30 November 2014

Coming in from above

When the worst of the teaching was behind me, I decided I could take my weekends back; at least partially. So when the weekend after the PCG visit had a nice weather forecast I suggested to David to go and climb a hill or something. He did have time for some fun! But suggested to visit our pet mine instead. Well that's OK too. I managed to miss the good weather altogether by running in the cold, and working after the sun had come out, and then going underground later that afternoon, but hey ho.

When I had been on the boat, the others had dropped a shaft high up on the hill of our digging project, and David thought there might be a blocked passage to the levels further down. We hadn't got round to checking that out since, so he suggested we do that. And I was keen to have a look there!

We walked up the hill; David couldn't really remember what the best way was. Clearly, we took a different one from before; before we knew it, we suddenly stood in front of a big, beautiful, arched adit. Eh? We hadn't noticed that one before! But we decided to check out the shaft first, and this adit later.

We rigged the pitch, and I was the first to go down. It looked nice down there! While David came down too I had a little scamper around; it was a nice place, but all the tunnels ran dead rather soon. Oh well. We came to investigate a possible blockage! David pointed it out. It didn't look like a blocked passage to me. It rather looked like a nook they had used for storing some rubble. But nothing wrong with doing some shoving and prodding and finding out for sure.

After we'd cleared a foot or so of rubble it still looked like a nook with rubble. Still David wasn't convinced! But by the time we had removed half a metre from the entire nook he gave in. Or up. Fine; we had another adit to explore too!

Me on the pile of rubble we had been shifting. Pic by David. 

I first checked that a passage on the other side of the flooded shaft (it was flooded up to the level of the side passage we were in)  really was a dead end (potential for slapstick-style falling into the shaft not exploited) and then I started my way up. While I was climbing, David was sitting next to the water, getting kitted up; that was a mistake, as I accidentally kicked quite some rocks loose. Oh dear. But the adit we would explore next looked rather wet anyway!

While he was climbing up I just stared at the Milky Way. Not a bad way to spend an early Sunday evening! And when he was up too we derigged and went down. The lower adit provided knickers-deep water, but not very much else; it went dead after a few tens of metres. At least now we know! And it was time to go home anyway. But these two parts of the mine are now off the to do list! An afternoon well spent.

28 November 2014

New ground under my running shoes

My mind had been taking all the exercise lately. Running had been reduced to a short run only on Saturdays and Sundays. But I wanted that to be only temporary. And with the worst of the teaching over I figured I could scout out new terrain. So I figured I should have a look at the coastal path on the other side of Britannia Bridge. So I did!

I found out it wasn't very good running terrain. A lot of it went over a narrow, steep, rocky, seaweed-infested beach. Running there would be daft! But it was very beautiful. I was glad I had gone! And now I know. And if I want a longer running route on asphalt (for wet days during which all cute paths are swamps, or runs in the dark) I can just follow the road a bit further.

Lord Nelson keeping watch over the Strait

On the Sunday I decided to run along the surface works of Parys Mountain. It's very beautiful! You need to have a bit of time, though; it a 30 minute drive. But I went! And my timing was bad; the sun came out when I was pretty much done running. I bet these colours are even better in blazing sunshine! But what can you do. It was a nice run. And now I can happily go back to my standard route for the week! I'll have to seriously get back into it; I have a trail half marathon lined up! 

The amazing open pit. Notice the head gear in the distance

Notice the bad weather gear

 And this is what it looked like from the other side, on my way back.

26 November 2014

New member of the Thursday Nighters

Underground exploration is not only for humans! We welcomed a sparky non-human among our ranks. How did that happen? There was some sort of a competition in which you could win a small autonomous submarine, and our very own Paul entered that competition. And ended up winning one! And that meant some work for him: the machine was delivered to him in bits. Luckily, he has technical skills, and soon he had a working ROV. He had first tested it in the bath, and then in Llyn Padarn. It seemed to work! So it was time to try it out what it was intended for (by us, at least): underground exploration. So we picked Cwmorthin, as it has flooded bits we're curious about, and because it is easy to reach. And the ROV isn't big or heavy, but still, we wanted to focus on the ROV, and not on scampering up and down hills.

