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Today I am observing the fieldwork methods of Museum scientists Jo Wilbraham (algae, including seaweed) and Mary Spencer Jones (bryozoans). We depart on the boat from St.Mary's to St. Agnes at 10.15am in calm waters, under clear blue skies.

 

St. Agnes is a beautiful island, with many interesting locations to collect specimens. We arrive at low tide, which is ideal for finding a diverse range of seaweed and bryozoan specimens. Jo chooses a beach 10 minutes walk east of the quay, where it is possible to wade far out. It takes a while, and some skilled rock climbing to reach where we are going but once we arrive at the tidal interface the diverse range of species is quickly apparent. We see a wide range of seaweeds, sea anemones and polychetes patiently waiting for the tide to come back in and relieve them from the stress of exposure to the mid-day August sunshine.

st-agnes-seaweed.jpgJo Wilbraham examines seaweeds great and small at the beach on St. Agnes.

 

Jo seems quite happy with the spot and comments on the range of species whilst pulling collecting bags and knife out of her pocket and rucksack to begin collecting, making the most of the low tide. The method of exploring and collecting are surprisingly similar to the methods that I use when working in the landscape or on a residency, although the selection criteria and motivation differ considerably. Some of the specimens collected are Furcellaria, Bifurcaria bifurcata and Palmaria palmata.

 

By this point my walking shoes have flooded after being submerged in shin deep seawater and I am inspired to draw some of the collected species on dry land. I am also preparing for the drawing workshop of creative morphology (a method inspired by Goethe’s ‘Delicate Empiricism’) at Phoenix art studios in the evening.

seaweed-field-drawing.jpgDrying out my feet and drawing seaweed specimens on the beach.

 

The free drawing workshop is fully booked, and attendees will be almost exactly half Museum scientists and half St.Marys residents or visitors. Due to the demands of fieldwork some of the Museum scientists are late, which means they have a bit of catching up to do. The workshop builds up observational drawing techniques that prepare the individual for a creative exploration of the morphology of the specimen.

 

Creative morphology drawing workshop

 

The group produce some very interesting drawings and discussions. One scientist remarks that they did not expect drawing to have method, rather that it was something they associated with scientific work. This point was important as it helped the scientist to acknowledge artistic research and methodology.

 

Another scientist remarks that drawing helped them to identify important characters of the specimen, and to engage with it. This was helpful as it led to a discussion of the values of drawing and photography/SEM technologies in scientific work. We end the workshop by considering the relationship between the practice of creative morphology and creative evolutionary processes. 

herbarium-sheet-specimen.jpgSpecimens collected at the beach on St. Agnes are arranged on a herbarium sheet, ready for entering the Museum's collections.

 

After the drawing workshop I put a few questions to Jasmin Perera, an entomologist at the Museum:

GA: Do you feel the method helped you to 'know' or think about the specimen in a new or different way? If so, could you try to describe this difference?

JP: Yes the method did make me think a lot more about the specimen. It made it far more memorable structurally. There are parts that I would never have thought of analysing so much that I now know exist, which is great because I would feel far more confident in identifying the specimen if I came across it in future.

 

GA: Do you feel that the method helped you to deepen your engagement with the specimen?

JP: I think I did engage a lot with the specimen, however I feel I get a similar experience when identifying flies under the microscope as the keys we have to follow go into details as little as the length and direction of the little hairs on their body.

 

GA: Do you think this method could be useful in your scientific or artistic work? If so, how?

JP: I would find this method useful in a scientific environment as it would really make me remember any specimen I came across. Especially by pulling the specimen apart, figuring out all the bits that put it together.

 

After the drawing workshop I visit the Museum field station at the Garrison, St.Mary’s, where I find Jo sorting through the day's collections, soaking and pressing before carefully arranging on a herbarium sheet. The sun is setting, the team is tired and tomorrow awaits...the marvellous world of insects!

 

Posted on behalf of Gemma Anderson, an artist and PhD researcher who accompanied Musuem scientists on a field work trip to the Isles of Scilly between 17 and 23 August 2013.

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Leigh-Marsh.jpg

What do you study?

I am studying for a PhD at the University of Southampton, based at the National Oceanography Centre, but I work with colleagues at the Natural History Museum. I use video footage taken by a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) to study animals that live at hydrothermal vents.

 

What are you most excited about seeing/finding on the trip?

