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The Geological Society’s annual awards will be presented at President’s Day on 6 June. Whilst the majority of the recipients have already been named, there is one more to announce – this year’s awards will feature a brand new medal, thanks to the generosity of Professor John Dewey.

The newly created Dewey medal will be awarded annually to a geologist who has made substantial and significant contributions to the science through sustained field mapping and/or field observation of rocks, and who has a strong record of training, leading and encouraging others to practise and pursue advances in geology by this means. The first recipient will be Rob Butler, Chair in Tectonics at the University of Aberdeen.

‘I’m surprised and very honoured to be recognised by the Society like this’ he says. ‘There are many great geologists who are grounded in field research. John Dewey has long been a strong advocate of the importance of properly describing and quantifying the relationships between rocks, especially in the field. More needs to be done to promote field research, wrongly seen by some as not of our time, and it is wonderful that the Society, with John’s assistance, has been able to establish this medal.

Like many geoscientists, Rob’s interested began in childhood. ‘Since a very young age I’ve been fascinated and inspired by mountains – not only be the exploits of those who have strived to explore and climb them but also by the grandeur of rock architecture. As a teenager in the 70s I also loved the long, detailed science programmes that started off the back of the coverage of the Apollo missions, and most of all by Nigel Calder’s BBC programme The Restless Earth. I knew straight away that I wanted to find out more about how the Earth worked tectonically.

Now, Rob is Chair in Tectonics at the University of Aberdeen. On his favourite aspects of his job, he says ‘the freedom to chase down whatever research question I want to tackle, coupled with the opportunity to teach (and hopefully inspire) students and others to study how our planet works – both in the modern world and in the geological past.’

Rob has long been associated with the Geological Society’s outreach efforts – among other projects, he was instrumental to 2014’s 100 Great Geosites project, and 2018’s Plate Tectonic Stories. Both projects hope to encourage all of us, geologists and non geologists alike, to visit geological sites in the UK and Ireland, and find out more about the incredible geology on our doorsteps. Rob is also a passionate advocate of the importance of fieldwork for geologists.

‘For many, seeing and asking questions of actual rocks and landforms is inspirational’ he says. ‘But fieldwork is often wrongly seen solely as an exercise in cataloguing the spacial distribution of geological materials followed by expeditions to collect samples for laboratory analysis, or to deploy and maintain instruments. All these can involve going outdoors but are only a small part of why Earth scientists should do fieldwork.’

‘The geometric relationships between different rock units are – in my view, the single most important part of solid Earth science. Get this wrong – or ignore it – and almost everything else is suspect. This applies at all scales – from the microscopic to the largest features on and in our planet (and others). We live on the Earth’s surface and if we can’t establish the relationships at a human scale then we’re in trouble. Fieldwork aimed at establishing how rocks are organised (and came to be that way) is fundamental. It’s also a great way of developing understanding of uncertainty and bias – because the next piece of evidence is just around the corner that can trip up our most elegant hypothesis.

Glencoe- one of the public’s favourite geological sites, according to our 2014 100 Great Geosites poll

The great virtue for training is that fieldwork is immersive (sometimes literally in the Highlands). This is important for developing appreciation of scale. Visualising and solving 3D geometric problems, for example to establish relationships between different fault zones, is an important skill – not only when interpreting seismic reflection and borehole data (when striving to exploit subsurface resources). So many different resource and engineering industries value fieldwork for developing these skills amongst their workforce. But the investigative and interpretational procedures learnt in the field are generally useful too. Creating explanations (hypotheses) based on incomplete data is a skill developed in good earth science undergraduate programmes that is highly valued by employers at large. The field is a great place – in my view the best – to do this…. because it is not a controlled laboratory environment.’

Having been part of many Geological Society outreach events involving highlighting particular sites, we asked Rob if he has a favourite.

‘So many! The most awe-inspiring has to be the Raikhot valley on the NW slopes of Nanga Parbat in Pakistan. It’s arguably the best transect in the world through a fault zone that has moved from the warm, ductile deeper crust up to the earth surface. Earthquakes on it have triggered landslips that blocked the Indus river. So you can see how deep (not that deep) Earth processes influence the surface.

The Raikhot Valley, Pakistan

‘Historically – the hillsides around the hill Foinaven in the NW Highlands of Scotland are important to me. It’s a wonderful rocky wilderness which is, as an old friend described as a kindergarten for thrust tectonics. It’s where I did my first serious mapping but is also where Henry Cadell was inspired to perform his analogue experiments in mountain building back in the 1880s.

‘I also love the sedimentological outcrops on Sicily – it’s a great place to investigate tectonic controls on stratigraphic successions. They’re so young and wonderfully constrained biostratigraphically, you can really back out deformation rates in great detail.

‘But really it’s about getting out and engaging with as many different geological settings as possible. You never know where your next idea (or hypothesis-devastating observation) might come from.’