When we came to the meeting point the ROV crew was already there, and tether issues were already being addressed. The machine had 100m of cable, but that easily gets tangled! Paul had made an improvised reel of a coke bottle, but Mick had a proper cable reel and attempts at moving the cable from one to the other without creating one big plate of spaghetti. It wasn't easy! But we did it. And then we could go up. I had brought full neoprene as I figured something might go wrong on this maiden voyage, but on the drive up I had realised they wanted to send it down an incline with only a very small opening to the surface. I wouldn't be able to follow it there! So I decided to pack the neoprene and bring it, but go in in my more comfy furry suit. Even when more of us figured that incline would be a bit ambitious the first time around.

When we went in we decided to head not for the initially designated incline, but a much bigger one, open at the surface for many metres, and nicely devoid of silt to kick up and random things to snag behind. And there Paul tried to get it started. He had initially controlled it with his phone, but this time we had a laptop for the purpose. And that gave IT problems! Luckily our own Simon is an IT guru and in no time he had the whole set-up running. Time to christen our new member! And that honour befell me, as tradition suggests it should be a woman performing that act. Mick had brought a miniature bottle of whisky for the purpose, and I christened her "Jemima von Kursk". And then she could go do her thing!

Paul posing with his creation. Pic by Simon

Phil placed her in the water and off she went. It was fun to see the little thing whizzing about, going off in all kinds of directions with lights shining defiantly into the depths. Her camera didn't see much unless she was close to either the bottom or the walls, and the bottom posed snag risk, so it wasn't even that easy to make her explore anything, but we'll get the hang of it. Steering an ROV turns out to be an art! And while practicing that art, a part came off; a PVC protection of the top propeller. Oh dear! Luckily it wasn't an essential part. I wondered if I should go get it; it hadn't come off in very deep water. The men said I shouldn't; they'd improvise a new part. But I figured I had brought the wetsuit just for cases like this. So I started changing.

 Some general faffing; Jemima is still on land on this pic. Pic by Simon

Phil found out in the meantime he could see the bit from the side of the chamber, and lit it up with his torch. That made things easier! I got into the very cold water and went in the direction of the part. And then came back to leave my helmet; Phil would light my way. I swam to right above it, gathered some courage, and then dived. And got it! Success!

 On my (steamy) way to the lost bit! Notice Jemima in the foreground. Pic by David

The men then sent our Jemima to the far end, to see what was there. It got stuck! At 7m depth! Too deep to go get it. Would this be the end? But Paul managed to manoeuvre it free, and steer it back. Later on it snagged again; so much so I already started to put my neoprene gloves back on. But we got it back! I was getting cold, so I was keen to get back out. I could of course change back into my furry suit, but I didn't have dry underwear with me underground, and I am not so keen on going without. So I knew I would stay warm enough if I would come out at a reasonable speed, and then change entirely at the cars. So I asked David to accompany me and we scooted off. I didn't want to end up stuck behind a slow person on an incline, nor did I want to have to wait for someone with car keys to show up.

We scampered up like mountain goats, and were soon outside again. No way I would have found the way! And soon we were back at the car. Into dry undies! My plan had worked; there was no sign of the others so they must have engaged in extensive faffing, which we had avoided. So much so that David at some point suggested to just bugger off. It was late enough! So we did.

In the following days mails flew around. People had ideas about better tether, better tether attachment, better this, that and the other, and the next time we go underground we might have Jemima v1.1. The more we tweak her the worse it would be if we lose her to a snag! But let's stay optimistic. Where next? Flooded chambers galore in this neck of the woods! Stay tuned!

24 November 2014

First BRITICE meeting

It wasn't the first BRITICE meeting at all! But for me it was. And the BRITICE-CHRONO project, as is its full name, has in my mind started to be synonymous with the cruise we did, but the project is a lot bigger. And it was time to be reminded of that! And pretty much all BRITICErs would come to Buxton for that purpose, to a lovely Victorian hotel.

 Our posh venue

It was a nice little outing; I didn't have to present, and therefore didn't have to prepare anything. And it was nice to see my fellow cruisers back, and it was nice to meet the other people involved. That included some people I had met during other parts of my career, and people I only knew the name of, and was pleased to finally get to be introduced to. Including, for instance, the chap to whom I have been sending my 14C samples for many years. I was glad he confirmed they had arrived in good order! I am always a bit nervous to send 14C samples off. In the UK I never had bad experiences, but back in the Netherlands I seemed to have bad karma, and my samples seemed to always get lost, get damaged, or otherwise compromised. Fortunately, back in the days it was generally possible to replace a sample! The material I date these days is a lot harder to come by...

