Day One – Wednesday 2nd September

Three of the team, Jacqui, Steve and Rhiannon, travelled down to Scilly from Cardiff – leaving very  late Tuesday night and arriving at 24 hours Tesco’s in Penzance around 4.30 am.  After a couple of hours dozing to the sound of radio three we were joined, at the quay, by our fellow team members from Cornwall, Charlie and from Exeter, Dan. 

The weather was hellish and the resultant rocking caused the majority of the passengers – many only going over for a day trip – to be very seasick.  Luckily our team was impervious and by taking advantage of the fabulous quiet lounge on the boat, complete with  long benches, pillows and blankets  we caught up with our sleep – spending so long asleep that we awoke to find the cafe ws n o longer serving breakfast – curses.  Our arrival on the island was heralded by driving rain – 18mm had fallen in a couple of hours – so the proposed trip to Nornour with the English Heritage team was called off.  Instead we settled ourselves in and planned our strategy.  An attempt to locate the second, marine, part of the team (CISMAS) failed so we wait to catch up with them on the morrow.

And just what are we doing here?  The isles of Scilly were originally made up of a much larger landmass, known as Ennor but over time the low lying inner area eventually became covered by the sea.  We are trying to find out when, how and at what rate the Isles of Scilly become inundate d by the sea.  To do this we will be examining deposits and structures that indicate changes in sea level: mostly we are looking for peat – material formed under wet conditions, both freshwater and marine – that provides a great record of changes in vegetation (from pollen and plant remains), in water quality (from diatoms and foraminifera) and can be dated using radiocarbon techniques. So we can tell when the land first became soggy (freshwater peats), was washed over by the sea (saltwater peats) and become fully submerged (peat formation stops). 

There are a number of peat deposits that have been indentified across the Isles of Scilly over the years and we will be visiting all of these.  A number have been investigated previously, some have not, but we will be sampling all that we can and applying some more recently developed techniques to help us understand them.

The peats we are seeking are found in the inter-tidal zone (between low and high water) or are fully submerged by the sea.  To sample the inter-tidal peats we need low tides when the reported exposure are visible, but the fully submerged peats can only be located and sampled by boat – hence our marine team who will be using geophysics to map and characterise the sea bed, looking for peat, which we will then sample.  Thanks to local diver Todd Stevens we already know that there are peat beds, visible tree stumps lying under about 8m of water so we will be mapping and sampling these peats as well as hoping to find new peats.

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