28 July 2014

Read Welsh now, speak later

Once upon a time, my sister who lives in Helsinki was  babysitting a 1.5-year old. I am generally afraid of children, but this specimen was rather low-threshold, so when it was convenient we one day would babysit together when I was visiting Finland, we did. And it went well! I have a reasonable Finnish vocabulary for non-Finnish speaker, and this girl generally kept her sentences restricted to a word or two, so she represented the unusual phenomenon of a native speaker I could keep up with. As long as the sentences didn't get more complicated than "kilti ankka" (cute duck) or "iso juna" (big train) all was well! And she seemed to take delight in a grown-up who used a similar sentence structure (I know I'm using the term "sentence" here in a rather liberal way). So when you're learning a language, find yourself a native speaking toddler! Or other learners; in Norway, I got a lot of support from my fellow foreigners who were also keen on practicing. Save the adult native speakers for later; they tend to be too fast, too slangy, too complicated.

I don't know any Welsh toddlers. I do know lots of fellow learners; there are quite many people in the Welsh class! And only having had four hours of Welsh class I am desperate to practice my conversational skills. So as I wrote before; I had hoped to rally some for using the usual class hour for conversation practice.

When the class stopped for summer I only had three Mondays in Bangor before I would set off to sea. So three potential hours of practice! But NOBODY wanted to join. On any of these days. I did learn a little, though; every week I kept sending out the rallying emails, in Welsh, and the tutor tended to send them back corrected. That at least helped!

I am now about to go offshore. Nobody on board speaks Welsh, so I am again restricted to learning how to read Welsh, and to mutter to myself. But there is light at the end of the tunnel; the tutor mailed me she'll be back from having been gone in Early September, and though the class doesn't restart until late September, she's willing to talk to me as soon as she's back. So I have something to keep me motivated! Not that I am not motivated already, but this helps against my occasional moods of "I'm never going to learn..." I hope to learn so much from my various sources I can have a reasonable conversation with her when I get back. And the delay at the start of the cruise, and the transit afterwards helped a lot; I ploughed through my entire grammar document, I did some exercises, and I am (finally) making progress on the Welsh novel I have. I finished the first three chapters (of 19)! And in the back it explains all sorts of sentence structures (it's not just a novel; it's also a Welsh-learning-resource.) And the reading helps with building a vocabulary; if words come back often enough I start remembering them at some point. I am making solid progress here!

I am confident I will be able to hold my ground after the cruise, talking with the tutor. It won't be easy, but it will help heaps! I'm just starting to arrogantly wonder how long I'll still be benefitting from the course. It took the current participants over a year to reach the "what colour is your car? My car is blue" stage and I am, if I can say so myself, rushing past. But that's OK I presume. If there are no courses that are more advanced I might start to try my luck on the locals! Oh dear. But that's the whole point, so I'll have to one day make that step anyway! But first I'll have another few weeks to train myself. Bring it on!

25 July 2014

A day in the life of a cruise scientist

So what does it look like, a day on board? My day tends to start around 11PM. I get up, I have some breakfast, I might have time to check my emails, and then it’s time to go to the main lab, for change-over from day shift to night shift. Colm, the cruise leader, will keep us up to date of what’s been happening during the day; what cores have been taken, how it went, whether there was anything worth mentioning on the geophysical observations. Then he’ll us what the plan is for the upcoming 24 hours. The day coring team will tell us where they got to, and whether they refined the procedure of core processing. And then we’re go! 

Some exchange of information between the head of daytime geophysics Katrien (left) and three members of the night shift

We, the night coring team, are Sara Benetti from Ulster university, Kasper Weilbach from Durham university, Riccardo Arosio from SAMS, Richard Chiverrell (who is part coring team, part geophys, part outreach) and me. And sometimes we get a hand from the leader of the night geophys team: Fabio Sachetti from Galway, who happens to also be married to Sara. So we have 4 nationalities (Rich is English; Sara, Fabio and Riccardo are Italian; and Kasper is Danish) in the team, including a token Brit. 