 Colm presenting an overview of our cruise

Anyway. Our project boils down to us trying to sample for dates of deglaciation around the British Isles, along transects perpendicular to where we think the path of the ice was. And then really get a grip on how the last ice cap over this region vanished. It will teach us about how ice caps and sheets go about such business; the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has already started its way out and we want to know how that will develop. 

All the transects we designed have a transect leader; these brought us all up to date. Interesting to see! One doesn't really have time to keep up with the other transects, so this meeting was really nice to keep the overview. And there were all sorts of talks as well on other things. What will we do with the dates? What are the caveats? What will we do next year? 

And after the main meeting the steering committee met a bit more. But we went back. There was more to do! And now we see our work again in a slightly bigger context. That is always good!

The whole group

21 November 2014

PCG visiting

Everybody comes to North Wales. Or rather, all mine explorers come to North Wales! So I had already had several trips up this neck of the woods with the PCG, but now there would be a special one; with me being residential! I looked forward to it. With all my moving through the country I don't get to spend much time with people I've known for years. And Hugh would be coming too!

I had been worried about it; since teaching started, I had had to work every week evening except Thursday, and every weekend too, to keep up. I had only had spent one day not working at all, after the week with the field day, simply because I was utterly exhausted and the day was over by the time the necessary chores had been taken care of. Would I be able to take a day off for the PCG? Not everybody knows what academia is like, so not sure if people would understand if I wouldn't be able to afford to team up with them...

And then I finished the last lectures of this term. And I finished the first batch of marking I had to do! And I got to some 66% of the second batch. And for the first time, I felt like I had things under control. That was the Friday the PCG were already in town. So I was fine with spending my Saturday with them!

There was a bit of a complication; suddenly a request appeared from the organiser to be there 7.30. Half past bloody seven? The previous message had said 10AM! And I would travel with Hugh; he had to come all the way from Liverpool. It wouldn't be feasible for him to get there that early. And the whole situation frustrated me; even though I now felt alright about not working for an entire day, it didn't mean I had time to squander! And with trips leaving early I expected that the most exciting trips would have left before Hugh and I would be able to get there, and also, that all my friends would have already left. I knew there were quite some new members; before we'd know it we would have to do a boring trip with total strangers. Not very good! But I had been pessimistic.

 A picture from last year: Dave ignoring the beautiful view from the hut

We arrived, and found Dave, Dave and Dave still in the hut. Not all my friends were in Croesor! Soon a plan was made; I would take two new members, and Toby, a chap who'd already been there when I left, and Hugh down Parc. The trip I wanted to do involved SRT, but not very demanding SRT, so Hugh and Toby could practice and the new members get a taste for it. Good!

We set off and then I suddenly realised I had forgot my rope. Oh dear! But I knew the pitch was rigged. I had come up the old rope once; I knew it held. So we could still do it! I thought. We first went down the ladderway. All the men enjoyed the bit where you slide down the pipes! Of course. And then one of the new guys put the fixed rope through his descender. And tried to go down. But it wouldn't work; it was too thick, and wouldn't feed through. Oh dear! Now what? I had a figure of 8, but the men weren't comfortable with that mode of transport. After some deliberation we gave up. We had to go the other way! So we did. First up the pipes again, and then onwards.

A nice wagon along the way. Pic by Simon (on a different trip)

 Luckily Parc has much to offer. We decided to go see the flat rods. When we approached them, we found a huge group of mine explorers having their lunch. Oh dear again! And the last one was Linden, a chap who had come with the Thursday Nighters a few times. That was unexpected. We decided to go on a bit; some of the lunching group were reportedly still at the flat rods, and I didn't want to get in their way.

