Palaeoecology in West Cork

This project will investigate the palaeoecology of West Cork, the ecology of the past, with the goal of discovering how the West Cork we see today has been formed over time. By observing the features in the landscape and their relationship both with each other, and to the underlying geological and sedimentary structure of the land; and also by finding, examining, and interpreting the clues that are hidden and preserved as microfossils in lakes and bogs, we can form a model of the changing environment.

Geology is the study of rocks of the earth, and when we consider that every rock is the result of the environment in which it was formed, studying the rocks can tell us about the environment of this part of the earths crust at that time.

The glaciation of West Cork in the last ice age gave rise to erosion features and sediments that can inform us about the effect of the ice, and the subsequent cold climate that followed, had on the landscape.

The fossils - pollen, spores, diatoms, phytoliths and others - that can be extracted from lake and bog sediments, may have been preserved for thousands of years, even since the last covering of ice was removed. Radiocarbon dating of these organic sediments is an essential part of this, for without the dates we have little to pin our evidence on. The sediment is extracted in cores, long tubes of sediment from the surface to the bottom depths; and these are then examined, centimetre by centimetre to see how the changes in the fossils can be used to inform us of the changes in environment as time passed.

The action of humans in living on the land and within the landscape caused changes, and continue to do so, some of which, at the present time, we are all too aware of.

Paper research, fieldwork and observation, mapping, sampling at sites, and laboratory work in preparing and examining samples, are all aspects of the processes of this investigation. The information, which will build up over time, will enable us to understand how the landscape formed, how it adjusted to changes in human populations and usage, to climate changes, to invasion by alien species, and we can come to understand how the landscape behaves and how we as humans can interact best with it, with minimal destruction, and maximal benefit.

This project is undertaken with the principles of Open Science firmly to the fore. This means that this project supports and practices the free access to data and information. Open Science has been defined as: “ make the primary outputs of ... research results – publications and the research data – publicly accessible ... with no or minimal restriction”. In fact there is more to it than that. So much of the research, discoveries, and a lot of the fascinating stuff, is bound up in academic journals, academic institutuions, and academic jargon. The scientific and academic terms are essential - but they can get in the way when the information and excitement is shared with those who do not have the understanding of the academic terms. So making all this understandable is a large part of the exercise. Open Science is the next step in the evolution of Scientific Research that can progress the acquisition, appreciation and use of knowledge through society. To fully appreciate the need for such a step, take a look at Research Culture is Broken; Open Science can Fix It.

As the project progresses and develops, a lot of information will be added to these webpages, and the pages on this site will interlink both within the site and outwardly to external resources. Just as in the natural world, in which there is a network of associations between all the organisms and environmental factors that we study. This is Ecology. Ecology is a complex subject, complex in both its myriad of relationships and effects, and also in scope. There is a lot in ecology which is imperfectly understood, and some that is not even suspected, and every day new discoveries of relationships and effects within our environment are made. Palaeoecology, the ecology of the past, is no different. It is just a little more remote and a little harder to fathom.

The tabs on the right side of this page will be used to specify the latest changes to the website, and the work that is currently in progress.

If you are inspired to comment on, engage with, or follow up something you see here, use the Contact page via the menu (and here). It is important that we humans should get more deeply involved with the natural world and undo the disjoint that exists between us and it.

The items of most particular interest, as well as the 20 most recent changes to this website, are listed below in separate tabs.

  • Further exploration of the Three Lakes site resulted in the discovery of diatomite at an early post glacial level. Analysis of the diatoms from the diatomite is ongoing.
  • Diatom identification from the lowest silt in the Three Lakes core is ongoing.
  • Coring at Three Lakes resulted in the extraction of a 6.5 m core of sediment from the lake bed, including what appears to be organic sediment from before the Younger Dryas, i.e. Late Glacial
  • Juniper pollen has been collected from two trees that were planted two years ago in the garden - .
  • Native Irish plants - and some not so native - as a reference collection of both fresh and processed images of pollen and spores.
  • Sequence of map images of Devonian environments of West Cork over 80 million years.
  • Possible valley side solifluction flow identified from DSM.
  • Townland boundary infers existence of lake drainage.
  • Aug 2021 - Major revision of webpages underway
  • Apr 2021 - Added diatom pages.
  • Feb 2021 - Added pollen pages and images.
  • Feb 2021 - Added 1m photogrammetry of Driminidy Lough.
  • Feb 2021 - Rewrote landing page.
  • Jan 2021 - Ringforts and Townlands, pages and maps.
  • Jan 2021 - Geological Formations and Environments of deposition.
  • Dec 2020 - Added 1m and 5m photogrammetry of Ruagagh Valley.
  • Dec 2020 - Proxies with start of ref collection photos.
  • Nov 2020 - Added account of IQUA field trip.
  • Oct 2020 - IQUA Field Trip to West Cork - map.
  • Aug 2021 - Major revision of webpages underway
  • Mar 2021 - Upgraded microscope.
  • Feb 2021 - Managed to obtain silicone oil. In the end it was simple.
  • Feb 2021 - Engaged in OLS3 training.
  • Jan 2021 - Obtained DSM for certain areas from BlueSky and integrated them into the interactive maps.
  • Jan 2021 - Added lightbox functionality - magnific-popup - to image pages. See
  • Oct 2020 - Integrated interactive maps using OpenLayers, QGIS and QGIS2Web.
  • Aug 2021 - Major revision of webpages underway
  • Mar 2021 - Reference Pollen images and pages are being compiled - .
  • Mar 2021 - A page summarising existing and past palaeoecological research sites is being researched and written
  • Mar 2021 - Examination of the lowest levels from the Three Lakes Core is ongoing and a summary will be posted as a separate page