So, are you looking forward to your holiday?

“So are you looking forward to your holiday?”

 “It’s not a holiday, its field work”

“But you’re going to Bahamas…It must be a holiday?”

 

An example of a frustratingly annoying conversation that repeated itself over the weeks preceding my field work in the Bahamas.  As my PhD is focussed on understanding the geochemical processes occurring in a modern carbonate environment, I have ended up having to go to these environments, which tend to be tropical.  Over the past two and half years I have had three field trips to North Andros in the Bahamas.  As mentioned in Where in the World? The dark side…I am fully aware of the environmental cost by PhD has exerted on the world (40,800km total air miles, or roughly 4,000kg of CO2).  In my defence (and it’s a poor defence), I may travel a long way but I always go for extended time periods and make the most of my time over there (total of 5 days off out of 112 field days is pretty hardcore).

As previously mentioned on the blog, a large percentage of Earth Science students undertake some sort of fieldwork during their PhD, but as I have come to realise there are many different guises to this fieldwork.  For example, geophysicists tend to put their very expensive equipment in place and just wait for something to happen.

A geophysist guarding his expensive equipment from locals who know the street value of a GPS and are planning to sell it on the geophysics black market! Image courtesy of Rob Watts from the Seismic Research Centre in Trinidad.
A geophysist guarding his expensive equipment from locals who know the street value of a GPS and are planning to sell it on the geophysics black market! Image courtesy of Rob Watts from the Seismic Research Centre in Trinidad.

As for palaeontologists, it’s a giant game of find the needle in the haystack. Then there are the experimental petrologists who are also playing a game of spot the rock from deep within the earth*.  However, for aqueous (water loving) geochemists, I think we do field work a little differently.

The majority of my time is collecting water samples.  This ranges from collecting rainwater in the middle of storms, to pumping boreholes to get water from the aquifer, along with sampling the more weird and wonderful locations that the Bahamas has to offer.

This is a blue hole (our make-shift camp is in the foreground).  It’s a large dissolution feature which can be regarded as a large round (normally) lake that connected with the aquifer below.  This particular blue hole, nicknamed Helios, is in the middle of a creek on a spit of land and has freshwater over the top of salty water.  The reason we nicknamed it Helios is that it is warmer in the salty water than the freshwater by 8°C which is odd; and in science odd is good!  Image courtesy of Didi Ooi.
This is a blue hole (our make-shift camp is in the foreground). It’s a large dissolution feature which can be regarded as a large round (normally) lake that connected with the aquifer below. This particular blue hole, nicknamed Helios, is in the middle of a creek on a spit of land and has freshwater over the top of salty water. The reason we nicknamed it Helios is that it is warmer in the salty water than the freshwater by 8°C which is odd; and in science odd is good! Image courtesy of Didi Ooi.

This may sound like it’s pretty easy, get a bottle fill it with water = done!  To some extent that’s right, but there is a lot of prep we need to do to the water before it can be returned home.  This is where I think my fieldwork differs from many of my peers as for many of them, when the sun goes down, the notebook is put away.  Sample prep is done in our wondrous field lab. Here, we filter the samples in different ways for a variety of analysis and then preserve them.  All in all, the processing of a sample can take around one person hour… when you have over 20 samples a day it takes four people in the lab working throughout the evening to process the daily sample load.  And then we repeat the next day.

Samples_3
One long day’s worth of samples filling the only air conditioned room in the accommodation

Sometimes we even do overnight sampling because annoyingly/interestingly things change when the sun goes down.  As you can see there is a lot to be done and often in a short period of time.

One of my hard working field assistants sampling from the blue hole in the wee small hours of the morning. She did this every hour throughout the night. She is a machine! Image courtesy of Didi Ooi.

So, back to why that conversation at the beginning of the post annoys me.  I’m not simply trying to rant about how hard fieldwork is for me, it’s hard and that is what I signed up for.  I am trying to point out that working on your PhD is hard work, no matter where you are, and it can be even harder when you know you have to collect all your data in short amount of time.  Deadlines are a killer – even in the field!

If you want to find out more about the Bahamas adventures from last summer please do read our blog and you can see things from not only my perspective but that of the Master’s students I roped into helping me!

* I would like to point out that I know each one of these types of fieldwork have their own hardships; some of us fight with mosquitoes, some of us struggle with horrific terrain whilst some of us just struggle to get that prized fieldwork tan!

 

 

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About KT Cooper

I’m a carbonate biogeochemist. When I’m not in the Bahamas, I dabble in the world of computer modelling.

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