The flat rods

When we thought they'd surely be gone we went up. Too early! But we didn't get in each other's way. And after the flat rods we went out. It wasn't very late. But that was alright; we'd just have time for buckets of tea and strange cake made by one of the Daves before we'd go to the pub for a meal. Fine! And now we met Rick, who had been walking that day. Later the Croesor-Rhosydd through trip lot appeared too. Nice to see them! And we piled into as few cars as we could (everybody wanted a pint! Except the two tee-totallers, who had teasingly not brought their cars) and went to the Vaynol Arms in Pentir (not to be confused with the Vaynol Arms in Nant Peris) for some nice food. And some nice ale too! It was nice to dine with old friends and make new ones.

After the pub most went to bed. I applied a pair of earplugs and tried to have a good night. Worked fairly well! But the next day Hugh and I decided to not go underground. We had stuff to do! So we packed our stuff and hugged everybody. And it was a hassle to get away; the hut is hidden behind three locked gates and we had to wait for someone with a key to leave with us. That took forever! And only next month, the YCC will be in this neck of the woods too! It's good to live in Wales!

19 November 2014

New ground

Last week we didn't get further than the collapse, a few tens of metres in. This week we'd get a whole lot further! I stomped ahead and fixed a hand line on the proximal side of the gaping hole. And soon I was on the other side, and had fixed on the other side too. We could move on! And soon were looking into the beautiful stope that had prompted me to turn around and (try and fail to) get the rest. This time we were go!

Sinker negotiationg the traverse; pic by Simon

The beautiful stope in question; pic by David

With the help of a sling I descended into it. And found water. I waded in, got to the other side, and clambered up. A lot of mine had collapsed in this place! Probably some high false floor had given, and had taken a whole lot of lower ones with it. It was a bit iffy! But it went on; there was a clamber on the other side. And I saw lights; some of the men were following! With Sinker's help I clambered up the clamber, decided that going on wouldn't be safe, and then we headed back.

I had seen what seemed to be a parallel passage on the right. David had already passed it, not considering it worth a look. And it wasn't a passage to negotiate lightly; it was filled with  chest-deep, cold water! But I was curious. I walked to a junction, went left, found a waterfall down a ladderway, went on a bit to find a blocked shaft and several side passages, and then decided to go back and report. The men were impressed, and followed! The men being Sinker and David; the others either didn't like the hanging death on the way to the flooded bit, or deep water. Together we explored the surroundings of the waterfall, and decided to go back some other day. With wetsuits, perhaps! I was quite OK, but David was wearing less under his oversuit and was clearly underdressed for this passage. So we went back!

 Simon crouching at an ore chute. Pic by Paul

We found the others beyond the hanging death bit; they had been taking pictures. In spite of the to-ing and fro-ing we were still early enough for a pint. The week after we had something else planned, but I look forward to exploring this bit properly. Who knows what else we'll find!

16 November 2014

Marking as far as the eye can see

Preparing lectures is a lot of work! But so is marking. I suppose one gets faster as one does it more often. I can only hope so! I have now had the first two batches of work for which I am the first marker. The first is the report of the Laugharne micropalaeontological work. The second is the result of some excercise in which we had the students trawl the IPCC report for datasets of Arctic or Antarctic climate change, and for climate predictions, and then discuss these. There will be more: the students also have to write an essay, and a report on the data gathered during the field day. So this is only half of that kind. But I will undoubtedly also have to moderate other people's marking; that boils down to checking if the marking has been consistent and fair. But that should be a lot less work...

My marking so far...

And after Christmas the marking of exams starts. I'll have to do the exams of my own Ice and Oceans module, and the answers to the questions regarding my part of the upcoming module on shelf seas. And probably more. There is a module coming up in the new year too; that will probably have an exam and a field report and whatnot.

So how am I liking it so far? I started a bit uncertain. I started with the IPCC stuff. I had been a bit caught unawares by the fact I had to sort out all these different assignments. So I basically just updated everything to 2014 (just in time) and left it there. But in hindsight I would have liked to prepare a bit more thoroughly; the IPCC work came with a self-assessment sheet that revealed how this would would be marked. In hindsight I would have liked to change that! I thought it was ambiguous and badly balanced. And both poses problems when you're trying to mark. So I started somewhere, did a number, decided I should have a different approach, and started again. I think I got it sorted now! So I think from now things will move fast. Good. And as long as you don't have to look things up online all the time (checking references the students use, for instance) you can do it at home, on the couch, with a big mug of cofeee next to you and, say, Mozart over the speakers. It doesn't really feel like work that way!

