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.

New paper: Soil mineral depletion drives early Holocene lake acidification

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By Richard Chiverrell

Every year, about May, student examination season begins, teaching winds down and the thoughts of Physical Geographers turn to fieldwork, travel, seeing the world, all preferably with sediment corer in hand. In 2007 an intrepid team of John Boyle, Rich Chiverrell, Andy Plater and Oliver Boyle (John’s brother) set sail, more or less literally for Norway, on the Newcastle to Bergen ferry. Our travels were to test a numerical model developed by John Boyle that suggested that changes in lake and terrestrial ecosystems, the acidification of surface waters during the early postglacial period, could be explained by the weathering and depletion of the mineral apatite from soils. The modelling was published in a brilliantly titled paper ‘Loss of apatite caused irreversible early-Holocene lake acidification’ in the journal Holocene. We docked in Bergen around 6pm and then drove for 12 hours to north of Nordfjord to the island of Vågsøy, avoiding reindeer, sleep, horrendous sheeting rain and sadly all the Nordfjord ferries (closed for the night), to sample the sediments of Kråkenes Lake. We arrived around 6am and grabbed 4-5 hours sleep in a delightful sea front cottage, before sampling a 8.96-m-long core from the terrestrialized peat bog that forms the southwestern arm of the lake using a 1-m-long, 70-mmdiameter Russian corer in 10 overlapping drives. The coring was completed in 4 hours, a pretty remarkable 2 days. After surviving on meagre rations of vacuum packed gammon and Uncle Ben’s stir fry sauce (note other brands exist) prompted by the lack of fishing prowess displayed by members of the team (they did catch seaweed) and Sunday shopping hours in Norway (i.e. closed), we had two days to explore the catchment and the seaboard of western Norway on our journey south. Thankfully the shops opened Monday and more fitting food stocks were procured.

Twelve months later we won a Natural Environment Research Council Grant to carry out the first validation of John’s numerical model, principally testing whether the changes in soil primary mineral concentrations after the end of the last Ice Age deplete at the same rate and extent as the acidification observed in many postglacial and formerly glaciated lakes. Easily weathered minerals in this case apatite (source of mineral phosphorus) appear to be quickly released to soils and water courses producing a base-rich phase seen in lake sediment records with an associated higher ecological productivity early after deglaciation, and this phase ends as the supply of base declines. The acidification that follows had previously been attributed to climate change and plant-soil community succession. The findings of this research, with the laboratory work completed by research assistant Dr Ian Thrasher, have just been published in the journal Geology in a paper called ‘Soil mineral depletion drives early Holocene lake acidification’. Hopefully you will be convinced by our case! The explanation in this paper has some wide ranging implications, mainly arising from that this acidification process is difficult to reverse, unless you completely refresh land surfaces e.g. a new glaciation, producing new terrain by volcanic eruption or really really large-scale turn-over of soils by erosion. We will be following these implications up with further papers on phosphorus dynamics and other implications in the coming months.

Year 1 Geology and Physical Geographers on a weekend in Snowdonia 2012

Over the weekend of 20-21st October Year 1 students from the School of Environmental Sciences set off for some autumn fun and relaxation in the mountains of Snowdonia, a parallel trip to the Trawsfynedd weekend taken by Geography, Ocean Science and Ecology students. A happy bunch of Year 1 Geology and Physical Geography (GPG) students, along with fellow year 1 students on other Geology and Geophysics

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degrees and ~9 lecturers to spent two days gallivanting around Cwm Idwal and for some another large hole in the ground (quarry).  Cwm Idwal, a large amphitheatre calved by erosion by ice during the repeated glaciations of the last 2 million years was at its stunning best in the autumn sunshine.

On Saturday after an early start from Liverpool we all congregated at the Llyn Ogwen car park at the foot of the Carneddau and Glyderau mountain ranges. From there Pete Kokelaar led a magical mystery tour through the turbulent volcanic history displayed in the rock record. The geology shows the deposition of huge pyroclastic flows from volcanic eruptions into a marine basin ~450 million years ago, and these strata have been deformed into a large syncline in subsequent mountain building. Outcrop after outcrop were crawled over from the head of the Nant Ffrancon to the foot of the Idwal Slabs. Overnighting in Caernarvon with a good meal, some pretty good beers, vividly colored and tasting shots courtesy of the students (thanks I think…), views of many members of the local constabulary and UK Borders Agency, and some bizarre speckley green-red glitter-ball lighting effects in the chosen hostelry playing havoc with Alan Boyle’s attention span later, a good night’s rest was had by some……

On Sunday the GPG students gained their first immersion into the wonderful world of glacial geomorphology and coring of lake sediments to reconstruct past environments with Rich Chiverrell and Jim Marshall. After a quick introduction to the broad landscape components, the skills of triangulation and geomorphological mapping were introduced, before 2-3 hours of mapping the retreat moraines of the last glaciation to have affect Cwm Idwal 12,600-11,500 years ago. The afternoon saw a switch of focus to the ‘very wet’ marsh surrounding the lake, where a sediment sampler was used to recover ~4 metres of lake deposits. These muds for the upper layers comprise peat and organic lake mud, but quickly give way to blue-grey gritty silts lain down as this last glacier declined and vanished 11,500 years ago.