And to those considering becoming a geologist themselves, his advice is simple: ‘as in any subject – be inquisitive and don’t be satisfied with an answer. Always test what you know by looking around the next corner (or backwards to what you’ve left behind.)’

Fieldwork in Ben Arnaboll,in the Scottish Highlands (image c Rob Butler)

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From Roman Baths to building stones, fossil finds to mineral mines, the geology and industrial history of South West Britain is full of interest. Amateur, professional and academic geologists and collectors alike played key roles in unravelling the fascinating geology and revealing the resources of this complex area. Many of their names and achievements are now forgotten.

Map of Cornwall, Devon and W Somerset from the first Geological Survey Memoir, Report on the Geology of Cornwall, Devon and West Somerset by Henry de la Beche, published in 1839 (courtesy of Nineteenth Century Geological Maps, http://www.geolmaps.com)

A meeting about Collectors, Collections and the Geology of South West Britain, jointly organised by the History of Geology Group (HoGG) and the Geological Curators Group (GCG) on 18 – 19 September aims to set this omission right. Hosted by the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (BRLSI) in their elegant premises in the centre of Bath, the meeting will include a day of talks followed by a day of optional field trips. The event will be open to all. The registration fee will be kept below £20 to encourage a wide participation, and speakers will be exempt from paying to attend the talks.

We’re now seeking offers of talks or posters covering:

  • Collectors who worked in the South West, contributing to the development of geological science. The role of more modern or even contemporary collectors should not be forgotten.
  • Collections from the South West which are poorly known, or which have been returned to prominence with recent projects. These may be rock, fossil, mineral or archival collections.
  • Field geologists whose work and observations were important to the development of the science, without necessarily having made significant collections.

Self portrait of Henry de la Beche from his description of an unconformity at Portishead. (courtesy of Nineteenth Century Geological Maps, http://www.geolmaps.com)

Please save any papers about William Smith for another occasion. The 250th anniversary of his birth is coming up in 2019, and further opportunities to discuss his life, times and achievements will certainly be available then.

The deadline for expressions of interest is 30 April, and abstracts (maximum of 350 words) must be completed before 18 May. To discuss your ideas or to find out more about plans for the meeting contact:

Nina Morgan (HoGG) nina.morgan@cooptel.net

Matthew Parkes (GCG) mparkes@museum.ie

To submit an abstract please email: swmeeting@geocurator.org

Whether you’re a professional, academic, or amateur geologist – or simply someone with a story to tell about the geological or industrial history of the South West – we look forward to hearing from you.

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A specimen described today in Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society is the star attraction in the Yorkshire Museum’s new exhibition, Yorkshire’s Jurassic World, which opened on March 24.

Pregnant ichthyosaur (c) Nobumichi Tamura

The fossil, part of the skeleton of a 180 million-year old ichthyosaur, contains the remains of between six and eight tiny embryos between its ribs. Whilst ichthyosaur fossils are relatively common in the UK, only five have ever been found in Britain containing embryos. The new find contains more embryos than any previous examples, and is the first of its kind recorded from Yorkshire.

Dating back to the Toarcian Stage of the Jurassic, the specimen was collected around 2010 near Whitby, North Yorkshire. A small limestone boulder, it has been cut in half and polished, exposing several large adult ribs and several strings of vertebrae, along with various indeterminate tiny bones. It has since been acquired by the Yorkshire Museum from the collection of fossil collector Martin Rigby, and studied by palaeontologists Mike Boyd and Dean Lomax from the University of Manchester.

Close-ups of Block A, YORYM: 2016.316a, showing ichthyosaur embryos. Scale bars equal 10mm. (From Boyd, M. J. and Lomax, D. R. 2018. The youngest occurrence of ichthyosaur embryos in the UK: A new specimen from the Early Jurassic (Toarcian) of Yorkshire. Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society)

Viviparity – the development of an embryo inside the body of the parent, as opposed to laying eggs – was first reported in ichthyosaurs in 1846 by Joseph Chaning Pearce (1811-1847). A surgeon and avid fossil collector, Pearce noted the presence of an embryo within the pelvic region of a specimen of Ichthyosaurus from the Early Jurassic (probably Hettangian) Blue Lias Formation of Somerset, and published a paper on his find. Others argued that such specimens represented cannibalism among ichthyosaurs – a debate which continued until the 1990s.

‘We also considered the possibility that the tiny remains could be stomach contents’ Mike said, ‘although it seemed highly unlikely that an ichthyosaur would swallow six to eight aborted embryos or new born ichthyosaurs at one time. And this does not seem to have been the case, because the embryos display no erosion from stomach acids. Moreover, the embryos are not associated with any stomach contents commonly seen in Early Jurassic ichthyosaurs, such as the remains of squid-like belemnites.’

