Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Happy World GIS Day

Happy World GIS Day!! Even though our work is hugely varied, from groundwater to space weather, from tiny isotopes to entire continents, there's a spatial element to everything. That is why Geographic Information Systems are so important to us and why maps are one of our primary methods for communicating what we do.

We love maps. In fact our new Map Portal provides access to over 6000 high resolution scans of our most beloved paper maps, from historical prints to the current 1:50,000  scale saleable copies. But whilst our passion for maps will never fade the way we do things is changing, thanks to GIS.

As this brave new digital world has progressed we've endeavoured to keep our thinking, software, methodologies and maps in pace. As such spatial data collection is now carried out using BGS·SIGMA, our custom built GIS digital field data capture system. In the spirit of transparency and sharing we've even made it open source for anyone to use.

GIS is not only a big part of capturing our data now but it has also evolved our map delivery methods. Web-based applications and smartphone apps now provide our maps to users wherever and whenever they need them. If you're in the field you can discover the geology beneath your feet, whether you're an Apple or an Android user, with our iGeology smartphone app. With over 200,000 downloads it's by far our most popular app. If you're at your desktop the Geology of Britain viewer provides access to street-level (1:50,000 scale) geological mapping for the whole of Britain as well as over 1 million boreholes and many more of our datasets.

Using GIS has also allowed us to advance data visualisation and create new ways to creatively interact with our spatial information. iGeology 3D augments reality by painting geology maps on the landscape around you and GeoVisionary provides immersive high-resolution visualisation of spatial data. We’ve also been able to reach out to a brand new audience creating virtual worlds from our data in Minecraft.

GIS doesn't just give us innovative new ways to record, process and display spatial information, it's greatest function is enabling the knowledge and expertise of our scientists to be embedded in value-added spatial information products. For example Geosure advises on locations susceptible to ground movement, SuDS helps plan sustainable draining systems. We use GIS to deliver this site specific advice to both industry and homeowners as a digital dataset or via our bespoke reporting service (GeoReports).

Answers to today’s environmental problems can’t be solved in isolation and GIS allows us to combine our data with other collaborators and colleagues. BGS are executives of the OneGeology project working with 182 geological surveys and other organisations in 119 countries across the globe to create a web-based geological map of the world at 1: 1 million scale. Last Thursday, the AGI Award for Geospatial Excellence with Impact was awarded to the UK Soil Observatory, a spatial resource hub developed by BGS that provides a unified starting point for accessing UK soils data from nine project partners. The land surface, and specifically soil, is where people and businesses interact with the Earth, whether for growing food or for building infrastructure. As society expands and develops, the demands to deliver more from our soils grows. The more we know about soil the better we can manage and exploit it in a responsible way.

All things have a place. Everything happens somewhere. Happy World GIS Day to you!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Christchurch rebuilds, a tourists reflection... by Isla Simmons

A devastating earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand on 22nd February 2011 (21st Feb our time). The tragic aftermath made headlines around the world. Now 4 years later Isla, a 4th year geology student at the University of Edinburgh and BGS volunteer, invites you to see the city through her eyes when she visited back in 2013...

Me, walking over the volcanic landscapes of the
Tongariro National Park – Mt Tongariro is one of
3 volcanoes in the park and last erupted in Nov 2012
In July 2013 I was lucky enough to head out to New Zealand to study on exchange at Auckland University for a year. After two years of studying the ancient rocks in tectonically inactive Scotland, this was a fantastic chance to see a totally different type of geology – I visited steaming geothermal sites that stank of rotten eggs, one field trip found me standing astride the Alpine Fault and I climbed to the summit of an active volcano.  In November 2013 we arrived in Christchurch for a couple of days, almost three years after the devastating MW6.3 earthquake of 21st February 2011 which killed 185 people. And I was shocked at the state that the city was in.

A collection of signs I spotted in Christchurch

It felt as though much of the city had been abandoned for the past 3 years. Doors were still spray-painted with the signs from the rescue teams indicating who had searched the building and whether or not they had found anyone inside. Although there had been a lot of work demolishing damaged buildings and some new construction for rebuilding, those buildings that were deemed unsafe but had not yet been pulled down still existed as they had on that fateful day. Most eerily of all were the shops where dummies dressed in the summer fashions of  2011 still stood in the window, now gathering dust as they stared vacantly out through the cracked glass.