It's good I think I have broken the back of it by now, by the way; I still have lectures to prepare, cores to X-ray (more about that later), a meeting to prepare, and whatnot. Before the next batches of marking come in!

13 November 2014

From above and below

We would go back to our pet mine Benallt, but as this mine offers deep cold water, dead sheep, agricultural waste, death from above, and more of that not everybody was keen. Many voices tried to steer this Thursday's trip away from that place. And some place we had had a glancing look at some time before became our venue of choice. We knew it was accessible, but you never know if it stays that way. We wanted to get in while we could! And we ded to try to get in from both the top and the bottom.

We tried to rig the top. That was a bit of a mess; I had an idea about a deviation, but the men thought it wasn't necessary. I let them have their way and we ended up with a rubbing rope. I should be more pushy! I tell myself that time after time but it's hard to stand up for your ideas if you're not raised that way. I'll keep trying. Anyway. The rope rubbed, the stope was hanging death, we decided to get out of there and try the bottom entrance.

So we did. I figured down there we wouldn't need the 100m rope I was lugging around. The men agreed. We also had a nicely short and ligth one; that should do! I didn't want to leave the long rope outside, thoug, for fear of (very unlikely) theft, so I brought it in, and left it at the nearest dry spot.

We soon came to some ladderway that was too wonky to go down. But there was nothing to rig from; without a drill we couldn't do anything there. We moved on, and came to a collapsed bit. There was a handline, but that started only halfway down the collapse! Luckily there was a metal pin in the wall. Good for tying the short rope to, and make it to the handline!

Pingu and Blober next to the ladderway in front of me

Where was the short rope? The men had dumped it even closer to the entrance than I had done with the long one. Sigh. I went to get the long one, muttering at the laziness of my companions. I tied it to the pin and off I was. It went! And went! And there were some nice ore chutes. And then there was a collapse. The end?

No, not the end; one could wiggle past. And het a glimpse of an immaculate stope! That was lovely. I decided to go back and get the men. This was worth seeing. I got back, tied the rope to a beam on my end of the collapse. It was safe now! But they didn't want to come. Really? Really. They figured my rope construction was only safe if someone would make sure the rope wouldn't slip off the pin. So someone would have to stay behind! Not good. Maybe come back with a drill, and do it properly. Hmm. Okay.

Well, pub then! We decided to go back some other day. In the pub we had a look at the map. Who knows what we'll find there! Next week!

11 November 2014

Iceland paper accepted!

In late summer 2009 I went to Iceland, for fieldwork. Processing the materials and the data took a while. Figuring out what it meant did too. It was 2013 by the time the manuscript was sent off. We tried Earth and Planetary Science Letters first; rather glamorous, but hey, if you don't try... It got rejected.

Picture from the 2009 fieldwork

We sent it to Climate Dynamics. They rejected it too. Then we sent it to Quaternary Science Reviews. They sent it to the (in my eyes) overly critical reviewer that had had it before. This person hadn't lost any of his under-appreciative nature! And we had reached 2014 by that time. Another heavy round of revision followed. And just after the cruise I sent it in again. I was afraid it would go back to the reviewers. And the one mentioned above would surely still find fault in it! The thought alone made me tired.

But then the editor had a long hard look at the manuscript, and at what we had done to it, and how we had justified all that. And he figured it actually was quite good. And if the editor thinks that, that's it!

I had JUST had a look on the Elsevier website to see if really nothing had happened with my manuscript. No, nothing had. And then: ploink! An email from the editorial office. It was accepted! I was so glad. This manuscript had just taken so much energy. Now it's out of our hands! Now we only have to publish some late articles about that project, on which I am not the first author, so that's less work. And then there are the iGlass manuscripts we still have to write. The work is far from over! But the big hurdle is now taken. It's not online yet; it still has to be processed and type-set and whatnot. But soon: another Saher et al. paper sees the light of day!

09 November 2014

One day of research

I had gone back to the lab to sieve some samples to see if there was anything in there I could use for radiocarbon dating, and later I'd been back to weigh what I had. And then the teaching exploded. But these samples were not sampled to gather dust in a corner. They had to get off to Scotland. And I basically lay low and just did teaching-related stuff until someone would kick me in the arse and force me to do something with them. And then that day came!

