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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Pigeon Poop and Deterioration of Our Cultural Heritage

Image not mine - not being used for commercial purposes

Image not mine - not being used for commercial purposesAs if we need another reason to hate pigeons.

While researching a report as part of the MRes, I recently stumbled across a paper discussing the contribution of pigeon droppings to the deterioration of our cultural heritage. The course had taken us on a trip to a historic house to carry out a week-long field research project. I was looking at salts and their movement through porous solids, such as building stones, bricks and mortar and subsequently using the literature in trying to find out what salts I had discovered. Unfortunately, my results were inconclusive, as I suspect my FTIR ATR spectra were not clear enough and due to lack of time and sufficient sample size I was unable to chemically test all of the samples for sulphate, nitrate, ammonia, chloride or phosphate. It was however, likely that my samples contained primarily sulphate and/or nitrate, indicating a probably ground water source of moisture in the building.

The study was based in Madrid on the Panteón de Hombres Ilustres where there was a 30cm thick layer of poo! The sampling site was chosen due to the lack of exposure to rainfall, and the building material was a porous limestone which is a common building material worldwide. Pigeon droppings as a source of soluble salts had already been established, but it was not considered a major factor in building deterioration, leading to the further detailed study carried out in this paper.

When leached by water, pigeon droppings were found to form salt solutions with high acidity. The salts identified in the solutions included sulphates, chlorides, oxalates and the previously known phosphates and nitrates. Salts cause damage to buildings through crystallisation within the pores of the building materials when the water they were dissolved in evaporates. The cycles of evaporation and dissolution of the salts cause stress within the pores (they will expand when the salts crystallise) and eventually loose cohesion and can cause eventual loss of structural integrity of the building if left untreated. The water containing dissolved salts will either be from the ground or rainwater ingress due to problems with the roofing or foundations of the building. When the salts attack the mortars between stones and bricks you can generally see crumbling and flaking plaster and depending on the salt visible white efflorescence’s on indoor wall surfaces.

The paper discussed how sulphates can form as a result of reaction between atmospheric sulphur dioxide and building materials containing calcium and oxalates can be formed through lichen metabolism or applied organic patinas on the surface of the building material. The study demonstrated that these are not the only ways that these types of salts can be formed on the outside of buildings, with dissolved pigeon excrement possibly a much larger deterioration factor than previously thought. The presence of the salts as mentioned above was also accompanied by acidic solution, meaning that further deterioration of the limestone was apparent with etching of the surface of rock forming minerals such as calcite.

This leaves us with the question of how do we get rid of the damn pigeons? Not only are they unsightly and a health hazard but their poo is actively destroying out precious heritage! With a count of 5,000 pigeons in Trafalgar Square in London back in 2004 how do we manage this pest? Thankfully, this is not a question that is going completely unanswered, there have been many initiatives to help lower the pigeon count in London and undoubtedly elsewhere in the world (such as Edinburgh!), just Google ‘pigeon population London’ and you will find a whole host of articles relating to this. And if you have a chance to read, you have to love the Pigeon Blog.

The Online Initiative: A Look at the British Geological Survey

The thing about rocks in collections is that there are a lot of questions surrounding them, hanging around like elephants in the room, sheepishly trying to make their bulky form as invisible as possible. At some point someone needs to address those elephants and tell them to scram. In my opinion, now is a perfect time.

At the British Geological Survey (BGS), there are some great initiatives that not only help budge those elephants but also put in place a fantastic source of information about their collections, many of which I am sure no-one even knows exist!

The issue of destructive sampling in museums is ‘touchy’. When it comes to geological collections the boundaries are hazy. We need to sample rocks to learn about them, and who is really there to say that we shouldn’t? But my question is how much is too much, and how can we come to making this decision on a unanimous basis?

The BGS has relatively recently begun making digital archives of their collections, including boreholes, rocks, minerals, fossils and thin sections. Currently they have a search record online at: http://www.bgs.ac.uk/data/boreholescans/ where you can access onshore borehole records and their associated metadata, along with hydrogeological data from the National Well Archive. This not only allows a larger community to understand and interpret some of the available data but ensures that needless sampling of boreholes does not occur.

In some instances, companies or institutions may ask to sample a particular item the BGS has in its various collections. Either someone is sent to sample it or the BGS will sample a part of it themselves and send it off. The problem in the past with this process is that the company or institution may realise once they have the sample that this is not the correct piece, and request another one. This wastes valuable samples. The online initiative allows users to access a very basic set of information about the specimen in the first place, from which they can then decide on whether this is the right kind of specimen they need in the first place and roughly where and how the best way to sample it could be.

In another instance, the wider availability of this data on the BGS’s collections means that users can find out if the geographical areas they need information on have already been sampled. For example a particular stratigraphic sequence in the North Sea could have already been boreholed and a simple online archive of this could allow the user to not sample that area again.

The other initiatives the BGS have include a database of their collections – from Christmas cards to mineral collections – http://geoscenic.bgs.ac.uk/asset-bank/action/browseItems?categoryId=1022&categoryTypeId=1. Suddenly we have an amazing resource of information on collections that I would bet a lot of people didn’t know existed!

They are currently digitally photographing thin sections from their vast collection, a process I have seen first hand (and even taken a few photos!) up in their Edinburgh offices. At present, they have photographed around 30,000 thin sections with the help of several volunteers – from students to retirees.

The topic of online databases and museums is a hot spot of activity in the culture sector, just take a look at:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network (http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog),

http://www.futureofmuseums.org/ (http://futureofmuseums.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/digesting-future-of-museum-ethics.html),

the latest from http://www.museumsandtheweb.com/mw2012 (http://www.museumsandtheweb.com/blog)

or a museum technologists opinion at http://openobjects.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/museum-technologists-redux-its-not.html.

Online databases of collections such as the BGS’s initiative, or that of many national and non-national museums are an important modern factor in museums engagement and management. For museums it is more important to make sure that they include their vast quantity of online visitors, but for those who may feel there is no substitute for the ‘real thing’ make sure the institution still entices people with their content.  Not only could these online initiatives help in management issues such as destructive sampling but in gaining more information from the objects and materials themselves using techniques such as crowdsourcing, or purely getting more people inspired and involved with their local or national heritage.

If you have any comments on how online resources are used in the geological or heritage sector, leave a comment below!