Typical sights in Christchurch: empty building
plots, cranes, boarded up offices and piles of rubble
Yet, to those who had witnessed the whole sequence of events, a lot had been achieved since the earthquake. One of the issues facing the city is that although very few buildings were completely destroyed in the earthquake, they were damaged enough that they were declared unsafe. And so before the rebuilding effort can begin, these damaged buildings must first be demolished. As tourists, we may not have recognised it while walking along the deserted streets, but progress is being made.

Depite the sense of abandonment, there were signs of hope. In the very centre of the city, in the middle of the worst of the damage and surrounded by piles of rubble and the first skeletons of new constructions, was an incredible sight – the Re:START centre.

The Re:START centre – shops and cafes made from brightly coloured shipping containers
This collection of shops and cafes felt like a ray of hope among all the desolation.
Someone had had the idea to restart business in the ruined city centre, but without any buildings to set up in they had come up with a brilliant temporary alternative – shipping containers.

The Re:START centre consists of a whole load of brightly painted containers that have been fitted out to form shops, and it’s a fantastic place with such a positive atmosphere compared to the surrounding ruins. Sitting outside a bright green container cafe eating our lunch in the sunshine gave the feeling that the earthquake wasn’t the end of everything. There is still so much work to be done, and it will take a long time, but Christchurch will be rebuilt.


Monday, 10 November 2014

Happy as a Hog in Chalk

Today we've got a blog by the BGS Geology & Landscapes scientific team who are building a digital 'physical properties' model of the Chalk - one of the UK’s most important geological formations.

A combination of 3D modelling and targeted survey work is helping build a detailed understanding of the Chalk’s engineering and hydrogeological variations, and answering fundamental research questions about its geological development. The team consist of Mark Woods, Andy Farrant, Keith Westhead, Andy Newell, Mike Raines, Richard Haslem and Helen Smith and here's more from them...

The Hog’s Back Chalk escarpment near Guildford
The people of Farnham and Guildford in Surrey will be familiar with the great geological feature that links their towns – the Hog’s Back. This high rolling Chalk ridge lies at a geological ‘pinch’ between the wider downlands to the west and the spine of the North Downs to the east. It is one of the places in the country (including also the Isle of Wight and Dorset) where the whole Chalk sequence is tilted steeply into what is known as a ‘monoclinal’ fold, causing its outcrop to appear very narrow on the map.

A snapshot of the 3D Chalk Model for southern and eastern England, created using GOCAD-SKUA by BGS hydrogeologist and modeller Andy Newell. The Chalk forms a key aquifer below London and rises steeply to the surface in a monoclinal fold at the Hog’s Back in Surrey, subject of recent fieldwork by the team.

The task of the BGS scientific team (led by Mark Woods and Andy Farrant) this September was to investigate the structure and stratigraphy of the ‘upended’ Chalk making up the Hog’s Back, using a combination of digital field surveying, structural geology, geophysics and palaeontology. The aim was to provide the data needed to verify and improve the Chalk 3D Model being developed at the BGS for the whole of southern and eastern England.

Andy Farrant doing his best Gollum impression in the woods – fallen tree roots are a great place to find Chalk fossils!

The Chalk is nowhere near as uniform as it may first appear. Hidden within it is a complex sequence of harder and softer, whiter and greyer, flinty and not flinty, marly and not marly (meaning ‘muddy’) chalk layers. These layers form the modern Chalk formations– with names such as the Lewes Chalk and Newhaven Chalk – which can be traced across the wider country. In the past, the Chalk was divided into just three units. Nowadays, we can subdivide it into nine different formations, each with distinct engineering and hydrogeological properties. Understanding how thick these layers are, their distribution across the landscape and how they are orientated beneath the ground in three-dimensions is essential for fully understanding the economically important Chalk. 

Andy Farrant (L) helps BGS’s Mike Raines (R) set up the ‘Tromino’ passive seismometer for imaging the subsurface structure of the Hog’s Back.
The BGS team used modern digital techniques for the surveying work, including the BGS•SIGMA (System for Integrated Geoscience Mapping) kit.  Profiles of the Chalk escarpment were also made by Mike Raines using the innovative ‘Tromino’ passive seismometer, and early results show how it can help picture the subsurface structure of the Chalk as it dips steeply underneath the Hog’s Back. 