Studied specimen: YORYM: 2016.316. A cut and polished boulder containing between six and eight ichthyosaur embryos, collected from Saltwick Bay, near Whitby, Yorkshire. (From Boyd, M. J. and Lomax, D. R. 2018. The youngest occurrence of ichthyosaur embryos in the UK: A new specimen from the Early Jurassic (Toarcian) of Yorkshire. Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society)

Ichthyosaurs were aquatic reptiles that dominated the Jurassic seas. They were carnivores, feeding on other reptiles, fish and marine invertebrates such as belemnites. Of those documented specimens which have been discovered carrying embryos, by far the most commonly found species is Stenopterygius, over a hundred of which have been found in Holzmaden and surrounding areas in Germany, with between one to eleven embryos.

‘The German sites are approximately the same age as the new specimen from Whitby’ said Dean, ‘and it is possible that the new specimen is also Stenopterygius, but no identifiable features are preserved in the adult or embryos. Nonetheless, this is an important find.’

‘This is an incredible find’ said Sarah King, curator of natural science at the Yorkshire Museum. ‘The research by Dean and Mike has helped us confirm it is the first example of fossilised ichthyosaur embryos to be found in Yorkshire. Its display in Yorkshire’s Jurassic World incorporates the latest digital technology to reveal the embryos and to explain the significance of the discovery.’

  • Journal reference: Boyd, M. J. and Lomax, D. R. 2018. The youngest occurrence of ichthyosaur embryos in the UK: A new specimen from the Early Jurassic (Toarcian) of Yorkshire. Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society, https://doi.org/10.1144/pygs2017-008.
  • Yorkshire’s Jurassic World was officially opened by Sir David Attenborough on March 23. The exhibition will be long term, and open for at least the next two years.
  • More information on Dean Lomax’ work as a multi award winning science communicator, palaeontologist and author can be found at www.deanrlomax.co.uk.
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A guest blog from The Royal Institution

The Royal Institution (By Gryffindor – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14730818)

The Royal Institution has been at the forefront of science communication in the UK since it was founded in 1799. We are a charity that has allowed communicators from around the world to come, speak and educate about the science that has helped to shape our lives, culture and the world around us. We have achieved this in a number of ways, through general public lectures, ‘Friday Evening Discourses’, Christmas Lectures and in recent years, award winning digital films and animations. All of these tools have been used to communicate the science and importance of the story of plate tectonics.

A relatively young theory, based on an idea developed in the early 20th century by German meteorologist Alfred Wegener, plate tectonics relies heavily on the use of modelling to demonstrate the concept of continental drift.

The most significant lecture given at the Ri on this fascinating topic was a Discourse which took place in 1963, given by a young physics professor from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, S.K. Runcorn, who delighted the gathered audience with his contribution to the theory.

Keith Runcorn (far left) with William Bullerwell, Dan McKenzie and members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. c Geological Society (archive reference LDGSL/1107/C/5)

Runcorn began to study aspects of the Earth’s magnetic field while at University of Manchester undertaking his PhD in the 1940s. He soon developed an interest in palaeomagnetism, the study of the residual magnetisation that is evident in ancient rocks. Runcorn’s analyses of rocks in Europe provided evidence of periodic reversals of the Earth’s field (geomagnetic polar reversals) over geologic time. His data suggested that the Earth’s north magnetic pole had moved and wandered across the planet over hundreds of millions of years.

Royal Institution Proceedings – How the Continents Drift_SK Runcorn 1963 page 1

Runcorn’s heavily illustrated lecture was based on his previous years of research. In it he outlines Wegener’s original hypothesis that the continents had once been grouped into two land masses of Laurasia and Gondwanaland and the limited evidence that Wegener had to his hands at the time. Delving into the subject he comments on the latest research and explains that the continents float on the mantle of the earth.

‘To displace the continents over thousands of kilometres, it is necessary to postulate flow patterns of similar dimensions in the mantle. Convection could be caused by the heating of the Earth’s interior by radioactive decay or by the release of energy by chemical separation, the heavier elements moving to the centre and the lighter silicates moving upwards to the continents. Probably both processes contribute to the convective motions. There will be a tendency for the continents to move towards the places where the flow is descending and for the ocean basins to be over the rising columns. This patter seems at the present time to be in accord with the observations that have been made of the world wide oceanic ridge system.’

The mapping of the first oceanic ridge in the Mid-Atlantic was undertaken by Marie Tharp who is the subject of a Ri animation voiced by Helen Czerski. This short film describes the pioneering work of Tharp who transformed a barren and flat ocean floor into a three-dimensional space with valleys, trenches and mountains. This vital work helped provide key clues in supporting the theory of continental drift.

By the Ri’s 1995 Christmas Lectures given by Dr James Jackson entitled ‘Planet Earth, and Explorer’s Guide’, the theory of continental drift was well established. Jackson explained the theory in lecture 4 of the series; The puzzle of the continents. The lecture then went on to state that although plate tectonics is good at describing what happens on the ocean floor and the changing distribution of the continents, it does not help to describe what happens when the continents themselves deform.

Professor James Jackson speaking at the Geological Society’s ‘Plate Tectonics at 50’ meeting in October 2017.