I had only cleaned the samples by hand, so I had to clean them in an ultrasonic bath, dry them, and put them into vials. And then send them off. It's more work than you'd think! Together with Guy I made little bags for  the samples in which they could be dangled in the ultrasonic bath (which actually was rather ultrasonic - not like the F16-like noise machines of Amsterdam and Plymouth); I had six of them in there at max. And with 25 samples that means 50 bathings so many sessions! And of course there is a lot of cleaning and labelling involved. And faffing with tiny baby shells that don't want to come out of the bag. So it took all day. But it's done! They are sent off! And the next batch is ready to go. In two weeks or so there is a project meeting so I'll have to prepare a bit for that, but otherwise I think I can now return to my teaching obligations. I have two piles of marking waiting for me! And two lectures to prepare. I won't have to be bored.

Our brilliant set-up of the ultrasonic bath; homemade mesh bags, fold-back clips, paperclips, stirring rods... all comes in handy! 

Samples drying in the oven

07 November 2014

New doctors, established professors

The teaching I'm taking over is mainly James's. But after 5 years of sea level research I have also become a sort of a go-to person for guest lectures on the topic. And that's fortunate, because in the past years such lectures had been given by a lady doing her PhD on the topic, but she was about to defend her thesis, and had already started to work at a university-associated company. And then the day came the lady in question would defend. And who would you call in as an external examiner? Roland, of course. James was one of her supervisors, and he is an old friend of Roland's. He decided to invite all sorts of people involved in the PhD over for dinner. And even I counted, as a sea level person. So that day provided a nice opportunity for having a reconciliatory beer with Roland. Good!

The viva started at 1PM. The plan was to go and have a pint afterwards! I checked that Jaco, my office neighbour and the internal examiner, was in on the plot. And a viva can easily last four hours, so that would nicely be beer o'clock. I thought I didn't have anything specific that afternoon, but I was wrong; I had to give the students some feedback on the Friday seminar, and that normally takes place from 12 to 1, but this day it had been moved to 4PM. Oh well!

Then I found Jaco in his office at 3 already. That had to mean they were done! He said Sophie, the brand new doctor, had done really well and had fended off all the questions in just 1.5 hours. Impressive! But that meant too beer o'clock had been pulled forward a bit. But a woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do. I took Roland to the pub. Jaco only wanted to come after the seminar.

It was good to catch up a bit and leave past strife behind. But then duty called; I had to get to the seminar. It was about marine conservation at Chagos. The chap was clearly quite into this topic! A seminar is supposed to be an hour, including questions, but this chap needed more than 1.5. A bit much, especially for a Friday afternoon.

 Convenient picture of a scientist recording something like coral biodiversity in Chagos, found on Wikipedia

When it finally ended Jaco and I went to the pub, where Roland joined us. And after one pint we went to James's, for dinner. It was a nice blend of people! Sophie the new doctor, her husband, James (her supervisor), Roland (the external), Anna (who did James's teaching last year, but now lives in Canada), Katrien (also an old acquaintance of Roland), Fabienne (a former Bangor postdoc who now works in Liverpool; I had met her the week before), Ingrid (the neighbour) and me. And of course the food was amazing! And preceded by nibbles, and followed by dessert, cheese, coffee, chocolate and wine. Blimey! James doesn't do things by halves. But when Roland decided he had to leave (he had another day in the field the next day) most others let them be inspired by that, including me. I was exhausted after a busy week, with the previous day being the apotheosis. And this day had been long enough too! And may the young doctor have a long and satisfying career!

05 November 2014

Bwlch y Plwm

When we dropped off the students at the university main building the field trip ended. It was not quite time to go underground, though; we had to get ourselves and the equipment back to Menai Bridge, and then get the minibus back to the main building where the rental company would pick it up again. So we drove back to Menai, dumped the kit somewhere out of the way, and hugged Suzie and Jess goodbye. They had been minibus driver and backup glaciologist, respectively. They had been spiffing!