We might be dealing with cores as they are coming on deck, or as they are coming out of the core scanner. The core scanner requires cores to be at room temperature, so when a core comes on deck we cut it into sections and label it, and then leave the sections in the core scanner container. They need to equilibrate for 6 hours. The core scanner lady, Elke Hanenkamp from Leicester university (and a German; yet another nationality), works from 6AM to 6PM, so quite often, we suddenly get very busy after breakfast, when she starts churning out the cores we put in the container early in the night. These are ready for scanning when she finds them in the morning. When she’s done with them, the real work starts! We can get a core from deck into the container is some 30 minutes, but the splitting, photographing, measuring, final labelling, describing, and packing takes a lot longer. And there are periods when we’re just in transit, and all cores are either in the core storage because we’re done with them, or in Elke’s container. And then we just hang around! We keep an eye on the geophys, we catch up on emails, we eat or read something, or we even sleep or go to the gym. If there is a sufficiently long period of non-activity, such is OK! I hit the gym at 4AM during my second shift. 

The vibrocorer is hoisted on deck in the morning sunshine after having taken a core 

Somewhere around 6AM we tend to get hungry and go up to the mess for some food. The crew saves a meal for everyone who had not shown up at dinner time (and that includes the entire nightshift; we’re asleep at that hour) so we can go up, shove it in the microwave and have, say, steak at 6AM. But not everyone’s stomach is ready for a heavy meal at such an hour, so these just eat some toast or fruit or whatever tickles their fancy. 

 The evening meals saved for the night shift. This is not good food for when you've just woken up; I tend to let my stomach get into the mood for some 6 hours

The busiest time tends to be after breakfast; Elke’s shift is 6AM-6PM (we seemed not to be able to afford two core logging experts), so cores start coming out of her lab, ready for processing, from around 7AM. And then she churns out the spoils of the entire night, so we tend to keep running all the way to hand-over at noon. So then the cycle repeats itself; we brief the day corers, Colm briefs everyone, and work continues. 

Carrying a core liner to where we cut it

We then go for what the ship calls lunch but which is dinner for us. After a few days Riccardo had the bright idea to buy a bottle of wine as accompaniment. Brilliant! The day shift is not allowed to drink at that hour, but the night shift is. And as I write this, that has been the only alcohol I’ve had since we set off! I may even be getting healthier here. The exercise is not how I like it, but it’s enough; the food is good, and my drinking habits have clearly improved. 

After dinner I tend to check emails once again (by that time the rest of the world is awake too), and then my eyelids start to droop and I return to my cabin to crawl into my snug bed and listen to the sounds of the ship and the water. And then at 11PM the alarm goes!

23 July 2014

First real cores

It would all start with a piston core. Our ship had a vibrocorer and a piston corer on board; the former is a big construction with a tub on top, filled with water. As soon as it’s positioned on the sea floor, some mechanism makes the ~1000 kg of water move around, creating the vibration needed for pushing the barrel into the sediment. It’s the sort of equipment you need when you core close to to land; the sediments tend to be rather stiff, and won’t go into the barrel without some vibration-shaped convincing. The piston corer pretty much is just a steel barrel, with only a big weight on top to make it sink into the sediments. The piston helps these to penetrate deep into the barrel, but all is limited by how deep the barrel gets into the sea bed to start with. But we would kick off on the continental slope, at ~500m depth, so although we would probably only take one piston core, it would be the very first one.

 The piston corer is deployed

 It comes up again, under scrutiny of James

We had been on shift since midnight. It had been the first shift; we had all tried to get some sleep before going on duty, but with our bog standard circadian rhythms, few of us had managed very well. We were all very sleepy. And we wouldn’t get to the coring site until after breakfast. So we had a rather boring shift; we looked a bit at the geophysical measurements that were coming in in real time, but otherwise we just read books or picked our noses or pootled around. And we yawned an awful lot. But then, at ~10:30AM, we finally had a core on deck. We could snap into action! And so we did.
It was the first core of our shift. Most of us have done cruises before, and have an idea of how things are done. These ideas are not always the same. And those who hadn’t been on cruises before were a bit uncertain of things. That first core therefore turned into a bit of a whirlwind of contradicting opinions and commands flying around. And it was after we all had been on our feet for pretty much 27 hours, so both on both the distributing and the receiving end of the suggestions (let’s call them that), moods were frayed. I have experienced more pleasant bursts of core handling. But we got it done. And then our shift was over!

