Monday, 16 January 2017

Geochemistry Networking Event held in December 2016... by Ginnie Panizzo

On the 16th December 2016 the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (CEG) held a Networking event between key female geoscience researchers the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the University of Nottingham (UoN). The main impetus behind the event was to encourage collaboration between Anne McLaren Research Fellows of the UoN from the Schools of Biosciences, Geography, Chemistry and Faculty of Engineering, with other female researchers at the BGS. The invitation was extended to other early and mid-career researchers at the School of Archaeology, due to the strong research linkages with the Stable Isotope Facility at BGS.

Women in geochemistry  

Close to 20 female scientists from the BGS and UoN attended the event. Dr Virginia (Ginnie) Panizzo, who organised the event, kicked off the workshop before introducing Prof Melanie Leng (the Director of the CEG) who provided an overall introduction to the CEG.

Networking and discussions

Delegates were given the opportunity to provide a brief introduction to their analytical specialities and research interests to the rest of the group, so as to facilitate discussions throughout the day. This proved a great success for many inter-disciplinary dialogues. Networking continued during and after lunch in informal break out groups before a tour of the BGS laboratories closed the day.

Insightful and worthwhile 

All delegates involved found it an insightful event and a great chance to meet other like-minded female geoscientists at the BGS and UoN. We hope that it will serve as a worthwhile kick-start to other such events for geoscientists alike between the two Institutions.

Please contact Dr Ginnie Panizzo if you are interested in future women in geochemistry networking. Ginnie is an Anne McLaren Research Fellow of the UoN and Visiting Research Associate at the BGS.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Geochemistry in Africa...by Michael Watts, Elliott Hamilton, Belinda Kaninga, Kenneth Maseka and Godfrey Sakala

Victoria Falls. 
Michael Watts and Elliott Hamilton returned to Africa to undertake two main tasks; (1) find a conference venue for the Society for Environmental Geochemistry 2018 international conference to be hosted in Victoria Falls, and (2) undertake fieldwork in the Zambian copperbelt as part of the Royal Society-DFID project.

We met up with Dr Godfrey Sakala (Zambian Agriculture Research Institute or ZARI) and Professor Florence Mtambanengwe (University of Zimbabwe) in Victoria Falls and viewed venues for hosting 150-200 people.  The location is ideally suited, with ample accommodation, conference facilities, transport connections, activities, is safe to walk around and of course the spectacle of Victoria Falls, which is a must see and a gentle introduction to Africa for the uninitiated.  A video was filmed to begin the promotion of the conference and signpost SEGH 2018 VicFalls which will appear on www.segh.net shortly.

Krigged geospatial map for chromium to identify locations
 for experimental plots. 
We moved onto Zambia with Dr Sakala and headed up to Kitwe in the Copperbelt to join Prof. Maseka from the Copperbelt University (CBU) to follow up on previous field collections in Mugala village where field characterisation identified specific plots for experimental trials to investigate the influence of soil management strategies, such as organic incorporation, liming, low tillage (Conservation Agriculture) on the uptake of metals deposited through dust onto agricultural soils from nearby mine tailings.  Elliott Hamilton will explain more in a follow-up blog about his PhD and some of the findings so far. Belinda Kaninga, one of our Royal Society-DFID PhD students has set out her first season field experiments as identified by the site characterisation and will bring the resultant soil and crop samples to BGS for analysis next May.

Both Elliott and Belinda are using the same location for experimental trials, with Elliott focussing on the control parameters for chromium (Cr) soil-to-crop transfer employing elemental speciation and isotope dilution for pot experiments using soil samples collected on this visit across the range of Cr concentrations and soil pH identified. These experiments will be undertaken at Sutton Bonington campus (University of Nottingham).  The processing of samples back in ZARI also allowed us to work with lab staff, review training needs and preparations for our upcoming purchase of Microwave-Plasma Atomic Emission Spectrometers in each of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, Belinda is investigating a broad panel of metals (Pb, Cu, Zn, Cd, Mn, Al, Ni) and the application of specific Conservation Agriculture methodologies and potential influence on the availability of metals for soil-to-plant uptake.  Belinda has conducted pot trials at the ZARI research station in Lusaka, but as mentioned, recently set up her field plots in collaboration with the village chief and local farmers which will run over two seasons.

