Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Geology Class and the First Great Excursion

The second of our two classes is geology. There is some sort of long title for it that mentions the particular focus on the geology of the Galway Bay area, but I don't remember it, so I usually just call it "Geology" or "Martin". This is because the class is taught by three professors: Liam Morrison, Martin Feely, and That-Other-Woman-We-Haven't-Had-Yet-Yes-What's-Her-Name-I Can't-Quite-Recall-It, and Martin is my favorite.

Professor Morrison is a world-renowned expert on seaweeds (so he assures us) and educates us about all the different types of seaweed (over 9000!) and their various fascinating uses at every possible opportunity. Sometimes he begrudgingly tells us about some rocks. He's taught every class but one so far, so we know quite a lot about seaweeds now.

Professor Feely insists that we call him Martin. He is the head of the geology department and apparently has "some clout", according to Prof. Pilkington. It seems remarkable that Prof. Pilkington can remark on another professor of a subject entirely different from his own, whose paths will likely never cross except at graduation, at a university of 25,000 undergraduate students, so I think Martin must indeed have some clout. His specialty is gemstones, and we had the opportunity to look at some beautiful specimens in the Natural History Museum that is his pet project in the geology department. Everything I now know about rocks, I learned from him in the one class he taught us last week. I hope he comes back, and I see that we have a day marked "Gemstones" on our syllabus, so I expect he will.

I know nothing about the other professor, but she is not Martin, so I am a little disappointed.

In geology class, we are primarily focused on the region of Ireland surrounding Galway, particularly the bay. I am told there is a fair amount of water in the bay, so I assume that is why seaweeds were mentioned at all. There is an exam at the end of the course, but, and I quote, "it is a piece of cake". Today in class, Prof. Morrison read us the questions from his section of the exam (all of which dealt with seaweeds in some way) and proceeded to strongly hint at the answers for each one. We took notes.

The professors are obviously taking a fairly relaxed approach to the course, so it's really very enjoyable so far. The highlight for me was the field trip we went on to Connemara, a rocky region to the north-west of Galway. Sarah took plenty of pictures, so I'll let them do most of the talking.


Connemara is a region in the west of Ireland whose boundaries are so hazily defined that it is usually only marked on maps by big block letters that cover half the island. The geology professors like to define it in terms of the type of underlying bedrock, which makes it the region on the southernmost side of the middle knob of the three knobs on the west coast of Ireland consisting of "Galway granite".

Connemara is right on the coast, so saltwater channels have eroded into the granite coast and penetrate pretty deep inland in many places. It is low tide in this picture, but at high tide, the sea rises to bring rich harvest from the sea onto the shore. The green-brown coating on the land there is all seaweed.

A coral beach on the coast of Connemara. It was very wet and rainy that day.

The sand is not actually sand. It's little bits of the red algae that grows off the coast. When it dies, it breaks apart and is washed to shore where it is bleached and becomes a sandy color. The whole beach was made of these little fragments.

Connemara is beautiful. The rocks sticking out of the ground are Galway granite.

Sarah asked me if I was staying warm.

A shot from the moving bus.

Connemara, though it is near Galway, is entirely rural. Many of the Irish dwelling on the coast harvest the long strands of seaweed that grow near the shore for a living.

The same coral strand, right down the hill from the picture above.

Seaweed and a dead jellyfish.

A shot from the moving bus.

Cold and rainy.

But happy anyway!

A close-up of the coral pieces. They're technically not coral, because they're a red algae, but all the locals call it coral.

We stopped by a seaweed factory on the way back. The seaweed factory is the largest employer in Connemara, with around 350 employees. Fourteen work in the factory, and all the others gather or harvest seaweed and bring it to the factory to be paid by the tonne.

And that's what geology is like.


Sorry we haven't updated in a while. Dublin wore us out. More on that trip tomorrow (or possibly tonight if I'm procrastinating writing this paper). Miss everyone at home. Sending lots of love across the Atlantic from the granite shores of Connemara.

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