14 Dec 2014

The effect of the recent explosive cyclogenesis on Runswick Bay.

Very little, really. The winds were predominantly South Westerly, Runswick Bay faces due North and the cliffs create a wind shadow so the Bay itself was pretty calm.

The effect off Sandsend (Whitby piers in the background) was more pronounced, with the wind tearing the crests off waves:

Explosive cyclogenesis happens when a low pressure area deepens by 24 millibars over a 24 hour period, making the circulating winds more powerful. Meteorologists' shorthand for such a system is a 'bomb', something gleefully seized upon by the media last week. We need some Northerly gales to send in a couple of days of large waves, tear up the seabed, strip away sand and bring down some cliff falls. That's when things get interesting around here.

8 Dec 2014

In the Yorkshire Post tomorrow...

I'm writing about dinosaurs. So here's a Tyrannosaurus rex to cheer up your Monday.

T. rex, a Cretaceous dinosaur was the poster-dino front-cover skull on the original Jurassic Park book and in the film adorned the gate to the ill-fated park. Runswick, having Jurassic geology didn't see any of these creatures but there is evidence of large, bipedal predators stalking what has become the Yorkshire coast in the late Jurassic. The sandstone rocks hereabouts are the remains of a delta (where a river spills out across the coastal plain) and fossilized trackways with the footprints of large two legged carnivores have been found between Ravenscar and Scarborough. They were probably Ceratosaurs, more of which from Brian Switek on Smithsonian.com.

3 Dec 2014

An urchin and its not-often-found-mouthparts (repost).

A sea urchin top (or 'aboral' to the initiated) view, found on Runswick Bay beach. Urchins are echinoderms, and exhibit pentamerism; five fold symmetry.

Its mouth parts.
And the mouth in which they were loosely attached when the shell was found. They fell out on handling. An urchin's mouth has the charming name 'Aristotle's lantern'.
 Ur-urchins have been with us for about 450 million years. Some people think that eating urchin reproductive organs is a good idea and call it 'Uni'. Crabs, lobsters and sea otters are natural predators of urchins. Be careful if you find a live one, some species can sting.

24 Nov 2014


is an ammonite found hereabouts that can easily confused with Eleganticeras. To avoid this palaeontological faux-pas pop over to the ever excellent Andy's Fossils and peruse To be or not to be - a Harpoceras.

15 Nov 2014

Time and tide waits for no artist (repost from 2008).

 A new type of fauna was spotted on the beach last Sunday: an artist.

 John Hall (website: suncage) wanted to finish his canvas and painted - my spies tell me - until the water reached his waist. Here he is suffering for his art, merely toes-deep.

Runswick in (digital) real life, reflected in the water and on canvas:

Birds and waves.

The great herring pie feature

will be online at the Yorkshire Post website from Monday.

10 Nov 2014

Runswick blogger in the Yorkshire Post on Wednesday...

with a feature on herring pie. In September we took a wander to the neighbouring village of Staithes for their Festival of Arts and Heritage, and there the field assistants each pestered me out of £2 for a herring pie. The North Sea used to teem with herring, and herring pie used to be a Yorkshire coast staple, making use of the 'silver darlings', Clupeidae harengus that would come ashore by the million, caught by herring drifters. The pies were delicious, the story behind their resurrection is intriguing and much though I dislike the phrase 'superfood' herring is pretty much up there; loads of omega 3, vitamin B12 and magnesium, all of which are sadly lacking in modern diets and metabolisms.

So get your Yorkshire Post on Wednesday.

Above: Ted Gush, resurrector of the herring pie and all round good chap, with a ceramic herring (courtesy of local artist Rex Aldred) and real herring pie at Staithes Festival of Arts and Heritage 2014. Staithes, for those of you not lucky enough to live hereabouts, is the next village up the coast from Runswick Bay. It boasts Captain James Cook as one of its former residents, it inspired the 19th century Staithes School of painters (it is an insanely beautiful village) and has the wonderful Staithes Festival of Arts and Heritage each year. 

More of Staithes in a later post; while it's not strictly Runswick Bay, it's not often you go fishing with a man who shared his office with a coelacanth.

8 Nov 2014

Alum quarry remains, Kettleness and a plesiosaur (repost from 2008).

Kettleness was the site of one of the alum quarries which shaped this coast in the 18th and 19th centuries. Local woman had noticed that clothes washed in streams that ran off the cliffs hereabouts didn't lose their (expensive) dyed colour. Therefore, they theorized, there must be something in the water that helped fix the dye to the cloth. They were right; aluminium salts were washed out of the Whitby mudstone alum shale and made the water a dilute mordant; a dye fixative.

After a certain amount of experimenting, a process was discovered that allowed the mordant to be separated from the rock.  The shale was quarried, piled into a conical pyre with layers of brushwood and set alight. The oil content in the shale allowed the pyre to smoulder away for months. The burned shale was then boiled in vats of human urine until the alum salts crystallized out of the liquor.

