BRITICE-CHRONO: sampling bedrock in Cheshire/Shropshire for CN dating

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By Matthew Burke and Richard Chiverrell

Taking advantage of the improving weather and as the snows subside Rich Chiverrell and Matt Burke were joined by Derek Fabel and David Small (University of Glasgow) in getting the terrestrial sampling programme underway for BRITICE-CHRONO. The project a NERC-funded consortium that aims to constrain the rate of collapse of the last British-Irish Ice Sheet. The project will employ a number of dating techniques – Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL), Radiocarbon (14C), and Terrestrial Cosmogenic Nuclide (TCN) dating – in order to document the retreat of all major ice streams that drained the largely marine-based ice sheet. Terrestrial sampling along the Irish Sea East transect is now well underway after three days of intensive rock removal along the Mid-Cheshire Ridge for TCN dating. Although renowned for its flatness, the rolling farmland of Cheshire/Shropshire is broken by the enormous Mid-Cheshire ridge that reaches a whopping 227 m asl and is, conveniently, aligned roughly perpendicular to the retreating ice margin. As the ridge has been eroded by overriding ice and is cut by deeply incised meltwater channels it presents a great opportunity for us glacial geologists to do our thing: clamber around, stare at, chisel away at, and rest upon various rocks!

Field Personnel: Derek Fabel (rock sculpting), David Small (rock sculpting & note taker), Matt Burke (dogsbody), Rich Chiverrell (Driver & lookout), Geoff Thomas (Local geological expert), Pat Alexander (Local gastronomic expert)

DAY 1: Northern sector

Whilst Rich was enthusing year 2 undergraduates about the joys of glacial geomorphology, Matt, David and Derek began the day by braving the wilds of the Wirral with a stroll around Thurstaston Common in order to take a look at the ‘controversial’ Thor’s rock: a site of much debate as to the origin of the numerous erosion marks that cover its surfaces. Some believe the marks record scalloping by glacial meltwater, a plausible argument given the rock sits within a meltwater channel, yet the obvious steps and chutes down its flanks are probably testament to the alternate hypothesis that these marks simply record 100+ years of children climbing over and sliding down the rock!

Meltwater or scallies: which was the greater erosive agent at Thor’s Rock?

Meltwater or scallies: which was the greater erosive agent at Thor’s Rock?

After careful consideration we decided to sit on the fence, concluding that many of the marks were originally scoured by meltwater, but have now been enhanced by the locals (us included) and so we decided to sample at a less controversial site: Thurstaston Hill. From here the team drove a couple of miles to Barnston Dale where we were joined by Rich, resisted the temptation of a 10 am pick-me-up at the Fox and Hounds, and hacked a piece of rock from the Barnston meltwater channel.Next stop Urchin’s  Kitchen at Primrose Hill Wood. Following what seems to be a tradition for this transect, Rich and  David did an excellent job of navigation (Rich: “we don’t need a map to navigate…”).

C3W film crew capturing Derek's activities

C3W film crew capturing Derek’s activities

Although  we did eventually arrive at the site, we seemed to take the scenic route as we zigzagged our way across the countryside, which was all part of the plan, of course. On site we met up with Saskia Pagella and Vince Jones from C3W who filmed the sampling procedure and interviewed Rich and Derek with the eerie backdrop of the Urchin’s Kitchen.

Unfortunately, although Derek gave us a great recital of a poem commemorating the discoverer of cosmic rays, it was not captured on film and it  was a one-off performance. Lesson learned; always have a video camera at the ready in case of any future Britice-Chrono poetry recitals….. After a rather late lunch at Delamere Forest, the team finished off northern sector sampling by bagging (literally) rock at Manley Knoll and Helsby Channel. All in all, a very successful day of sampling, but could we cope without Derek on day 2?

DAY 2: Central sector

Afraid to look down: David measures the shielding at Raw Head.

Afraid to look down: David measures the shielding at Raw Head.

As Derek whizzed off to Sheffield to give a talk, Rich, David and Matt were left to pick up the pieces and continue with another round of TCN sampling. This time the central part of the ridge was the target, where surprisingly little bedrock was exposed. However, after several hours of rock hunting, David stepped into Derek’s shoes admirably and showed his skills at Raw Head and Bickerton Hill. Raw Head proved particularly challenging (not including having to avoid the local fox hunt on route) given David and Matt had to clamber atop a block that had slumped from the main outcrop and was hanging precariously above the valley below. After a long and cold morning of walking the ridge, we were met for lunch by Geoff Thomas at the aptly-named pub “The Sandstone”. Along with a rather large lunch, Rich crumbled under the slightest of peer-pressure to enjoy a pint of “Scrum  Down” (BRITICE-CHRONO approved beer 1) with the rest of us.Luckily, after lunch the fully-awake and motivated team were able to expend their excess energy with a couple of steep hikes. The first proved fruitless as we discovered on arrival at the outcrop that it had been heavily quarried. Thankfully, the second hike to the head of the very deeply incised meltwater channel that is Peckforton Gap produced something we could sample. After another successful day, Matt was finally able to break the habit and navigate us home without any major detours.

Excellent lunch stop

Excellent lunch stop

DAY 3: Southern sector

Ahead only lowland Shropshire and the Severn basin

Ahead only lowland Shropshire and the Severn basin

Day 3 began with a long drive to the most southern extent of the ridge in Shropshire where the team were given unrestricted and free access to Hawkstone Park, despite it being closed to the public. After Geoff successfully found his way to the chute-like meltwater channels, the question was asked; have these actually been eroded by meltwater or were they excavated to produce nice walking routes for all those Victorian tourists? After careful consideration, we decided they were in fact meltwater channels, but unfortunately their steep walls and the resulting shielding meant TCN sampling was not possible. Instead, more precarious sites were chosen right at the top, and at the edge, of the escarpment. With bushes on one side and the prospect of quite drop a long fall on the other, Derek and David held their nerves to bag another two good samples. No fieldwork thus far appears complete without without a visit to the pub, the team stopped for another well-deserved lunch at “The Inn at Grinshill” where, alongside very nice fish and chips, a further sample was taken (“Six Nations” –BRITICE-CHRONO approved beer 2). After lunch the sun was shining and we were able to bag the final sample of the day (and the trip) from The Cliff at Corbett Wood. This proved to be a fitting conclusion to the trip: all TCN samples for the transect have now been collected, and the final site at the most southern tip of the ridge overlooked the outwash plains that will be now targeted for OSL dating over the coming weeks…

T3 sampling sites

T3 sampling sites

1 thought on “BRITICE-CHRONO: sampling bedrock in Cheshire/Shropshire for CN dating

  1. chrisclarkofbc

    Fantastic write up, and leaves me a bit thirsty for a beer after all the talk of pubs. At least it will now be a penny cheaper.


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