James Jackson’s 1995 Christmas Lecture series will be available to watch later in the year on the Ri website, where the entire catalogue of known recorded lectures are being uploaded.

Runcorn, Czerski and Jackson are just a few scientists who feature in the ongoing story of plate tectonics. It is still an area of intense study today adding insight into how the planet was formed. Runcorn ended his Discourse by stating ‘by studying the ancient magnetic field of the earth, the geophysicist has a powerful method of investigating quite fundamental questions concerning the origin of the earth. In particular the interesting problem of whether the Earth began as a cold or hot body should finally be resolved.

The Royal Institution

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Dozens of giant footprints discovered on Skye are providing rare evidence of dinosaur evolution in the Middle Jurassic epoch.

Side-angle image of sauropod footprint credit Jon Hoad.

A study published today in the Scottish Journal of Geology announces the discovery of a tracksite from Rubha nam Brathairean (Brother’s Point) on the Isle of Skye, dominated by sauropod footprints.

An important time period in dinosaur evolution, dinosaur fossils from the Middle Jurassic are nonetheless frustratingly rare. Palaeontologists believe the epoch may have seen the first birds take to the skies, and the earliest tyrannosaurs and stegosaurs diversifying as long-necked sauropods began growing to colossal sizes. There are only a few locations in the world where Middle Jurassic sediments are well exposed – one of which is the Great Estuarine Group along the stunning coast of the Trotternish peninsula.

The shape and orientation of the prints’ toes, the presence of claws and the overall shape of the track outline have allowed scientists to ascribe them to sauropods and theropods.

The study, carried out by the University of Edinburgh, Staffin Museum and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was led by Paige dePolo, who conducted the research while an inaugural student in the University of Edinburgh’s Research Master’s degree programme in palaeontology and geobiology.

Scientist Paige dePolo at Brothers’ Point credit Shasta Marrero.

‘This tracksite is the second discovery of sauropod footprints on Skye’ she said. ‘It was found in rocks that were slightly older than those previously found at Duntulm on the island and demonstrates the presence of sauropods in this part of the world through a longer timescale than previously known. This site is a useful building block for us to continue fleshing out a picture of what dinosaurs were like on Skye in the Middle Jurassic.’

The prints were difficult to study, thanks to the site’s tidal conditions, the impact of weathering and changes to the landscape. Researchers used drone photographs to map the site, as well as a paired set of cameras and tailored software to model the prints.

Dr Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences, who led the field team, said ‘The more we look on the Isle of Skye, the more dinosaur footprints we find. This new site records two different types of dinosaurs – long-necked cousins of Brontosaurus and sharp-toothed cousins of T. rex – hanging around a shallow lagoon, back when Scotland was much warner and dinosaurs were beginning their march to global dominance.’

Brothers’ Point on Skye (c. Steve Brusatte)

The find follows the discovery of sauropod footprints on Skye announced in December 2015, described as a ‘dinosaur disco preserved in stone.’ The research was supported by a grant from the National Geographic Society, and subsidiary funding from the Association of Women Geologists, Derek and Maureen Moss, Edinburgh Zoo and Edinburgh Geological Society.

  • Journal reference: dePolo, P.E., Brusatte, S.L., Challands, T.J., Foffa, D., Ross, D.A., Wilkinson, M. & Yi, H. A sauropod-dominated tracksite from Rubha nam Brathairean (Brothers’ Point), Isle of Skye, Scotland. Scottish Journal of Geology, published Online First, April 2, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1144/sjg2017-016
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The Great Geobakeoff is back!

Last year, you wowed us with Petra, fake fossils, geodes and the Door to Hell. It would seem there is no challenge too great for the geobaking community, so once again we’ve selected ten tasks to test the most creative of geobaking brains – we can’t wait to see how you tackle them.

The theme

2018 is our Year of Resources – and what better resource is there than cake?

This year also features our Plate Tectonic Stories competition – following the success of our Plate Tectonics at 50 celebrations, we’re asking you to tell us your own plate tectonic stories, through whatever medium you choose. We have a feeling readers of this blog post might have a predilection towards cake based story telling, so if none of the below challenges take your fancy (or if you feel 10 isn’t enough of a challenge and want to take another one on…) feel free to create a plate tectonics themed geobake of your choice!

All geobakeoff entries on a plate tectonics theme will automatically be entered into the Plate Tectonic Stories competition – although bear in mind that the deadline for that competition is slightly earlier, 30 April, so you need to get your baking skates on.

So, with all that in mind, we present to you…The Great Geobakeoff 2018 – Geology & Resources in film, TV, literature, twitter and just about everywhere else!

The rules

As ever, the rules are simple – complete any or all of our geobaking challenges, each of which has an assigned number of points. There are prizes for gathering the most points, for the best geological representation and for the overall best bake – so you can focus your efforts on one masterpiece, or try to complete as many challenges as possible – or both, if you’re feeling ambitious.

