Rivers from a distant past
Today all that is left of these extensive river systems are thick layers of sand and clay, stacked on top of each other in what is known as the Bighorn Basin.
Charting the area
'Fortunately the area I work in is smaller, some twenty by twenty kilometres, but it’s still a vast stretch of land,' Abels says. 'We spent the past decade collecting stratigraphic data, describing the sediments and determining the order and age of the layers.'
Abrupt climate change
He is looking first of all at how climate change caused by shifts in the Earth’s axis and orbit affects river behaviour.
In the wilds of Wyoming
Abels may be in the middle of nowhere but he isn’t alone. ‘I always have a team of colleagues with me. Then we have the volunteers who are all very handy with a pickaxe.’
Meet Abels’ team, from left to right: Abels, Dirk-Jan Walstra of Deltares, and TU Delft colleagues Allard Martinius and Joep Storms.
Although camping is not what it was ten years ago.. .
‘Now we have drones, computers and mobile phones and a generator to charge them. We have had mobile coverage for two years, and now it’s 4G no less.
Abels is not altogether happy about this development. ‘In the past students would be dragged from their comfort zone pretty quickly. There is no moaning in a camp like this: you’re lucky to get a plate of food at night and cold water to wash with. And now everyone is looking at their phones at the end of the day instead of staring into the distance. '
During the day they disappear into the undergrowth. But it pays to be vigilant even then. ‘Don’t just traipse through the bushes. And when you are climbing look first and then put your hand on the next stone. Walking and climbing are done at a slower pace than you are used to here.’