Ta. Bigly.

So…having been trapped in Arkansas for a little longer than planned, I decided to write a close-out blogpost for my GSA James B. Thompson Distinguished Lecturer Tour. As documented here and on Twitter, and as you will read below, I’ve had an amazing time. It is hard and perhaps unfair (unwise, even) to pick-out and list all the cool stuff I’ve done or awesome people I’ve met; all that is documented in the blow-by-blow posts. However, having scrolled back through my old posts, it is these five days/experiences/’things’ that will probably stick in my mind for the next few weeks, months and years…enjoy.

1. My day at the University of Connecticut – feeling refreshed having spent the weekend recuperating in Blacksburg, VA with Brian Romans and friends, I was full of beans as I landed in New England and walked around the beautiful, leafy campus of UConn with my host Julie Fosdick. However, it was the unbelievably friendly, open, chatty faculty who made this one of the most memorable days of the tour; they wanted to talk as much about life as they did about research. I laughed more on this day than on any other day of the tour; this was perfect, setting me up nicely for the final, gruelling week. In fact, it was really the people, including my awesome hosts, who made the whole tour. Without them, the tour would have simply been a bunch of PowerPoint slides, long waits in vomit-beige, provincial US airports, and sole-dining on, in some cases, poor-quality calories.

Sunrise, sunburst through the forest in Glastonbury, CT on the morning of my visit to UConn.
2. ‘Moped day’ on Honolulu – Sometimes spontaneity, and to be honest downright recklessness, can lead to great things. Being low on underpants and spending time doing laundry in Waikiki, I realised I didn’t want to spend time doing laundry in Waikiki. I was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a tropical island; surely there must be something else to do? Remembering I use to ride a motorbike, and that a motorbike is essentially a regular bike with a motor, I walked to a random garage at the end of the strip and hired a moped. My day became infinitely better, as I rode around a giant monogentic crater, saw a.maze.ing pyroclastic deposits, and ate tacos on the beach before, you know, watching humpback whales from Makapu’u Point. Don’t think. Simply do.
3. Kilauea – Panicking about the right flights to take; being short on time; worrying about car hire and accommodation; pondering the wisdom of vlogging. All of these things almost conspired to make me not go to Big Island and the volcano of Kilauea. However, the lure of lava was too great, and I was rewarded with a fun-filled, action-packed 24 hours. So followed a chance encounter with my friend Gulce, a cycle ride across ancient lava fields to a lava tube sea entry, Lady Gaga at the Super Bowl half-time show whilst eating poke and staring out at the lava-filled summit crater, and a stay at a kooky B&B in the aptly named village of ‘Volcano’. Again, don’t think. Simply do.
4. Science (defined by the Gods of Wikipedia as a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe) – Scientific discoveries. People attacking science. People marching for science. Science has been in the news a lot lately. In fact, my tour was ostensibly about science. Growing up, science seemed such a serious, grown-up word, conjuring-up images of lab coats, simmering, smoking vials, and crazy-haired, white, male scientists. Science is and will remain some of those things, although this tour has taught me or at least reinforced for me that science is a rather weird thing. It can still cause me to scratch my head and weep into my pillow, but it can and actually normally is, full of fun and downright silliness. We can be so serious when reviewing papers for journals or asking questions at conferences; however, the same scientific discourse, for that’s what it is, can occur in far less formal settings, such as in dive bars in New York City, at the top of mountains overlooking the foothills of the Rockies, or when trail running and dodging tortoises in the Ozark mountains. I think we should take science into these places too.
5. Day 2 in Golden – Yes, I not long got back from Hawaii and yes, the talk at Colorado School of Mines has gone well the day before, and yes the weather was unseasonably gorgeous. So on reflection, maybe it was these things that contributed to making Day 2 in Golden, CO so awesome. However, Day 2 certainly did it own thang by including: (i) a pre-breakfast run up the gorgeous South Table Mountain with Jesse, Rich and Zane, crossing the K-T boundary and getting spectacular views westwards across the blue sky-mantled Rocky Mountains; (ii) a visit to the USGS for a meeting with Rich, Chris and Ryan; we discussed normal faults straight for around two hours. I was in heaven and my brain was fizzing; (ii) a walk in the sunshine to look at Late Cretaceous dinosaur trackways (my obsession with dinosaur trackways is now well-documented); (iv) an afternoon looking at awesome seismic data with bright, mustard-keen CSM students; and (v) a drive into the Rocky Mountains with Bruce, Jesse and Zan to the town of Nederland to eat hipster, sourdough-based pizza, and to watch live bluegrass(-inspired) music at the famous Caribou Lounge. Just to top things off, I caught a glimpse of the continental divide. I don’t think my heart could take everyday being like Day 2 in Golden, although I would dearly love it to be the case.
In the context of equality and diversity, someone recently mentioned on Twitter that we should think really, really hard about selecting nominees and winners of professional society and institutional awards. They remarked these awards can be life-changing, and should be thus taken seriously. I strongly concur and would argue that they should be life-changing; what value really is another award to simply throw onto the shelf alongside millions of other awards? Recognition should be cherished. I can safely say that for some of the reasons listed above and documented elsewhere in my blog, this has been a life-changing experience for me. I am happy and proud to have represented GSA, and thank them for allowing me to have this experience. I’d also like to say thanks to Vicki, Olive, Hazel and Norah, who have put up with me being a long, long way away, for a long, long time…xxx. Seis_matters, signing-off.

