Scientific expeditions have been regularly undertaken by the Museum since it opened its doors in 1881. These are often abroad and need to be planned well in advance, with supplies and equipment ordered and prepared, often on the Museum site. On many occasions staff can find themselves having to be creative and imaginative, especially when the terrain about to be experienced is likely to be extreme and the facilities limited.
In the 1970s a group of Museum entomologists did just that, having acquired an ex-army lorry they were to transform it into a mobile field laboratory suitable for all their scientific research needs during a five month expedition through southern Africa. And thus, our Explore Your Archives Week stories continue…
Dr Paul F. Schofield is leading the part of the CoG3 project that focuses on describing and characterising new ore types, with an aim of developing new ways of extracting cobalt (Co). He reports back on a visit to Diamond Light Source.
In early September the Museum CoG3 team met with Prof Fred Mosselmans, a fellow member of the CoG3 consortium from Diamond Light Source. The team hoped to use Diamond’s facilities to study how cobalt is incorporated into the minerals of the Nkamouna cobalt-nickel laterite deposit in Cameroon.
The Diamond Light Source facility provides very intense, high-brightness beams of X-rays that are focused to produce powerful microscopes. Not only do these microscopes allow us to image the distribution of cobalt in natural materials with nanometre scale resolution, but they also enable us to measure how the cobalt atoms are actually bound into the atomic structure of their hosting minerals.
The Central African copper belt is one of the world’s most important copper producing districts, with dozens of deposits spanning a 400km length through the Democratic Republic of Congo and northern Zambia. Of these copper deposits, a select few contain significant quantities of cobalt, which is produced as a by-product of the ore refining process.
In June 2016 a field trip was undertaken to Zambia in order to examine cobalt-rich ore from the copper belt. Dr Alex Webber, Research Fellow at the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton and member of the COG3 Consortium reports from the field trip.
CoG3 project member and University of Manchester PhD student Sulaiman Mulroy reports back on a recent fieldwork trip to Cameroon in West Africa.
In June 2016 I travelled to Cameroon to collect samples from the Nkamouna laterite, one of a number of lateritic ore deposits formed on top of lenticular serpentinite rocks, which cover around 240km2 in the East of Cameroon.
In total the region hosts seven lateritic ore bodies, covering ~1250km2, though only two have been subjected to rigorous exploration: Nkamouna has proven and probable reserves of 54Mt at grades of 0.25% Co and 1.7% Ni, and further north, at Mada, 150Mt of inferred resources of similar grade are believed to be hosted in the laterite.
To coincide with the opening of our Colour and Vision exhibition and #WorldSnakeDay, Museum researcher Dr Bruno Simões tells us about recent fieldwork he undertook in Australia to learn about vision in snakes.
As a vision biologist, I’m interested in how animal vision has evolved and how it functions. The dramatic impact living in an aquatic environment can have on visual systems led me to become particularly interested in sea snakes.
Sea snakes are part of the family Elapidae, along with kraits, mambas, cobras and taipans. The family consists of more than 360 species, including some extremely venomous species that live in aquatic and terrestrial (land-based) habitats in Australasia, among other places.
In April 2016 the CoG3 team travelled to Brazil to carry out fieldwork at the Piauí deposit. Researcher Dr Paul Schofield describes their trip:
Cobalt is a technology-enabling metal with numerous applications that are particularly essential to the ‘green agenda’. Despite cobalt being such a critical material, there is a very high risk associated with its supply.
Sally Hyslop, one of the trainees on our Identification Trainers for the Future programme, gives an update on the results of our 9-year-long Bluebell Survey:
The arrival of bluebells each spring is an iconic sight. The floods of nodding colour characterise our ancient woodlands, support a commotion of insect life and make up an important part of Britain’s natural heritage. Our native bluebell species is widespread in Britain; in fact half of the world’s population is found here. But the introduction of non-native bluebells, planted in our parks and gardens, may be threatening our native species.
The introduced Spanish bluebell is deceptively similar to our native species, except for a few subtle differences in its features. It is broader in size, its petals flare out a little more, and the pollen is not white, but characteristically blue.
Spanish bluebells can breed freely with our native species, creating a hybrid plant with features from both species. Since the Bluebell Survey started in 2006, citizen scientists have been carefully identifying bluebells across Britain and recording the whereabouts of native, non-native and hybrid forms. This helps us to investigate these changes.
A new and exciting citizen science project has begun and it’s time to get involved with Orchid Observers! This research project, in partnership with Oxford University’s Zooniverse platform, aims to examine the flowering times of British orchids in relation to climate change.
In order to achieve this, we are inviting the amateur naturalist and professional botanical community, alongside nature loving citizens from across the country, to help us collect and sort orchid data.
We want you to go out in the field and photograph any of 29 selected UK orchid species and upload your images onto our dedicated website, www.orchidobservers.org. Flowering times from each of your records will then be collated and compared with the extensive Museum herbarium collection, and data from the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (BSBI), totalling a 180-year-long time-series of orchid records.