Send photographic evidence of your creations to us via twitter @geolsoc using the hashtag #geobakeoff, or email them to sarah.day@geolsoc.org.uk – if you can do both, providing a high res image via email, so much the better. Please provide your name, if it’s not obvious from the tweet, and age if you’re a white apron contender.

Send in your entries by midnight on Sunday 13th May to be in with a chance of winning our traditionally as yet unspecified goodie bag of prizes! Previous prizes have included personalised wooden spoons, personalised wooden dinosaurs, and a plethora of other exciting trophies you just won’t find anywhere else.

The awards:

Once again, prizes will be awarded in our new fully patented Tour-de-Bakeoff format*.

  • NB: Aprons are for illustrative purposes only. We cannot guarantee winners will receive actual aprons.

The White Apron – awarded to the best young baker. (Up to 18 years old – there is no minimum.)

The Green Apron – awarded to the accumulator of the most points! Each of the challenges have an escalating number of points attached to them. Go for the big numbers, or accumulate challenges – the choice is yours!

King/Queen of the Mountains – awarded to the most accurate representation of geological features. Can be won by completing any of the challenges – though some may offer more opportunities for demonstrating your geological construction skills than others….

The Yellow Apron – awarded to the best bake! Can be won for any of the ten challenges (though, let’s face it, it’s unlikely to be won by a 10 pointer…)

The challenges


As always, because it makes us smile, 10 bonus points will be awarded for inclusion of the GSL rock hammer USB stick.

10 points: Bolivian Salt Flats 

Despite their exotic geological credentials, these are hopefully a fairly straightforward entry level geobaking challenge. That is, of course, unless you choose to add the related Star Wars CGI paraphernalia to the mix, at which point you will instantly earn  extra points and stand a far greater chance of capturing that elusive yellow apron prize.

20 points: Pahoehoe

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Our project to identify 100 Great Geosites in the UK & Ireland took place in 2014, and garnered over 400 nominations from the public. These were whittled down to a list of 100, thanks to a committee of experts and a public vote – you can see the full list here.

We’re delighted that the Ordnance Survey has now included the 100 Great Geosites on their online mapping and route-planning tool. The tool can be used to plan walks and excursions around Great Britain. You can create and discover local walking, running and cycling routes and build personal route maps that take in the 100 Great Geosites!

You can access the mapping tool here – add the geosite locations to your map view by selecting ‘Places’ and then ‘Geosites’ in the side menu under ‘Natural Attractions’ – and let us know how you get on!

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A guest blog from the British Geological Survey about the UK Geoenergy Observatories project. The project aims to create an observatory which will study the subsurface, in order to contribute to the responsible development of new energy technologies in the UK and internationally. 

A world-class observatory for the Cheshire Science Corridor

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the British Geological Survey (BGS) are proposing to create a sophisticated observatory to research new low-carbon technologies and foster world-class science and innovation.

The UK Geoenergy Observatory will comprise two research field sites. The Cheshire Energy Research Field Site will study the geology around Ince Marshes in the Cheshire Science Corridor. The other, the Glasgow Geothermal Energy Research Field Site, will study geothermal energy in mine-water heat.

Ince Marshes, Cheshire

Who are the BGS and NERC?

The BGS is an independent public science institute that has been gathering scientific evidence on geology for more than 180 years. NERC is the UK’s main funding body for environmental science.

What is a Geoenergy Observatory?

Just as during the space age astronomers wanted to create the Jodrell Bank Observatory to discover some of the secrets of the universe, 70 years later geoscientists want to create an observatory that can look into our own planet to discover new solutions for global problems.

In 2015, NERC commissioned a group of leading geoscientists to help understand these science challenges, and their science plan will guide research at the field sites. Both field sites will have a network of deep and shallow boreholes containing state-of-the-art listening devices, which will act as stethoscopes to measure precisely the state of the underground in its natural condition and any changes in great detail. The data will be open for all through an online portal.

These ‘eyes and ears of the underground’ will be able to measure the level of the water table, and the temperature and chemistry of groundwater, and how it is moving. They will also be able to detect minute movements and other changes in the physical nature of the rocks. They will measure seismicity and a range of other characteristics.

Why do we need to know more about geology?

Underground research is important for tackling climate change. Our research will help to understand ways to decarbonise the energy supply. In the future, instead of taking things from the rocks, we’re likely to need to use the underground for energy, heat and cool storage, and possibly for storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. For example, the underground could provide a place to store large amounts of energy, resolving the intermittency of renewables’ power.

Renewable energy cannot yet produce all the power we need to fuel our economy. Wind, solar and tidal are vital for decarbonising UK energy production. But we need to be able to store excess energy when it is being generated to balance the peaks and troughs in supply and demand.

The batteries required for this storage would be enormous and would require a lot of mined metals. It could be possible to use geology as an alternative energy store, compressing air underground in the sandstone, and then releasing it to make electricity at times of low production or high demand. More research is required to test the technology.