Keith using the BGS•SIGMA digital surveying kit to trace the Chalk stratigraphy across country

A preliminary output from the Tromino passive seismometer survey in September shows bedrock layers forming the Hog’s Back plunging steeply to the North (right) as well as possible weathering layers nearer the surface. This innovative technique can rapidly provide information to support twinned surface surveying and 3D modelling (scale in metres)
(Image: Mike Raines).
The downland landscape is dotted with many abandoned small Chalk quarries. In the past these pits provided softer chalks to help lime the surrounding fields and flints for building. In Guildford itself, some larger quarries provided harder chalks (clunch) for use as a building material. For the surveying team, these old pits proved an irresistible draw - despite the nettles, brambles and cobwebs! They allow us to see the Chalk close up in old quarry faces, in order to take samples, find crucial fossils and measure any detailed features we can see such as faults and small scale structures giving clues to the formation of the Hog’s Back itself. 
An old Chalk quarry face. If you look closely you can see the layers in the Chalk, which in this quarry become more ‘nodular’ higher up. Many of these quarries were investigated during the current survey by BGS palaeontologist Mark Woods.

Samples of Chalk being sorted in the office before being sent off for micro- and macro-fossil analysis. This helps to date the Chalk layers and to constrain the surface mapping and the 3D model linked to it.
Calyx plate from the lower part of the
Newhaven Chalk Formation
You have to have keen eyesight to find some of the key fossils in the Chalk such as the calyx plate (photo right) from the crinoid Marsupites testudinarius; the biostratigraphy can be used as a guide to help map out the different Chalk formations in three-dimensions – this fossil comes from the lower part of the Newhaven Chalk Formation which crops out on the north side of the Hog’s Back.

This fieldwork forms part of the wider work of the ‘Chalk project’ within the Geology & Landscape England Team. The results of this and ongoing field work will used to improve the Chalk 3D model, update the surface geological maps (including DiGMapGB) and to pursue new research directions into one of the most economically important and scientifically interesting geological formations in the UK.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Nitrogen and the Anthropocene… by Melanie Leng

A 2013 art installation at Edge Hill University near Liverpool, 
by Robyn Woolston included this mock sign
Last week BGS hosted a workshop entitled “The Nitrogen Cycle and the Anthropocene”. The aim of the workshop was to bring together nitrogen experts from around the UK to discuss the modern day increase in the amount of nitrogen currently being deposited (through atmospheric fall out and as a result of mans’ activities on the Earth’s surface). The main culprits of this increasing nitrogen are industrial processes, increasing use of fertilisers and combustion of fossil fuels. Here Melanie Leng tells us about the workshop….

The first talk of the day was an overview of the Anthropocene (of which the increasing nitrogen deposition is one of hundreds of man made changes currently affecting the Earth system). Dr Jan Zalasiewicz (University of Leicester) gave a thought provoking synthesis of human-driven changes to the Earth. Of note is the spread of an urban stratum (refashioning of sediments into buildings), human bioturbation (digging and remodelling) of the surface of the earth, the ongoing mass extinctions of plants and animals, greenhouse warming through increasing CO2 etc. One main question that Jan tackled was should this period of human driven change be defined as a new geological epoch of geological time, the Anthropocene Epoch. We await the “Sub-Commission on Quaternary Stratigraphy” decision in 2016…

The delegates at the Workshop

Dr Tim Heaton (BGS) described the doubling of nitrogen available to the Earth’s biosphere, and how the timing and impact of this might be recorded in terms of changes in the isotope composition of nitrogen deposited in lake sediments. He showed how such changes might be different in lakes in inhabited versus remote locations; how they might be modified by sediment diagenesis; and how isotope data for plants revealed the strong coupling of the nitrogen cycle with the carbon cycle. He concluded that the changes observed in the isotope composition of nitrogen deposited in lake sediments in remote regions during the 20th century were almost certainly caused by anthropogenic activity, but that the exact mechanisms responsible were not yet established.

Prof Jan Kaiser (University of East Anglia) described changing nitrogen in the atmosphere. Most of the nitrogen in our atmosphere is inert nitrogen gas (N2) which stays within the atmosphere for millions of years. However other forms (i.e. nitrous oxide, N2O) are increasing. N2O is stable in the troposphere but breaks down in the stratosphere and changes its isotope composition. These features enable tracing of N2O. Jan explained that the nitrogen trapped in ice cores is showing a changing nitrogen cycling over the last 100 years including the addition in nitrogen from soils. Species of ammonia (NH3) only survive for hours/days but through isotopes have been sourced to fossil fuels and biomass burning.