 A relaxed geophysics shift

The next shift we got to finally handle vibrocores. It’s a very different mechanism and quite different for the technicians operating them, but for us it’s pretty much the same procedure. And after a while we got into a routine! And that made things a lot better. We pretty much found the optimal way of doing things, and just did it. We were still tired; you don’t turn your day-night rhythm upside down in only 48 hours, but we now worked as a team, and not as a bunch of grumpy individuals. So from the second shift on, core handling became fun! And that’s good; 1.5 hours of lousy shift is a more than acceptable sacrifice for weeks of pleasant work. And of course there still were hiccups; sometimes people forget the distinction between best practice and personal preference, but it all stayed within limits. And it’s quite satisfying to cut cores into sections, label them to within an inch of their life, split them, describe them, and put them away in a cooled container. We got a few boring cores with pretty much only sand, but we also already got a few beauties, with what surely looks like glacial sediments in the bottom! Exactly what we’re looking for!

The cores as they lay acclimatising in the core logging container. Elke, the logging expert, didn't want to be in the picture. Not with her front, anyway. 

Richard Chiverell shows his skill cutting the core liner

Riccardo Arosio then cuts the core caps (one would almost think one needs a Richard of sorts for that sort of thing)

Sara Benetti has just split one, using a cheese wire and some pallet knives, and gets a first glimpse of the full sediment

 A core ready to be described. Once that's done, we're finished with it as far as the cruise is concerned! All other work will happen on land.

22 July 2014

Culture shock

NB; this is a catch-up blog post, about things happening before the cruise, while blogging about the cruise has already started. This post relates to the Coniston trip the weekend before the cruise; maybe not in the correct chronological position but still worth documenting!

With mine explorers you know what to expect. Mud, sweat, precarious false floors, lots of banter, late nights, lots of beer. And that’s fine! The more intellectual part of my brain gets its kicks at other times. When I’m out with the YCC I expect rather civilised banter, but when the NYMCC gives acte de presence too, I just harden my skin and expect to stand out like a sore thumb with my pronounced lack of rowdiness. But sometimes, I have to rapidly adjust.

I had written about the weekend in the Lakes District, visiting Coniston Copper mines. On the first night, all were busier catching up and drinking beer than pondering the mine. And things did get a bit rowdy! And I was holding my ground amidst the boisterous. But then one of the guys brought his phone out, and started showing people some porn that seemed to even be rather disturbing by porn’s standards. Luckily, even the more uncouth of the men respect anyone’s couthness (that word should exist), so nobody expected me to want to see that, and nobody tried to change my mind, or even lure me into seeing it by deception. One chap figured it would actually be best to remove me from the scene entirely, and he whisked me away to the lounge. There he suggested to do some drugs. I know this is a rowdy bunch, but I wasn’t buying into that. He surely was pulling my leg! But he did whip a small sachet of white powder out. I still wasn’t having that. It could be anything! And when he saw he wasn’t fooling me he told me what it really was. It wasn't anything I could have seen coming.

It was a bit of deep sea ooze, collected by the crew of the Challenger. The Challenger! The ship that started oceanography! The ship that sailed from 1872 to 1876, went all around the globe, and sampled and measured more than you can shake a stick at! If I find a foram  in one of my samples which I don’t recognise, the first source I still turn to is the Challenger report! That is such a thorough piece of work it has never been surpassed. And one sometimes needs additional material, but the Challenger set the standard. I don’t know how many non-ocean sciences nerds know about the Challenger, but within the community this trip is more famous the one to the moon.

So here I was. I had had to make the switch from mud, beer and porn to the holiest of science history! That was quite a culture shock. It was one of the weirdest things that ever happened to me on a caving weekend. I have the sample at home now. I’ll see if I can find something exciting in there after the cruise! But even if it’s only nannofossils (for which I don’t have the equipment to be able to see them) the sheer thought of having some Challenger mud is very exciting indeed!

