The Quaternary of Co. Wexford – TCD 2nd Year Field Trip

Post contributed by Niamh Cullen

At the beginning of March I accompanied twenty second year Earth Science students led by Prof Pete Coxon on a 3 day field trip to Wexford. Having been on this trip during my own undergraduate I was also looking forward to revisiting some of the amazing geomorphology Wexford has to offer, most notably the Pingos at Camross (Figure 1B) . It was my first opportunity to meet this bunch of students and a great chance to get some more teaching experience.

Speaking from my own experience these field trips are really important for getting students engaged with the subject matter.   Residential and non-residential field trips form an vital part of the learning process. Students get to see first-hand these incredible landscapes that they might not otherwise get to visit. For many students these field trips are a rare chance to interact with lecturers (they’re human too!) outside of a classroom environment, and are generally enjoyable for both students and lecturers. Field trips also provide an opportunity to enhance learning through integration of theory and practice of concepts learned in the classroom. With cutbacks and increased workloads, field trips are few and far between for many students despite the huge body of research that suggests that they are one of the best ways to engage students in learning. They’re also just great fun, as long as you don’t mind a bit of rain and being up to your knees in mud!


We left Dublin at the crack of dawn to join up with the Earth Science students who had spent the previous few days looking at the geology of Wexford with Dr. Catherine Rose, Professor Patrick Wyse Jackson and some of the geology undergraduates. A late night with the geologists had left some of the students looking a bit worse for wear, but by the time we reached the Pingos at Camross they had perked up enough to appreciate an account of Ireland’s Quaternary history from Prof. Coxon.

Pingo is an Eskimo word which describes a dome shaped mound with an ice core covered by a layer of soil. These features form today in periglacial environments and can be used as a proxy for past climate. The Pingos at Camross in Wexford were first identified by Professor Frank Mitchell in the late 1960’s who published his findings in 1971 in Nature and later in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy in 1973.

A) The location of the field sites described in the text. B) Aerial view of the Pingos at Camross (red arrows). C) St. Patrick’s Bridge at Kilmore Quay. D) The beach at Cullenstown and E) looking into one of the kettle holes at the Screen Hills near Blackwater Co, Wexford.

Image sources A – Digital Globe (2016). B, C and D available at D sourced from google street view.

After getting some context for what they were about to see and do, students used coring equipment to extract a meter long core from the centre of the pingo (Figure 2A). From this they were able to observe the sedimentary record of abrupt climate change between the late glacial and the Holocence. The rapidity of the transition (~7yrs) was beautifully demonstrated by the sharp boundary between the late glacial sediment, devoid of vegetation and peppered with frost shattered bedrock, to the dark, organic rich sediment of the Holocene.

In addition to coring, students used traditional surveying techniques to collect topographic data on and around the pingo (Figure 2B). Then it was out with the old and in with the new as students then learned how to use a differential Global Positioning System (dGPS). After using the traditional approach (Figure 2C), the students had developed an appreciation for this relatively easy and rapid method of data collection. Most of this appreciation stemmed from the fact that using the dGPS meant that they were finished their data collection just in time for the downpour that followed. Welcome to field work in Ireland!

Figure 2

A) Logging sediment cores. B) Surveying using staffs and levels. C) Prof. Coxon showing students how to use the dGPS and C) Students carrying out fabric analysis of glacial till at Kilmore Quay.

The next day found us in Kilmore Quay looking at St. Patrick’s Bridge (Figure 1C), a long finger of cobble and boulders deposited by ice. This moraine is thought to have been put down during the last glacial maximum (O’ Cofaigh and Evans, 2016). Students then carried out a fabric analysis of the glacial till along the beach, measuring the size and orientation of clasts and noting descriptions in their now well-worn field notebooks (Figure 2D).  From Kilmore Quay we went on to Cullenstown (Figure 1D) where students learned how something so simple as the shape of a clast speaks volumes of its history and depositional environment.

Despite celebrating the last night of field work until the early hours, the next day everyone was up bright(ish) and early(ish) and we were back on the bus to begin the last leg of the field trip before the journey home. High tide and a bit of surge stopped us getting onto the beach at Ely House (Figure 1A) so we headed straight to the Screen Hills (Figure 1A) to look at the dramatic thrust folds which dominate the landscape. The students seemed happy  to observe these from the comfort of the warm, dry bus, as they did when we arrived at the Kettle Holes (Figure 1E) further up the road. This was the last stop of the trip so after a final recap we said our goodbyes before heading back to Dublin.

All in all it was a successful trip. Finally, a big shout out to the earth science students for getting stuck in and making it a great trip.


Figure 3. Contour map of the pingo surveyed by students at Camross, Co. Wexford.


Cofaigh, Colm Ó., and David JA Evans. “Radiocarbon constraints on the age of the maximum advance of the British–Irish Ice Sheet in the Celtic Sea.” Quaternary Science Reviews 26.9 (2007): 1197-1203.

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