I’ve just come back from sampling various Caledonian rocks in Shetland for the start of my PhD. 10 days in that gorgeous little archipelago, which nestles quietly between the Atlantic and the North Sea.
One of the aims of the field trip was to collect samples for geochronological analysis from a little peninsula on Mainland Shetland called Hillswick. Mostly because there were reports in the early literature of massive garnets from there, and that’s one of the main focuses of my PhD. And with a geological map that looks like this, how could I refuse the challenge?
Myself and one of my supervisors, Anna, went there for just one afternoon initially. But surely one afternoon isn’t enough to sort out such a mess? Of course it’s not, but a few things clouded our judgement that day.
Firstly: the midges
Anyone who has ever done any living, walking, camping, working etc in Scotland at this time of year will be familiar with the Highland Midge. For those who haven’t, they look like this:
They are bastards. They’re small, swarmy, and like to eat poor unsuspecting geologists alive. I was clearly unimpressed by the little beasts in Hillswick, here’s an extract of my field notebook, complete with squashed midge (I draw you’re attention to the title of the page).
Secondly: Space Dementia
People all have different names for this, but Anna called it this, and it just stuck. I’m sure everyone has experienced it, but this was my Hillswick experience of it.
We had been rained on heavily, it was humid, and warm (for Shetland), and critically there was no wind. We had to dodge some rather fierce looking cows, and plough through a field full of wet knee-high grass. Half way through the field something snapped inside me.
In the rain, being eaten alive by midges, in knee-high grass to the sound of distant cows I just stood there and laughed. For 10 minutes.
Space dementia - it’s like cabin fever, but for geologists.
Thirdly: RiP hammer
Like my sanity, my trusty Estwing hammer didn’t make it out of that field alive. I realised when I got to the next outcrop and realised I needed something a little more delicate than the 14lbs sledgehammer we also had with us.
But I wasn’t going back to that field. Who knew what mental or physical torture would await me…
We found some OK samples, but nothing too spectacular.
A few moderately garnetiferous amphibolites (see above), but none of the massive garnets we’d been expected. So we went dejectedly home and made a rather large hole in a bottle of whisky.
A few days later, we’d recovered from the Hillswick trauma, and decided to give it another crack (now that the windspeed had increased somewhat).
We picked up another hammer, avoided the strange farm animals, defied vertigo on the sheer cliffs, and eventually found what we were looking for.
Beautiful, beautiful garnets! The geology of Hillswick is so bizarre that I have no idea what age these garnets will give. Who knows whether they’ll be 1.2 billion year old, or 430 million years? I guess I’ll find out.
But one thing’s for sure. I’m glad I went back, despite the stress.
But one thing is for sure - there’s a few things that have to go with you, no matter what.
See you next week. After which I’ll officially have my degree because the day after I get back is graduation!
It’s all go.
This beast, which we affectionately named Mjölnir, put all the other hammers on the trip to shame.
And of course I coudn’t resist giving it a go!
It’s taking me a bizarrely long time to re-adjust to normal life after nearly 5 weeks of travelling around and hitting rocks with hammers.
It’s not helped by the fact my house is in the process of gaining new housemates, so there’s stuff all over the place and workmen in doing various jobs. I’ve had to take refuge in the pub alone(!) a few times to get away from it!
I’m getting the post field-work blues but I’m glad I finished my undergraduate field career on such a high with such great people.
Anyway, enough of my bellyaching: here’s a nice pic of a beach on the north coast of Shetlands’ most northerly island, Unst.
"Dark amphibolite pods show earlier deformation event whereby folding is vertically oblique to stress direction"
If I’m not careful, people will start talking to me like I actually do know what I’m talking about…
please excuse my horrific handwriting
It looks like I’m going to need a small (probably 1-man) tent for fieldwork in July. Does anyone have any suggestions for a lightweight and CHEAP tent?
IT’S MY LAST EXAM TOMORROW!
THEN IT’S A LONG SUMMER OF FIELDWORK!
Geology Field Trip