Van Walt Environmental C O N N E C T
October 2016 Issue 2
Augers in Armenia Helping Conserve Orangutans Working with Save the Children Corer Recovers Crucial Evidence
VANWALT Monitoring your needs vanwalt CONNECT
Hand Augering among the Carved Rocks at Ughtasar
More than just another telemetry system...
MP1 Pump is back
Frack Off or Frack Active
It seems like only yesterday that I wrote the introduction to the first issue of this magazine. “tempus fugit” and so much has happened since February. In business, as in life more generally we make our choices and by way of an introduction to this issue I’d like to share with you one of my favourite poems; “The road not taken” by Robert Frost: Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
Flood risk monitoring
Brackish water tracking
It started with a kiss …..!
And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
The Soil in my Salad
Studying Soil Properties to Help Conserve Orangutans
Van Walt Corer Recovers Crucial Evidence
Measuring water quality parameters
Detecting & identifying pollutants
Agricultural runoff studies
Controlling the snow at Cardrona Ski Resort
Reasons to be Cheerful, 1, 2, 3 ...
Confidence-Technology-Choice has been a strap-line by which we choose to do business. Some things are within our control while others are not. But we are pleased with the path we took this year; levelSCOUT, vanwalt CONNECT,
Catalan Water Partnership - CWP
and more ...
our response to Brexit; but most importantly I think our customers have been pleased with our choices and we are so very grateful to them for their continued loyalty. Without this we would be nowhere. Thank you!
vanwalt CONNECT in Somalia
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The World of Van Walt
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The Evolution of Groundwater Sampling
Hand Augering among the Carved Rocks at Ughtasar
The spectacular rock art site of Ughtasar is set within the naturally bounded space of a cirque within an extinct strato volcano at an altitude of 3300metres in the Syunik Mountains of southern Armenia. The study area, accessible for only 3 months of the year, measures c1 x 1.5kms plus the steep rocky approach from the south and the more gradual ascent from the north. The landscape is dominated by high craggy twin peaks, which form part of the eroded rim of the caldera. Rich grasslands house seasonal pools while the only permanent glacial lake is held by a massive natural dam of rocks and boulders. Extensive boulder streams of fractured basaltic lava spill across the site; heavily glaciated and darkened by rock varnish, the polished rocks form an inviting surface on which to peck animals, humans, occasional wheeled vehicles and abstract motifs. The mainly self-funded Ughtasar Rock Art Project team (a committed and enthusiastic group of Armenian, UK and international archaeologists, art historians, students and volunteers led by co-directors Anna Khechoyan and Tina Walkling working under the auspices of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences, Armenia and the Landscape Research Centre, UK) has recently completed a survey of nearly 1000 carved rocks. We are currently busy analysing the results - most striking is the extraordinary predominance of images of wild goats with huge horns, which account for 65% of all the figurative motifs. What we have been sorely lacking is geo- archaeological and environmental information, in particular from palaeo-botanical, palaeo-climatic and more detailed geo-morphological studies, which would provide invaluable information about the site formation processes – and perhaps even help towards dating. Excavation is expensive, time consuming and potentially destructive and the logistics of working and camping at 3300m are not straightforward – the nearest village is 17km down a rough track at the foot of the mountain. Having seen environmental archaeologists successfully gaining information from auger surveys at various sites in the UK, it seemed that hand augering would prove to be a useful and non-destructive way of providing information that would help to fill in some of the gaps urgently needed to piece together the environmental conditions within the caldera in the ancient past. The company of Van Walt, renowned throughout the UK and internationally for its soil sampling equipment, was recommended by our UK principal partner and mentor, archaeologist Professor Dominic Powlesland, and by geo-archaeologist Dr Mike Allen, who kindly offered similar advice. I was determined to obtain an auger for our project!
It was explained to me on the phone that the difficult site conditions might not be suitable for survey by auger, however Vincent van Walt kindly agreed to meet me at the company’s offices in Haslemere. Vincent was not over-optimistic when he pored over the geomorphological map (prepared by Armenian geomorphologist, Dr Samvel Nahapetyan). “I’m not sure that you’ll find a suitable place to auger in such rocky conditions”. We discussed the possibilities and the problems and then to my utter astonishment and delight Vincent offered to sponsor us by providing augers, extension rods and handle! Overjoyed, I left dancing on air! Two or three days later the promised packages arrived, containing three different augers, each 7cms in diameter, one for stony soil, one for riverside sampling and an Edelman type combination auger, together with handle and extension rods (to ‘dig’ as deep as possible!). Having tried out the equipment in our London suburban garden we packed it carefully for the journey to Yerevan.
We were thrilled to hear that Samvel Nahapetyan, Armenia’s only geo-morphologist and Roman Hovsepyan, Armenia’s sole palaeo-botanist planned to visit us on site for a couple of days in order to obtain soil samples with the augers and from a small test pit which Samvel had previously excavated a couple of years before. But would they manage to reach the caldera? Two nights of dramatic thunder and lightning with torrential rain meant that the rough tracks up the mountain might be impassable. As I hugged my knees in the middle of the night with the storm flashing and crashing directly overhead, I crossed my fingers hard and next evening, Wednesday 27th July Samvel and Roman arrived having safely ascended the mountain in their 4-wheeled drive vehicle. Next day the augers were used in a variety of different situations, first in a low-lying area of rich grassland not far from a circular mound that might possibly be a burial. The auger descended to a depth of c60cms into glacial clays with no organic layer (more than enough clay to fashion a small human figure!).
