Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Being an apprentice at NIGL by Dr Jonathan Lewis

I began my isotope apprenticeship with NERC Isotopes GeosciencesLaboratory (part of the British Geological Survey) in September 2011, following completion of my PhD thesis at Loughborough University.  

The post provided training in several aspects of stable isotope geoscience. I started out on sample preparation for organics and bulk carbonate isotope analysis. After several weeks of sample preparation I was trained on the carbonate line for extracting the isotopes and mass spectrometer for the actual analysis. The carbonate line provided essential training on manual analysis before I moved on to more automated advanced mass spectrometry. I gained experience in both organic and inorganic analysis, data that is heavily used in palaeoclimate/ palaeoenvironmental reconstructions. 

The NIGL isotope apprenticeship was a fantastic, enjoyable experience and I would certainly recommend this position to any early career researcher with an interest in isotopes in environmental science and wishing to pursue a career either within academia, or in any environmental science laboratory. The job is excellent for career development, particularly for honing old, and learning new laboratory and research skills. I personally feel that I have greatly expanded my knowledge of stable isotope application in environmental change and have gained invaluable experience working as part of a highly skilled team in a professional laboratory (and friendly group) that processes thousands of samples yearly. Special thanks to the Stable Isotope Group within NIGL, especially Chris, Hilary, and Carol for the patient hours invested in training and helping me throughout. Finally, the British Geological Survey at Keyworth must be acknowledged. It’s world class facilities, excellent research reputation, welcoming atmosphere and numerous employee benefits (e.g. on-site gym, social club, canteen etc.) make it an extremely impressive institute and attractive workplace for future geologists. 

I now have started a three year post doctoral position at LoughboroughUniversity  working on a Leverhulme funded project titled “Stories of subsistence: People and coast over the last 6,000 years in Denmark”. This project examines links between environmental change in coastal Denmark with changes in human diet within the Neolithic time period. I will be primarily involved in reconstructing past environmental change using a multiproxy approach (diatoms, foraminifera, sediments, isotopes) from sedimentary archives collected from Danish estuaries.

Dr Jonathan Lewis (J.P.Lewis@lboro.ac.uk; @lewis_jp)

Here are my outputs during my time at the British Geological Survey:

Leng, M.J., and Lewis, J.L. (submitted) Carbon Isotopes and C/N ratios in Esturies. DPER book series, in review.

Lewis, J.P., Ryves, D.B., Rasmussen, P., Knudsen, K.L., Petersen, K.S., Olsen, J., Leng, M.J., Kristensen, P., McGowan, S. and Phillipsen, B. (submitted) Environmental change in the Limfjord, Denmark (ca.5,500 BC – AD 500): a multiproxy study. Submitted to Quaternary Science Reviews.

Philippsen, B., Olsen, J., Lewis, J.P., Rasmussen, P., Ryves, D.B., Knudsen, K.L. (in press). Mid- to late-Holocene reservoir age variability and isotope-based palaeoenvironmental reconstruction in the Limfjord, Denmark. The Holocene.

Lewis, J.P., Rasmussen, P., Ryves, D.B., (submitted). Land and sea at Norsminde Fjord and human-environment interactions between ca. 7,000-2,000 BC: a synthesis. To be published in The Norsminde shell midden, the landscape and the fjord. An interdisciplinary study of a Stone Age environment, 7000-2000 BC (S. Andersen, ed.).

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Iceland fieldwork #4, and getting to know...Leanne Hughes

We’re getting towards the end of this Iceland field campaign: only tomorrow left now to finish everything we want to do, but it looks like our work might be cut short. The forecast for tomorrow is for really high winds – so much so that Oli, our landlord, has warned us to batten down the hatches and plan to stay in the house. That’s Iceland weather for you! So we’ve brought inside everything that might blow away and are watching and waiting...

In the meantime, here’s another 20 (ish) questions, this time answered by Leanne Hughes, who’s been finding out more about the amazing volcanic geological history of the rocks around and underneath the glacier we’re studying.

