h3 Aphrodite's rock


The Harkerama - Part 3

The Teaching Excellence Academy support the Student/Staff Partnerships Scheme at the University and its yearly activity and array of fabulous projects. This series of blogs stem from a 2023 Student/Staff Partnership (SSP) project led by Louis Chambers and Bryony Caswell, respectively student and lecturer in Geology. Their project aimed to highlight role models, historical and recent, and resources in geology to empower and inspire today’s students.
Enjoy reading the follow up of Part 1 and Part 2. Queries should be directed to SSP.

Travel is essential for many scientists, whether for collecting data, training, collaborating, or presenting research results at conferences. Underpinning these activities lie the relationships built with other scientists and professionals. Therefore, much of this travel is an endeavour to share and develop research, whether you are an experienced scientist or student. Professor John Neale (see Harkerama 2) used to travel to faraway places, including India, often with his wife Patti, to engage in intense discussions at conferences or to complete geological fieldwork in the Himalayas - his notebooks act as aide-memoires for his many travels from 1982 to 1987.

h3 Notebook sketch from my trip to Cyprus
A sketch from my notebook during my trip to Cyprus in 2023.
h3 J.N. notebook sketch of Himalayas
John Neale’s sketch of the Himalayas made during his trip to China in the mid-1980s.

As we are regularly reminded, “the best geologists are the ones who have seen the most rocks” and that “time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.” So, for a geology student, travel is integral to learning and partaking in research. However, at University, I also realised that fieldwork is more than just the rocks; it’s also about exploring new places, being immersed in new cultures, and tackling the elements (often very heavy rain).

During my time at university, I have been lucky enough to visit many geologically significant locations, which have helped my classmates and I widen our understanding of our subject. On these trips, I made strong connections with my classmates and lecturers, forming a powerful camaraderie (and hopefully life-long friendships).

Many of the places we have visited are tens to hundreds, even thousands of millions of years old, as on the west coast of Scotland, where the haggis is as beautiful as the imperious mountains.

h3 Sunrise at Kyleakin
Watching the sunrise on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, from Kyleakin, where we stayed during our 2nd-year residential field trip in 2021.

It isn’t their age however, that compels us to visit these places; instead, it is the features we see. In my first year, we found dinosaur footprints in Scarborough, visited coral reefs in central Yorkshire, saw magma chambers and the guts of ancient tectonic plate boundaries in Scotland; we even found crystals of yellow fluorite and glistening lead ore in Gunnerside Gill, North Yorkshire.

h3 Yellow fluorite from Gunnerside Gill
Yellow fluorite from Gunnerside Gill, North Yorkshire (each crystal is 1 cm).

Some geological structures aren’t clearly exposed or even present in the UK; hence, we travel overseas. For one trip, we travelled to Almeria, southeast Spain, which was a shallowing part of the Mediterranean Sea 14 million years ago. Compression from the African continental plate colliding with the European plate drove this shallowing. More recently (c. 6 million years ago), severe tectonic and climatic changes caused the Mediterranean to almost completely dry up. During this event, referred to as the “Messinian Salinity Crisis”, colossal salt pans of halite (table salt) and gypsum (a calcium sulfate mineral) formed across the Mediterranean, extending from Spain to Cyprus. Widespread environmental changes are preserved in fossil fish and shellfish, fossilised footprints, ripple marks, and even fossilised raindrops - yes, even raindrops can be preserved for millions of years!

h3 3rd year trip to Gunnerside Gill
3rd-year trip to Gunnerside Gill to evaluate the impacts of lead mining in North Yorkshire in November 2023.
h3 2nd year fieldtrip to Spain
2022 fieldwork in Tabernas, Spain where we examined the remains of deep-water sediment storms called “turbidites.” The Field measurements we made can be used to estimate the speed and direction of travel and what materials were incorporated into the flows.

More recently, during my third year, we ventured to Cyprus to examine ancient ocean crust called an ‘Ophiolite’ and the marine sediments that accumulated on top in the 90 million years since. These rocks also preserve other events, including the Messinian salinity crisis.

The geology of Cyprus isn’t particularly well understood, and like the deposits from Spain, it is an active area of research. The island's ever-changing tectonic activity and the processes leading to its formation, the ophiolite and its ongoing uplift continue to be investigated. The ancient tropical environments recorded in Cyprus include ancient coral reefs, seagrass beds and deep-sea vent communities. Data are still being collected and used to understand these past environments and perhaps to forecast present-day and future environmental changes…

The following is an account of my first two days in Cyprus for our 3rd-year field trip, written in the style of University of Hull alumnus Prof. John Neale’s notebooks.

Day 1: 19th March 2023 To Paphos, Cyprus

With passports in hand and bags packed with the necessary field kit, we set off from campus at 03:45 for our flight to Paphos. On the four-hour flight, I got some reading done but very little sleep; I was too excited! I have never been to Cyprus or even Greece. I had only been as far as Sicily to visit Mt Etna. My passion is volcanology, and so on the flight, I was looking forward to flying over Santorini - sadly, we were too far away - nevertheless, in Cyprus, we should see ancient frozen lava flows - which I cannot wait for!

h3 Essential field kit
The essential and non-essential kit ready to be packed for my trip. Clipboard with field guide and maps, notebooks, crayons and pencil case, compass, tape measure, hand lens, and the very essential duct tape for fixing any of the aforementioned field kit (if needed)!
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Flying over the southern coast of Cyprus, Heading to Paphos. Extensive areas of the white-coloured coastline gave us glimpses of the likely underlying geology.

Arriving in Cyprus at 15:40, we drove to our hotel, which took what felt like a day but was, in fact, more likely an hour. My friend and I had a magnificent room on the top floor, two stories above the rest of our class. The hotel had a bar with chilled adult beverages and a swimming pool.

h3 Hotel view
The view from my hotel room… what a view, and check out the pool! Yeah, yeah!

