Tuesday, 8 May 2012


“Don’t get bogged down in the marsh work!” Whether that was a witty comment or not I’ll leave to the readers, but it sure was the concluding remark of the iGlass kick-off meeting. Some may think iGlass is one of the newer Apple products; it seems there once was an April Fool’s day spoof claiming Apple had indeed produced some sort of cyber-glasses. And there's more of such to be found; no idea if they're real, but there seems to be an iGlasses app that distorts images, and there are iGlasses for the blind, with obstacle detection... But in this context it’s a big scientific project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), aiming at studying interglacial sea level.
So why is interglacial sea level worth so much of your tax money? We are currently living in an interglacial, sea levels are rising, and billions of people live pretty close to sea level. In order to not let the lives of countless many of these get disrupted we need to know how fast sea level can rise under circumstances like those of today. And where can one find information on such things? In past interglacials. Earth has experienced a switching between cold (glacial) and warm (interglacial) states for roughly a million years now; an interglacial occurs approximately once every 100.000 years. Sediments from these periods have survived, and they contain a wealth of information on the environment in these periods, available for those who are willing to interrogate them thoroughly. And that information will provide a good idea of how fast sea level can rise by how much in times like ours.
Policy makers need such input to base their adaptation policies on. If you know within what range sea level changes will be, you might know whether you can get by with strengthening your defences, or whether it’s time to start building wholly new ones. Or perhaps plan a retreat, if defence isn’t economically feasible.

So why the reference to marsh work? This project seeks its data in four fields: sea level information contained in dripstone cave sediments (speleothems), corals, Red Sea sediments, and tidal marsh microfossils. And yours truly is part of the team that will scour the lands for interglacial salt marsh sediments to which we can apply our usual method of sea-level reconstruction. What is that? Explaining that will take another blog entry. We have already found salt marsh sediments with micrfossils we can prod. That, too, is material for another blog post. The project will run for four years, three of which involve me; the stream of blog entries from this project will be considerable. Welcome to iGlass!

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