 A lab on the Challenger

20 July 2014

Life on board

The James Cook is now home. It will be for some six weeks! But I think it’s a good home. I have a comfortable cabin, nice colleagues, the crew is a bunch of sweethearts, and the amenities are fine. There are many places in the ship I haven’t explored yet, but what I have seen can keep me occupied for a long time; there is the library, with comfortable couches, where one can sit down with a book, or check emails, at it has one of the few computers that remain connected all through the trip. There is the mess, where the amazing food can be eaten (the chefs are really good!), but the tables are rather good for Welsh homework too. And the decks provide fresh air, and sometimes views on sunsets and hopefully sometimes a coastline or two. 

The mess

There is also a small and crammed gym, but it is all we have to stay fit. It has a treadmill for short people (they intend to put it in one of the cargo holds, as these have a higher ceiling; anyone taller than me will bang their head while trying to run on that), and some thing I don’t know the name of but which allows for the training if the muscles you need for prussicking, and it has a rowing machine. I’d never really used one, and this one took some getting used to; when I tried it, it seemed to not give much resistance, and I figured it must be on some easy setting. Later I found out it was already at maximum resistance, but I also found out it actually is (more than?) enough if you sit down for a 2k. I think I’ll be back on that thing! I just hope it won’t be so popular it is permanently busy.

 The small gym

 Me standing on the treadmill; mind you that the thing sometimes has its conveyor belt at an angle to make it harder; that takes up space too!
I also found a chap in there, Steve, who knows exactly what every machine does and why, and what muscles you train how, and how you can train your prussicking muscles using weights instead of a machine. A good man to bump into! (Partly) thanks to him I might come back in fighting form! I had my first tries on both the treadmill and the rowing machine; it was a bit weird to do that on a moving vessel (and its movements also being entirely independent of your own), but I managed. Both are too boring to engage with for too long at a time, but 20 min on the former and then 10 min on the latter is a fine routine workout. And then some weight pulling in between. I think it'll be OK! And I also hope I’ll have time and energy for such things. I could see it take a while to adjust to my new circadian rhythm, and until that time I might put exercise a bit on hold: sleep matters more! But I hope it doesn't take long to become a creature of the night.
Later in the cruise I might also try the bar and the film room. And whatever else this ship will turn out to hold! I think it will be a good six weeks. Let’s hope so!

 The terminal room

 The library (notice the book cupboard on the right)

 Me on deck

Return to Coniston

NB; this is a catch-up blog post, about things happening before the cruise, while blogging about the cruise has already started. This was a trip the weekend before the cruise; maybe not in the correct chronological position but still worth documenting!

You can’t get everything right the first time around. Last year, the YCC went to Coniston to visit the copper mines there. Due to unfortunate and avoidable circumstance, we had nobody with us who had ever been there before. And that made things hard! We had thought of doing a trip from high up, down a number of pitches, and then coming out at the bottom. But on a trip like that, you take your ropes with you, and you only want to do that if you are sure you know your way out. And we didn’t! So we pootled around in the higher levels instead. It was fun, but we sure did want to do a trip there again, and this time all the way. So this year we had a retry! And this time, we had swarms of people who knew the way. That made things easier. 

When I drove up I was more keen on seeing the good old YCC again, rather seeing the mine again. It is a lovely bunch of people! So when I got there after a fairy long drive, I was very happy to give both Matt and Gary a big hug. Good to see them again! Way too soon I grabbed a beer to wallow in their company. I should have had tea after that long drive! But you know how such things go. The evening was merry (and festooned with weird events- but more about that in a later post), and the night was moonlit. Many set off on a nightly walk. It looked great! I love moonlight. But I was aware of next day’s trip and the upcoming cruise, so while disparaging comments about lightweights flew my way I was the first to go to bed. And that turned out to have been the right decision; I later found out the walker had not gone to bed before 3AM. I had not even noticed them coming in! I was long gone. I did wake up during the night (one of my earplugs had fallen out), so I could hear the harmonious snoring of two of the men. And the next day I woke up with a headache. Oh dear! Not enough tea. 

The view from the hut

We had breakfast and while Rich and Rich went on a heroic run, all others faffed a bit; it was late in the morning before we set off. It was already hot! Most walked up the hill to the entrance bare-chested. We were glad to go underground! 

