22 September 2008

Laser scanning in Cantabria - techno music and techno wank

Headed south to Bilbao for a couple of days field with Simon and Toby ze german. The plan was to test Toby’s hyperspectral laser scanner on some fault related dolomites which are well exposed in Cantabria. This fieldwork can only be done in bright sunshine – yes that is correct we have managed to find work that can only be undertaken when its nice a sunny – it’s a tough life.

This project is the pinnacle of “Technowank”. We scan the outcrop with a laser scanner to produce a 3D realization of the cliff sections. Then we scan it again with a hyperspectral scanner which maps the spectral absorption of the long infer-red light bands and allows you to remotely map the distribution of minerals in the cliff section. Basically you point it at a cliff and after whirring and beeping for a few minutes it tells you all about the geology.

Only minor point is that it isn’t exactly pocket sized. No longer can a geologist go to the field with a notebook, hammer and compass. Now you need 5 large pelicases, 3 tripods, 2 lap tops and a generator. When we arrived at Bilbao airport the car hire guy upgraded us from a Citreon Zafera to a “Dodge Avenger”, for not apparent reason othe than we looked like the sort of people who should be driving something called an Avenger. The car is as butch and crap as the name suggests. We then went back and tried to explain it wasn’t big enough (as in boot space) so the guy upgraded us again, this time to a 3 series BWM, which might be great for impressing Essex girls and wankers at the golf club but once again doesn’t have much of a boot. So after much pleading we managed to get downgraded back to the people carrier which had enough space for all the kit.

Toby has seen the outcrops before but I hadn’t. I was very pleased to be shown a disused quarry with some very impressive cut faces, ideal for the scanning. The quarry itself had been turned into an open air theater and had some very funky acoustics and a small visitor center by the entrance. From the quarry we went to get the generator which was booked, only to find the shop owner had gone on holiday. After a couple of hours we tracked down another but I was slightly concerned that the locals might be upset by the noise we were going to make in their quarry.

Next day we drove back up the mountain to the quarry. The valley was full of cloud but as we climbed above it the views were fantastic. We hide the jeni around the back and did some excellent scans from the rim of the quarry where the funky acoustic completely hid the sound. Then we scanned from behind the visitor center using the batteries. All day car and even coach loads of people went into the ticket hut but very few people came into the quarry. It was all rather Dr Who.

As said the scanner needs bright sunlight so once the side diappeared behind the mountain we went off to reccy some other outcrops. We visited a small village called Matienzo which I realized that I had been in back in 1991 with Mark H and Kev B when we biked around northern Spain. Mark had spent several summers there caving and was keen to visit again so we had camped the night. Now 17 years later I was back and was delighted to see that it was still full of shouting mad old basque guys playing noisy card games in the bar.

That night we went for food in Loredo and there was a fiesta going on, lots of fireworks and a great medieval procession through the town. The Spanish love this sort of thing and its great to watch, even when you see a crusader Knight on his mobile phone or a damsel dragging on her cigarette – all very authentic . We got back to out hotel to find out that the hard core techno part of the fiesta was in the square just outside and went on til 5am – oh joy!

Next day we drove up the mountain to another stunning cloud inversion. Scanned again inside the quarry while coach loads of people arrived in the visitor center. Over come by curiosity I went into the center, paid 5 Euros which seemed a bit steep for a small shed and went in. I figured, I don’t know what is going to happen but this many people can’t be wrong. And they were not, it was actually the entrance to some very impressive show caves! Another mystery solved. Toby said that he had spent ten days here before with a group of geologists from Statoil and a Belgian University and they hadn’t realized there was any caves! Yes really.

At this point we realized that nobody cared if we ran the generator in the quarry as that was not why they all drove up the mountain. So we were able to scan through the day. We got some excellent results until the scanner packed up at, just as the sun was going down.

Back to Lerado for food and there was a big display of fire eating, juggling, theatricals and most bizarrely bag pipe music, to wrap up the fiesta. I have never seen bag pipes in Spain before but maybe there is some sort of historic NW Atlantic link between the Celts and the Basques? Whatever the reason the old medieval town was a great setting to watch and the crowd, from little kids, right through to very old folk seemed to love it. This aspect of Spain is just fantastic, as is sitting outside eating and drinking in a t-shirt in late September.

Was dreading going back to the hotel and another night of very load music, and sure enough when we got back it was all going off on the stage. Then just as I climbed into bed and started to pull the pillow over my head it all stopped. Thank you, thank you thank you!

Monday we got the scanner going again and I headed by to Bergen, leaving the boys with another 5 days fieldwork. Shit journey back courtesy of the Luftwaffe via some small sheds in the middle of Germany, after delays got back at 12.30 sans luggage.

Back to reality. The up coming week is gonna be hell, Bergen tonight, London tomorrow night, back to Bergen and then Stavanger at the end of the week. Bring on the weekend!

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