Carbon storage is an important way to lower emissions. Deep sandstones in offshore Britain might help us to return carbon to the ground from the emissions captured from the UK’s power stations, factories, refineries, transport network and residential communities. An onshore research site will ensure the UK has the scientific capability and engineering skills to make carbon storage an option in the plan for decarbonising energy supply.

Geothermal energy may be a sustainable and scalable heat source. But we need to understand more about heat transfer, subsurface chemistry, biology and water movement to find out whether we can scale up geothermal energy safely and sustainably.

Countries all around the world are moving to lower-carbon fossil fuels in their bid to fight climate change. Gas, rather than coal, will continue to be used in power stations until alternative energy sources can replace fossil fuels altogether. Understanding what happens in the subsurface will continue to be important to inform regulation and permissions.

New energy solutions are needed and these require robust scientific research. The UK Geoenergy Observatories will provide important new evidence for geoengineers, geoscientists and geologists to understand the subsurface. This evidence base will inform future decision-making on use of the subsurface, tackling climate change and protecting the environment.

Ince Marshes, Cheshire

Why have you chosen Ince Marshes as one of the research field sites?

Driving along the M56 between Runcorn and Ellesmere Port you see Frodsham’s sandstone cliffs to the left, and the flat fields, refineries, factories and wind turbines clustered around Ince Marshes on the right. This view provides the clues to the rich geological environment that lies below.

Ince Marshes is one of the few places in the UK that geologists can model in great detail, because high-quality geological data are available. These data have enabled geologists to design an observatory for the study of important energy and decarbonisation questions.

Frodsham’s sandstone cliffs continue deep under Ince and Frodsham Marshes. The deep sandstone rocks could be used to test energy storage that will support the UK renewable energy industry.

Research on the sandstone rocks below Ince Marshes could also provide vital scientific understanding to assess the feasibility of offshore carbon storage.

The layer of deep shale in the area means commercial companies are exploring for gas. If an application to extract gas is successful, researchers could also explore important geoscience questions by observing the technique.

Observing these different technologies before, during and after operation would provide data that would give scientists a new level of understanding on how the subsurface environment behaves.

Finally, Ince Marshes is within the Cheshire Science Corridor, which is an initiative to create a cluster of science, engineering and energy activity in the area. The science corridor is designed to strengthen Cheshire’s world-class research capability, complementing the existing Daresbury Laboratory, the Jodrell Bank Observatory, and specialist engineering, energy and science companies and universities.

The Cheshire Science Corridor aims to foster collaborations, innovation and entrepreneurship in science, engineering and technology – leading to the creation of high-skilled jobs and a buoyant science-based economy.

Collecting and Sharing Data (c. NERC/BGS) To see a larger version of this poster, which was presented at community engagement events, visit http://www.bgs.ac.uk/research/energy/esios/cheshire/home.html

How will this benefit me?

As a result of the UK’s long history of minerals extraction and other uses of the subsurface, environmental permitting and regulation in the UK is very stringent, and the UK’s regulation of oil and gas extraction is among the best in the world.

Regulation can always be further informed by new scientific research. An objective of the research at the Cheshire Energy Research Field Site will be to provide an independent evidence base to continue to improve regulatory practices around everything that happens in the subsurface, whether that’s managing an aquifer, understanding the impact of landfill sites or utilising the subsurface for energy.

Is this going to pave the way for shale gas extraction in Cheshire?

Valuable scientific research can be done with or without shale gas extraction occurring at Ince Marshes. If extraction does take place, the observatory would capture valuable scientific data. However, research is not dependent on extraction taking place. The BGS and NERC are not proposing any resource extraction. The BGS and NERC are not a part of the Petroleum Exploration Development Licence owner IGas’s plans and we have no influence over whether a commercial operator applies to extract gas at Ince Marshes. We are not part of the decision-making process. Applications to extract are determined by the local planning authority (CWaC) and by the permitting bodies (the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive). We are not a statutory consultee on any proposal for shale gas extraction.

How do I find out more?

The British Geological Survey ran community drop in events in north Cheshire during autumn 2017. We will present our full plans at further local community meetings in spring 2018. Until then, visit: www.bgs.ac.uk/ukgeoenergyobs or email ukgeosenquiries@bgs.ac.uk for information.

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Looking for some inspiration for a Plate Tectonics Stories submission? Look no further! Some of our early entries have set the bar high for creative approaches to Plate Tectonic Stories.

In the School Groups category, we had this delightful entry from the Year 3 class at Abbey Gate Primary School in Nottingham where the students performed an interpretive dance for a whole host of tectonic-related natural hazards including volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunami!! You can watch the full performance below.

Natural Hazard Dance - Y3 - YouTube

We also had this entry from Patrick Corbett who submitted the following poem inspired by Plate Tectonics.

