, quite some rocks. This shaft was the loosest I had ever seen! The most solid object on the way down was a collapsed tree. But he made it safely to the water level. When he had scouted the area days before, he had seen that some level went off from the shaft, and some of it was above water level. Maybe we could get in!

Or maybe not. From below, Rick reported that there was not enough airspace in the level. There also did not seem anything to stand on in the shaft. And mind you; in order to get to it, you had to wear rope-climbing kit. That weighs you down! It isn't necessarily wise to come off a rope straight into deep water. Especially not if there are things you can snag on. So he decided against it and came back up, sending another batch of loose rocks down.

I wasn't convinced yet. I took the rope as soon as it was free. What a nasty place to go down! And even though Rick was in his wetsuit, and I wasn't, I decided to go down further. I tried the timbering we had seen from the top of the shaft; it was floating on the water! That's no good. I felt with my foot: nothing below the water to stand on. Then I just dangled horizontally, just above water level (I felt like Tom Cruise!), so I could look into the level. The good news was: there was more air space than you could see from a distance. The bad news was: the ceiling looked very, very dodgy, and there was a collapse, only a few metres in. So it REALLY was a no go.

The level: not looking too inviting

 Looking in

 If you look closely you can see the collapse in the back

Did we then go home? No, of course not! This time we had ropes and kit with us, so we had another look at the other shaft we had seen the week before. Maybe we could cross it! We jammed a log in the tunnel to fix our ropes on. Lionel had a look at whether he could clear a path along the side of the shaft, but that didn't work. And we didn't dare drop the shaft, just anchored on that one log. So we left it there. We should come back, and either come in from the top, or come in with another log, or a drill. Would that happen before I'll move? We'll see!

 Nice icicles in the entrance

Lionel attaches a rope to our improvised anchor

 And starts to clean out the shaft. To no avail, unfortunately!