The hot walk uphill

It is a bit of a faff to get 12 people down a pitch. But well, we weren’t in a hurry. And it is a pretty place! The vertical is astounding. And there was a lot of nice staining! Rich also rigged a pitch down a dead end, as there was a nice wheelbarrow to be seen there. There also was the wonkiest ladder in the world leading up to a chamber higher up, but I let that slip. Headache + thoughts of upcoming cruise = risk avoidance! 

 Nice staining

The promised wheelbarrow

The wonky ladder I decided not to ascend

 The big chamber above the wonky ladder, seen from above. The level I am standing in seems to have once extended all the way to the other side (the level the blue staining drips out of). Slightly scary!

There was an instance of near death too, when one of the chaps accidentally kicked loose a rather large rock at a very unfortunate location. But it missed, so we all came out happy and healthy! Not in one go, though; some got impatient and just stomped to the exit. When we came out, they were already in civilian clothes and looking clean. But we had the key of the hut! They must have been skilled burglars. We then walked down too. We could have looked into another adit, but I didn’t feel much like it, and those who had been drinking till 3AM sure didn’t either. So we spent the rest of the time drinking tea and relaxing! (And having an ibuprofen - I should have thought of that before!) Quite nice. And rather early we went to the pub, for a few pints and a meal. It was great! It was an impressive blend of YCC, CMHS and NYMCC. A varied group! But most of us were tired, so we didn't linger. I think I was the first to go to bed the second night too. The next day I wanted to leave at noon, as I had to pack for the cruise. That didn't leave much time for underground fun! But some, at least; I scampered off with Rich while the others went on a proper explore. I've seen pictures; they have seen beautiful places! But our small walk was nice too. And after a last cup of tea I drove off. Time to pack six weeks worth of luggage!

We walked up a lovely valley...

And saw some enticing underground stuff!

19 July 2014


We should have sailed Wednesday morning early. We would instead sail on Friday at noon. So when noon struck, a lot of eager scientists had gathered on deck. Would it really happen? The gangplank was still down. But then we saw it being hoisted on board. We were going!

There was a clear sense of elation when we steamed out of the harbour, into to Solent, and past the Isle of Wight. We were moving! And we would first test out the gear, with which there had been so much trouble. Better do that not too far from land.  
Sunset in Southampton
Goodbye to NOCS!
 The enticing exit of the docks, seen from between two life rafts
A little off the Isle of Wight we stopped. It should have been 3PM, but it was 4.30. The scientists gathered excitedly on the aft deck; most of us had not seen a vibrocorer deployed! I have seen gravity cores, kasten cores, multicores and piston cores deployed, but this was something new. Exciting! I thought. It wasn’t.
We can follow the ship's progress in the control room
The BGS, who run this vibrocrer, were just standing around. Having a chat, looking at the sea, staring at their shoes… it wasn’t very exciting. Later I found out there was some communication issue between some people; probably between the bridge and the BGS crew. And then, finally, the whole construction was lifted in the air, and dropped off the back of the ship! It descended for a short while (we were in shallow water) and then we saw the cable wobble up and down. That must have been the vibration! They kept it going for a while. We had dinner while it was wobbling away. And then it came back on board. The core barrel was laid on a bench. When they removed the shoe and the core catcher, gravel fell out. Ah. Difficult sediment!

The vibrocorer lying prostrate on deck, waiting to be deployed
When the entire liner was extracted we saw it was largely empty. As one would expect, as vibrocorers don’t go through gravel easily. But this was only our test core! A little bit was enough. We cut off the bit of liner that had sediment in it, and capped it. Normally, that would be it for 6 hours; we will let our cores come to room temperature before sending them through the core scanner. It seems to be necessary. And only after having scanned them, we can cut them open and see what we have. But now we could proceed immediately.
There was some heated argument about how to go about things. There were about as many opinions on how to process a core as there were scientists present. And some of us are rather assertive! But we reached consensus. I hope we soon get into a routine and can keep our egos to ourselves.
Then there was more faff. The core cutter had vanished, and when it reappeared the blade turned out to be sticking out too much. And it was also jammed into position. It took forever to get the tiny, 60cm section cut! We were getting weary by that time. And gravelly cores aren’t easy to split, even after the liner has been cut (you generally only cut the liner with some sort of saw, and then use a cheese wire to cut the sediment, but gravel defies cheese wires), but we got there in the end. We did a proper core description, photographed it (which was also a useful exercise; the system has been tuned now!) and tried to do geomechanical measurements on it. The latter wasn’t much of a success; gravel defies that too, but we now think we sort of know how the equipment works.
That was all we needed with that core. Time to wrap it! I was glad; I wanted to have a bucket of tea and then go to bed. And that’s what I did. So the trial has been completed, be it in at least three times the time I figured it would take. A lot of questions sprouting from the procedure have been answered. We should be ready for the real thing! Which should kick off after some 35 hours of transit time. And then we should pretty much keep going until port call on August the 4th