The quarrying left the coast hereabouts looking rather strange: in places Kettleness looks almost lunar:

Gutters carved out of the local sandstone carried runoff into the sea.

There isn't much left to see; when the alum works closed the buildings were  probably cannibalized by the locals, some of what was left will have have fallen into the sea. Here are what looks like floors and walls of the alum works now close to the cliff edge:

A view over some of the ruins, Runswick in the distance.

This stone-lined tunnel that runs into the hillside (purpose unknown).

The quarrying resulted in some 20 million tons of Jurassic shale being hacked out of the cliffs hereabouts which of course caused some fine fossil finds, this one - Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni - now adorns the Natural History Museum in London:

6 Nov 2014

Should an albino ratfish be washed up on Runswick beach? (Repost from 2008*)

Because I found this one washed in by the rising tide on Runswick Bay beach this afternoon. Any ratfishologists out there who can tell me whether I should be excited by finding one of these looking suspiciously albino in the North Sea? Either leave a comment or scroll down to find the email link.

I know enough of the local fish to know that I didn't recognize it, so decided to bring it home. The sight of me carrying the thing by its whip-like tail caused a certain amount of interest among the kids on the beach and I should like to apologize to the parents whose kids I allowed to hold it: it turns out that the dorsal spine is venomous (Only mildly so - I hope the ammonite I gave them makes up for it.)

These creatures are called chimaeras and the Wikipedia page about chimaeras shows this to be an interesting find: for a start it's a cartilaginous fish but with some characteristics of bony fish, and normally found in temperate oceans (the North Sea's surface temperature is currently 6 centigrade).

They are also normally coloured black or brown, with the exception of one albino fished up in Puget Sound last year, and unique among the University of Washington's 7.2 million specimens. The Runswick Bay ratfish is pretty white, too. Someone on the beach speculated that it should have been darker and suggested that it had been dead a few days. I doubt that - the crabs and lobsters hereabouts about would have made short work of it and it's not at all chewed up. The order dates back to Devonian times (416-359 mya).

And finally here's a face only a mother could love:

* Some years ago Blogger inexplicably ate a lot of my photos. I've just found the archived photo library and will be restoring photos to posts as and when I can.

Four years of erosion.

Boulder clay cliffs 2010:

Boulder clay cliffs 2014:

A lot of the cliff has been washed away or has slumped onto the beach on the last four years. One victim of the erosion was an abandoned beach hut (the undercliff here has a dozen or so scattered through the scrub) that was demolished and removed by the Council before it fell onto the beach. Two more look likely to succumb in the next 12 months despite the best efforts of the owners to reinforce the cliffs with DIY rock armour. The cliffs here are boulder clay, deposited in the last ice age and wave erosion at the base of the cliff is only part of the erosion problem; the clay is prone slippage. It goes through a cycle of drying and cracking in summer then in wet weather water building up in the cracks and causing chunks of the cliff to slide down to the beach, carrying grass, trees and, sadly for some, beach huts to a watery end.

A cigar smoking ammonite.

Well if anyone out there has any better ideas, I'd be delighted to hear them.

21 Oct 2014

There goes the beach....

Sand beaches have summer and winter profiles. After a very calm early autumn, the gales came in and stripped about three feet of sand off the beach overnight:
Runswick winter profile © P. McGrath 2014
Scouring so much sand off the beach exposes what the youngest field assistant calls 'the interestings'; rocks and fossils that have been covered in sand all summer:

Interestings © P. McGrath 2014
Among the interestings was this belemnite guard and phragmacone (a dead squid's bum, the youngest field assistant was delighted to learn). It looks like some of the internal structures have been fossilized:

And next to it, a couple of belemnites and a heavily-eroded ammonite jumbled together in a ball of fossilized ick. It's probably a midden; a ball of icthyosaur vomit or poop. Ammonite shells would have been almost impossible to digest and were probably either excreted or vomited back by the Jurassic marine predators.

13 Oct 2014

The Bay today and North Sea weather.

What a difference a day makes. 24 hours ago we were walking on a warm, sunny beach with a blue skies and a calm sea. Why the change? The Met Office pressure chart below shows the centre of a low pressure area over London, causing the nasty north westerly winds that made today a bit grim if you were outside. Look out into the Atlantic though; there's a big, deep low pressure area out there with lots of tightly packed isobars.

That will mean strong winds, big waves and probably plenty of rain on the way in 2-3 days time. Good. Let's have some cliff collapses and beaches churned up and scoured clear of sand and tourist rubbish so we can have some decent jet and fossil finds. There's a high pressure ridge over Northern Ireland and Scotland that may bounce the low pressure system south and spare us our first good autumn gale.

