Working Holiday – Sand Dunes in Swansea

When I started this blog towards the end of last year Dr John Griffin was the first person to respond to my interview questions, and he did so with such enthusiasm! (You can read the interview here). So as a way of saying thank you I thought I would spend a week volunteering with his research team and get involved with some fieldwork and lab-work. Last week this came to fruition when I spent the week working with one of his PhD students, Davide, investigating sand dune flora phenotypic traits. That is to say, the observable features of the plant that are determined by their genetics.

Sand Dunes
Sand Dunes

So what did this involve? Well, most of the time was spent in the lab dissecting the roots of sand dune dwelling plants, taking scans of the roots for image analysis, and measuring their dry weights. This was done to get an indication of root structure and length. Another major part of the lab-work was measuring soil samples and testing their salinity. The overall aim of Davide’s project is to determine how the phenotypic traits of plants stabilise sediment.

Preparing roots and leaves for scanning and weighing.
Preparing roots and leaves for scanning and weighing.

Another part of the work involved taking GPS readings on the sand dunes to create a series of transects that can be used to investigate changes in the sand dune structure.

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It was a varied week, and I also had the opportunity to meet Rory Wilson (interviewed here) who took the time to show me some incredibly detailed animal movement data that he is working on. Imagine tracking a penguin’s dive and being able to tell when it beats its wings because you can perceive changes in depth to a few centimetres. You can determine patterns of movement and associate them with particular behaviours so you know what the penguin was doing. Was it looking for food? Walking along the ice? Or evading a predator? Rory’s dream question to be able to answer is ‘what is that animal going to do next?’, the ability to predict an animals’ behaviour. There is so much data involved with this that Rory told me that R would not be capable of handling it (That’s a lot of data!). Instead the team have had to create their own bespoke software in C++.

 

In addition to all the lab-work, fieldwork, and networking, this was also a holiday from my usual job. It was great to be able to spend time visiting friends I know from when I lived in Bangor (they had move to Swansea since I left Bangor). At the end of the week I was glad to be able to go for a short bike ride to a beach on the Gower peninsular and spend a few hours sat reflecting on the week, reading, and journaling.

A good place to reflect.
A good place to reflect.

 

All in all it was a fantastic and insightful week. I look forward to having the opportunity to interview more people and spending time connecting in this way.

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