Next, a sample obtained to a depth of 40cms from near Rock 9 revealed no apparent organic deposit. But then a much more positive result was obtained when Roman augered to a depth of 30cm closer to the carved rock revealing an organic layer very similar to the one in the re-opened small test pit adjacent to Rock 9. We were delighted to find that a further auger hole near Rock 81 also revealed a possible organic layer at a depth similar to the one by Rock 9, which we hope may possibly be contemporary with the rock carvings. In total four samples were taken for pollen analysis and one for possible AMS dating. Also a sample from the small test pit was obtained for micro-morphological analysis together with a sample for OSL dating in a small test pipe carefully sealed at both ends. These are the first environmental samples that have been obtained from the site and we are very excited and optimistic about the results. But we will have to be patient! As there is no equipment available for pollen analysis,
Hand Augering among the Carved Rocks at Ughtasar
unable to find lakes or pools which are not too rocky within the main part of the study area. As they are both the only specialists in Armenia in their respective fields, Samvel and Roman are very much in demand and both had to hurry away to meet other fieldwork commitments. But the augers were not allowed to lie idle! Next day we set off for the northern approach and augered to a depth of 34 cm and again to a depth of 30cms close to Rock 946 which lies above a rocky stream which descends into the plain below the caldera. We retained the sample, carefully wrapped in foil and cling film. Our next two samples were extracted from an area close to and within the remains of a possible tented camp. Here we augered to a depth of 40cms in short turf. We are hopeful that organic material may be found in the samples we retained. Next we chose one of the stone-walled animal enclosures that look quite promising with their lush vegetation due to animal dung, but the soils are shallow and soon the auger struck rock. We eagerly await Samvel’s and Roman’s examination of the samples we acquired – the flotation bucket is ready for the soil samples in the hope that they will be deemed to be useful! The augers will remain in Armenia for the future use of the project and for the use of environmental archaeologists. Samvel explained that usually international projects take their equipment home at the completion of the fieldwork season so he is absolutely delighted that he and his colleagues will be able to carry on using the equipment during the year and for many years to come. We are extremely grateful to Vincent Van Walt for his great generosity, kindness and invaluable help and advice in enabling the Ughtasar Rock Art Project to gain much needed palaeo- environmental information. Our grateful thanks also go to Professor Pavel Avetisyan, Director of the Institute of Archaeology & Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences of Armenia and Professor Dominic Powlesland, Director of the Landscape Research Centre, UK and not least to our enthusiastic team members without whom there would be no project!
micro-morphology testing or OSL or AMS dating in the laboratory in Armenia, the samples will be taken back to UK on my return in early September. We will report back as soon as any results are obtained. Please watch this space! Samvel and Roman have promised to return to site with the augers next summer. They are confident that within the area surrounding the caldera they will find suitable boggy lakes for sediment sampling with the augers as they were
Tina Walkling & Anna Khechoyan, Ughtasar Rock Art Project
The Grundfos MP1 environmental sampling pump system has been around in different iterations for as long as we can remember. Some three years ago Grundfos, who have an annual production of more than 16 million pump units and is one of the world’s leading pump
manufacturers, decided to cease production of the MP1. For all those involved in environmental research this was a great disappointment. We’re delighted therefore to let you know that through an agreement with Royal Eijkelkamp whom Van Walt represent in the UK, Ireland, Spain and New Zealand, the phoenix has risen from the ashes and is being manufactured again. ... return of the MP1 Pump • High pumping capacity for purging, slow pumping for sampling • Pumps to up to 90m head of water in 50 mm (2 inch) diameter or larger wells • Easy to install • Step-less control for flow rates from 100ml to 34 litres per minute • Resistant to corrosive liquids • Pump is stainless steel and the cord is teflon coated so can be easily decontaminated • Can be used for sampling and purging deep wells • Individual elements available or as a complete set. The MP1 was generally regarded as the pinnacle of groundwater sampling pumps; powerful, efficient and capable of pumping to a theoretical 90 metres head of water and small enough to fit in a 50mm/2” well. For high flow purging and sampling in deep wells it has never been equalled. At Van Walt we are well trained in the use, maintenance and repair of the MP1 and we are delighted to be able to offer you these systems again. We have even put a new video together to help you maintain your MP1 pump in top condition. Aside from the individual components; from the pump replacements to frequency converters and cables; we will also be able to offer complete sets comprising the VFD, pump, cable and discharge tube on
Think of Turkey and you usually think of sunshine but the temperature, at -15*C hit us as soon as we exited Ankara airport and the first thoughts were whether we had packed enough warm clothes for site work and the installation of a remote telemetry system in an isolated, mountainous area in the north of Turkey. Our objective was to help with the installation of and to train local operatives in the use of a vanwalt CONNECT system. The system was fitted for a water authority who need to collect water level and turbidity data from a distribution facility in Northern Turkey. An important element of this remote monitoring system is that the company can monitor changes without having to go onsite. Every 15 minutes recordings are taken and hourly uploaded to the server where it can be accessed at any time, because any changes to the level and quality may have a direct impact on local drinking water supplies. I love Turkish coffee, hot and very sweet. It warms the soul and the sugar and caffeine mixture hits the brain in just the right way. Unfortunately, our 4-star hotel served slop which they described as “delicious continental