Belinda Kaninga and one of her experimental plots.
A further project was initiated with Prof. Maseka and Dr Sakala to investigate the potential exposure to metals from dust inhalation from the Mugala mine tailings in the nearby village, comparing pathways of exposure from environmental samples through to biological samples from a biomonitoring collection (urine, blood).  The focus of the project will be a two-year MSc project undertaken by Lukundo Nakaona, in collaboration with the CBU Department for Environmental and Agricultural Sciences and Medical School, ZARI and BGS-UoN (CEG).  There are many other possibilities for environmental-health exposure and food security studies with our close partners at ZARI, CBU and UNZA (University of Zambia).  In particular, scope for GCRF (Global Challenges Research Fund) proposals to provide capacity strengthening in technical capability to cement the strong scientific activities of our partners both in Zambia, the wider Royal Society-DFID network in Zimbabwe and Malawi and with other partners in Kenya and Tanzania.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Assessing ground motion from space...by Kieran Parker

Diagram showing satellite image acquisition process to enable multiple
 images to be assessed. Source http://trussty-jasmine.blogspot.co.uk
Ground movement is an issue of global concern and one that regularly grabs the attention of the media due to its impact to public safety, property and infrastructure networks often necessitating expensive remedial action.

In Northern Ireland, ground movement is closely associated with slope instability, most notably on the margin and valley slopes of the Antrim plateau as well as surface subsidence in areas of historic mining. While most of the movement is natural there is also the human influence which exasperates or creates instability through social development and extractive legacy. The extent and form of surface motions can vary dramatically from location to location with a number of controlling factors. These movements are traditionally monitored with the placement of instrumentation around sites which have been causing persistent problems however these methods are costly, time consuming while also limited by resources only enabling a number of areas to be assessed over the long term.

Subsequently, there is a clear need for accurate assessment of ground motion for land use planning and development across areas suspected of being susceptible to movement along with a better understanding of the instigating factors and potentially the development of tools that will enable early warning to a catastrophic movement event.

Throughout 2016, the BGS Earth and Planetary Observation and Monitoring (EPOM) Team, Shallow Geohazards and Risks (SGR) Team and the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI), together with Queen's University Belfast (QUB) have been working on a research study to analyse the benefits of using satellite radar interferometry  (InSAR) techniques to remotely assess risk to infrastructure associated with ground movements in Northern Ireland. The project is analysing historical radar data available for 1992-2010 obtained from the European Space Agency (ESA) operated ERS1/2 and ENVISAT satellites.

The methodology works by processing of numerous images collected by the satellites during each repeat pass. Stacked together these images allows for the extraction of reflective targets and measure, to millimetre precision, surface displacement. A total of 127 images will be analysed throughout the project.

InSAR techniques have the capability to remotely monitor large areas which would enable a step change in techniques currently used by organisations to analyse risk to their infrastructure network.
Distribution of radar reflectors identified by processing satellite radar data aquired
from ERS 1/2 (left) from 1992-2000 and ENVISAT (right) from 2002-20.
The project team is working with five major stakeholders TransportNI (TNI), Northern Ireland Railway (NIR), Department for the Economy (DfE), Arup and Belfast City Council (BCC) to examine areas of slope instability and subsidence which have proven to be problematic in the past while also aiding the identification of others areas potentially at risk.

While the data coverage takes in an area of 3,000 km2, the project will focus closely at problematic sites identified by the stakeholders:
  • Site 1: North Belfast – A densely populated urban location, this area has been subject to shallow translation landslides with evidence of movement can be seen at Ligoniel Park and Throne Bend on the Antrim Road. 
  • Site 2: Belfast-Bangor Railway line – This section of rail line is positioned within steep sided cuttings prone to instability, particularly after periods of heavy and prolonged rainfall.
  • Site 3: Carrickfergus – The residential town contains eight abandoned salt mines which display continual subsidence. Over the past two decades a number of crown holes have appeared at various locations as a result of mine collapses resulting in the permanent closure of two public roads.
  • Site 4: Straidkilly, Antrim Coast Road (A2) – Positioned at the base of the Antrim Plateau, the A2 is a scenic route used extensively by the many coastal towns and villages as well as a high number of tourists. This section of road cuts through soft Jurassic clays and debris from the slide area has frequently reached the road increasing the risk to users and also leading to road closures.

Aerial photo of crown hole collapse at abandoned Maidenmount salt mine,
Carrickfergus 2001. The collapse generated a hole >100 meters in diameter
with 8 metre vertical displacement.  © Crown Copyright
Preliminary InSAR results display variable movements in many of the known landslide areas while also highlighting motions associated within areas of historic mining activity. The initial results have also identified a number of areas of interest which are displaying subsidence and surface heave potentially as a result of water abstraction, soil compaction and shrink swell processes. 