Plate tectonics

Man rides on the Earth

On plates of SiAl

In a sea of SiMa

Oblivious to a dynamic hearth

Gaia is safe, for now,

Human timescales are very short

With a static-bound ignorance

Of the slow processes below

Folk’s place is in the valley section,

As we denude all to a base level.

Convergence elevates the land

For renewal to start over the chain reaction

Need some new crust?

Spreading invites replenishment

Not an Iceland but a hot land

The planet’s not bust!

If only the faults were able

To transform those

Sceptics to geologists.

Wouldn’t the World be more stable?

Patrick Corbett
27 January, 2018

Feeling inspired? Don’t forget, the competition is open to applicants of all ages and to school groups. To find out more about the competition, head to our dedicated competition page for individual submissions. Interested school groups should head to the School’s Competition webpage. Don’t forget, school groups that enter receive an A1 sized poster on plate tectonics.

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A guest blog from geologist and science communicator Haydon Mort. Find out more about Haydon’s work, and contribute to his Kickstarter campaign here.

Haydon and his son Raphael in Switzerland

There is an old pine table in Liskeard, Cornwall, to which I owe my personality. Around this old slab of wood, my family would sit to have lunch and dinner. My Dad, a social worker (and a graduate in organic chemistry) would enthuse about the latest advancements in science, and I would sit enthralled by talk of black holes, earthquakes, magnetism and artificial intelligence. At the other end of the table, closer to the piano – as if it were a refuge – sat my Mum, the listener, musician and watercolour painter who worked as a nurse at the local hospital. This table – the balance of the exact sciences, the humanities and art – is where Geologize was born.

It wasn’t until my GCSEs that my intrigue and passion for science spilt into the realm of the everyday. On one especially grey and dismal afternoon, my understated Physical Geography teacher, John McGreal, enthused about how unusual the British weather was. “Have you ever wondered why the British weather is so unpredictable?” he asked. “We have at least four air masses competing for space over our island. It’s quite rare to find that anywhere in the world!” My classmates didn’t look impressed. But for me, at least, it suddenly made that persistent cold drizzle seem somewhat unusual, inspiring and uplifting. This emotion seemed just as important as the fact which had delivered them.

Haydon in Cornwall

Therein rests the secret to successful communication, be it in a lecture, presentation or conversation. Emotion. Before becoming a palaeoenvironmental geochemist, I learnt to act, sing, play the piano, juggle and do magic. I use these skills, even in geology lectures, to make learning not only enjoyable but memorable. When emotion is injected, the hippocampus, which decides which information gets stored long-term, becomes activated. In other words, emotion is a vector to the long-term memory centres in our brain.

Geologize, my YouTube channel, utilises emotion to communicate the geosciences. I do this by a) making the subject relevant to the audience, b) story-telling, c) music and d) surprise. Combining all four is a skill, and like any skill, it has improved.

Relevance is subjective as people like different things. Some people love the simple life, like strolling on the beach. Others love eating sweets. There are soppy romantics and others who are obsessed with the 24 news cycle. I use these examples because I have ‘geologized’ each of them. Instead of bringing the audience to science, I bring science to them.

Our evolutionary psychology means we are hard-wired to love story-telling. Each Geologize episode is a journey, mostly in chronological order, with a distinct start, middle and end (generally with a twist). And because it’s the Earth we are talking about, the story is always an epic one.

I hang everything on the musical score and will sometimes work for days editing a video do have a crescendo coincide with a particularly profound moment. It may seem pedantic, but music is critical to generating the emotion necessary to deliver information to long-term memory centres in the brain.

A lecture to the Justice Department

I love magic tricks and when possible, try to construct my videos according to the illusionist playbook. The Pledge (showing something ordinary that people take for granted), The Turn (turning something ordinary into the extraordinary) and finally The Prestige (punch line, where everything falls into place). My videos ‘Geologizing Love’ and ’How Geology gave Donald Trump the US Presidency’ are good examples of this. In both cases, The Prestige is accompanied by a marked crescendo in the music to drive the point home.

This is my recipe, but I always strive for subjects that have the greatest relevance, and I am aware that not all my videos have titles to which everyone can relate. About six months ago, I sat down to consider subjects with which everyone on the planet could identify with, no matter how distant they may be from geology. Language and music came to mind. I figured if I could ‘geologize’ those subjects, which are universal to all human beings, I could maximise my reach, thereby bringing the geosciences to more people. I now have plans to make both videos, but for this blog, I will focus on language.

When I set about researching language and decided to focus on my own language, English, I remembered Melvyn Bragg’s ‘Adventures of the English Language’. New words needed to be created as humans spread across territories and encountered new natural phenomena. This seemed too obvious and not enough for a Geologize video. Jared Diamond’s Collapse also sprung to mind, but it deals with the rise and fall of civilizations due to man’s relationship with ecosystems, not the spread and content of language per se. I wanted to know if Earth History could have caused events that fed the English Language. It turns out; it can!