Taking REX into the Blue Hole. Who knows what we will find 200m down…

 

Where have you been previously on field work?

I have worked in the North Sea, English Channel and the Antarctic, so I am looking forward to working somewhere hot for a change!

 

What is your best experience whilst on field work?

Being one of the first people to see the hydrothermal vents in the Antarctic. They're not easy to find, but we managed to discover two new vent fields. This new discovery yielded several new species to science, including the much talked about 'Hoff crab'.

 

Is anything worrying you about the trip?

Working with electronics and water is always a risky business! Let’s hope everything is plugged in and water-tight!

 

What advice would you give to someone going on field work for the first time?

Take your favourite tea bags and your own mug!

 

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That's it for today - tomorrow we'll meet the rest of the team.

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Author: Jane

 

Date: 16/03/11

Temperature: -25°C

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Temp with wind chill: -35°C

Sunrise: 07:08

Sunset: 20:53

 

 

We have had the rare pleasure of open water in front of the base for a few weeks now. The open water has attracted a range of wildlife that would not always be seen here. The curious emperor penguins that Sarah described, lots of little Adélies, Weddell seals and even whales. It was quite an experience to look up from the Scott Base dining room table and see a pod of Mike whales swimming past!

Image 1.jpg

Whale swimming near the pressure ridges in front of Scott Base © AHT/Jane


The temperature is beginning to drop now and we seem to be steadily hitting -20°C and lower. The sea has been freezing over nearly every day, but then it has either washed out into McMurdo Sound or melted up until now. On Monday the sea in front of the base froze over and it looks like it is going to stay frozen this time. A whale managed to pop its head up for a moment in a melt pool yesterday, but unfortunately I think this may be the last we see of them for a few more years. Three Adélies were seen running towards Cape Armitage early this morning.


The penguin exodus and the ever shortening days seem to herald the beginning of winter and the wonderful sunrises and sunsets that it brings.

Image 2.jpg
Sea ice forming in front of the summer labs © AHT/Jane

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underwater-obs450.jpg

Image caption: This underwater observatory is being put into position 30m under the sea in western Sweden.

 

Scientists, including Adrian Glover from the Natural History Museum, have developed the world's first underwater observatory connected to the internet.

 

The observatory is currently 30m underwater in a fjord on the west coast of Sweden and is beaming images of a community of scavenging creatures living on the remains of a dead whale.

 

Scientists anywhere in the world are now able to carry out research in real-time on one of the least-studied enviromments on the planet.

 

Technology advances in cabling and underwater instruments helped make this system possible. However, there a few hurdles to overcome along the way, including a sudden infestation of barnacles! http://http://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/news/2009/september/first-underwater-observatory-live-online39820.html

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Talking Rubbish in Nature Live

Posted by Aoife Sep 25, 2009
Aoife and a volunteer picking litter sml.jpgall the rubbish we found.jpg

 

To find out just what gets washed up on our beaches over the summer, apart from shells and seaweed, I joined in with a beach clean that happened in Wembury, Plymouth as part of the OPAL BioBlitz.

 

The rubbish we collected was taken back to the Museum (and washed thoroughly!) for last Sundays Nature Live event with Tim Ferrero, a scientist in the Zoology department. This event was part of an EU funded project called 4SEAS.

 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the vast majority of rubbish washed up came was plastic, which can affect wildlife in many different ways. The larger pieces of rope and fishing line can entangle larger animals like fish, cetaceans and birds. The smaller pieces can be mis-identified as food, causing poisoning or simply blocking up the animals digestive systems. Even when broken down so much that they are no longer visible to the naked eye, the microscopic pieces can turn up in tiny organisms such as shrimp.

 

What was a little more surprising though was just how much rubbish had clearly come from picnics by the sea. From lots of bottle lids, to crisp packets, to an entire 'disposable' barbecue, a significant amount of rubbish originates from, well, us! As Tim said, we are clearly very messy eaters.

 

So what can we do? Well, the best advice when you visit the seaside is to take all your rubbish home with you! Then, at home, try to recycle your waste and dispose of it properly – we found lots of cotton bud sticks on the beach that had been flushed down toilets and ended up in the sea!

 

And finally, if you want to get directly involved, join in with a beach clean, and that way you can make sure the beaches are not only nice and clean for visitors, but also for the wildlife that calls them home.