In early January of this year, Bethan Heath, a year 14 geology student spent a week on work experience with the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland. Bethan was one of 7 students who were hand picked by Alex McDonald of the GSNI. Most of the students who undertook the work experience are currently studying Geology as part of their A levels and are hoping to pursue it at third level. Bethan is hoping to study Geology at St Andrews University in Scotland, and having come first in NI with a total of 297/300 in her AS exams, we have no doubt of her ability to fulfil her ambition! This is her account of her work experience!
On Tuesday 7th January, I travelled to Belfast to begin work experience with the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI).
As it was our first day, we spent all of Tuesday in the office speaking to each of the Geologists who work there about their diverse areas of interest and the projects they had been involved with in the past, both in Northern Ireland and overseas. We were able to look at fossils, some thin sections of rock under a microscope and were given a demonstration of the computer programs they use to map the geology of Northern Ireland.
The first location we went to in the field was Colin Glen Forest Park, on Wednesday, where two of the Geologists were photographing the landscape for a walking guide for tourists. Many different rock types can be seen here, representing over 170 million years of the Earth’s history. Colin’s Glen is also known for its fossils, including bivalves, ammonites and even plesiosaurs – the café at the car park showcases some of the fossils found in the forest.
On Thursday, we travelled to the Marble Arch Caves Geopark, which in 2008 was extended from County Fermanagh across the border into County Caven, making it the first International Geopark in the world. Although the caves are closed from September to March and the boats are not in use at this time, we were given a private tour of most of the cave system. After this, we continued on to Cuilcagh Mountain Parkand to the Burren Forest in West Caven, both of which are also included in the Geopark, where we saw limestone pavement, dolines and erratics, as well as various prehistoric monuments.
On Friday, we accompanied two of the Geologists to a number of abandoned coal mines around Ballycastle. Dealing with old abandoned mines is one of the responsibilities of the GSNI, and they must ensure that people cannot access them as the mines are prone to collapse. However, we had the opportunity to enter one of the old mines which was considered to be safe. The entrance to the mine was on the coast, and it ran straight into a cliff face, adjacent to the North Star Dyke. The floor of the mine was uneven and buried under a thick layer of silt, carried in and deposited by the water flowing through it (which was about 30cm deep in some places). The roof was very low in some areas, and very uneven, but thankfully we had been provided with hard hats before we entered. Other than the torches we had brought with us, there was no light in the mine, and a thick layer of slime had formed on the surface of the water and along the walls. Eventually, the water became too deep to go any further, and by this time we could no longer see the light of the entrance behind us.
For anyone considering pursuing a career in Geology or Geography, this work experience will be invaluable to you when applying to University. All the staff at the GSNI were very friendly and I cannot thank them enough for the opportunity!