Now we could switch to caving mode. We dumped our own stuff all in David's car, and both drove back to Bangor. There we dropped off the keys of the hire vehicle and left. Job done! I was glad David volunteered to drive. I was knackered! And dehydrated; I drank a litre of water while he drove and felt better. I had been scampering all over the place all day, and not found much time to drink.

We met the others, or at least those that showed up; the idea of this half-term trip was that Pingu would bring his girlfriend, her son, and the son's girlfriend. But his girlfriend had a sore shoulder, the son had man flu, and he had ended up only bringing the lad's girlfriend with him. Clearly the toughest of the bunch! We drove up to where we would park and changed.

We walked up the hill; this would be a down-only trip. A few pitches we would do by pull-through. When we reached the entrance I thought I'd rig it; I don't think I've rigged a pull-through before, and it was about time. The disadvantage was that it was very wet at the top of the pitch. No surprise the others were happy to have me do the work! And I made a big pile of spaghetti of the rope, but in the end I did make a fine pitch. And went down.

It was a nice little place; at least at this level. Not many ways to go. But nice! Soon I hit the second pitch. That one went down a nice inclined wet winze with colourful decoration. I was enjoying myself! And at the bottom of that pitch there was some wandering to do; several levels leading in all sorts of directions. And a nice traverse! I like traverses (not to be confused with rifts; I may be guilty of this crime on this blog) and I liked the scamper around. I even found a way out that seemed to normally be flooded. But we didn't go out that way; we could go down further, which we did.

Below it seemed to be even bigger. Tunnels leading everywhere! Phil scampered into one, which turned out to have a nice scramble up on offer. Nice! We didn't go all the way; not everyone was keen, and it looked a bit iffy. But good to know it's there! But then it was time to go out.

 The bottom level. Pic, from an earlier trip, by Simon. 

Someone climbing up where we had too. Pic by Simon.

Soon we stepped into the warm air. It was so mild for almost-November! Very nice. We changed, ate some cake (if there's Pingu there's cake) and then we were off. David had yet another field trip the next day, and for reasons of tide they would leave at 7AM. No rest for the wicked! But we didn't stay around for a quick pint, as that would be a bit too much of a good thing even for infamous night crawler Dave. And it was fine with me; I had already been knackered before we even started, and it was worse now!

03 November 2014

Field day

It's one thing to be able to tell students something interesting about ice when they're out in the field. It's another to get them there, to have all the material needed and have it in the right place, to have parking permits and parking money and barrier passes and insurance and the answers to what the deadline is for the report and what the page limit is and when the sun will set and the tide will be high and whatnot. It's a lot of things to think about, and it all being the first time doesn't help! Only just before I told the students where they had to meet and what they had to bring and wear I found out we're supposed to pick the students up from the main campus. Not from SOS! Oh dear. Just in time. And the evening before I figured I might want to print the file that says what the students have to do. Otherwise I figured I'd be inundated by questions. So I spent the days before the field day not only doing my normal work but also scampering around, organising logistics and lunch, making sure we would have all the kit, and whatnot.

The day before the trip David came with me to Bangor to get the keys to the minibuses we'd use; they'd been delivered already. I took one bus to Menai Bridge, and loaded up the compulsory hardhats, a spade, and some trowels. And then I found the time to sit down and read up a bit on the topic; I like to know more than I need, so I can provide some background or elaborations if that comes in handy. And then I went home. I was tired!

The next morning I was in the office at 7:30. I printed the last things, made sure I had lists with the names of the students, their lunch wishes, aerial photographs of where we would go, an estimated timetable, information on tides and daylight hours, and enough pens and permanent markers to note anything that needed noting. And had a last coffee. And then I got an email from Jess, who would join as staff, that she was here. And so she was!

Suzie appeared too. We loaded up. And then David appeared. We were good to go! We drove to Bangor, where we already saw some students in lots of GoreTex hanging around near the main entrance. Good! And more and more showed up! Two were reported ill, but to my surprise everybody else showed up. So 9AM sharp we left!

We drove to the beach, where we all donned a hardhat and went to the cliff. A hat wouldn't save you from a collapsing cliff, but hey ho. And then I did my spiel! We were there to check the direction of the ice that had deposited the tills exposed in the cliff face. Had it come from the south? Straight from Snowdonia? All the students thought it would. And they set to work.

 Me setting the students up for their measurements. Notice there is onlyone student yawning! Pic by David.