Your name: Leanne Hughes
Your job title: Survey geologist
What that means in 5 words or less: Mapping rocks and glacial deposits.
Date: Saturday 27 April
What did you do today: Found a nye channel, which is where glacial meltwater has cut right into the bedrock, and discovered a continuation of basalt behind the Virkisjokull icefall. And roped up to cross some scary crevasses!


What creature comforts from home do you travel with?  Jelly babies, and cake mix!
What did you want to be when you grew up? A teacher
Who’s the best movie villain? The penguin out of The Wrong Trousers
And fave movie hero? Hornblower
Pet hate? Technology failures
Favourite geological words? Scoriacious

Quick fire finale

Hammer or hand lens? Spade!
The Day after Tomorrow or Ice Age? Ice Age, definitely!
David or Richard (Attenborough): David
Hutton or Smith?
Mary Anning
Cox or Stewart?

Leanne Hughes on Virkisjokull

Friday, 26 April 2013

Getting to know you...by Andrew Finlayson

Next up on the hot seat (or cold seat - we are on a glacier after all) is Andrew Finlayson, who's been towing a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) system around Virkisjokull for the last week, trying to map out the base of the glacier and large scale structures within it.

Your name: Andrew Finlayson
Your job title: Quaternary geologist
What that means in 5 words or less: Geography, and breaking geophysical kit.
Date: Friday 26 April
What did you do today: Explored new heights on Virkisjokull, and felt smug when Verity's steam drilling proved there is pressurised water in englacial thrusts.
What creature comforts from home do you travel with? 'Best Served Cold', lent me by Emrys
What's for dinner? Ask Jez - he's cooking again!
What did you want to be when you grew up? Don't know, but something in the outdoors (still applies!)
What's your favourite band? Incubus
Favourite movie hero? The Dude (Jeff Lebowski)
Pet hate? Fibre optic cable
Favourite geological words? Made ground

Quick fire finale
Hammer or hand lens? An ice axe is more useful on the glacier!
The Day after Tomorrow or Waterworld? Waterworld...
David or Richard (Attenborough): David
Hutton or Smith? Who?
Cox or Stewart? Cox

Andrew on Virkisjokull

Dama International- The Fallow Deer Project by Holly Miller

The Project
The Fallow Deer Project is an AHRC-funded multi-disciplinary study looking at the cultural history of Dama dama dama, the European fallow deer. The project is being led by Dr Naomi Sykes, an archaeologist from the University of Nottingham, Prof. Rus Hoelzel (a geneticist from the University of Durham) and BGS’s Prof. Jane Evans. The team are working with researchers from a number of fields and institutions up and down the country- from archaeologists and art historians, to musicians and deer stalkers. 

Why Fallow Deer?
Of all the world's deer none has a closer relationship to people than the European Fallow Deer. Ever since the Neolithic, humans have selectively transported and maintained this elegant animal, taking it from its native, restricted range in the eastern Mediterranean across Europe where it is now an established icon of stately homes. Wherever fallow deer have been introduced they have altered the physical and psychological landscape and their distribution is a direct record of human migration, trade, behaviour and worldview. Given their impact and significance, fallow deer have the potential to provide cultural data of the highest significance to a range of disciplines and audiences.

Holly Miller processing samples at BGS
British Geological Survey and the NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory (NIGL)
One aspect of the project is the investigation of the biogeography and management of fallow deer through history. For this we are using a combination of isotope analyses (C, N, Sr, S, O) to look in depth at the archaeological remains of ancient and modern fallow deer populations. Stable isotopes, chemical signatures retrieved from the bones and teeth of archaeological and modern deer, effectively record traces of what and where individual animals were eating at different points in their lives. This can help us to look at questions related to the importation of animals, founding herds and changing management practices. This part of the investigation is being undertaken at the BGS NIGL facility in Keyworth by the projects Co-Investigator, Professor Jane Evans, Isotope Geochemist Dr Angela Lamb and me: Post-Doctoral Researcher Dr Holly Miller.

'analysis by BGS has shown that this jaw bone,
came from an animal that was imported to
the Roman Palace at Fishbourne (Sussex)
The results of the project are being disseminated through a range of different media for a variety of different audiences –academic papers, magazine articles, exhibitions and also films that will be uploaded to the websites of various heritage organisations. Just the other week, the team were filming at BGS for a short documentary on fallow deer that will be linked to an exhibition at the internationally renowned Fishbourne Roman Palace Museum in Sussex.

