Wednesday 15 April 2009

Lost In Spain #3: Geologist In Da Field

The Lost Geologist started it, and Johannes Lochmann, Silver Fox, Kim, Hypocentre and of course Geotripper have all obliged. So, now that I have an up-to-date photo of me in the field, here goes:

Now, because I was a staff member on this trip (and not being assessed on the quality of my notebook and observations) I left the hammer and hard hat at home, and I have a horrible feeling my hand lens went walkabout in a saltmarsh in Norfolk as I can't find it.

Hair: Sometimes in a ponytail, but that interferes with my favourite field hat, so recently I've started putting just the fringe (bangs) back in a clip. It lowers the chances of me getting a sunburnt scalp, and if I have hair over my ears they avoid a good roasting too. My field hat is a proper brown felt cowboy hat bought at the Central States Fair in Rapid City, SD, in 2002.

Sunburned peeling nose: Rarely happens. I use SPF15 every day and usually have the field hat on, so my face usually goes a bit browner and freckly. REALLY freckly.

Beard: Not yet.

T-shirt and Logo: Many of them. The one I'm wearing in this photo is from SciBlog 2008, but I have a great collection of Sedgwick Club t-shirts, plus some of my own and ReBecca's t-shirts from CafePress.

Vest: I wear a fleece mostly. The thickness of the fleece (or even the number of fleeces!) depends greatly on the weather. It was probably about 15°C when this was taken, and shortly after finishing the climb I had to remove the fleece.

Things in the Vest: I'm a backpack girl. It has pretty much everything in it - survival bag, first aid kit, waterproof jacket and trousers, lunch, a Platypus bag of water, wallet, notebook, pen and (if it isn't round my neck) my compass-clinometer.

Belt and Buckle: Not really a weight-bearing belt, so the hammer goes in my backpack or on the back in the netting. I do put my camera on my belt though, and my knife.

Pockets: Mobile in the left hand pocket, handkerchief in the right hand pocket. I had two further pockets down the legs, so I was able to put my little tin of Nivea moisturiser (I get such dried lips in the field, this is a life-saver) and the car-keys in each.

Rock Hammer: I have a 2lb masonry hammer. It's 12 years old and my father nearly wept with pride when he took me to B&Q to buy it. I use it more for DIY now than hammering at stuff, and on a day-to-day basis it stays by the side of the bed in case we get burgled (while I'd never try to fight off a burglar with a gun I do rather fancy my chances swinging a hammer at a knife-wielding thung).

Hands: I have practically NO coordination whatsoever, so I like to keep my hands free to grab hold of rocks, vegetation, and the odd unfortunate colleague if I lose my balance. I always wear my watch, and my three rings - engagement ring, wedding ring and a simple Black Hills Gold band. Paul bought my engagement ring with the specific intention that it should be able to deal with the field, and as such the stone sits completely flush - no danger of snagging.

Legs: I wore shorts once on this fieldtrip and was so appalled by how large, wobbly and pallid they were that I put trousers back on and never dared bare them again. However, courtesy of a "short cut" that the Great White Leader took us on, when the staff were out on an afternoon hike, my legs managed to get scratched, bitten, bloodied and bruised.

Pants: Ah, two nations divided by a common language... I always wear pants in the field, and a quick survey of the staff revealed that not many of the male staff changed their underwear every day. On the trousers front (versus underpants) it's multi-pocketed combats all the way. I was appalled at the number of students that turned up in jeans, and more so at the hotpants-plus-leggings crew!

Shoelaces: Mine are still in perfect nick.

Socks: Bridgedale socks with arch supports for my flat feet.

Boots: I bought a pair of North Face boots in SD in 2002, and I am amazed and delighted that they have lasted this long with no damage. Having said that, this was after I did my long geological mapping stint, so I've probably only done the equivalent of one field season in them since I bought them.

Ironclad bladders: (((Billy))) commented about the British climate and our lack of rock exposure in response to an earlier post. Well, one advantage of having vegetation cover is that there's always somewhere to have a field piss. The basic rules are to make sure you can't see any of your party, be sure to face down a slope, and try not to piss on your trousers. Having said that, I'm pretty good at lasting a day in the field, and only needed one field piss on the most recent trip.

Brunton compass: I have a Sunnto compass-clino. Bruntons scare me. I've only seen these enormous cast-iron monstrosities. I suspect they're more accurate, but have never found this to be a problem.

Eyes: Always shielded with my trusty wraparound sunglasses, to delay the appearance of those tasty crows-feet wrinkles (with added tan lines).

Brain: Mine was well pickled by the end of the visit, and my blood was probably chemically indistinguishable from San Miguel.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Lost In Spain #2 (suppl.): Parlilofograptus gen. et sp. nov.

It occurred to me soon after my arrival in Spain that this was the first field trip I had been on over 1st April, and as such I had an unusual and exciting opportunity: to play an April Fool's Day joke on the students. I checked with the leaders of the trip, who were more than happy for a prank to be played. I asked on Twitter for a couple of suggestions, but in the end decided that sometimes the oldies are the best, and they don't get much older than this:

Yes folks, it was the old draw-the-graptolites-on-the-rock trick. Now, the legend of Cambridge University goes that a certain Respected Pillar Of The Scientific Community was sufficiently fooled by this prank to seriously consider a manuscript, so I was sure it would be bought wholeheartedly by the undergrads. This was reinforced when I showed it to the palaeontology staff members, who thought it was hilarious, and then showed it to the sedimentology staff member, who said "Oh cool, graptolites".