The keynote speakers from left to right:
Tim Heaton, Jan Kaiser, Eric Wolff, Melanie Leng (organiser) and Jan Zalasiewicz.

Prof Eric Wolff (University of Cambridge) presented data for nitrogen compounds extracted from ice cores and bubbles trapped in the ice. Recent increases in concentrations could be found in the Arctic, and could be attributed to atmospheric pollutants arising from anthropogenic activities in the heavily industrialised northern hemisphere. Changes were less evident in the ice core records of the Antarctic.

Overall it is evident that the increasing amount of nitrogen being added to the environment by human activity is not only having a marked effect on the terrestrial nitrogen cycle, but is also causing significant changes to the chemistry of the atmosphere. By this means the impact of human activity is being exported to the remotest parts of the planet. Whether nitrogen changes can contribute to the debate on whether to formally declare the Anthropocene a new epoch is still under debate. However, the conclusions from all 3 talks suggest that changes in nitrogen are likely man made and therefore the nitrogen debate can play a role in the decision.

By Melanie Leng, Director of the Centre of Environmental Geochemistry


South Georgia and ancient algal blooms ... by Rowan Dejardin

South Georgia is a strikingly beautiful, uninhabited island in the Southern Ocean, west of Patagonia and hundreds of miles from any major landmasses. Remote it may be but its ancient algal blooms and sediments potentially hold the key to understanding relationships between the carbon cycle and climate change in the past and, therefore, the future. Rowan Dejardin has just started his PhD within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (University of Nottingham and the BGS) and tells us more about his search for South Georgian algal blooms...

South Georgia is located in the path of powerful ocean currents that wrap around the island, transporting iron from the South Georgia shelf and plankton and krill larvae from the Antarctic Peninsula, causing intense algal blooms northeast of the island. The algal blooms account for a significant transfer of atmospheric carbon to the oceans interior and the currents may have been a major source of CO2 during the last deglaciation.

South Georgia
The position and strength of the currents that wrap around South Georgia are known to vary greatly from year to year but these changes have not been looked in terms of longer timescale climatic changes, such as those through the Holocene. Based on records from elsewhere in the Southern Ocean, it appears that these currents were located closer to Antarctic during the early-mid Holocene. This change could have reduced the amount of iron, a key controlling factor in the algal blooms, reaching northeast South Georgia, potentially resulting in less productive and/or more easterly blooms.

Me collecting samples from BAS for the pilot
study, with supervisors Vicky and George
To investigate whether the front was closer to the pole in the South Georgia region of the Southern Ocean during the early-mid Holocene my project will produce micropalaeontological and geochemical records of past ocean conditions, from cores along the northern coast of South Georgia. These records will be produced using a wide range of proxies, including microfossils and stable isotopes, in order to ensure the reconstruction and interpretation of past ocean conditions is robust.

In spite of only starting my PhD at the end of September, I have already been able to collect a small number of samples from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge (where I also met all my supervisors), for a pilot study on a core (GC666!) close to Royal Bay. Since then I have been busily preparing these samples for isotopic and micropalaeontological analysis; excitingly, in addition to being packed full of diatoms (microscopic algae with a shell made of silica), the samples appear to contain plenty of excellently preserved benthic and planktonic foraminifera (microscopic organisms with a calcite shell, living on the seafloor or in the water column), promising many happy hours searching through ocean floor mud to find them!

Map showing the location of South Georgia and
  the Antarctic currents that wrap around the island (inset)
The PhD is supervised by Prof Melanie Leng and Dr Sev Kender (University of Nottingham/BGS), Dr George Swann (University of Nottingham), Dr Vicky Peck and Dr Claire Allen (BAS), and Dr Alastair Graham (University of Exeter).

Rowan Dejardin

Rachel Bell – a tenacious hydrogeologist... by Hazel Gibson

Many of us will not have heard of groundwater before, or if we have, we probably haven’t thought about it much – but not Rachel, for her groundwater is not just her job, it is a fascination. Rachel is a Project Hydrogeologist, which means her job involves looking at water quantity and quality in rocks underground. Her job is spread over many different projects, from examining how groundwater responds to weather extremes to helping with a massive nationwide survey of the methane levels in aquifers used for public water supply. This nationwide baseline study uses information on where aquifers overlie potential shale gas deposits and by collecting methane samples, data can then be used to protect groundwater in the future. So as much as we may take our water for granted, to Rachel it is a vitally important resource.

