Mission Possible: Scoat Tarn Boot Camp

By Fiona Russell (PhD researcher and Graduate Teaching Assistant)

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2st July 2014, the day we conquered Scoat Tarn!

Your mission, Fiona Russell, should you wish to accept it is…… compile a group of eight willing volunteers, two boats, paddles, 8 life jackets (must be safe), two corers, 350m of rope, 10 litres of drinking water, a ladder, some dodgy knees, sunshine and some cling film, then tackle one of the highest lakes in the Lake District to recover 1000 years of mud from beneath 18m of water. This message will self-destruct in 30 seconds.

After some last minute alterations due potential 40 kph winds on Thursday, we set off for an epic coring trip to Scoat Tarn, a typical mountain cirque basin at 600m altitude in the Lake District National Park, UK. Scoat Tarn is small (5.2ha), deep (<20 m), lies in a west facing valley at an altitude of 602 m to the north and above Wastwater, England’s deepest lake. The catchment comprises steeply sloping walls; with summits in excess of 825 m. Scoat Tarn shows a sediment signature of severe acidification in recent years as a direct result of human-induced acid deposition, and the location is one of the UK Upland Waters Monitoring Network of sites, whose data show the lake has recovered to some extent the last two decades.

Seven of the group sensibly met at the Wasdale Head Inn where we set up camp and spent an enjoyable evening in the pub eating drinking and watching Belgium knock USA out of the World Cup. The eighth decided to play a league tennis match til 8.30pm and then drive to the Lake District arriving just in time for last orders and a welcome pint of Lakeland Ale already purchased by the team.

In the morning, after a quiet night’s sleep accompanied by incessant bleating sheep, squawking birds, cuckoos and general noisy countryside, the reality of it all struck home and the tough fieldwork we had come here for arrived. A short drive along the edge of Wastwater and we arrived at the car park. Eight rucksacks packed to the brim with boats, ropes and coring equipment, we set off into the hills for a slightly daunting 500m climb over 4km.

Several hours and several miles (or km) later we reached Scoat Tarn. The aim was to collect 3 short gravity cores and a longer sediment record using a piston corer. To get the latter, we had to set up a rig with a stable working area from which we could operate the piston from. Our design was successful (it was worth carrying the ladder all that way!) and we managed to extract a one meter core from 18 m of water that will probably encompass the last 1000 years of environmental history for this upland catchment and what a catchment a stunning cirque basin in the southwest fells of one of the most beautiful valleys in England…..

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We returned home to Liverpool the next morning with bags of sediment and a huge sense of achievement, my first PhD samples in the bag! Thanks to the team; Richard Chiverrell, John Boyle, Daniel Schillereff, Jen Clear, Hugh Smith, Amy Lennard and Agata Marzecova.

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Taking a trip… by Andy Plater

I thought you’d appreciate a bit of an insight into a conference trip.  I was recently invited to attend a conference at the State Key Laboratory for Estuarine and Coastal Research (SKLEC) at East China Normal University.  As well as taking part in the ‘International Symposium on Climate Change and Human Activities: Coastal Causes and Consequences’.  The event was a culmination of a number of research projects being undertaken at SKLEC, many involving international colleagues, and especially the Dutch coastal engineering community.  I guess I was invited because I’ve now been working with the folks at SKLEC and ECNU for nearly 20 years!  This has involved staff and postgraduate exchanges, training workshops, and various field and laboratory research projects.  This link stems from the President of ECNU, Prof. Yu Lizhong, being a former postgraduate in the Department of Geography at Liverpool, and has now grown into an institutional partnership.

The discussions on the afternoon of the first day centred on various initiatives to attract overseas postgraduates and postdoctoral research fellows to SKLEC.  I was rather dwarfed by the research reputations of the other contributors, especially the Dutch coastal researchers: Roelvink, de Vriend, Stive and Winterwerp.  The best thing was to meet Willard Moore – someone who I’ve wanted to meet since I did my PhD.  He was such a lovely chap. The discussions extended through to the early evening, although I headed off to have dinner with Lizhong, Zhang Weiguo (my good colleague and Deputy Director of SKLEC) and Rick Battarbee (who was visiting various research institutes in China).  I then retired to start on my presentation – and to begin the battle with jet lag.  It’s always easy to get to sleep on the first night in China, but you generally wake up at 3 am.  Still, being up and about at that time gives you an opportunity to Skype home.