Tweet us @DeerProject

by Holly Miller 

ED: Check out the website for their great work... and to read ''The Pooping Deer of Belton' a poem by Ione Jones.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Iceland fieldwork update - it's steamy business by Verity Flett

On Tuesday morning we awoke to a winter wonderland (or should that be spring wonderland...)  which slowed our attempts at fieldwork. However by the afternoon the weather had cleared enough to allow Brighid and myself to hike up onto the lower flanks of Virkísjökull with the steam drill, and install a couple more ablation stakes. This involved melting a 12 metre hole into the ice using the steam drill - a fantastic bit of equipment, basically a souped up camping stove with a long rubber hose! - and feeding a long plastic tube down into the hole.  With current rates of glacier melting - over 10m per year - these should survive until next summer. So now, using a simple tape measure and temperature records, the rate of melt of the glacier surface can be easily understood. This will allow us to better understand the pattern of glacier retreat and the total amount melt water input into the catchment. 
Verity lighting the gas on the steam drill
Steam coming out of the drill as Verity prepares to start drilling

Feeding a 12m long ablation stake into the newly drilled ice hole - marked with hi-vis paint so we can see it as it melts out
Meanwhile elsewhere in the catchment Mike was using the Tromino to measure resident frequency of the sandur sediments so we can work out how thick they are, whilst the Ground Penetrating Radar was helping Andrew in his continued search through the ice for interesting faults and thrusts. Look out for more from them later in the trip! Now keep your fingers crossed that the sky is finally clearing and there’ll be no more snow, so we can have some more busy days ahead.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Getting to know you..... by Paul Witney

Another victim for our 20* questions has been found in Iceland.... roll up Paul Witney....

Paul (with the big camera!) on the glacier
with Jez Everest

Getting to know you
Your name: Paul Witney
Your job title: Photography Service Manager
What that means in 5 words or less: I take nice snaps
Date: St George's Day
What did you do today: I made a snow lady, and made a time-lapse movie of us building her. It snowing too hard this morning to do much else!

What creature comforts from home do you travel with? I would say my camera but that's a work essential! A bottle of whisky.
Pet hates? Tardiness. And faffing.
What did you want to be when you grew up? A pilot
What's your favourite band? REM
What are your favourite geological words? Now that's a taxing question to ask a non-geologist! It would have to be cleavage.

Quick fire finale
Film or digital? Digital, of course!
Jurassic Park or 1 Million Years BC? 1 Million Years BC
David or Richard (attenborough): Richard!
Ansel Adams or David Bailey? Ooh tough - Bailey, by a nose.
Cox or Stewart? Iain Stewart.

*you'll be lucky if it's actually 20! The questions change to keep it interesting but if you have any suggestions just comment or tweet q's to @Ameltdown or @laurennotes!!

Lake Ohrid deep drilling, first hole success!! by Mel Leng

Jack Lacey, a BGS-University of Leicester PhD student, wrote a blog about the Lake Ohrid project back in March… on his behalf, I'm pleased to report that drilling finally begun on 1st April!  A 480m long core of undisturbed sediment from one of the deepest parts of the lake has been drilled and it’s anticipated that the sediment will represent accumulation over the last 3 million years. 

The drilling barge on Lake Ohrid preparing to collect 500m of
sediment! Thanks to Stefen Schorr - Stefen and
Bernd Wagner
are uploading a picture everyday on the ICDP website.
The core will be analysed for a number of different proxies including its isotope geochemistry (for climate change analysis by Jack) as well as for fossils (for the evolutionary biology research) and tephra (for dating). This will enable us to link rapid changes in environmental conditions and biological evolution. This core that has just been collected is already one of the longest land-based archives from this part of the world to date. Such a record will also provide valuable information towards a regional picture of the Mediterranean over the time period. This covers several warm intervals, which not only may have driven evolution, but act as analogues for a future warming world. The time frame and location also coincide with initial human migration pathways and may add detail to the ‘Out of Africa’ hypothesis.