But it almost didn’t turn out this way for Rachel. At university she studied Environmental Science and loved working on (and in) rivers. “I always felt drawn to the watery side of Environmental Science” she told me, and spent some time volunteering for the BGS G-BASE project, a geochemical baseline study, which involved Rachel spending time in rivers, absolutely covered in mud! Around the same time, she remembers reading a New Scientist article (like this one) on the problems of water shortages in Africa and how engineers were drilling for water. “I remember thinking, it’s all kind of linked, you know – we’re drilling for water in the UK, they are drilling for water in Africa. It must be really important, as the problems are kind of the same; they are just in different places.” Because of her interest she decided to do the MSc inHydrogeology at Birmingham University, but unfortunately, at the time, maths wasn’t her strongest subject. When in the interview, she was asked a tricky maths question and quite honestly responded that she couldn’t answer it! She hadn’t done A-Level maths and the lecturers interviewing her said they liked her enthusiasm, but that she may struggle with the maths. Sitting in Birmingham station after the interview, Rachel told me she wasn’t sure what to do next. Now for many people, this would be about the time they gave up, but not Rachel. She got in touch with the some of the contacts she had made volunteering and secured a zero-hours contract working for the engineering firm Golder, who offered to pay for her to take an advanced maths course! After completing this and with a year of work experience under her belt, she could have just stayed at Golder, but Rachel was tenacious and re-applied to Birmingham. Because of her dedication, she not only got the place, but full funding for her course as well!

 It wasn’t all plain sailing even after this, Rachel graduated at the onset of the recent recession and jobs were scarce, but her determination and drive won through over an unchallenging temping job and she got a job at the BGS. It is interesting that Rachel still remembers that article about drilling for water in Africa, as she has gone on to use her expertise to help people in some of the most challenging environments in the world. Speaking about recent trips to Zambia and Nepal she said “it can be both the worst and best part of my job; it’s tough seeing the situations that people live with - some people use horrible water, but at least we are trying to help, I feel that we are doing something to make it better.”

Rachel is not only passionate about helping others improve their groundwater, she also wants to protect it here in the UK and thinks that the public may be starting to agree with her. So many water (or groundwater related) stories are negative: flooding, drought and hosepipe bans immediately spring to mind. However, recent concern over contamination of groundwater is leading people to look at it differently – not as a problem, but something to be protected. She also wants people to move away from thinking of groundwater as ‘rivers underground’, that it is a lot more complicated and interesting than that. And with this hydrogeologist’s record of determination and achievement, I’m sure she will succeed!

For more information of what the Groundwater Team at the BGS does, watch this video.

Poster praise... by Elizabeth Devon

Have you seen our educational 'Climate through Time' poster? You can pick it up from any of our shops or download it free from the website... it's a staple resource that we get a lot of nice praise for. In fact, Elizabeth Devon from the Earth Science Education Unit at Keele University got in touch to tell us just how useful she finds it, to save you from seeing our blushes she wrote it all down in a nice post...  

'That's cool'
'I didn't know that'
These are just a few of the many comments heard when people of all ages are presented with the 'Climate through Time' poster. Mostly, I give them out to science teachers and teacher-trainees when I am presenting the Earth Science Education Unit (ESEU) Continuing Professional Development (CPD) sessions. I always spend some time at the end of these workshops explaining the poster and suggesting ways of using it.
I have also used it in schools with ages from 8 to 18. I spread as many maps as the tables will allow around the room and then divide the pupils amongst them. Each group is asked to find a place in the British Isles and then describe what it was like there when the rocks were deposited. The older or more able students are then asked to give an approximate age of the rock, to describe the animals and plants around at the time, to suggest its position on the Earth and give an approximation of temperature and sea level. Some groups have been asked to write a story about what it was like to be there when that rock was deposited. Were they on land or in the sea, could they stand up, what wildlife could they see, how hot was it? This exercise has also been done with carefully chosen rock specimens. The pupils are told what the rock specimens are (or not if they are supposed to know), and from where they were collected. They then describe the palaeoenvironment that existed when the rock was deposited.
I also take the posters on field trips and use one as an introduction, for example at Tedbury Camp in Somerset, we are looking at dipping Carboniferous limestone, on the top of which is horizontal Middle Jurassic oolitic limestone. From the left side panel of the poster, (manageable size if only that is opened), the ages of these two deposits can be seen and it is evident that there is a lot of material missing in between. Some idea of the animals and plants around at each time is given, as well as the positions of the plates and an idea of temperature and sea levels compared with today.