Stop 6 – University of Arkansas

Doctors prescribe a trip to Fayetteville as the antidote to New York. I was happy to swallow the pill.

The journey down to NW Arkansas Regional Airport, AR from La Guardia, NY was the first direct flight of my tour. This was much appreciated, given the ‘exertions’ of my time with Matt and Graham in NYC, not to mention the incredibly fraught journey out to La Guardia from downtown Manhattan (turns out that, in the city that never sleeps, subway trains do). The flight down to Arkansas was nice, passing over the northern part of the Appalachians and some striking fluvial geomorphology.

I was met by John Shaw (@johnburnhamshaw), a sedimentologist, stratigrapher, geomorphologist and physical modeller, with a weakness for deltas and distributary channel bifurcations. It was great to finally meet John, having first made his acquaintance on Twitter. Having tweeted the fact I had been made one of the GSA Distinguished Lecturers, John contacted me to see if I’d be willing and able to come and talk at Arkansas. Having never been, but having heard of John’s work, I jumped at the chance. We took a scenic route into the beautifully situated town of Fayetteville, with John providing interesting insights into the surrounding geology and geomorphology and, perhaps as interestingly, a story about the area’s long-standing link with the much-hated, megalithic shopping experience that is Mal-Wart.

He dropped me at The Inn at Carnell Hall, a grand, 1905-built building situated on the edge of campus. Named after the distinguished Miss Ella Howison Carnell, a Professor of English and modern languages and the first female faculty member of the University of Arkansas, the building has a rich and fascinating history, having served as an all-female dorm, a fraternity house and, most recently, as a hotel that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Having settled, John and I met Chris Liner (check out his blog here) and Mac McGilvery, two faculty members at U of A, for dinner, locally brewed beer and conversation. Despite the server’s best efforts to ruin everything by describing the minutiae of every dish (for future reference, and beyond knowing that the food is of good quality and prepared well, I don’t give a fuck about the name or height of the person who cut up my fries), all three were excellent. Oh, and I am now addicted to fried brussel sprouts. Full of food, drink and chat, I headed home to bed.

The morning started with a bang. Hearing I was an avid if somewhat shit runner, and having learned that I aimed to run at each stop of the tour, John had arranged for me and him to go on a trail run with his colleague, Matt Covington. It. Was Awesome. We winded up and down Kessler Mountain, under a dense canopy of tall trees, dodging tortoises and swampy puddles, whilst simultaneously avoiding breaking our legs. We popped-out at ‘Rock City’, an exposure of Carboniferous sandstones, where we did the typical geologist thang of failing to come to any sort of conclusion on a depositional environment.

