AfricaArray Field School – Day 16-17 – GPR, UNESCO and processing

Day 16 – GPR, or mowing the pavement.

This morning was an interesting overview of the uses and limitations of ground-penetrating radar (GPR), which looks like a really useful tool. This was given by (Red Dog Scientific Services)[]. I can think of a couple times it would have been useful for the geotech work I was doing at Ground Africa. What I found interesting was that you can very effectively use the same processing methods as one uses for seismic data, despite the nature of the waves being very different (seismic vs electromagnetic). The ability to detect buried objects fairly easily is immensely valuable though.

After the presentation, we went back to our old haunt on the library lawns to test it. Unfortunately, they were watering the lawns, and had been quite enthusiastic about doing so, which meant that we had limited areas to play with. (The lawns were water-logged, and GPR struggles to see through water.) In any case, we took turns to use it on the paved path (which looked a bit strange, given that the machine looks like a lawnmower), and got some cool results for pretty minimal effort: We could see the engineered fill under the paving, which looked different to the underlying (more) natural material. A north — south line would have been interesting, since we might have been able to detect the change in material in the cut- and fill-slope. We also located a couple of pipes, or at least something buried under the paving, which are most likely pipes.

Explanation of the GPR

Mowing the path.

Something located on campus here which is really very cool is the Origins Centre, which is a fascinating museum looking at the evolution of humanity in Southern Africa. There was a high focus on the San people, as well as an overview of the various stone tools and early evidence for cognition that have been found, especially along the Cape South Coast. (As a related aside, (NMMU)[] recently launched a (Centre for African Palaeoscience)[], which will be looking at similar questions, especially along the Eastern Cape coast, as well as palaeoecology and assorted disciplines.)

As well as the history and numerous videos, there are some stunning artworks scattered throughout the centre. One of the most striking is a huge wire map, showing migration patterns out of Africa:

Wire map of the world.

Another piece that I found pretty cool was the African DNA helix:

And in part of the Centre talking about San beliefs in the world hidden behind rocks, there was a wonderful wooden creature, which moved in and out of the wall. This photo hardly does it justice, but it was gorgeous.

Through the wall.

Day 17 – UNESCO and more processing

Today we had a discussion from a representative of (UNESCO)[] talking about what and how they are promoting earth sciences in Africa. They have some really cool initiatives, such as a mobility programme for visiting other African institutions for short times (to use equipment, or do fieldwork, or whatever). They also have a series of small grants which can be used as seed money to try and develop better funding, or for equipment and such. They are really doing some fantastic work.

A number of the students here on the course are funded by UNESCO, who are really set on developing earth science skills in Africa, by Africans, which can be used to develop and improve Africa and African society. They are doing this in a variety of ways, including the promotion of earth science education (starting already at school-level), and the creation of (geoparks)[] – which aim to broaden the appreciation of an area’s geological heritage.

Personally, I thought that this was one of the most interesting talks, certainly in terms of possible future projects and ideas for me. Getting involved in the outreach and education side of science is something that is growing on me more and more (along with a host of other directions), and there are certainly some chances through UNESCO.

Apart from that, most of this week has been spent processing data for Friday, and hopefully we will have something to show for it.

This evening we are going to wander out for a bit, since it is Bryan’s birthday, and this obviously needs to be celebrated. There have been three during this field school, actually: one a week.