The poster is also used by me at the many talks I give to local groups, e.g. U3A, local history, W.Is etc. Once again, it is universally well received with everyone finding something of great interest on it.

But, it is not only the poster that is brilliant from BGS. iGeology and OpenGeoscience are wonderful and especially so because they are free! With a recent tutor group, I spent some time with OpenGeoscience searching for participants' post codes. I usually choose 'imagery' as the base map and then the slider bar, which slowly adds the geology to their home area, is quite spectacular. In my sessions with teacher-trainees particularly, I make sure I don't mention the iGeology app until near the end as, inevitably, they all start to download it immediately.
If I say more in praise of BGS, you will begin to wonder if I am an employee (not) but to end, I suggest that everyone should look at their website which has SO much excellent material available. There are just not enough hours in the day to do it all justice.
Thank you everyone at BGS; I think I am now on my twelfth box of posters!

Elizabeth DevonEarth Science Education Unit, Keele UniversityEarthlearningidea team

Friday, 31 October 2014

The A-Team: Protecting Northern Ireland's Kirstin Lemon

In 2014, a team of crack scientists from the British Geological Survey was sent out into the field to help protect Northern Ireland's finest geological features. These geologists promptly set to work amidst some of the heaviest rain seen for months, traversing gushing streams, dodging excited cattle, battling fading light, and climbing over a multitude of fences to achieve their goal.

A small Clay-with-Flints exposure (centre) at Belshaw's Quarry
near Lisburn, Co. Antrim. Taken on the wettest day in six months. 
Okay, so perhaps the opening paragraph is slightly over-dramatic but this year saw the beginning of a new collaboration between BGS scientists at the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), an agency within the Department of the Environment (NI). The aim of this work is to help protect some of the nation's most important geological sites by designating them as Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs, and where the 'A' in the A-Team comes from).

The sites were first identified as part of the Earth Science Conservation Review (ESCR) over a decade ago and since then the NIEA has been systematically awarding ASSI status to those deemed as being of national importance. However, not even half of those sites identified have been designated so to help achieve the full quota of ASSIs and to solve the problem of a the lack of in-house resources at NIEA, BGS scientists were brought in to help.

Under this new collaboration, a total of 15 sites will be designated annually, chosen from a key theme or a number of themes. For 2014, the sites included are all under the Caledonian Igneous Complex theme, or of the Clay-with-Flints Formation theme.

Dr Mark Cooper examining the Clay-with-Flints
Formation at Donald's Hill, Co. Londonderry.
The process for this to happen involves preparing indicative site boundaries, visiting each site to check that all features are present and in good condition, and then preparing information packages. Each package includes information on why the site is to be designated, views about management, conservation objectives, maps, photos and a Special Places leaflet to be given to each land owner explaining in layman's terms why the site is being designated.

Some of the sites surveyed have been very straightforward with many of them being quarries, both active and disused, or natural outcrops on farmland. Others haven't been quite so simple and have involved crossing mainline railway tracks, accessing a road-cutting on the main A1 road between Belfast and Dublin, avoiding bin lorries at a landfill site and even being denied access due to the filming of Game of Thrones (more on this in a later blog!).

This important collaboration between BGS and the NIEA is a great step forward in helping to protect some of our most vulnerable and significant geological sites. It also offers a wonderful opportunity to stimulate further research into Northern Ireland's diverse geological history to help provide an even greater understanding of our natural landscapes.

So in the words of the 1980s television series (sort of), the A(SSI)-Team is still wanted by the government, and they survive as scientists with the BGS. If you have a geological problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them (see below), maybe you can use the A(SSI)-Team.