For example, Shakespeare. We know precious little about him, save his genius profoundly changed the way we speak English and other languages. How could I possibly geologize him? By asking the one question kids love to ask; ‘Why’. ‘Why’ gives us a causality time machine and an infinite regress leading all the way back to the Big Bang. But we needn’t go back that far. We simply hope off when we see some rocks forming in the geological past. So let’s do Shakespeare.

Commiphora myrrha tree, one of the primary trees from which myrrh is harvested.
Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen – List of Koehler Images, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=255283

During my research, I stumbled upon the poem that first brought Shakespeare to public notice, Venus and Adonis. Like many of his writings, it was inspired by ancient Greek legend, and in this case, he borrowed from the mythological references in the Greek play, Aphrodite and Adonis. In the fable, the Goddess Aphrodite, in a fit of jealousy, turned the beautiful Myrrha into a myrrh tree.

Myrrh trees are native to the Arabian Peninsula, doing best in thin limestone soils. The sap from the trees produces the myrrh resin that had various ceremonial purposes, mostly sacrificial. It is mentioned in several Greek myths and repeatedly appears in various ancient texts, including the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

It is certain that without the thin soil and limestone substrate that the Myrrh tree requires, a wide variety of myths and events would not have been told in the way they were. And without his Greek inspiration, Shakespeare may not have got his lucky break with his poem Venus and Adonis.

The ‘discovery’ of Shakespeare by his peers propelled him to stardom and let his creativity with the English language percolate through society. His use of similes, metaphor, personification and other tools, as well as the new vocabulary he introduced, changed English forever – and has even been borrowed by other world languages. Who would have thought that such a massive contribution would have been predicated on an abundance of limestone?

Shakespeare. Geologized! I do not want to give out any more spoilers for this particular Geologize project, but I think this example shows how our vocabulary and expressions could have easily been very different if it weren’t for certain geological coincidences. We know how essential vocabulary is in raising consciousness, emotional intelligence as well as our capacity to experience, feel and communicate sentiment. But from a geological standpoint, these possibilities were sown millions of years ago.

Haydon and his son Ethan

It is a dizzying but inescapable conclusion that some may reject purely out of aesthetics; like Keates’ critique of Newton when he ‘unwove the rainbow’ using prisms and mathematics. Personally, I find it genuinely uplifting to fully appreciate how society is so intimately embedded into the fabric of Planet Earth. I hope that when people fully absorb how much our world has influenced them, they will shift their behaviour accordingly, by behaving more sustainably towards the planet and in a less judgmental way towards societies with different linguistic heritages. Even if people radically disagree with me, at least they have been engaged with the geosciences, and I have been able to impart some knowledge regarding, for example, the Paleozoic tectonostratigraphic framework of the Arabian Peninsula – which includes the limestone upon which the Myrrh tree grows.

As the reader will see, this is a massive project. Starting in the ancient Celtic (Brittonic) languages, moving through the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, the Bible, Shakespeare, Colonisation, each period being researched, geologized, scripted, produced, presented, edited and set to music. Geologize is a one-man band – me – and I don’t have time. This is why for this project I turned to crowdfunding using the America site, Kickstarter. I have until midnight, 13th February to raise £8,000 in pledges. One pound less than this will result in no money being collected. Anyone interested in pledging, please do so here, where you can see a promotional video I produced for Kickstarter.

Filming with Iain Stewart

I have been delighted by the response to this project. Several fellow geologists have stood up to support me. The Geological Society has offered me this platform. After watching the promo video, non-geologists have become enthralled by the possibilities. Prof. Iain Stewart, of Plymouth University and BBC geologist presenter, has offered his valuable help. Perhaps my most significant endorsement came from the editor of the Journal of English Linguistics, Prof. Alexandra D’Arcy, who confirmed that my proposal opens up an entirely new avenue of research. Linguists have tackled the natural world only within the context of historical linguistics and not directly with the underlying Earth story.

Regardless of what happens to this Kickstarter project, I’ll be content because a new dialogue has started between the exact sciences and the humanities. These are two areas which historically have had an uneasy relationship. However, they define who I am!

Magic kids, Brazil

As for other future episodes, look out for ‘Music and Milankovitch’, ‘Smartphones and Mountain Building’, ‘Geologizing the Human Body’ and ‘Researching Mars on Your Local Beach’. Without an academic affiliation, I’ll be financing these through branded content and other sponsorship schemes. Those interested in collaborating, please feel free to contact me at haydon@geologize.org.

In closing, you may be interested to know that this very blog post is approximately 400 million years in the making. It was then that the shallow seas off the coast of Laurasia formed organic-rich muds which were later to become the enormous US shale-gas reserves. These formations made the United States energy independent, created a surplus of oil, driving down global prices and made Brazil’s ultra-deep pre-salt reservoirs uneconomical. With a subsequently very red balance sheet, Brazil’s federal government slashed their R&D budget, a process for which I am a casualty. It is because of this Devonian-derived misfortune that I am writing this blog; now having time to focus on that which I love most: Science communication.

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