Physical Geography and Geology interwoven and combined with fantastic weather, great views and some of the finest scenery in the UK; is there a better way to start your degree?

To Hell and back: sampling lakes and landscapes on the way to 66° 33’ N

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By Rich Chiverrell.

“If this is hell then you could say, it’s heavenly! Hell ain’t a bad place to be….” (Young, Young and Scott, 1977)

For 16-17 days of July 2012, John Boyle and I led a team from the School of Environmental Science (SoES) on a journey of 5000 km through Sweden and Norway sampling small lake basins from the boreal (coniferous) forests of the Scandes Mountains to lakes north of the Arctic Circle. The research was part of the ongoing Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT) ‘DYNAMITE’ (DYNAmic Models in Terrestrial Ecosystems and Landscapes) Project, which has supported research and teaching cooperation between and Liverpool and Lund University (Sweden) 2009 – 2013.

I set off with Daniel Schillereff on the day Andy Murray lost the Wimbledon final depriving me of the opportunity to get depressed by the ‘state of British Tennis’, apart from watching the first 2 sets in a terrible pub near the docks in Harwich. We were the advance party taking a people carrier loaded with equipment and fine music from Liverpool to Harwich, the ferry from Harwich to Esjberg (Denmark)  (overnight) where we gorged ourselves on the Smorgasbord, you can never have too many prawns, mussels and langoustines. From Esjberg we drove to Sweden across the humongous bridges that connect the islands of Denmark and SW Sweden to rendezvous with the rest of the team, timed perfectly to avoid the loading of the second vehicle. In Lund we met with the ‘absentee professor’ on secondment to Lund for 12 months and the team grew to include John Boyle, Masters student Fiona Russell, and BSc undergraduates Rachel Devine and Dan Wilberforce, the latter three engaged in fieldwork for their respective dissertations.

After fine dining, hosted by Gina and Richard (Bradshaw), we set off for the North. Commencing in Lund, we followed a route that traced the retreat of the last Scandinavian Ice Sheet from marginal limits 11,500 years ago in southern Sweden to sites further north that became ice-free has recently as 10-9,500 years ago. Our aim was to examine the nutrient dynamics of these small lakes and catchments during the early millennia of the current interglacial where mineral weathering and depletion appears to govern phosphorus supply to the lakes regulating water pH and thus ecosystem functioning.  So starting with Holtjarnen (60°39’N, 15°56’E) 620km north from Lund the team journeyed 320km north to Abborrtjärnen (63° 53 N, 14° 27 E), at both these lakes we bagged 2 long (whole Holocene) sediment cores, shallow surface cores and loads of catchment samples. We also experienced the delights of saunas, cabins, ‘lurve beef’, mosquitoes and loud industrial German heavy metal music.

Meanwhile the final three members of the team, Lee Bradley (post doc) and PhD students Tim Shaw and Jenny Clear began their journey from Liverpool. Flying to Stockholm and catching the night train to Murjek, essentially a hamlet the middle of absolutely nowhere in the northern Swedish forest close to the Arctic Circle populated by more reindeer than people, the lucky three arrived at 8 am and settled in for the long wait to be collected @4pm, more or less. Luckily the station cafe opened serving a nice range of frozen bread and very good value coffee for some.

Further south the rest of the team made the best pace they could to collect them, stopping at strategic burger bars, supermarkets and Systembolaget (State run liquor stores) for three nights in Jåhkåmåhkke, north of the Arctic Circle. There we visited and cored Sotaure Javri (66° 43 N, 20° 34 E), and slightly south Nuortsap-javre (66° 24 N, 20° 27 E), both yielding plenty of sediment. We also expanded our food range to include Char, Elk and Reindeer, before moving west towards the Norwegian border to our last lake ~ Rammstein Javri (66° 24 N, 16° 52 E) and the delightful village of Jäkkvik, where John Boyle treated us to his speciality-de-maison of ‘burnt porridge’.

From there it was the route home taking a very ‘long-cut’ through Norway, four people (Dan S, Tim, Jen and Lee) leaving us in Trondheim. Whereas the rest took in the delights of Hell, the Norwegian mountains including the Jotunheimen (“Home of the Giants”), glaciers (Nigardsbreen), waterfalls, Hytte, Fjords and Stavkirke on the way back to Lund in SW Sweden. In Lund they all abandoned me to drive a car loaded with sediment and rocks back across Denmark and the UK. A stunning trip, great food and the best company…..


Young A, Young M and Scott B, 1977. Hell ain’t a bad place to be. Let there be Rock, Atlantic Records.