17 July 2014

Cruise JC106 - the faltering start

We'd get to the ship Tuesday lunchtime. Later that day, we would get a safety briefing. And very early the next day we would sail! That was the plan, that is. How different reality was.

There were some issues, I don't really know of what nature, which had the captain decide to leave rather late in the morning. But during that morning, someone realised a crucial piece of equipment had been left in Edinburgh. We needed that! So we had to postpone sailing time while someone drove down like mad to get it. But this person was hardly home again, or it was discovered yet something else, even more crucial, had been forgotten too, so he could head south again right away. And then the vibrocorer seemed to be damaged. It needed to be put in vertical position to be repaired! More issues.

The crew thought to set the vibrocorer in vertical position on the rear deck, and bolt it into place. But something went wrong, and a bolt tore, and the whole structure came crashing down. Not falling on anyone's head, fortunately, but banging into a crane, with more damage as a result. Cue more driving up and down to Edinburgh for replacement parts! This cruise is cursed. Will we ever sail? I do hope so!

So we didn't sail Wednesday morning early. Or Wednesday morning at all. Or Wednesday at all. Or even Thursday. As I'm writing this, expected time of departure is Friday noon. That's two and a half days lost! Chartering a research vessel with full ship crew + scientific crew isn't cheap. I already got told off by one of the crew that this is all being paid for by taxpayers' money. And it is! Oh dear. And we won't be coming back to these waters. All cores we want to take but can't due to the delays will remain untaken forever! This is not a trivial matter. But we'll have to make the most of it! I do hope this has been the end of our troubles. Stay tuned!

The ship, as she lay beautifully in the docks

My cabin

To go underground or to not go underground

Although traipsing around in abandoned mines might not be an inherently modern thing to do, its organisation these days tends to depend heavily on internet. The Thursday trips get announced, and often even organised, on a mine explorer’s forum. When I moved to Bangor I just posted a message on that forum, and the rest is history. But more people find us that way! The last week, a chap appeared who said he was actually a caver, but had ended up in Bangor for some reason, and was willing to give mine exploration a try. So he came with us! As did a chap who lives in this neck of the woods, but just rarely manages to get his Thursday nights off. Venerable new people! But had they chosen well?

I was picked up from the usual place, this time by some Thursday veteran who hadn’t shown up for months. And a while later we were near Tremadog (yes, reader, what the Tremadocian is named after! A grand place it is). And another while later there was a veritable herd of us. We found a parking spot and changed. We were just going to look at another mine Paul had spotted on Google Earth; its spoil heaps stick out from underneath trees, and where there is spoil there must have been digging. But would all have collapsed? Been gated? Flooded? All of the above? Nobody knew. I decided to just put my caving boots on, and leave the rest as is. It was a hot night! I put my kit in my bag; I could always put that on later if we found some interesting underground stuff. The new caver went for full furry suit + oversuit. Oh dear!

We had to first find the place; we followed an entirely overgrown public footpath, crossed a field, got to the better maintained part of the footpath, and then walked into a streambed. It was very hot and muggy. The guy in the suit was at serious risk of heat exhaustion! And I was getting very scratched in my thin trousers. But we kept faith; some adit was expected there! And we found it, but it was gated.
So we scrambled on. More brambles, more nettles, more midges. You could choose between overheating or being assaulted! But we found the spoil heaps. And they came with an adit. Which was flooded. So the whole caver never went underground. And he did get pretty much boiled. And assaulted by insects! I hope we didn’t chase him away! I bet the week after the others will offer him a good solid trip with SRT and all that. As for me; I only had to wait till the next day to arrive at the scene of my next underground kicks. The last before I would be off to sea!