If you want any more information on the ASSI programme being worked on by the BGS then please contact

Monday, 27 October 2014

Lake Ohrid project team ASSEMBLE... by Jack Lacey

569 meters of core, 1.2 million years of history, and a multi-disciplinary international team of scientists: It can only be the ICDP SCOPSCO Lake Ohrid Deep Drilling Project! Last fortnight the project held it's 4th workshop at the University of Hull. Jack Lacey, PhD student in the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry, tells us about the project and reports on the meeting…
Lake Ohrid is situated on the border between Macedonia and Albania, and is Europe’s oldest lake. It has an outstanding biodiversity, containing hundreds of organisms that are not found anywhere else on the planet. These factors contribute to it being designated a UNESCO world heritage site and provide a unique opportunity to study the links between biological evolution, geological processes and environmental events. An international team of scientists, including myself and my PhD supervisor Melanie Leng from the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry, British Geological Survey, are working to reconstruct the geological and biological history of Lake Ohrid, from its initial formation over 1.3 million years ago to present day.

Workshop group photo
In April-May 2013 members of the SCOPSCO group and a team from US-based drilling company DOSECC cored Lake Ohrid. The fieldwork was a resounding success (as previously blogged) with over 2.1 km of sediments recovered from four drill sites. The deepest core reached 569 meters below the lake floor in the centre of the lake, which will likely provide a full record since Lake Ohrid formed. After the drilling campaign the cores were transported to Germany, where they are subsequently being opened and documented (a process likely to take around 2 years in total).

Ohrid Landsat Map
Over the last 18 months, since drilling, there has been a broad range of scientific techniques applied to investigate the core material (diatoms, pollen etc.) and at the BGS we are responsible for analysing the carbonate isotopes – which essentially means we are providing information on the water balance in the lake. There is a fantastic Climatica article (by Melanie and Jonathan Dean) that gives a simple overview of how isotopes can be used in lakes to study climate change. At the workshop I presented my research on environmental change in the lake over the last 12,000 years (Lacey et al. 2014) and a low resolution study of the full (1.3 million years) core (Wagner et al. 2014). Initial findings over the longer period have been analysed but results are embargoed at the moment! However, and keep this to yourselves… it looks like evolution of the plants and animals within the lake (i.e. the changing of one species into another species) was slow and driven by gradual adaption to specialised habitats rather than by catastrophic events (i.e. eruption volcanoes, mega droughts). 

Special thanks go to Jane Reed (University of Hull) for hosting and organising the event, and enabling such a successful and productive meeting to take place.  

To find out more about the Lake Ohrid drilling project visit the SCOPSCO website, or the ICDP project page.

By Jack Lacey
@JackHLacey (BGS BUFI-funded student at the University of Nottingham within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry)

Friday, 24 October 2014

Land Beneath The Waves........... by Carol Cotterill

Any talk about submerged landscapes has the tendency to bring Atlantis to mind. However, the importance of our submerged landscapes and archaeology was brought to the fore at the Eurocean Conference in Rome earlier this month with the launch of a joint geosciences – humanities strategy called “Land Beneath the Waves”.

How many of us have looked out over the North Sea, or the Irish Sea or the Mediterranean and considered what our landscape would look like if we altered the sea level? A fascinating fact is that 20,000 years ago the European landmass was 40% who lived there; where did they live; how did they move about between places; did they follow the hunting across the wetland and marshes of what is now the North Sea basin; did they build piers or jetties to tie boats up alongside?
Position paper 21 of the European Marine Board

These are just a few of the many questions that archaeologists have been fascinated by for years. However, addressing these questions will also help us to further understand our changing climate and fluctuating sea levels, and the impact that these changes have on our coastlines and marine habitats that currently support such a rich diversity of sea life.
Alan Stevenson from BGS was a member of the Working Group responsible for the report and describes the context of the “Land beneath the Waves”.
The creation of a new research field (Continental Shelf Prehistoric Research) indicates a significant raising of the profile of an area of scientific research that was under-represented. This is an area that many of our past and present Marine projects already recognise, including working with archaeologists on the East Coast and Humber Regional Environmental Characterisations for The Crown Estate, and a recently funded project with Wessex Archaeology looking at migration routes from mainland Europe to the north-eastern coast of the UK. This new strategy sees BGS positioned to provide geological information to this dynamic, multi-national research area, helping to provide the knowledge necessary to manage the ever increasing demands on our marine environment whilst protecting our cultural heritage and marine habitats.

And who knows.......maybe Atlantis is out there!

Carol Cotterill