A quick dash back to the hotel, a shower, and it was straight into the department for breakfast and a series of meetings with staff and students. Like all the department visits on this and the previous tour, it was great fun to learn about all the work being done by people in fields wildly different to mine. Particularly exciting was the way in which MSc and PhD students in particular feel so engaged with their research; they wanted to do it well and they were keen to talk about.

My talk, the final one of the tour (*sniff*) was to again be on normal faulting. The large lecture room was pretty full, and the talk went well despite me getting some neck strain due to the lofty situation of the giant screen. A Q&A followed, before I was presented with some ace swag (see above). A pizza-fuelled ‘meet-and greet’, where I chatted with several more students about their current research and future plans. A splinter group then headed down to a pub on main street, where discussions continued, this time fuelled by beer and, in some cases, whisky. It was around 1730.

Celina Suarez and I then met here husband Andy Lamb and their duck-obsessed daughter Ella, and we headed to the rather questionably positioned, but incredibly characterful Cafe Rue Orleans, a Cajun restaurant that came highly recommended by some of the students. An awesome meal was capped by beignets, which quite frankly should come with a health warning (imagine a oil-soaked doughnut, drowning in icing sugar). Andy and Celina told me all about their collective exploits travelling around and living in various parts of the world, whereas Ella told me her duck-house plans. It was a great evening, and the perfect end to a long, tiring, but inspiring day.

Up early(ish)the next morning, I packed, called home, and then met Mac for breakfast. Over remarkably restrained American breakfasts, we chatted about everything, including our joint love of paper-based, 2D seismic-stratigraphy exercises, and the stunning geology defining the state of Arkansas. Mac then kindly took me to the airport, where I currently find myself trapped, in a horrendous lightening storm, writing this final(ish) blog post.

Given the weather, it’s likely I’ll spend the rest of my natural life here in Arkansas. However, if there is a slim chance I’ll be leaving sometime soon, I’d like to say a huge ‘thanks!’ to John Shaw, my host here at U of A. Thanks also to Chris, Matt, Mac, Celina, Andy and Ella, for your company and laughs; I look forward to returning in the not-too-distant future!


Stop 5 – Columbia University, New York, NY

From the calm, leafy greenness of the UConn campus in Connecticut, to the hyper-urban, downright lunacy of New York, my GSA lecture tour crunched through the gears and switched it up.

The GSA travel agent saw fit to fly me from Hartford, CT to to New York, NY via Washington DC. Although it was nice to glimpse the ‘swamp’ and the White House(!) through a cloud-heavy sky, it was clear, having briefly peeped at the in-flight magazine, that it wasn’t the direct route. In hindsight, I maybe should have checked a map of the US when my itinerary was sent to me late last year. As it was, I arrived nice and early in downtown Manhattan, having navigated the labyrinthine but amazingly functional, New York public transportation system.

My first job was to head down to 16th and Broadway to meet Graham Ganssle (@grahamganssle), do’er and thinker extraordinaire. I cannot even begin to classify what Graham does; I can only say that I befriended him via Matt Hall (@kwinkunks), an old friend who did his PhD a few years ahead of me at Manchester University. I had kinda, sorta met Graham a couple of times when I ‘appeared’ on Undersampled Radio, the science(?)-based podcast he hosts with Matt; I least managed to recognise him when he walked into my café. Having remarked on how tall I was in real life, we chatted and drank fancy coffees, before heading out to drop off my case at the apartment he was staying in. Beer and lunch beckoned, so we repaired to a small bar to wait for Matt’s delayed arrival from Halifax via Montreal. It was great to see Matt again, having not seen him, face-to-face, for around 15 years. However, weirdly enough, it didn’t feel like that long, having been in fairly regular contact with him in the last few years via the Twittersphere. We drank, ate, and chatted, before heading back to our AirBnB to check-in and to make something vaguely resembling a plan. To be honest, the rest of the evening went by in a bit of a blur. I vaguely remember a dark, wood panelled bar, a pasta dish served in a half-wheel of Parmesan (see here), meeting an awesome geek called Ethan (@eprosenthal), and then a podcast. Yes, full of booze, cheese and carbs, we did an Undersampled Radio podcast. What on? I don’t recall, but you when it’s been edited down I’ll tweet it out.