I had to pretty much show every student group again how you measure alignment and dip of a clast with a compass, but that was expected. And some students were measuring in a slump, and some seemed to only be picking clasts that showed what they wanted the answer to be, but well, one can't expect them to be flawless from the start.

 Measuring away (although these seem to be working on a slump; I did warn them!) Pic by David.

When I figured we should wrap up I gathered them all. Not all had done the required number of measurements, but we had another site to go to , and the sun would set at 16:49. We had to keep going! So I had them tell me what their results were. And they had managed to get results that support their hypothesis! I must say, I still believe the established theory that the ice had actually been diverted by the larger ice stream coming from Scotland, and was heading west, into the Celtic Sea. I'll see how they write this up! But I think they got the message that trying to make your data fit your hypothesis is not a very good idea. So I did another spiel in which I also pointed out the laminated sediments between the tills, and completed the story of the local ice, the proglacial lake, and then the ice coming from far NE overriding all of that. Rather evocative. I think! I hope they think so too...

Next stop was lunch. We drove to Llanberis, to Pete's Eats. We enjoyed a hearty lunch while the rain slammed down on the street. Snug! But not so promising for the second half of the trip. But when we got to Pen-y-Pass it was dry again. Splendid! We walked up to Llyn Llydaw. I did a spiel again. Here we were gathered to test the hypothesis that the glacial striations were made by a topography-constrained glacier. And this time they went with the data! And of course there was more to it than the hypothesis. This location has two sets of striations: one ~20.000 years old from the cold heart of the last ice age, and then another set, which has almost obliterated the former, which stems from ~12.000 years ago; the last hiccup of the last ice age. And they found them! The former striations pointed straight at a mountain ridge. The ice sheet then had been so thick it had just flowed over. Spectacular! But indeed, the later striations were caused by a more modest valley glacier. And upon that discovery we were done. We could go back down. Way before the sun set! I thought it had been a good day. And it wasn't even over yet! The rest of the day, though, I wouldn't be carrying much responsibility. Nice!

 On the way to the next field site. Pic by David.

 I seem to need wild gestures and facial expressions to get my message across. Pic by David.

 The students spread out, measuring striations, or already being done. Pic by David.

01 November 2014

Teaching midpoint

It's only been a month, but it feels like a lifetime! From the first lecture to being rather blasé. This week, I delivered the last "regular" lectures in my glaciology module, and we did the field trip (I'll blog about that separately). And the deadline for the first assignment associated with this module has passed. So now the emphasis has shifted from preparing lectures to marking. Let's see to what extent the students got what I've been telling them!

I was nervous for the first lecture. But not so much for the second. And not at all for the last few. And the lectures themselves changed too: in the beginning I basically took the lectures as they were, and just made the slides better: a title, an up-to-date picture (no scanned overheads, no grainy pictures with people in 80s outfits scampering past geologically interesting outcrops), a reference. But then I started to change the structure of the slides, as I figured they didn't always flow nicely. And then I started to take things out I didn't find relevant, and put interesting new stuff in its place. And before I knew it I was pretty much making my presentations from scratch. A lot of work, but very satisfying! But now I only have to make the recap presentation. As it is a recap, it is quite a question of copy and paste. But there are two lectures in a different module coming up. These sure will be made from scratch! But I'd best get that done before the next deadline hits me. I'll get an essay, an IPCC study and a field trip report from all my 38 glaciology students; that's already 114 pieces of work to mark! And then there is the report from the Laugharne fieldwork. That's some 26. I won't have to worry about getting bored anywhere soon! 

After christmas I'll only have three more lectures to give. I already made them, but quite a while ago; I think I'll revisit them and make them a bit more mine. It is a lot nicer to lecture from your own stuff! And then the teaching comes to an abrupt end. I might get one or a few MSc students, and will help out with another field trip, and do something in some module on general introductory science. Not sure what, but surely not something within my field of expertise. Too bad it ends! I liked it. And it seems it wasn't only me; there had been some teaching-related meeting with staff and student representatives, and several of my colleagues told me the student reps had said the students loved my lectures. That was great to hear! I might have found a good place for myself in life. It's just too bad that in order to get a lecturer's job, just being a good lecturer isn't enough...