Mapping in Skye

These strange creatures flock to Skye for the amazing geology

A wild geologist note-taking in the field (Photo by A.Roberts)

In 2008, at the end of my second year reading for a BSc in Geology at the University of Birmingham, I undertook the most arduous of undergrad fieldwork… geological mapping! This is where all undergraduate geologists are sent off under their own steam to map the geological features of their chosen area. My chosen mapping area was on the Isle of Skye, off the West coast of Scotland. When we arrived 6 weeks of trudging across peat bogs, mountains and streams lay ahead, thankfully the surrounding landscape is amongst the most stunning in the UK. We did look and the rocks at wonder what we were letting ourselves in for, they looked very scary but soon we learnt to understand them a lot more.

First steps involved finding the 18 different rock types across the 14km² area of rugged terrain. Some of the main lithology’s included the Durness Limestone, Beinn an Dubhaich Granite and Pabay Shales. Key structures included the Kishorn Thrust, part of the larger Moine Thrust Fault which runs across North Scotland. For many of you, Scotland will bring memories of wind and rain, but for our mapping project in the height of summer the weather was well….. rain and wind! We had lots of it too and daily, in fact at 1 o’clock everyday it rained, so we were armed with waterproofs ready to put them on when needed. The most difficult task was to try and keep the mapping slips dry when the rain came in. Although we did have a few nice days too, a rarity in those parts! 

A shy wild geologist is spotted

Always have a scale in your field photos (Photo by A. Roberts)

Our field slips were one of the important bits of geological mapping kit, this is what we used to mark on where the boundaries are in the field using a GPS. We used topographical features such as slopes or gullies to mark boundaries where a contact was not visible, we also marked on any rocky outcrops we came across. Any features such as fossils, igneous intrusions and faults were added to the mapping slips. Any other information such as rock descriptions, unusual features and any other important measurements went into our standard issue yellow field notebook.

Over the course of the 6 weeks, the population of geologists on Skye increased to form a massive herd of students wandering the hills like lost sheep. I even bumped into an old college friend who was studying Geology at a London university, I hadn’t seen him for a few years, but there he was with his mapping slips in hand wandering along a remote track on Skye.

Torrin Marble Quarry

Dyke intrusions within the Torrin Marble Quarry (Photo by A. Roberts)

After weeks of sketching, measuring and marking on map sections I was ready to stitch the individual mapping slips together to produce a final full A0 sized geological map of the area. The most dangerous part was the high risk colouring in; this is where all geologists become expert at colouring in between the lines! In addition to the final map, we had to produce a 14,000 word report and do a 10 minute presentation to the rest of the geology group and lecturers. This presentation tested my numerous hypothesis with evidence I had collected during my six weeks in the field and to produce an overall conclusion for the environments of deposition and geological history of the area.

Chris Broughton
Wolverhampton Art Gallery

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