Breakfast was non-existent on day two – I’d managed to get back to sleep at about 6 am and ended up waking at 8:30 am for a conference start at 9:00 am.  The sacrifice was worth it; there were plenty of tea and cakes during the session of keynote talks which were mostly on coastal modelling, sedimentary processes and coastal evolution.  Changsheng Chen’s presentation on the development and application of FV-COM was superb.  Ian Townend also did a great job on the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment.   Despite the serious attractions of a few Tsingtaos with Ulo Mander, Chris Craft and Richard Bellerby (new colleagues arising from off-line discussions during the meeting), I had to go and finish my talk – and again wage war with the early wake-up. 

Attendees at the conference – I’m at the back!

I successfully managed breakfast on day three – along with Chris Craft who was another early riser.  The parallel session talks at the conference were quite a challenge.  The themes of the various talks were, er, varied, as were the experiences of the numerous presenters.  Rather lax chairing of the sessions also meant that we ran on.  The same applied to the afternoon, where over-running of the first session meant that I hurried into the session to give my talk on using numerical modelling in support of coastal management decision-making.  It seemed to go pretty well – and I had a couple of quite challenging questions, notably on how providing advice for decision makers could learn from the experiences of the recently jailed Italian seismologists!

That night was the formal conference dinner at a plush restaurant in Shanghai… and the inevitable karaoke. We knew it was going to be done on a ‘national’ basis so John Dearing and I nervously tackled the various dishes – from hairy crab to whole fish soup.   And as representatives from the various nations did their thing, stage-managed impressively by Dano Roelvink who seemed to be a bit of a karaoke king, I was desperately seeking the lyrics for “On Ilkley Moor baht ’at” on my phone.  As we took to stage, I secured additional performers in the form of Richard Bellerby and Ian Townend.  To the cheers of “The Beatles!” we disappointed the international audience pressed on with our planned rendition.  It wasn’t too bad at all (phew) – especially with Richard knowing where to chip in with some smutty little additions.  The evening ended with me, Ulo, Chris, Richard and Norbert Hertkorn heading off to ‘The Pub’ outside the back gate of the university – and then returning in the early hours by having to climb over the gate!

The fourth day saw the conclusion of the conference in the morning, and then me spending some time in the magnetics laboratory at SKLEC helping Da Dong, a PhD student at ECNU, identify some Chinese diatoms.  Surprisingly, the preservation was really good.  I also had a good chat with Weiguo and Lizhong about setting up a dual PhD programme between the University of Liverpool and ECNU.  UoL graduates really should be thinking of a future in Shanghai, especially in the area of environmental research and resource management.

That evening I headed off to the airport with Simon Neill, a lecturer from the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor.  He was due to fly back via Abu Dhabi but his flight was cancelled.  Fortunately, he was transferred onto my flight (via Doha), so we compared notes on the crappy superhero and sci-fi films that we watched on the way back.  Do not waste any of your valuable time watching the remake of Total Recall!

The end is nigh

A writer’s retreat in Finland

Post by Prof. Richard Bradshaw

After 36 years of teaching, research and knowledge exchange I realised it was now or never to try something different before slipping into senility. While dozing quietly in a strategy meeting about REF, the inspiration came – I realised I had never even tried to write a book. Could I do it?  Could I focus on just one project for an entire year, away from the daily round of mails, meetings and mayhem? I applied for a fellowship and am now just completing my year away and the book.

What freedom to read and write whatever I wished. I chose a co-author to impose some necessary discipline and finally the end is in sight. Martin Sykes and I have asked how we brought planet earth to the state it is in today and then we take a look at where we are headed. The story begins with the first time humans used fire to alter an ecosystem and explores a few possible endings, some happy and some not. It has been revealing to place the current state of the world in a one million year trajectory through time. It has brought into sharp focus where we might be headed and emphasises how many of our decision-makers are sleep-walking towards a precipice, trapped into a disastrous status quo.  We have produced a serious academic text that is heavy going in places. But this seemed necessary to provide support for the key message, which is –  immediate adoption of plan B or witness an unmanaged readjustment of society as we know it, accompanied by a massive reduction in global population.

Changing the surface of the earth. Central Park, New York