Fieldwork – why planning is essential and why nothing ever goes to plan!


Part of my PhD research is to measure, using a Transverse Micro Erosion Meter (TMEM), the rate of vertical erosion on a shore platform on the west coast of Ireland (figure 1). Installation of 22 TMEM stations was carried out in December 2015 with the much needed assistance of former Earth Science student Joseph Dempsey.


Figure 1. The shore platform and cliff at Ballard Bay, Co. Clare. The platform is approximately 800m long and 100m at its widest point. The cliffs are approximately 30m at their highest point. Photo taken by Niamh Cullen.

Why carry out fieldwork in December you might ask? Because it was planned for Sep 2015 but, as the title of this blog suggests, nothing ever goes to plan where field work is concerned.  Installing each of the 22 (so far) TMEM stations required drilling three equilateral holes into solid rock and inserting a steel pin, held in place with marine grade epoxy resin, into each hole. All of this was carried out in the narrow window afforded by low spring tide and December daylight hours, while simultaneously trying to avoid falling rocks, rouge waves and navigate across an extremely slippery platform surface carrying equipment. Ensue multiple equipment and installation issues which, after much head scratching and scurrying about the county for parts, were eventually resolved.

After installation came the even trickier data collection. This involved lying face down on the wet platform, often in a rock pool, carefully collecting 145 high precision measurements per station with each station taking approximately 40 mins to complete. Each station will be re-measured on a seasonal basis for the duration of the project. The result of all this are the first TMEM stations in Ireland (figure 2) and what will be the first empirical TMEM measurements of vertical erosion on one of Irelands many shore platforms.


Figure 2. Ireland’s first TMEM station (centre foreground) for measuring vertical erosion on a shore platform. Photo taken by Joseph Dempsey.

Lessons learnt:

  1. Careful planning is key.
  2. Nothing ever goes to plan.
  3. Estimate the time needed to carry out each task.
  4. Multiply the estimated time by 3, or, if you want a more scientific estimate, multiply the estimated time by 3.141592 (i.e. Pi).

Based on this I anticipate finishing my PhD sometime in the middle of this century!

Blog authored by Niamh Cullen, PhD candidate, Geography Department, TCD.


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