Reflections on the MSc fieldclass of 2015: environmental changes in Cumbria

9th to the 16th October 2015

Each the MSc programmes in Climate and Environmental Change and Environmental Sciences begin with a 7 day fieldclass to the English Lake District. The programme involves a research training in techniques of Environmental Reconstruction and Characterisation focused on coastal (saltmarsh), lacustrine and wetland environments. The following slide-shows showcase the field activities

Day 1 the late glacial climate and environmental changes at Hawes Water (Lancashire)

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Day 2 climate histories from lowland raised mires (Leven Estuary)

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Day 3-4 sediment dynamics and environmental changes at Brotherswater

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Day 5 saltmarsh evolution and radionuclides in the Irish Sea (Walney Island)

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Days 6 and 7 involve small group work on individual projects presented on the last evening, before home and some deserved rest……

MSc class of 2015

MSc class of 2015

Faerie stories from the Lake District: the MSc field week October 2012

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The cast list

Prince Charming, Pinocchio, Lost Boy 1 – Richard Chiverrell

Alice in Wonderland, Lost Boy 2 – Dan Schillereff

The Pied Piper, Lost Boy 3 – Neil Macdonald

Overdramatic Damsel in Distress- Laura Crossley

Other Damsels in Distress- Huan Chang and Mary Oni

Sleeping Beauty- Amber Lewis-Bolton

Group 1 – Mary Oni, Kirsten Booth, Richard Walton, Ann Connor

Group 2 – Amber Lewis-Bolton, Matt Williams

Group 3 – Huan Chang, Laura Crossley, Danielle Alderson

Our story begins….. once upon a time (last week), in a land not so far away (the Lake District), the 2012-2013 Masters class in the School of Environmental Sciences set off in a convoy for the annual field class.

For those not inducted into the magical world of physical geography, a true physical geography field trip involves mud… and lots of it! The first day at Hawes Water did not disappoint with ‘competitive coring’ at the margins of the lake. Unfortunately, as we discovered, a competition cannot occur if one team loses their most valuable piece of equipment (a Russian corer stuck 1.3m below the water surface). A valiant rescue attempt was made by ‘Prince Charming’, but regrettably it was not meant to be. Although this was not exactly the ideal start to the field trip, this did provide the moment of the week in our opinion, after he stripped to the waist and submerged into the murky depths to rescue his beloved corer. Evidence is available; but, if required, it is pay-per-view, as poor masters students have to earn a (dis)honest crust somehow. Trust us, it is truly worth it!

Day 2 involved a trip to Roudsea Wood and the coring of an ombrotrophic peat bog. Key discoveries included how to meticulously classify sections of peat cores, and the pattern of changes in bog surface wetness and climate over the past 3000 years. Also important was the parallel invention of a game based on the US version of the sport ‘rounders’, this used corer rods and balls of intertidal clay and is perhaps one for future students to develop. A full scale mud fight was avoided, despite subtle prompting.

Biggar Marsh was the destination for day 3; a salt marsh near Barrow on Walney Island. The aim was use short cores and the record of radionuclide deposition across the salt marsh to discover the controls over the spatial pattern of sediment deposition. A visit from law enforcement officers and the National Coastguard proved the highlight of the day, after local residents believed children may have wandered into the tidal marsh – we were armed with differential kinetic GPS and gamma spectrometers so clearly youngsters in Barrow have expensive toys! The ‘Prince’ managed to charm his way out of any altercation with the law. After a short field day, magnetic susceptibility, XRF and radionuclide measurements were completed back at Castle Head in our makeshift laboratory through which we discovered evidence of peak radionuclide discharge from Sellafield.

Day 4 involved work at Brotherswater, a beautiful lake patrolled by some rather sinister and hungry swans. We used Russian and Gravity corers to take sediment cores from the lake bed from our leader’s vessel. This heavy work was a team effort as the water was 15m deep. We recovered 3m of brown laminated mud and two gravity cores. The now tired motley crew were able to take a well earned break, whilst the ‘The Lost Boys’ abandoned them to recover materials from sediment traps. Three ‘damsels in distress’ were stranded on the vessel as the circling swans moved closer and closer and the others marooned in a slightly safer location at the mouth of the raging Dovedale Beck. Further games ensued, ‘underwater golf’ a game played with a river, a metal pole and a golf ball*. Eventually we were rescued and further cores were retrieved from the lake bed, and treasures of the day were conveyed at a sedate pace to Castle Head for the application of a wide range of techniques (environmental magnetism, geochemistry and pollen analysis) which allowed us to open a window to view the environmental processes of the past 500 years.

Day 5 involved further work at Brotherswater where we recovered more sediment and followed ‘The Pied Piper’ to an eerie, probably haunted, abandoned mine to look for further treasure: lead, silver and zinc. Exhausted and overflowing with knowledge about monks, farming and tree felling. There was an obligatory visit to yonder hostelry, the excellent Brotherswater Inn, to warm up, drink hot chocolate, eat cake, and mentally prepare for Neil’s driving over Kirkstone Pass to get back to the field centre. Possibly the best moment of the Brotherswater days was the look on Dan Schillereff’s face when the cores were unveiled; Alice in Wonderland comes to mind.

We loved Brotherswater, and all decided to return for days 6-7, the group projects. The catchment has a history of lead mining extending back 300 years and the three groups explored the evidence for this and other human impacts on the landscape in various sedimentary records. The first group used a portable XRF gun in the catchment and recorded the geochemistry of surface soils progressing 2km down the valley across former mining areas, current and former river beds, floodplains and agricultural fields towards the lake. The second with some trepidation entered the flooded impenetrable willow and reed swamps fringing the lake delta to explore how the river inflow had behaved over thousands of years. The third braved the vessel once again to take more cores from an alternative backwater location to explore any differences in sedimentation rate. Many hours of laboratory analysis followed and after processing the results, Friday evening culminating with group presentations of our discoveries. The education tables were then turned over as Neil Macdonald gained an education in recent music. Saturday concluded our trip and after extracting a slightly bedraggled ‘Sleeping Beauty’ out of bed, we began our trip on the long and winding road back to Liverpool.

We had a lot of fun on this trip, but we also worked very hard – field work all day and laboratory analysis during the evenings. Despite ‘Pinocchio’ telling us that we would have an early finish every night, this never actually happened, apparently that depends on your definition of early and time is relative anyway. We experienced a range of new techniques on this field trip which will support us in our further study. And as for the ‘happily ever after’ ending, that instalment we must leave for dissertation time in the summer.

THE END…. (or is it).

* Heath and safety: with underwater golf only the ball is submerged not the players, unless appropriate breathing apparatus is available. Life jackets should be worn.