coffee”, so, slightly grumpy we set off on the motorway heading north. It was snowing hard and for the first time in my life I experienced the windscreen freezing over, slowly at first but progressively, until all but a tiny roundel became opaque. Luckily we had an excellent driver in our colleague and host Kadir. Some 4 hours later we arrived at our destination and coffee! Adnan and Caner had prepared well for us with the system, boxes and components being sent ahead of us. When we arrived on site the vanwalt CONNECT box was on a post, solar panel in place and the couple of 100 odd metres of cables neatly within a buried conduit. In fact, all we had to do was connect the battery, reset the time and wait for the meat to be fully cooked on the barbecue. In the meantime data was streaming in and continues to do so. This was one of the most straightforward installations we’ve had this year. After a night in a delightful period guest house we were given the opportunity of visiting Safranbolu, a world heritage site. The Old Town preserves many old buildings containing registered historical artefacts. There is plenty to see including museums, 25 mosques,
five tombs, eight historical fountains, five Turkish baths, three caravanserais (a roadside inn where travellers (Caravaners) could rest and recover from the day’s journey), one historical clock tower, one sundial and hundreds of houses and mansions as well as mounds of ancient settlements, rock tombs and historical bridges - plenty of opportunities for an enthusiastic photographer! The name of the town Safranbolu derives from ‘saffron’ and the Greek word ‘polis’ (city), a trading place and centre for growing saffron. Today saffron is still grown and the village of Davutobası which is 22 km east of Safranbolu claims to have some of the best quality saffron in the world. Time to see some of the country and its amazing history was the icing on the cake and our thanks go to Kadir, Adnan and Caner for having made our visit so successful and interesting.
a reel with either Teflon or PE tube in standard set lengths of 30, 60 and 90 metres. A suitable generator is an important component of the system and we will continue to offer the appropriate Honda “suitcase” type genny.
Vincent van Walt, Van Walt Ltd
vanwalt.com 05 Servicing and repairs available on your MP1 Pump
Frack Off or Frack Active – time will tell
I was asked to write a piece on Remediation equipment and link it to ‘fracking’ – a topic guaranteed to raise a lot of hackles and one it would be exceedingly difficult not to take sides on! And, the more I thought about it the more challenging the task became. Put the two words together: remediation and fracking – and immediately the phrase: ‘closing the stable door after the horse has bolted’ springs to mind! That’s not to say we don’t have excellent remediation equipment to rent or buy. ATEX Certified Interface Meters, Total Fluids Pumps, Personal Protection Monitors, PIDs and Product Recovery Systems like Geosorb kits and Skimmers. However, to my mind, to talk about fracking fairly and in the context of moving forward we should link it to the phrase: prevention is better than cure. Of course you can take this literally as our friends from across the Channel have done. France’s constitutional court upheld a ban on fracking, ruling that the law banning the process is a valid means of protecting the environment. “It’s a judicial victory but also an environmental and political victory,” the French environment minister said after the verdict. “With this decision the ban on fracking is absolute.” Closer to home and mention the “f” word and you are sure to generate strong feelings on every side of the argument. Supporters say it could be the energy source that will give the UK independence from costly imports and secure our energy supply for years to come. On the opposite side of the argument those against the process cite the destruction of the environment, contamination of groundwater and the depletion of local water resources – to name but three! But fracking, or more correctly: hydraulic fracturing, is nothing new. First used experimentally in 1947 with the first commercially successful applications of hydraulic fracturing in 1949, it was the UK, in the North Sea oil and gas fields, where the process really gained momentum in the sixties. The technique did not attract real public
attention until its use was proposed for onshore shale gas wells in 2007 and 2008. Since that time in the UK, as in other countries - and in particular the United States, where the industry is most advanced and widespread, hydraulic fracturing has generated a large amount of controversy. The European Union has issued an approval for hydraulic fracturing under certain conditions as it recognises that it can be an economic boost but it emphasizes the need to carefully control and monitor the impacts of the process and not repeat the pollution incidents that have occurred in the US and widely used as examples and good reasons not to exploit this method of obtaining gas. The actual process of fracking involves drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. The mixture, made up of water, sand and chemicals, is injected into the rock at high pressure allowing the gas to flow out to the head of the well. The process can be carried out vertically or, more commonly, by drilling horizontally into the rock layer to create new pathways to release gas or can be used to extend existing channels. The environmental impact of fracking is well documented but for now let’s concentrate on water pollution. The fracking fluids used in the process may include proppants and other substances, including toxic chemicals. In the US these additives have been treated as trade secrets by some companies who use them and the lack of knowledge about specific chemicals has complicated efforts to develop risk management policies and to study health effects. In the UK we already have controls in place to ensure these chemicals are made public and they are required to be non-hazardous. No doubt the monitoring of these chemicals will be closely observed and regulated by the Environment Agency. Regular monitoring of the chemical pre-fracking will need to be made together with detailed analysis of the
waste water following the process. Our range of water quality meters, sondes and sensors from the stables of Xylem and INW are ideal to monitor a range of parameters like Temperature, pH, ORP, Dissolved Oxygen, Conductivity, Specific Conductance, Salinity, Total Dissolved Solids, Seawater Density, Total Suspended Solids, Ammonium, Chloride, Nitrate, Depth and Turbidity. These instruments can be used for spot monitoring or, linked to telemetry like vanwalt CONNECT for long term measurement of the water quality in and around fracking sites. Alarms can also be set to give an early warning if particular parameters exceed specified levels so preventative action can be taken before serious environmental damage occurs.
