12 Top tips for doing your Geology Mapping Dissertation

As summer is around the corner and with it the holidays some may not be thinking of which adventure holiday they will go on next or trying to nag the ex boss for their job back. Some lucky people will be embarking on their 21 day minimum mapping dissertation field work. But don’t stress, sometimes there are serious casualties, and other times you just lose the will to live but other times it actually goes well and you can end up having a great time. Here are some top tips from me and my other ‘class of 2011’ friends’ for getting through that dreaded month.

No. 1: Don’t be a stranger

I think the major thing that got me through the highs and lows of my month on the Isle of Skye was the company. Five of us rented a house on Loch Eishort, as two were mapping the Sleat peninsula, two of us were around Beinn an Dubhaich and another one on the other shore of Loch Slapin. It was a lifesaver, and many a day did my friend and I sit in the car drinking coffee in the morning giving each other some mental motivation for the day. It may be to late to arrange to go with your fellow geologists, but failing that make sure you invite a friend/boyfriend/girlfriend up for a week or so to have something to look forward to. Or in the case of another friend of mine, get involved with the locals and enjoy some of their banter.

No. 2: Caffeine check

(And water) Never leave without your caffeine. Even if the day is sunny and warm and you don’t think you will need it – you will! Also, don’t forget water, and lots of it. You will be walking a lot, climbing and thinking (and drinking lots of coffee). It all catches up with you and you don’t want to be left walking home in the splintering heat (yes, we did get caught in the heat on the Isle of Skye and I paid for it!) with no water or food left.

No. 3: Take sensible days off

Don’t get tired or try to do it all too quickly, you will end up missing important details you will need later. Take days off and enjoy the scenery or the local tourist attractions. This will help when you go back into the field the next day. Additionally, it will stop you becoming tired in the field and having an accident such as falling in a gorge. I managed to fall in a gorge on the first day and had a close encounter with the chisel end of my hammer and my throat but still, if I hadn’t managed my time properly this could have happened at lot more, and not been so lucky.

No. 4: Check the map scales

This is important to know when you are drawing your cross sections, especially if you are in the midst of writing up, the work is getting to you and you are verging on delusional. Don’t forget that half your map is in feet and yards and the other is in metres. It causes a lot of mental confusion and a lot of redrawing. Trust me.

No. 5: Don’t procrastinate

It really pays off if you do the work quickly and efficiently and get stuck right in. You don’t want to end up taking up your entire three months of your summer holidays mapping, spending money on accommodation and travel and not having fun. It happens and usually is a result of lack of enthusiasm in the first place. Take a good playlist with you too, some good ol’ 80’s rock tunes really help. Our favourite was Whitesnake Here I go again. Have a listen and you will totally find the relevance:

No. 6: Take a moment and use your initiative

Sit down and look around, you will be surprised what comes to you.

No. 7: Back-up your map

Avoid the terrifying moments where the wind takes it off the cliff edge and your past three weeks of work is lost. Photograph it regularly and keep a track record of its progress. I would also recommend to write directly on the map in something that is permanent, and not on a substitute, noting grid references in your notebook or so lightly it might rub off. This wastes a lot of time later and you will forget exactly what was there or what you meant by ‘6105 9372 (6253 9384) sandy limey stuff – lumps of grey chertyness make it grey coloured’ obviously at a point where you had lost all enthusiasm. Is that meant to be grey coloured rock in real life, or the grey you used already for the granite in the East, what do you do now you obviously had some alter-colour scheme going when mapping a week ago…does this mean the rest of the map is wrong, was that actually meant to be granite then? And what does the grid reference in brackets mean?! You don’t need that stress. If you need to change things, have other blank copies of the map (that you will of course have printed out before you left for the field) and copy your exposures onto a new one and use your back record (from all those great photos of it). Note: an exposure is the small bit of exposed rock you see in the field, an outcrop is the full extent of the exposed lithology underground, and what you will be inferring after you have mapped all exposures. Some examiners take offense to interchangeable or outright wrong use of these terms in mapping. And use eight digit grid references, not six.

No. 8: Do the work as soon as you get home

Yes it hurts to think of carrying on after nine hours in the field but honestly it saves time in the long run. The information you need is fresh in your mind now and won’t be in a week or 2 months’ time. I would also recommend to draw simple sketch cross sections, at least keeping a note of the scale to check you aren’t missing something important like a fault that doesn’t go all the way through or folds that stop suddenly. Avoid inferring strike-slip faults where possible, unless the actual BGS maps show one. Something that big won’t have missed every geologist for the past few hundred years.

No. 9: Make good field notes

Record all of your thoughts and include informed speculations, these show your brain was working in the field and you were not just on autopilot, this is what the examiners will be looking for. Even if this means sitting for half an hour jotting down your thoughts and not getting moving with the mapping this could be extremely beneficial. Having calculated ideas of where and what to look for next will save you time in the field and get you extra marks.

No. 10: Take good samples (and a good hammer)

It is important to take samples of almost all of the rocks you come across, and of all the interesting little things you find within them. It will hurt later when you need to know more about something and you have no record of it – pictures sometimes just don’t hack it. In saying this, a good sketch can be key, as long as you make sure you highlight all the details you see that could be important later. Sed logs are fantastic for this, and really useful for later study. You can even do sed logs for igneous or metamorphic rocks, as there can be just as many interesting physical features here. Don’t settle for rock samples that have fallen off the main body of rock, they will generally be weathered and not good in thin section. This means you need a good, heavy hammer. My hammer was a proper geological one but couldn’t hack through a lot of the igneous rocks in my area, and so I was left with some rubbish samples.

No. 11: Look at the small details

Record everything, from the smallest augen to the angle a granite body intrudes at – it will be worth it when you figure out why you need that data when you are back in the lab.

No. 12: Enjoy it!

Make the good times count, it will really pay off when you get to day 17 of mapping and you need a little pick me up. Whether this comes in the form of a jigsaw, cards, some chick flick films, laughing at the sheep (or making friends with them, hell, they might be your only company for a month) or trying to hide from the other group of students who have invaded your land then think of the funny side and tell your friends when you get home.

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One thought on “12 Top tips for doing your Geology Mapping Dissertation

  1. Pingback: Mass Extinctions, Lagerstatten, the Cambrian Explosion and Hominids’ Obsession with Fossils: Part One | Geo-HeritageScience

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