I handed it round, and frankly the moment the poor souls started sketching the rock in their notebooks I nearly lost it. There is no career for me in sitcoms - I was corpsing all over the outcrop. I didn't even need to outright lie to them: I just said "Here, what do you think of this?" and they all said "Oh cool, graptolites". It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

And they all took it in turns to note it - I even came up with a name, Parlilofograptus, which you would have thought might start to give the game away. Some of them were starting to second-guess themselves, muttering "I thought graptolites were extinct" or "It looks like someone's just drawn them on in pencil", but STILL THEY WROTE IT DOWN!

So I was not popular at midday when I confessed that it was all an April Fool. There were groans, shouts of "I knew it!" and one "Well, well, well - it's STILL going in the notebook so there!". It is quite possible that the students will never trust anything I say ever again (although some of them had a sufficiently short memory to ask me about a fossil leaf they found - don't worry kids, I wasn't pulling your leg about that; I do genuinely think it was a beech). However, it was, as well as being bloody hilarious, a useful exercise for them in learning how to trust their own judgment:
  1. They knew that graptolites were extinct by 350Ma, the lower Carboniferous.
  2. They knew we were looking at rocks of Eocene age, at 56-34Ma.
  3. They knew that graptolites were most frequently found in black shales, from low-energy, low-oxygen environments.
  4. They were standing in front of a turbidite (pretty much the complete opposite of a black shale in terms of energy!) on that rock face behind them.
  5. They reckoned it looked as though someone had drawn the "fossils" on in pencil.
Some of the students are still a bit pissed off with me, but they needn't worry as the overall trip leaders were in on the joke and thought it was hilarious - no notebooks will be marked down for the presence of graptolites (although they might win some gullibility points). And if it makes them stop and critically analyse what they're being told rather than blindly writing everything down, then there has been a useful lesson in and around the pranking.

I have absolutely zero authority as far as they're concerned, but it was a sacrifice worth making, and I can't wait to go back and victimise another year group of students.

Monday 13 April 2009

Lost In Spain #2: Fossils

For a sedimentology and structural geology trip, there was a fair bit to interest the palaeontologist. By far the most common organisms we saw were Eocene Nummulites, planktonic forama:

You can see one in cross-section in the middle of the photograph above - that's under 10mm wide. The other bits and pieces are Nummulites stacked at 90° to the rock surface.

There was much harvesting of micropalaeontology samples, and several people will have looked sheepish at Barcelona Airport when asked "Has anyone asked you to carry anything onto the flight for them today?" as the weight had to be distributed...

And there was even something to interest even the most diehard dinosaurologist, in the form of a Cretaceous ornithopod trackway:

I clocked two different animals - an adult and a sub-adult or juvenile. All the notices were written in Spanish (it's soooo inconsiderate when countries put their information panels in their native language... </snark>), but they seemed to have a pretty good explanation of the formation of the footprints in the sediment.

And you will no doubt be relieved to see that the residents of Aren have in no way cashed in on the presence of dinosaurs:

Nor indeed have any of the coffee shops embarked on an ambitious mural of life in the Cretaceous of northern Spain:

It was just a bit of a shame this was the last stop of the day on a rather damp afternoon, otherwise I suspect the students would have been fascinated looking at the footprints. I'd certainly have loved to have chatted more to them about what they were looking at.

Sunday 12 April 2009

Lost In Spain #1

The laundry is done (thanks Paul). The sleep deficit is restored (thanks bed). The blood alcohol level is normalised (thanks tea). And after suffering some serious fieldtrip withdrawal (isn't it a bitch?!) I'm on the even keel and will try to blog a bit about what the point of the trip was. I'm hoping that some of my students will click through from Facebook and correct me on any inaccuracies (not least because they had to listen and make notes, whereas I could stare slack-jawed into space if I wished).

The base for the trip was Ainsa, northern Spain. It's one of the many gateways to the Pyrenees, but this was as close as we got to the famous mountains themselves:

Monte Perdido is on the very left, and in the middle are Tres Marias. This was essentially a sedimentology trip, with a bit of structural geology thrown in for good measure (and some bitchin' sequence stratigraphy). Most of the rocks were Eocene in age, corresponding to the collision of Iberia with France, and the foreland basins associated with the orogeny. The students got to see turbidites (including a megaturbidite):

They saw and logged turbidites and other marine sediments:

And they saw channels in the field:

Some of the more observant ones might have recognised some parallels between the rivers of the Eocene and the rather spiffy braided river flowing south through Ainsa:

They made stratigraphic logs (and unfortunately they are all too young to remember the Log Song), they mapped folds and they saw some pretty decent structure:

And the vertical fold at Broto was astounding, reminding me of a particular fold at Lulworth Cove on the south coast of the UK:

More on the fossils next time, for they were numerous and awesome.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Separated At Orogenesis

Pena Montanesa, north of Ainsa, northern Spain:

El Capitan, north of El Paso, Texas:

Of course, they're about 200 million years apart in age, but what's that between friends?

More on the fieldtrip later, but now there is a margarita calling my name in the garden.
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