The other impact on water is the amount required in the process, particularly problematic in areas where there are shortages. Surface water may be contaminated through spillage and improperly built and maintained waste pits. Groundwater can be contaminated if fluid is able to escape during the process and there is the potential for methane to leak into aquifers. However, the UK’s regulatory framework around fracking is based on the conclusion that the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing are manageable if carried out under effective regulation and if operational best practices are implemented. Time will tell!
Tracey Daley, Van Walt Ltd
It started with a kiss …..!
Not really! It started with an idea, a simple idea: if you are collecting data wouldn’t it have more meaning if it was available in real-time? So we investigated creating something that could transfer water parameter readings from a sensor on site and deliver that data directly to the customer wherever they were in the world – simply, securely, accurately and timely. Two years later and this idea has grown larger than we could ever have expected. vanwalt CONNECT systems can now be found all over the world from the deserts of Sudan to the hustle and bustle of London City. And the future - we’re not stopping there! vanwalt CONNECT is evolving in every way, we are delighted to be receiving regular requests for new and exciting jobs that require us to think about how we can modify vanwalt CONNECT to suit specific project requirements. Developments to date have included adding a new sensor to measure different parameters, adding control relays so you can switch devices on and off remotely and alarms that monitor water levels in an adjacent river to allow a business to proactively react to potential flooding scenarios rather that reacting to So where do we go from here?
damage to property. We believe the real beauty of the vanwalt CONNECT system is it can be modified to suit any project - you just need to ask. We have also looked at giving the system longevity in the field so we developed a solar powered option so we were no longer restricted by the life of a battery. This has proved invaluable for sites where data uploads are required every 15 minutes in order to protect property and place. vanwalt CONNECT was one of our first R&D projects at Van Walt and continues to be an on-going programme of development but it certainly could never be classed as our last. In response to customers wanting to improve the accuracy of their water quality data we recently designed a base plate for our YSIs. It was brought to Van Walt’s attention that some of our customers were using the YSI flow cell lying down when taking water quality measurements, this is incorrect. A flow cell should always be used upright otherwise results will almost certainly be wrong as air will come into contact with the electrodes. Having recognised the problem, we designed a base plate that will keep the flow cell upright; we have included this handy item in all our YSI
rental packages and updated our Quick Start Guides to make it clear on how to obtain the most accurate results. Van Walt prides itself on listening to customers and reacting to their needs, that’s why we have recently added a Bluetooth system to our growing equipment list. The BLE485 is a Bluetooth-low-energy wireless adapter that connects to all our groundwater level loggers like the LevelSCOUT and water quality sensors like the PT2X, to a customer’s laptop or tablet device. This short range telemetry system is perfect for remote and hard to reach areas such as central reservations and restricted access sites. The BLE485 will be used in the Save the Children’s project in Somalia to ensure valuable data is available to the teams responsible for child safety to give them more time to evacuate the children in their care, if there is the potential for life-threatening flooding – saving time, savings lives. It is a misconception that research and development is purely the investigative activities a business conducts to broaden the number and type of new products and services in its portfolio. At Van Walt we tend to view it slightly differently: we harness the skills of our R&D team to not only develop new equipment but also to improve existing products and procedures or to sign-post new developments for future products, services and procedures from our suppliers. We have worked extensively with many of our suppliers to improve the equipment we supply. With much of our core rental equipment we have built up many years’ experience and expertise on how it works and how best to maintain it. As part of the R&D process we regularly share our concerns, best practice and ideas for improvement with our colleagues from as far afield as the US & New Zealand. This has led to improvements in equipment software; improved parts used in the manufacture of items, enhanced packaging and support material to make it easier for a customer onsite to get the most from the equipment. We don’t actually think of this as R&D but much more about business improvement. Albert Einstein said: “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” At Van Walt we like to think we are working on R&D not because we don’t know what we are doing but because we want to do it better!