 This is a public footpath. Honest!

 Who can resist the photogenicity of a thistle?

On the spoil heap

ps this entry was uploaded from NOCS; if your departure by ship has been greatly delayed, and your ship is docked right at the back door of said institute, it would be daft not to walk in and do some things that can't be done from sea... thanks NOCS!

16 July 2014

Iceland update

Some time ago I mentioned the Iceland paper in a blog post. I was working hard on it! Surely that means that by now, it’s been resubmitted? Well I am afraid that it isn’t. I don’t even know exactly what its status is at the moment. So how did that happen?

One of our reviewers wanted us to objectively quantify where our sea level reconstruction displays rates of change. And that is something of which you could debate the use; the error bars are considerable, so you can chuck some mathematics in, and then you can find the most plausible times at which the rate of change itself changed. But if you then give the 2 sigma error bars you find that you just can't be sure. So I think this is a case of pseudo-accuracy, but hey, if we need to do this to get the paper published then that’s how it is.

How do you do this? There is software for such tasks. Sometimes that is rather expensive. Sometimes it's free, but then it tends to not be too user-friendly. I started chasing down options, and drew blanks. There is a program of which I know it can do this, but I couldn't get it to work (rampfit; anybody who is good with that out there?). It just closed itself all the time! And other options were about as promising. But I have co-authors who are good with this sort of things. One speaks R as fluently as he speaks English, and Tasha tends to be able to solve any problem with modern technology. But the former only spat out uncertainty envelopes, and the latter was on the right track to sort it out but bumped into a wall of something not having been published yet and us not being able to use it until that had happened. And we can't wait for it! Oh dear. Now what? I don’t know. Hopefully, our R-speaking co-author will think of something smart.

I’m writing this on board the RRS James Cook. It doesn’t have very strong internet. You may notice I uploaded a very small picture with this post! I only have my private laptop here, I’ll be busy coring, and I won’t be able to download any software or documentation, nor upload any files to the journal’s website from here. So it’s now out of my hands for 6 weeks! I assume I’ll be kept up to date; text emails should come through without many  problems. But my work on the paper is now suspended. And I do hope that when I get back, all I have to do is upload the whole shebang and hit “submit”! And I do feel a bit bad about it, as I am first author and I sure don’t seem to be the person who tackles this analysis of the rates of change. But that’s how it sometimes goes; we do have people on the author list exactly for this sort of thing! Let’s just hope it all works out…if we manage to get it published it's an "all well that ends well" situation!

 The field site in Iceland

PS things are moving... Mr R seems to have produced what we want, so now this last calculation can be incorporated into the manuscript, and then it can go! And it will be after I get back that it gets resubmitted, but I will sail in confidence that there'll be something submittable ready when I get back onto land! That's a good feeling...

15 July 2014

More silence

It seems that I can't expect too much Internet on board! So new entries might come few and far between. Please be patient!

14 July 2014

Another silence

Again, silence on the blog! Five days without a posting. It happened about a month ago too. And again, the silence is not due there being nothing to report! On the contrary. There is more to say about the Iceland paper than I should probably plonk into one blog post, I've been underground twice, there are developments regarding me learning Welsh, and we have been busy preparing the cruise. The cruise!

Tomorrow morning we set off. We will drive to Southampton, drop off the rental car, embark the RRS James Cook, and settle in. We will only sail the next morning, but they want us on board for a safety training. And then we're off! For quite a while. I have never been at sea for that long. It will be exciting! I hope we come back with amazing cores. And with more stories about amazing sunrises than about violent parting with one's stomach content. We'll see!

But there was so much going on I didn't manage to keep up with the blog. Work, weather and signal permitting I will catch up when I'm on board! We will start with some transit time. If the weather holds I should be able to make a start then! And otherwise; watch this space, as there is a lot to say, and it will be getting more and more every day!

All the plants concentrated in the kitchen, making it easier for my office mate Stella to water them. They're ready for the coming weeks!