The morning after the night before was *cough*, rather ‘slow’ *cough*, so we tried to kick-start things by taking on epic bagels and juice. Remembering I was not in town to simply drink, talk and eat, I had to hustle to get uptown to Columbia University to get the shuttle-bus out to Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to give my GSA talk. The second half of the bus-ride out to the leafy campus was ace, crossing the mighty Hudson River, and climbing up and along the impressive escarpment formed by the Palisades Sill.

That. That is the Palisades Sill escarpment. Wow.

I was met at the campus by the indefatigable, still-British, Nick Christie-Blick (@christieblick). With a range of research interests as broad as mine, Nick is one of my geo-heros. Over lunch we had an animated chat about how science, in our case Earth Science, should focus on tackling exciting, complicated problems, and not exclusively on specific geographical regions or method development. We also discussed politics. Nick then took me to my lecture, which was to focus on the growth of normal faults (this talk, on the second leg of this tour, has proven to be especially popular). I must admit to being slightly nervous; Lamont-Doherty has some folks who know their shit about continental extension and normal faulting…plus for reasons that will always remain a mystery to me, Graham and Matt had made the long trip up town and off the island of Manhattan to watch me talk. To make matters far, far worse, they then sat in the front row. I think the talk went well, with even some geochemists/petrologists (I’m looking at you, fellow GSA Distinguished Lecturer Terry Plank…) nodding approvingly as I rambled on about kinematic models for normal faults. The Q&A was long and ‘robust’, and I was eventually allowed to leave to visit some of the faculty.

First up was Roger Buck (yes everyone, I met Roger Buck…), who took Matt, Graham and I on a tour of the campus, showing us the original Tharp and Heezen map of the seafloor, and telling us captivating stories about the birth and growth of Lamont-Doherty. We then chatted briefly to Roger and several students about their research on continental extension. The upshot of this; there’s some seriously A-Grade work being done at Lamont on the processes and products of continental extension. What was particularly inspiring was thinking about how our work on relatively small, segmented, upper crustal fault systems work in the context of larger-scale variations in crustal rheology, temperature, etc, etc.

Heezen and Tharp map of the seafloor. The original was painted. Painted.

My mind was fizzing as I went to meet Donna Shillington and her student Natalie Accardo, who are doing some awesome work on Lake Malawi. Part of a major, multi-disciplinary study called SEGMeNT, they are using an array of geological and geophysical datasets to understand the geometry and kinematics of the lake-bounding normal fault system. We swapped numbers and will keep in touch.

It was time to leave, so Matt, Graham and I trekked back downtown before going out for a run. From our apartment on West 14th Street, we headed out west to the Hudson, before running south towards Battery Park where we got a nice view of the Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island, Staten Island, Jersey City, and the Verazano-Narrows Bridge. Selfies done, we headed back north to the apartment before meeting Ethan and his soon-to-be wife Mandy for dinner at a cool little Spanish restaurant. Fun chat, tapas, and many beers made for a great evening that I didn’t want to end. End it did, however, and Matt and I said our goodbyes to Graham, who was returning back to New Orleans on a very early flight. We also said goodbye to Ethan and Mandy, before heading back to our apartment for more beers (well, we couldn’t leave them all alone, cold and scared in the AirBnB fridge….), a little more science chat, and eventually bed.

So, here I am blogging from Union Square, New York, NY. It’s funny how life turns out. I had the most amazing time here in New York; in fact, during the run, as I chatted with Graham and Matt about absolutely everything, it struck me how ridiculously lucky I am to have experienced the entire tour. Here in The Big Apple, it was great to finally meet Nick, who was a great host and with whom I share a scientific kinship. I also had a ball spending time with Graham, Matt and Ethan; being around independent, passionate, clever, driven, energy-filled people is intoxicating. After all, it’s New York, baby…!