Lewis Irvine, Van Walt Ltd
The Soil in my Salad
Soil, or more correctly sediment, is everywhere! It is the upper layer of earth in which plants grow, usually a black or dark or reddish brown material typically consisting of a mixture of organic remains, clay, and rock particles - an intricate matrix of compounds and elements. Soil is a major component of the Earth’s ecosystem. A micro investigation of soil can reveal pollutants, nutrients, permeability curves and its ability to retain moisture. Soil is a natural body that performs four important functions: it is a medium for plant growth; it is a means of water storage, supply and purification; it is a modifier of the atmosphere; and it is a habitat for organisms that take part in decomposition and creation of a habitat for other organisms. Soil, the ‘skin of the earth’ is the interface between the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere but it was a simple salad that forced me to look at the broader view of soil analysis. It all happened over a lunch with my teenage daughters, enjoying a colourful and fresh salad: green lettuce, red tomatoes, black olives, yellow cucumber, orange carrot .… everything brought from an organic farmer near our home. My eldest daughter was explaining to me one of her school projects: to choose one of the biggest steps in human evolution and describe its importance. I was terrified when she explained her first choice: an app for instant messaging with the cell phone! Keep calm, I thought, while looking at the center of the table and feeling a little out of my depth! The remainder of the salad was there and suddenly I had a Eureka moment: “What do you think about agriculture”? I said. Take this salad – it is the result of a lot of intensive work, many people were involved in making these vegetables grow. Aaaahhhh no! My daughters explained to me that they had learnt at school that our ancestors moved from growing crops to creating cities and that was a sign of a developed society, an industrial revolution because growing vegetables was not so difficult compared to creating and manufacturing wealth. Try it, I answered and you will soon learn it is not so easy! You start with a pot, fill it with something and try to grow a tomato plant. Firstly you’ll have to learn about compaction (if the soil substrate is so dense roots will not grow; if too light, water will flow to the bottom and will not be available to the plants), fertilising, watering …. So you can quickly see - soil is important. Indeed, our ancestors learnt how to grow vegetables and how to optimize their crops, but it is only after years of studying soil that we have reached the point where we are now. We have moved from a point when research was needed to increase the yield for subsistence to the current point that forces us to dedicated soil treatments in order to not dry out the soil after continuous crop rotation.
Do you recognise the explanation given by that sommelier about the price of a wine when you asked (I wanted to hide below the table!) why does it costs so much? Yes! He talked about the care that was taken with the vineyards, about the type of fertilisation, the right amount of sun and the precise level of irrigation and, importantly, about the nature of the soil in that region. Soil again! In that moment of the discussion I felt I couldn’t stop, I was on a roll! Soil analysis is not just vital for agriculture, soil to grow my salad, soil research is important for so many other human activities. Think about the foundations of our houses and our roads, if we don’t do our research and look not just at the type of soil but also the topography of a site, our homes may collapse. Also let’s not forget about understanding soil in the face of natural disasters. Imagine a landscape or country that has experienced flood; no roads and
so no means of getting there except by air. Airplanes from everywhere arriving with first aid, supplies and food but where are they going to land? All too quickly a mechanical and scientific investigation to determine the penetration resistance of the ground where the terrain can support tons of weight, without collapsing, in order to safely site a runway. Can you imagine a plane landing in the sand on the beach, or the mud? So, knowledge of soil, and its properties is vital. When it comes to housing and site development it is not just a question of finding a nice place to build houses; where we’ll create some parks where children will play and drink fresh water from the wells that sit there. Great! But what was there before? It doesn’t matter, it is a nice place, close to rail links, schools and roads, say the developers. However, if we study the soil, we may discover that many years ago, a foundry was there. Tons of salt residues were left and with time these
residues went into the soil. Rain water helped these residues to vanish from the surface and conveyed them to the groundwater. We can build there, it is a nice place, but we will not be able to play in the park or drink water from the wells. We could maybe remediate the site and only then will it be safe to live there. Think of some areas of northern France where the legacy of the First World War is still felt today, 100 years later. Sustained and intense fighting has left a legacy of environmental contamination. Following the 1918 armistice, northern France, faced a huge clean-up and restoration effort which involved filling in trenches, removing barbed wire and the rebuilding and repair of 293,000 dwellings and farms that were fully or partially destroyed. The area of destruction covered 33,000 km2 including some of France’s most prized agricultural and industrial land. This area of devastation was divided up into different
The Soil in my Salad
zones, with the ‘Red Zone’ being an area deemed beyond hope of restoration and which is still off limits to the public even today and remains dotted with trenches and unexploded ordinance. The immediate post-war clean-up programme involved the disposal of ammunition stockpiles, including burning in open pits shells made from lead, copper and brass, fuses made out of copper and zinc together with ammunition containing arsenic. Perchlorates and chlorate, along with small levels of nitroaromatic explosives are also still present in leachates in the topsoil and scientists still recommend that the surrounding land should not be used for agricultural purposes. Returning to my daughters I asked if they still remember the mountains we used to go when they were younger. That forest where they were looking for elves and goblins? Yes, the one that had that big fire three summers ago. The upper layer of the soil lost its stability because burnt tree roots were not strong enough to anchor the vegetation and autumn rains removed all the fine sediments. Now you see rocks where once you might have found elves under mushrooms and it will be a very long time before any trees reappear. Sometimes we don’t need to be worried about runoff of sediments: sometimes this transit is good for other purposes. River sediments feed downstream to agricultural areas. Do you remember last year’s trip to Egypt? We visited the Aswan Dam, what a big wall! Do you remember the lock next to the end of our Nile cruise? Until the construction of these structures, the Nile River flowed freely, containing tons of sediments that were deposited on the river margins. These were very rich and fertile sediments that allowed the development of agriculture to feed the people as far back as the Pharaoh’s time. We see that sediments are the chronicles of the long term history of our land by geology and soil hosts an important part of our recent history. Sometimes we can learn our own history by finding something hidden: from a picture under our bed, to a whole town under a market, as happened recently in Barcelona. Preservation of these archeological sites has been possible because of certain soil behavior. Even if we want to leave these findings under the soil, we have to monitor different parameters, like soil moisture, to ensure its preservation. On a site in Glastonbury, England a group of researchers are establishing what impact the soil conditions are having on the long term sustainability of a prehistoric site. Using soil moisture measurements the team are establishing the true moisture content of the soil by taking accurate readings at different points around the site, the results of which will help them plan the next phase of the preservation of the site.
