Event Detail

19
May
2004

The Jungles of Bolivia: Geological Adventures

Dr. Chris Fletcher
Wednesday, 19 May 2004
The Helena May
Wednesday, 19 May 2004
The Helena May Club, 35 Garden Road
Drinks Reception 6.30pm
Lecture 7.30 pm

One of the Royal Geographical Society Hong Kong's bestknown members, Dr. Chris Fletcher is shortly leaving Hong Kong. Having led some 10 successful field trips for the Society, we are delighted to welcome him for a lecture. In this lecture, Dr. Fletcher tells the story, richly illustrated with slides, of one of his most exciting assignments, in the jungles of Bolivia. Dr. Fletcher spent three years in central Bolivia during the 1980s, when he was part of a BritishBolivian team tasked with making the first geological maps of the impenetrable junglecovered headwaters between the Amazon and Plate river basins. Little was known of the area at the start of the project, except for the vivid and, at times, frightening descriptions by Colonel Fawcett, who undertook topographic surveys in Bolivia and Brazil at the turn of the last century for the Royal Geographical Society. The original inhabitants of the area were Ayorayo Indians who were finally forced into civilization in the 1950s. The Jesuits colonized parts of the area in the seventeenth century, but they were also forced to leave all that remained of their passing were some splendid wooden churches and their diggings for gold. No reliable topographic maps were available at the time of the survey. The geological teams had to rely on the first satellite images and a few poor quality aerial photographs to navigate through the dense spiny vegetation, along riverbeds, across swamps and up onto flattopped mountains surrounded by nearvertical cliffs, truly the 'Lost World' of Conan Doyle. The majority of the surveys were made on foot by cutting through the jungles, each step being counted and directions measured for tens of kilometers at a time. The trips lasted four to six weeks with the fiveman teams sleeping in hammocks and relying almost entirely on food provided by the jungle. The difficulties in working in such an environment were immense: little water for drinking, abundance of ticks, snakes and tarantulas, heat extremes and the constant difficulty of locating oneself. But the scientific rewards were high: the project found evidence of the internal fracturing of the continent during the initial stages of the breakup of Africa and South America some 140 million years ago, and they discovered a unique five kilometrethick, tabular igneous intrusion that ranks as one of the largest in the world. The survey also located significant concentrations of gold, platinum, copper, rare earth minerals and chromium. Chris Fletcher obtained his BSc at St Andrews University and his doctorate at the University of British Columbia. Over the last forty years he has worked as a geologist throughout the world, including the Rocky Mountains and arctic of Canada, the jungles of Bolivia, Wales, the Altiplano of the Peruvian Andes, the Hindu Kush of north Pakistan, the Qinling Mountains of China and the Taebeksan region of South Korea. He has written over 100 papers and articles on a variety of geological topics and has been involved with the publication of geological maps in several countries. He was Head of the Geological Survey of Hong Kong for five years before becoming Director of the Applied Geoscience Centre at Hong Kong University. He currently runs his own geological consulting company. Members and their guests are most welcome to attend this lecture, which is HK$50 for Members, HK$100 for Members' guests and HK$150 for others.

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