GLWG 1: SW Scotland, November, 1998
Theoreticians specially train their brains to ignore facts as soon as they are presented, which means that we are simply incapable of concentrating on a geological talk. The first diagram of a section leaves us bewildered, in truth because it is not clear to us what is objective and what is interpretation, and what is the researchers personal interpretation and what is accepted by their colleagues.
It wasn't until reckless geologists like Geoffrey Boulton and Jane Hart took me into the field and showed me how they imagined the past landscape that I understood that the true creative process of geology is done in the field, in front of muddy cliffs in execrable weather conditions. Previously, I had assumed that the geologists drew their sections and subsequently pondered the matter in the comfort of their offices, much as I might ponder the significance of an equation. Now I have finally realised that the only way to do and learn geology is in the field; this is where quality control is done, where geologists show each other their interpretations and where some sort of consensus is formed as to their accuracy. To understand geology, to what extent the various views are consensus or controversial, one needs to go into the field, listen to geologists and ask them silly modeller's questions.
The GLWG trip to Galloway was a very good one for modellers. The area is unknown enough for people not to have made up their minds, which means that one can see the process of people reaching their conclusions very instructive. There were some gorgeous drumlins - "orgasmic" as one beginning student put it. The associated discussion was the old favourite about what might be in the drumlins, and how this reflected their mode of formation. Subsequent trips to quarries revealed a great delta with a three dimensional exposure of its topsets and foresets, and some loading structures regular enough to satisfy a theoretician. The following day we visited a marginal fluvio-glacial complex, and as the party drove out of the valley, we happened upon a 20m section which should be able to tell Keith Salt, the area's student, how an ice-dammed lake associated with the complex drained.
I enjoyed the GLWG field trip because one observes the process of geology. For various reasons, mostly related to ignorance of initial conditions, modelling individual instances of landform development is not really practicable. Rather, one needs to understand what geologists regard as general characteristics of classes of objects, and seek to model those. Of course, this has the danger that one will select those general characteristics which suit ones models, and while I am sure I am guilty of this in my modelling, I try to guard against this by talking to geologists in their favourite environment, in front of a muddy cliff during, in this case, a wonderful Autumn weekend.