Sediments are alive! They change their aspect with time, can be darker when wet, paler when dry and yet they are the same. Even their intimate structure changes from one place to another. If you give samples of clays to a good crystallographer, he will be able to tell you where they are from. Is this useful? Ask a criminologists. They know where you have been by just taking a look at your shoes! Think too of sediment research in little known and remote locations like the Sunderbans, West Bengal. India. The collection and study of sediment core samplers to establish the history, chronology and reason behind the existence and development of these islands and mangrove delta falls is important for future conservation. This region is low lying and covered with Sundari trees from which the name of the region may have been derived. The habited islands have been somewhat protected by embankments made by the people whereas the uninhabited islands are open to the elements and populated by the famous man-eating Bengali tigers. Study of the soil and sediments will help predict the impact of rising sea levels on this remote area.
When studying soils, we have to be very careful about how we do it. If we want samples, we need to know exactly what is required and produce as less perturbations as possible in the surroundings. We need to know whether we want an undisturbed sample or perhaps a disturbed sample suffices. Will we be looking at a soil profile or analysing the soil for trace metals. Do we expect to be sampling for volatiles or contaminants so will we need to contain the sample and use a specialist tool? We need to ensure we have the right soil sampling tool for the job in-hand and to remember the important principles: sample per layer, never mix your soil horizons and be sure to avoid the contamination of deeper layers. We never know what a soil can hide but we can be sure that when we investigate a site we can create terrible damage, particularly when using mechanical drilling techniques that could have long term consequences. Even when we want to monitor soil parameters we have to be very careful during installation. It is important, before starting to drill the soil, to know exactly what our requirements are, from site to the laboratory.
So, I continued the discussion with my daughters trying to persuade them that we cannot point to one single step for human evolution? Progress is made by many small steps, step by step but for sure we would not be where we are, eating what we are eating, without the sum of small advances in sediment research and knowledge. Today we can easily monitor the soil moisture to find out the right point of irrigation for our crops, measure and record soil penetration resistance to determine whether we can build a house or an emergence landing field, check whether that nice site is correct to live in, learn about our history, by properly taking care of the archaeological heritage. We have tools to sample soil, with minimal disturbance, in a repetitive way, to be certain that the conclusions that will be reached after analysis will be the right ones and the best decisions will be taken based on our samples. Even your instant messaging app will be useful to get real time information about the status of your crops, of your soil remediation process, or about the Noah’s Ark that has finally been found.
Ramon Quiles, Van Walt Ltd
Studying Soil Properties to Help Conserve Orangutans
The Borneo Nature Foundation (www. borneonaturefoundation.org) has been working in Borneo since 1999, in an effort to help protect Borneo’s incredible biodiversity and in particular to conserve its imperilled orangutans. This mission began in the Sabangau Forest, a 6,000 km2 area of tropical peat-swamp forest that is the largest continuous lowland forest block remaining on Borneo and is home to the world’s largest orangutan population. The peat soils in this forest are incredibly carbon rich, storing around 20 times more carbon than other forest types (where carbon is mostly stored only in trees). This is due to the naturally waterlogged conditions, which restrict the decomposition of dead vegetation, leading to formation of the thick peat layer, on top of which the jungle grows. Our work in Sabangau continues to date, with illegal logging patrols, fire fighting, forest restoration and research work all helping to protect the area’s orangutans and other forest wildlife. Over the last year, we have become increasingly involved in efforts to protect another important rainforest area in southern Borneo: the 2,000 km2 Rungan Forest. This area of forest stretches in a long band from the flat south to the hillier north, and so covers a variety of different soil and consequently forest types. The far south is relatively poorly drained and so is dominated by peat-swamp forests, similar to those in our Sabangau study site. As you move north, gentle hills begin to emerge and the soil becomes increasingly sandy, leading to a mixture of sandy heath soils on the hills/slopes (known locally as “kerangas”, meaning soil on which rice cannot grow) and peat forest in the flatter areas between hills. Continuing north, the land becomes increasingly undulating and mineral soils begin to dominate, upon which dry lowland (dipterocarp) forests are found. Our knowledge of the exact distribution and nature of these soil and forest types, and how this affects the distribution and abundance of endangered species such as the orangutan in the area, is extremely poor. The village of Mungku Baru is found in the central part of this forest, in the mixed heath- peat forest zone. The forest here has been and still is threatened by logging and oil palm conversion, but the local village are eager to protect their forest, which is important both for local livelihoods and forms an important part of the traditional local culture (a belief exists that, if certain trees are cut in the forest, the people cutting those trees will die). The local
Local research staff using soil kit. Photo by Bernat Ripoll Capilla / BNF
Wild Bornean orangutan infant. Photo by Erik Perlett / Borneo Nature Foundation
University Muhammadiyah Palangkaraya have established an Education Forest near to this village, where they aim to conduct research and education activities. To help support these activities, the Borneo Nature Foundation signed a MoU with the University Muhammadiyah Palangkaraya last year. To formally launch this collaboration, we began a joint research expedition in July 2016, which was the first detailed scientific study in the region. Our primary aims in this expedition were to begin describing the forest in this area, including the extent, type and distribution of forest types; their abiotic determinants; the abundance and diversity of forest wildlife; and the influence of habitat and soil type variations on these. The expedition involved around 45 people, including international and local scientists, students and volunteers, plus local village assistants. The basic forest camp was built especially for this expedition
The link between studying soil properties and conserving orangutans in Borneo is not immediately obvious. Most people likely use Van Walt’s soil testing equipment to monitor soil properties for commercial applications, such as establishing the optimal growing conditions for crops, and most users are likely concentrated in developed temporal regions. Orangutans, on the other hand, live in tropical rainforests, preferring pristine forest areas that have not been disturbed by humans. So, why the connection? Well, as for crops, the condition and productivity of a rainforest depends to a large extent on its soil properties. Better soil means that trees can grow quicker and taller, and produce more flowers and fruits, enhancing their reproductive success. Orangutans are almost exclusively vegetarian, feeding on fruits,
flowers, leaves, barks and piths, supplemented by the occasional insect, fungi and rarely vertebrates (consumption of bird eggs and even squirrels and slow lorises has been observed). The bulk of their diet – around two thirds – is fruit, however, and it is for this reason that orangutans are restricted to the tropical jungles, where forest trees produce fruit throughout the year. In theory, higher quality soil should therefore result in greater production of fruits (and flowers) for orangutans in the forest, which would be expected to lead to higher orangutan population densities. This is potentially very important, given that orangutans are threatened by human activities across their range – they have recently been classified as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN).