12 Oct 2014

The Bay today (Бий сьогодні)

A mid-October day - as warm as many in summer - for our new Ukrainian friends.
День середини жовтня - тепло , як багато влітку - для наших нових українських друзів
I have no idea what that Cyrillic actually means. Google translate could be saying the most terrible things.

Ласкаво просимо!

A Natural History of Runswick Bay is huge in Ukraine, apparently.

8 Oct 2014

A much-weathered limpet with barnacles, knotted wrack and Polysiphonia lanosa.

And here's some Ascophyllum nodosum (knotted wrack) almost completely buried in the red epiphytic seaweed P. lanosa. The Ascophyllum has pushed a receptacle (the reproductive part of this sexually reproducing seaweed, which contains the conceptacles, the gamete producing organs) out through the mat of P. lanosa that completely coated its fronds:

It has been thought that the red P. lanosa was a pure epiphyte; that it just used the bigger Ascophyllum as a convenient place to grow. Research (from the American Journal of Botany) has demonstrated  a two-way exchange of photosynthesis-derived compounds between the larger Ascophyllum and the epiphiytic P. lanosa.

So the small red P. lanosa gets both a substrate to grow on and some nutritional benefit from Ascophyllum. It's a hemiparasite rather than a simple epiphyte. I wonder what benefit the larger Ascophyllum gains from having P. lanosa grow all over it.

Runswick blogger in in the Whitby Gazette...


Pics by me. The text is a Whitby Gazette mashup of my three photo captions rewritten by Gazette staff.

28 Sep 2014

Runswick Bay today

A quick visit to the beach to take the 'on call' flag down at the Runswick Bay Rescue Boat boat house. I was duty crew for the afternoon, fortunately no-one got blown out to sea on a lilo, fell off the cliffs or had their fishing boat's engine pack up, so we had a quiet afternoon. (If you've had a trip to Runswick Bay you may wish to consider donating to this fine independent rescue service. It costs about £15k a year to keep our rescue boat afloat.)

It's autumn. We should have northerly gales sending rollers ashore, tearing kelp from the seabed, scouring sand from the beach, shattering the cliffs and making fossils and jet cascade onto the beach...er, no. It was millpond-calm.

And when the sun broke through the clouds Kettleness looked like this...

No photoshop, no filters.

20 Sep 2014

The autumn Bay yesterday.

Autumn, Keats 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' is here. Yesterday the mist thinned enough for us to see Kettleness on our lunchtime wander along the beach. It wasn't a naturalizing walk, we were just enjoying the beach and each other's company. The weather here has been calm; misty and still. But the beach already had signs of sea-autumn; slicks of pebbles where none had been all summer and a lot of seaweed (mostly Laminaria digitata) washed onto the sands at high water. It might be calm here thanks to a big high pressure area sitting off the west coast of Ireland, but elsewhere autumn winds are making waves that signal autumn as surely as the turning leaves on land.
At the west side of the Bay three cormorants watched the world swirl by from Ship Rock.
And finally the mellow fruitfulness; rosehips (Rosa canina) on a roadside bush just yards from the beach.

16 Sep 2014

Big Buccinia.

A couple of recent flotsam finds from an evening walk on the beach; large whelk shells, probably the common whelk Buccinum undatum. Smaller whelks are found on the lower rocky beach and in rock pools but these ones, about 3 inches (c. 7.5 cm) in length live in deep water below the low tide mark. These sea snails are carnivores, fond of mussels but not above eating a dead fish should they comes across it. The inside of the aragonite shells are coated in nacre, otherwise known as mother of pearl. The Runswick blog ruler having been nicked by the young field assistants, I've included another kind of ruler, one on a 1905 penny for scale. King Edward VII was notoriously fond of whelks.

15 Sep 2014

Goodbye summer...

31 August. Kettleness looking good in the early evening sun.

5 September. Hello autumn. Kettleness is out there somewhere. What a difference five days makes.

11 Aug 2014

A sea slater...

or Ligia oceanica, a woodlouse that has evolved to make its living on the shore.
This one had wedged itself into a crevice about four feet up a mudstone cliff, waiting out daylight; slaters are nocturnal and will eat anything they wander across (but are apparently fond of Fucus vesiculosus, bladder wrack). If picked up by a young field assistant their sole means of defence seems to be a panic pooh. This is only the second slater I have seen in many years of intermittent beach naturalizing. This one was just shy of 2cm in length.

Latin and linnean stuff: the slater is an oniscid isopod belonging to the wonderfully-named class malacostraca.

17 May 2014

Artist at work...

Harry Caunce, normally to be found at the wonderfully named Seal-Chart Studio made the trek across the Pennines to paint Runswick on a sunny yesterday.

Here's Harry's lovely rendering of Runswick and below, the painting in close up along with the cheerful creative chaos of his paint tray.