07: The “Joy” of Fieldwork (Part 1)

“And now for something completely different” – Monty Python

With a basic vocabulary established by our Fundamentals arc, the Core Ideas podcast will now delve deeper Into the Weeds on a variety of paleolimnological topics. Our second arc begins with some reflections on the fieldwork necessary to collect the lake sediments that are brought back to the laboratory for study.

Paleolimnology is a laboratory and microscope-focused discipline; however, fieldwork is an essential component of any paleolimnological study, as the first step of any project must be collection of the sediment cores. In some cases, all the cores needed for a project may be collected in a single day, but logistics will vary massively depending on lake location and accessibility (i.e. local vs. remote), and the platform used for core collection, as canoes, inflatables, boats, helicopters, and float planes are all the best choice in specific conditions.

As important as field equipment choices are, the work will be performed by humans, and time in the field can often act as a personality test. Some individuals thrive in challenging environments that require rapid problem solving with limited resources, others despise the uncertainty. An interesting aspect to fieldwork is that it is hard to know which camp you fall into, until after your first experience. The long periods of close contact on a small field team can provide a strong foundation for friendships (it is always surprising how quickly multiple complete life stories can be exhausted). Finally, hard physical work is made easier with a full belly, and it is indisputable that peanut butter is the ultimate fieldwork food.

Sleeping bags can absorb a shocking amount of water…

We close the episode by sharing some of the field wisdom we have accumulated over the years. Josh chooses to use his time ranting about the importance of knowing how to tie proper knots (the bowline and highwayman’s hitch are a good place to start). In contrast, Adam laments how the signs for public accessible boat launches are often well hidden, and also how quickly things can go sideways (before you know it, you can learn first hand how much water a sleeping bag can hold).

Episode 07 can be found here.