Studying Soil Properties to Help Conserve Orangutans
and was bursting at the seams, as was the river bank on occasions (torrential downpours led to the camp being flooded waist-deep in water more than once!). After initial explorations of the area and inspection of satellite images, we established survey locations within the three main forest types that we encountered in the area; i.e. heath, peat and riverine forest. These forest types were visibly different, with apparent differences in tree size, tree stem density and species composition, which we aimed to demonstrate empirically through collection of field data. To do this, we established a series of 30 x 30 m tree plots in each forest type, within which we measured tree size and density, which can be used to estimate above-ground tree biomass. We also established transects to survey orangutan
population density in each forest type, which we do through counting their “nests” (sleeping platforms that they construct in the trees each night – orangutans are rarely encountered in the forest and so counting their nests is much easier!). Alongside this, we also measured selected soil properties in 20 locations within each tree plot. This included pH using a field tester kit, plus a soil moisture metre (Pico HD2 metre plus Pico 64 TDR soil probe) and auger generously loaned to us by Van Walt. Unlike a lot of field equipment in Borneo (!), this kit survived the long flight out, and humid and generally technologically very unfriendly jungle conditions, to provide some very useful data. The kit was easy to use and had the additional advantage of a very long battery life,
which was particularly useful in our electrically- starved forest camp. All students and volunteers that joined the expedition were provided with an opportunity to learn how to use the kit, which was particularly useful for the local Indonesian students, who had never had opportunity to use advanced soil testing apparatus like this before. At the time of writing, some field data collection is still ongoing and all data has not yet been entered into our electronic database, so our impressions at this stage are preliminary. Our initial soil moisture results are striking, however, with large differences observed between the different forest types. Specifically, soil moisture content in the peat and riverine areas was much higher than in the sandier heath soils on the slopes. Variation also appears to exist within the heath soils, with areas with a thicker layer of peat above the white-sand soil showing higher soil moisture contents than those areas with thinner surface peat layers (the depth of this surface peat layer varied between around 2-20 cm). We believe that these differences in soil moisture between forest types are likely to be driving force behind the variations in tree size, density and species composition between these forest types. The saturated peat areas exhibit very small tree size and high tree densities; the very dry heath areas also have small trees and fairly high tree density, but less extremely so. Both of these conditions are likely to create water and nutrient stresses for trees, resulting in their relatively low tree size, compared to riverine areas and patches of heath with thicker peat. Interestingly, because the sand layer in the heath forest areas is both coarse and very pure, heightened drainage appears likely to cause water stress even in this forest, which experiences around 2,000 mm of rain annually. Indeed, this forest exhibited some of the most marked transitions in forest types that our experienced research staff have seen, with the slightest changes in slope (and therefore drainage) leading to changes in forest types over the course of less than 50 m. We believe that this is another consequence of the incredibly sandy soils and their rapid drainage, which exaggerates the impacts of changes in drainage resulting from changes in slope, thereby producing these rapid changes in forest type. What does this mean in relation to orangutan conservation? Preliminary assessment of our orangutan population density data indicate that densities are highest in the riverine forest, variable/ intermediate in the heath forest and very low in the
peat forest. This fits with the observations described above, suggesting that orangutan abundance is likely driven by tree size and species composition in an area, which in turn is impacted by soil moisture (and nutrient availability, which we have unfortunately not yet been able to test, but which is likely closely tied to soil moisture contents). Once data collection and analyses are complete, we aim to use these data in our reports and publications, to highlight the unique nature of this forest, its ecological interactions and importance for wildlife conservation. This evidence will be important for justifying conservation efforts in the region and obtaining the necessary local and international support for these. We would like to thank Van Walt for loaning this equipment to us and contributing towards this effort.