Newtownards, Co.Down showing significant subsidence
within the centre of the town. Raw ERS-1/2 satellite
data provided by ESA under grant id.32627.
These results were presented at a workshop held at Queens University Belfast in September 2016 where the stakeholders were given the opportunity to have a close look at the data in areas where their assets may be affected by ground motion. With each reflective point representing average annual motion over 100m x 100m ‘parcels’, the workshop enabled stakeholders to identify several sites each of greatest interest where the team will process the data further to increase the resolution by reducing the size of each parcel thus providing more precise results of ground movement leading to a more accurate assessment of the risk to the infrastructure network. Crucial for the stakeholder will be the identification of trends leading up to major movement.

The project team is currently working through the time series data from reflective points in areas of interest to analyse the variations of motion across the areas while also validating it with previously collected terrestrial and airborne data obtained by the stakeholders.

The potential outcome will be an enhanced capability to monitor and assess hazards associated with ground motion across the infrastructure network and for the stakeholders to implement regional scale hazard mapping using satellite technology to compliment terrestrial monitoring. This could see huge benefits in mapping and understanding geo-hazards allowing better informed engineering techniques to be considered, better targeting of sites while reducing the risk to people monitoring on unstable ground. Further outcomes from the project will be the capability to communicate the risk posed by ground movement and the development of an early warning system.

The project started in February 2016 and will run for 18 months, until July 2017.

Project: InSAR for geotechnical infrastructure: enabling stakeholders to remotely assess environmental risk and resilience (NERC Grants: NE/N013018/1 and NE/N013042/1)

Project Team:
Queen’s University Belfast (QUB)
Dr David Hughes, Dr Jenny McKinley, Dr Shane Donohue, Conor Graham

British Geological Survey (BGS) / Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI)
Dr Francesca Cigna, Dr Vanessa Banks, Kieran Parker, Alex Donald

The project is funded by NERC under the Environmental Risks to Infrastructure Innovation Programme (ERIIP). ERS-1/2 and ENVISAT raw satellite data is provided by ESA under grant id.32627. For further details contact Dr David Hughes at Queen's University Belfast or Dr Francesca Cigna.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Transitioning from Flame AAS to MP-AES: benefits and advantages...by Emmanuel Chidiwa Mbewe

Emmanuel with 'A Practical Guide to ICP-MS'.
My name is Emmanuel Chidiwa Mbewe from Lilongwe University Agriculture and Natural Resources in Malawi. I work as a Chief Technician in Soil Sciences within the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. Currently I am undergoing a Commonwealth Professional Scholarship with the Inorganic Geochemistry team within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry, during which I have experienced modern methods of laboratory analyses, systems of work, including quality assurance and overall management of tasks and data to demonstrate confidence in data output.  I also attended a meeting in London for the Commonwealth Scholarships Commission (CSC) Fellows Connect 2016 which enabled me to meet other Fellows based around the UK, to share my experiences and celebrate my fellowship. 

Before I depart for Malawi at the end of the week, I will attend the 2016 International Fertiliser Society Agronomic Conference in Cambridge to hear talks on agronomic techniques relevant to aspects of fertiliser recommendation development, the role of fertilisers in reducing emissions, grassland nutrition, and precision farming.  There will also be a presentation on the work of Grace Manzeke, the first winner of the Brian Chambers award.

MP-EAS Demonstration


A highlight of my stay was when I had a chance to visit the Reading Scientific Services on the University of Reading campus along with Elliott Hamilton, where we received a demonstration on the use of MP-AES 4210 by Agilent Technologies, in advance of a transition from use of Flame Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (FAAS) to Microwave Plasma Atomic Emission Spectroscopy (MP-AES), which will be purchased from the Royal Society-DFID project. Both of these techniques are used for elemental determination in a variety of sample materials including soil and plant samples.