09 July 2014

Open day

If you work on a short contract, you often get out of helping out on university open days. It makes sense; the students you might recruit will probably only enroll after you've already left. You don't gain anything from doing a good job, other than the satisfaction of doing a good job. And you can use your time better; you might advance your career so you manage to land another short contract! I suppose it's fair to give those with a permanent job more of a burden when it comes to institute propaganda. And the PhD students; they get paid extra for doing this, while a postdoc like me doesn't. But this time I didn't escape anyway. It seemed the powers that be had decided to have some many open days that the permanent people and PhD students were spread thin! And I am keen to make a good impression on my current employer with whom I'm very happy. So on my normally free Saturday I directed myself to the School anyway. Luckily I wouldn't have to say to much about the inner workings of the university; I've only worked here for three months! But I can talk about palaeoceanography for England. Or Wales, rather.

And it went rather well; I had a set-up of a core from the European continental slope, and some sieved samples with foraminifera and IRD, and some microslides with the same. I just told them that at the School of Ocean Science, you can learn to read an archive like this core. Sieve out the forams, find out what species you have in there, and how they change; all species have their own environmental preferences. Do you see warm water species change into cold water species? Do you see species coming in that like seasonal ice cover? Do you find residues of sea ice algae in there? You see an ice age coming! And if you have bits of rock brought in by icebergs; can you see what lithology it is? Is it something that only occurs in one place? If so, you can see where the ice came from! Do you see a change from Canadian rocks being brought in to Icelandic rocks? You may see a change in coean currents! And so forth. So much information in a bit of mud. I hope I fascinated some of them. We'll see in September what the numbers are!

My set-up in the lab; a sediment core, a poster, and a microscope with mounted digital camera and a screen to show some samples

Prospective students tend to be too shy to look down a microscope, so we showed what they would see on a screen

07 July 2014

Staying above ground

I was in Laugharne, on fieldwork. I would be coming back late on a Thursday afternoon. Late on a Thursday afternoon! Normally, that's when I team up with Dave on the School of Ocean Science, where we plonk our kit in the car of choice and drive off towards the great underground. Not this time! I was home later than the normal meeting time, I was tired and hadn't had dinner, and the next day there was still a lot to do. I regretted that; what we (they!) would be up to that night sounded interesting. It had both swimming and rope work in it! My favourite! But the next day I heard they had in the end not needed the rope, and the swimming hadn't got them anywhere, but they had enjoyed the activity in itself. And then they thought, well why not do more of that. It's summer! Why go underground. Let's enjoy the sun! But of course, it doesn't work that way.

On the very first day of rain and gloom after weeks of blazing sunshine the standard Anglesey delegation of Dave, Paul and me drove to Llyn Padarn, the lake next to Llanberis and Dinorwic Quarry. Dave had managed to tie two kayaks to the roof of the car and plonk an inflatable dinghy in the boot; once there we would meet Phil, and Simon with his inflatable double canoe, and whoever else with whatever else who cared to show up. And that boiled down to Simon and his canoe. He was late. By the time he appeared we had concluded the dinghy was terribly punctured, but the kayaks we spiffing. But these only seated two! I jumped into the one that was too small for Dave, and Paul had a try in the other one. He had never kayakked before! But he liked it. And I had not had high expectations of the other one as I am not too fond of river kayaks, which I think this technically was, and as Dave had accused it of causing sleeping legs and thus instability. But it was a nifty little thing!

Llanberis pass seen from Dave's kayak

A chase under menacing skies. Seconds after taking this picture I had been rammed!

Pretty rusty bridge

And another wild chase, back under the bridge

When Simon appeared we all went onto the lake; Simon and Dave fit in the canoe together. A daft dash over the lake followed. It was more dodgems than kayakking. But we had fun! After thus having chased each other over the gusty surface we returned to see where Phil was. Nowhere to be seen! But it was time to do a change-over; I tried the canoe (only canoed twice before, in the UK and USA, and never in an inflatable) and Dave got his kayak back. And later Simon tried a kayak while Dave swam. But by then we were all rather looking forward to the pizza which was part of the plan, so we lifted the vessels out of the water again, deflated what needed to be deflated, and changed (those who needed to and could - Simon and Paul had chanced it and gone onto the water in their everyday outfits and hadn't brought a change). And the pizzas were good! We shouldn't make a habit of this; splashing around in water is fun but it doesn't have any of the eeriness and historical poignancy of the underground realm. But it was fun!