Mark E. Harrison PhD. The Borneo Nature Foundation www.borneonaturefoundation.org / email@example.com
Wild Bornean orangutan mother and infant. Photo by Erik Perlett / Borneo Nature Foundation
Flooded research camp and volunteers. Photo by Bernat Ripoll Capilla / Borneo Nature Foundation
Van Walt Corer Recovers Crucial Evidence
Taking a Stitz corer to Ukraine overland from the UK was quite a challenge, even before the current conflict in Eastern Ukraine. A small team of archaeologists and students drove the recommended battered Transit Van (‘sic Transit gloria mundi’) from Hungary over the border at Čop, using a Scientific Carnet to document the multi-part Stitz coring kit weighing over 185kg. We waited hours while multitudes of truck drivers passed us with their ‘normal’ TIR Carnet but, eventually, after 5 hours, we were able to pass into Ukraine and head for our village archaeological base in South-Central Ukraine, midway between Kiev and Odessa. The rich blackearths (chernozems) of the Ukrainian loesslands were some of the richest soils in Holocene Europe, just as they are today. The farming way of life spread from the Carpathians across the loesslands in the 5th millennium BC, with village communities cultivating wheat, barley and lentils and tending cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. The home communities of the Balkans were typically small groups of 100 – 500 people. But something dramatic happened on the Ukrainian loesslands after 1,000 years of settled life there – site populations mushroomed to thousands and the people created the largest sites in 4th millennium BC Europe. Discovered in the late 1960s through remote sensing (aerial photography and geophysics), these sites were dubbed Trypillia ‘mega-sites’ after the name of the village where the first such site was found. In what we call the ‘first mega-site methodological revolution’, the Ukrainian and Russian archaeologists dated these
massive sites by collecting diagnostic Late Neolithic pottery on their surfaces and excavating the anomalies produced by early geophysical prospection. These excavations showed large, timber-framed, wattle-and- daub houses that had been burnt down deliberately at the end of their lives in a ritual of house-closure. The mega-sites contained well over 1,000 houses, organised in a concentric plan of house ‘circuits’ around a central, empty space. While some Ukrainians took the more conservative view of ‘large villages’, others saw the mega-sites as ‘proto-urban’ – in effect, the first cities on the world and pre-dating the first Near Eastern cities. Although excavations of the Trypillia houses continued during the 1970s – 2000s, it took a decisive and targeted research design to produce the ‘second methodological revolution’ from 2009. A Durham University – Kiev Institute of Archaeology research team made the breakthrough using modern geophysical kit – a Bartington 601-2 gradiometer - that produced much more detailed plans and revealed a completely new set of features on the mega-site of Nebelivka, including unburnt houses, pits, large communal meeting- houses and a perimeter ditch. After three years of investigation, the geophysical team produced the only existing complete plan of a mega-site made with modern kit. We could now make a more precise model of the settlement structure and more precise estimates of the population size of the Nebelivka mega-site. But
Remains of burnt house excavated at the Nebelivka mega-site in 2009
the results created a problem – although there were over 1,500 houses at Nebelivka, there was no sign of any social hierarchy of the kind usually associated with the first cities. How was social control and the supply of food and resources for such huge populations managed without some form of central organization? It was at this point that the Van Walt Stitz corer helped us to make a breakthrough with our palaeo- environmental research. Earlier research into the vegetation history of Ukraine had focused on the main river valleys that cross the country - the Dnieper, the Southern Bug and the Dniester. But few attempts had been made to investigate the drier, fertile zones between the rivers – where all of the mega-sites were located. After much fieldwork designed to locate a marshy area with good properties of pollen preservation, our palynologists, Bruce Albert (Texas) and Kostantin Krementski (a Russian now working in UCLA), spotted a rare alluvial zone only 300m from the edge of our mega-site. The Stitz corer came into its own here, powering its way through heavy clays to reach a depth of over 8m to produce a continuous sediment core. When we took spot samples at top and bottom to get rangefinder 14C dates for the sediments, we were delighted to find that this core covered exactly the time when the mega-site was in use, as well as centuries before and after the occupation. So for the first time in Trypillian archaeology, we had the opportunity to find out the
vegetation history of the inter-fluvial zone between the major rivers of Ukraine and find out how the mega-site occupation had impacted on the local vegetation. Bruce Albert was a key player in this research because he has developed a technique for concentrating the rather sparse pollen grains scattered through usually poor alluvial sediments – a technique he pioneered in the Lower Mississippi Basin. Bruce applied this technique to the Ukrainian core with dramatic effect – he produced a richly-documented, well-dated pollen sequence with a charcoal count for local burning. Our Durham colleague, Andrew Millard, modelled the seven 14C dates to give us a time-depth model of the core, with estimated dates for every 1cm of core. This modelling allowed us to divide the core into three periods: before the mega-site, the time of the mega- site occupation and after the mega-site. Before the mega-site: the growth of mixed deciduous forests was found in the Nebelivka area, but with an episode of natural erosion and two episodes of human impact – a higher-impact fire event than any found during the mega-site period and continuous, low- level pollen from cultivated cereals. These findings are significant because there are as yet no signs of settlements whose populations could have caused the fire-event or were responsible for the cereal agriculture. The time of the mega-site: sedimentation rates slowed in the mega-site period, indicating lower erosion than
Remains of burnt house excavated at the Nebelivka mega-site in 2009
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