The SCOPSCO project is funded by several sources, including the German Research Foundation (DFG), the British Geological Survey and the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP). It involves a multi-disciplinary team of scientists from all over the world. The BGS are involved both scientifically (myself, Chris Vane and Jack Lacey) and on the logistical side thanks to Ali Skinner and Dave Smith.

Drillers retrieving a section of core. Thanks to Ali Skinner

The first sediment from Lake Ohrid. Thanks to Ali Skinner  

The UK community has representatives on the three international boards that oversee ICDP activities. Prof John Ludden (BGS Director @BGSBoss) represents the UK on the over arching Assembly of Governors, I sit on the Executive Committee and Dr Kathryn Goodenough (BGS) is part of the Science Advisory Group. Please keep us in touch with the ICDP related activities. The next deadline for ICDP proposals is 15th January.  

by Mel 

You can keep up to date with ICDP-UK activities through the web site and via twitter @MelJLeng and  #ICDP-UK

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Getting to know you..... by Emrys Philips

I've asked Brighid O Dochartaigh to don the hat of Question Master whilst she's out in Iceland. Armed with a series of interesting and irrelevant questions she's working her way round all our scientists...... (I must remind her to ask herself these questions at some point). Hope this gives you a bit of insight into their lives and work in the field... Up first Emrys Philips.

in Iceland

Getting to know you… 
Your name: Emrys Phillips
Your job title: Earth Scientist
What that means in 5 words or less!: Looking at dirt and ice
Date: Monday 22 April 2013
What did you do today?: I measured cracks in ice - that is, looked at structures in the ice of Virkisjokull which are associated with glacier flow.

What creature comforts from home do you travel with? Gin
What’s for dinner and who’s cooking? Fish, hollandaise sauce (out of a packet), mashed potatoes and peas, cooked by Dr Jez Everest, project manager and DJ
What do you wish was for dinner and who would be cooking it? Salmon and marshmallows, cooked by Leanne, project geological mapper
What did you want to be when you grew up? An artist
Who’s the best movie villain? Roy Batty - terrible name, great villain. Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner
What are your favorite geological words? Slippery bottom. I'm giving a keynote talk on them in September in Manchester! 

Quick fire finale 
Hammer or hand lens? trowel
Laptop or pencil? Pencil!
Igneous, sedimentary or metamorphic? Sediment (not ary!)
Jurassic Park or Armageddon? neither!
David or Richard: Attenborough? David
Hutton or Smith? Hutton
Cox or Stewart? nah.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Iceland fieldwork #2 - a walk on the watery side by Brighid ODochartaigh

The second day of this field campaign at Virkisjokull. This morning Verity and I took a walk on the watery side while the boys lugged big heavy bits of kit up onto the ice to measure things. Verity got kitted out in her waders to do some flow gauging of the Virkisa river, while I sat on the bank and wrote down the numbers she called out. She was right by the road bridge where we have permanent, telemetred river stage and velocity gauges. We need manual flow gauging to calibrate the automatic gauges and get them as accurate as possible, so every so often someone needs to get their feet wet. She was hoping to measure a high river flow, but last night's rain wasn't as heavy as was forecast, so the river was still pretty low. Which at least made it easier to work in!

In the afternoon I dropped Verity off at the glacier where she was using her steam drill to put in more ablation stakes, which are measuring how much the glacier surface is melting - look out for more from  her about that later this trip! I headed to the boreholes where I'm monitoring groundwater in the thick, permeable sandur (glaciofluvial sand and gravel) aquifer that spreads out in front of the glacier. I was using a little pump, powered by the car battery, to collect groundwater samples from the boreholes for chemistry, dissolved gas and stable isotope analysis, so we can learn more about how the groundwater interacts with rainfall and meltwater from the river. Which went well, even though every so often when a snow flurry blew through it got a bit unpleasant to be working with my hands in a bucket of water at 2 degrees Celsius! At the same time I downloaded the loggers which have been recording groundwater level and temperature since I put them in the boreholes last September. Amazingly, they're all still working! Now I just have six months worth of data to analyse. Bring me some more chocolate and I'll be getting on with it now...