Following a meal of a ‘fresh’ salad and various European cuisines that evening, I explored the night scene in Paphos with my friend. It was a warm night. Large, grandiose hotels curtained the city's high street before transgressing into cafes, bars, and shops. We were disappointed to see Caffe Nero, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, and other familiar names - where was the Cypriot culture? Thankfully, the sea-front promenade erased the illusion of being in the UK. The warm breeze and stormy waves were illuminated by flashes of lightning showing columnar clouds far out to sea. We had many laughs getting closer and closer to the crashing waves, safely, I may add - not stepping off the footpath without being soaked. Our first night ended in a cocktail bar within a cosy atrium.

Day 2: 20th March 2023 Phasoula to Petra Tou Romeou

Up early again and practising the pronunciation of “Efcharisto” /Ef-kar-ee-stoh/ meaning thank you, on the way to breakfast at 07:30.

On his travels, Professor Neale made sure to have a nutritious breakfast every day, typically eggs on toast - a triple whammy for nutrition. He also made sure to record it in his book. So, in the whimsical style of Prof Neale - today’s breakfast: eggs (scrambled), beans, toast, ham, small sausages, yoghurt, toast, fruit juice, and coffee. The coffee was alright, and the eggs were scrumptious, but the toast - lousy.

We left the hotel just after 09:00. It was a sunny and hot morning—today’s objective: To identify lithologies, processes, and tectonics in the Mamonia Complex. Named after the nearby village of ‘Mamonia’, these 230 million-year-old rocks are “complex” partly because of their sparse exposure on the island; compared with the other younger rocks that they are largely buried under, the tectonics of Cyprus have folded and thrusted and twisted creating a complex pattern of where and how the rocks crop out. We set off journeying to the village of Phasoula in a small coach; they drive on the same side of the road as us Brits, interesting. The bus had thin curtains and air conditioning - something we enjoyed between localities!

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Leaving Paphos, heading to Phasoula via bus

En route, Dr Caswell and Dr Widdowson pointed out various features in the yellow and pink rocks exposed by roadside cuttings and modern-day environments that have some analogy to Cyprus’ past. These exposures hold vital clues for understanding Cyprus’ geological history, particularly the chalk, a soft white limestone made from the shells of tiny microscopic foraminifera (see Harkerama 2) accumulating on the seafloor. The outcrops by the side of the motorway were too dangerous to stop at, but as we drove, we saw very regular layering in the walls of rock extending for many kilometers. The layers were disrupted in places with mound-like patches of coral reefs and huge slumps of sediments from past disturbance.

After an hour or so, with lovely views of the Dhiarizos River valley, we stopped at Phasoula. The area was hot, dry, and dusty; there was little shade. We stood by an excellent outcrop of lavas that, when erupted underwater, formed pillow-shaped pods with a thin glass shell as the hot lava touched the much cooler seawater (watch how they form in the photo below). These lavas erupted on the sea floor during the Triassic (about 230-210 million years ago). Some were in superb condition. We got to work examining features that could help us sew together the Island’s history. I collected a piece of pillow lava; it was almost wholly intact.

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Pillow lavas at Phasoula, about 31 x 17cm. The black outlines mark the fragile, thin, glassy shells that instantly form on contact with the seawater during their eruption.

At midday, we arrived at the mouth of the Dhiarizos River Valley on the coast. We sat in the shade, enjoying our lunch. On the recommendations of Dr Widdowson and alum and demonstrator Dr Cian McGuire, I enjoyed freshly made flatbreads with local souroullas cheese, garlic hummus, fresh fruit and water.

We traversed the subway to emerge onto the bright sandy beach. In front of us stood “Petra Tou Romeou”, aka Aphrodite’s Rock, named after the Greek Goddess who, in myths, is said to have been born from the frothy waves there. On the beach were large marble boulders, more pillow lavas and sandstones. We ventured westwards along the shore to some very broken-up or “brecciated” volcanic rocks; meanwhile, Cian and I chatted about mountain climbing in North Wales - it turns out he was climbing Snowdon while I was mapping there last summer! On the beach, we looked at ancient seafloor crust that originated near large volcanic islands. The massive boulders and Aphrodite’s rock are ‘Olistostromes,’ these building-sized pieces of rock were pushed off the continental shelf with great force sometime during the Triassic and slid into the deep ocean, where they became mixed in with the younger rocks. The whole sequence formed a kind of “Blancmange” or “Melange” with the larger, far older (c. 100 million years) building-sized clasts suspended in a fine-grained red clay. 

We stayed until 15:30. On our drive back, we stopped at the supermarket to stock up, and I bought some more local cheese and freshly baked flatbread - a no-brainer since they were so delicious. I also bought dried fruit - a suggestion from Cian, and what I was told was a Mandarin, but it looked like a handball-sized orange. It was almost as big as my head!

In the evening, we talked through the day's observations and the Mamonia Complex Formation. With Mexican food for dinner, the day ended after a refreshing swim and a pint, accompanied by a game of pool. Tomorrow, we visit the Troodos Mountains to look at the c. 90 million-year-old Earth’s mantle.

Thinking back over the last two days of travelling and considering the journeys I have been on with the university, I have found many stories to unpick, as I am doing now in Cyprus. It is what I will be doing in my next chapter after Hull. Even in such a well-established subject, there is much more to discover and the possibilities for new challenges and opportunities both in the classroom and the world beyond...


Banner photo caption: The class walking along towards the large white marble 'Aphrodite’s Rock’ in Cyprus. The more recent fine sediments that held these massive clasts have since been eroded.

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