Major Advantages


Emmanuel using the MP-AES.
The MP-AES will be purchased and delivered in February 2017. The major advantages of FAAS are:
  • reducing operating cost, increasing safety;
  • improving analytical performance through improved sensitivity and;
  • multi-element capability and ease of use.
The largest running cost for level entry spectroscopy is the source gases. FAAS uses a combination of air and acetylene, or nitrous oxide and acetylene. These two gases are provided in cylinders which regularly needs replenishment. These gases are quite expensive in developing countries like Malawi. On the other hand, the 4210 MP-AES uses nitrogen that is extracted straight from the air to sustain the plasma. The Agilent 4107 Nitrogen generator coupled to an air compressor supplies all the free nitrogen required at greater than 99.5% purity. This leads to dramatic reductions in operating costs over the life of the instrument.

Safety Concerns


When using FAAS there are concerns about safety aspects because of the use of acetylene and nitrous oxide. The major concerns cover a wide range; from storage and handling of cylinders, to the use of the flame in the instrument. Presence of a naked flame is of a concern in laboratories especially those that handle organics, which are highly flammable, for this reason FAAS have to be attended to all the time. All these issues are eliminated with the use of 4210 MP-AES.

Improved Performance


Improved analytical performance comes about because there is an improvement of in detection limits for MP-AES compared to FAAS. In the case of some elements such as Ca and V this can be an order of magnitude lower. An improvement in detection limits implies that it is possible to analyse elements that otherwise have high detection limits in FAAS like phosphorus and boron. In other words, elements that cannot be analysed on FAAS are easily analysed on the MP-AES. It can also analyse up to 10 minutes at a time using the same sample volume as an FAAS. Selenium can be measured using hydride generation within the same analytical run as other samples. The higher temperature of nitrogen plasma atomisation /ionisation also improves the linear range and stability compared to FAAS.

When it comes to ease of use in MP-AES, this results from the fact that with the hotter plasma source of 4210 MP-AES, chemical interferences that are encountered in FAAS are eliminated. This means that the element specific sample preparation required on FAAS is not needed which greatly simplifies the sample preparation process.

Change from FAAS to MP-AES


With the benefits highlighted above, I look forward to moving from using the FAAS to using the MP AES.  The challenge that awaits me on my return to Malawi, is to prepare the laboratory building services in time for delivery of the instrument, which promises to vastly improve our current capability for elemental analyses, whilst keeping costs down. I won’t be alone in this challenge, partners on the Royal Society-DFID project will also be receiving an MP-AES in Zambia and Zimbabwe in February to March and we will share the training experience through collaboration and regular interaction, with support from the sales company (Chemetrix) in South Africa and colleagues from the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (BGS-University of Nottingham).

Many thanks to Agilent and Reading Scientific Services for hosting the demonstration of the MP-AES. Thanks also to Robert Thomas who donated 50 of his textbooks ‘Practical Guide to ICP-MS – a tutorial for beginners’.  These textbooks will be given to students and technicians within the Royal Society-DFID network, as well as other partner organisations in Africa.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

First Year of my PhD: Generating a better understanding of the UK’s shale gas...by Patrick Whitelaw

Shale samples from our core store.
The shale industry is rapidly changing, with large developments such as the first fracking licenses being awarded since I started my research. However still relatively little is known about the UK’s shale gas potential and how much focus should be placed the industry’s development. With the research I am currently undertaking aiming to help shape and direct the government’s legislation on a controversial industry. 

Initially my PhD started with a wide range of training, learning to use the machinery and conduct the experiments that will form the core of the next four years. These include hydrous pyrolysis where shale samples are heated up under intense pressures to simulate subsurface conditions. High pressure methane adsorption, to understand the potential of shale to adsorb methane, and consequently how much methane can be extracted from it and surface area and porosity measurements to calculate the pore volumes of shales which when correlated with methane adsorption can provide information about their gas holding potential.  Determining the maturity of the shale (how far along the gas production lifeline they are) with vitrinite reflectance has been ongoing, as this is a skill that takes years to master. 

High pressure volumetric analyser for high pressure
methane isotherms.
I have continued work on immature Rempstone shale samples from the midlands which have not yet produced oil and gas. Using hydrous pyrolysis sequential experiments, the amount of gas generated by these samples over a lifetime of subsurface conditions has been calculated, and using data from the high pressure methane adsorption experiments, which correlate well with the pyrolysis, a much better estimate of the amount of methane these shales are able to produce has been formed. Currently this data is getting written up for publication, hopefully in a high impact journal. 

Using the method developed on the Rempstone samples, I am aiming to see similar results with different shales from northern England near in Lancashire, the area where the fracking licences have been awarded. Initial sampling of two shales from the Grange Hill and Preese Hall (the first prospective shale well drilled in the UK) wells was carried out with samples from a wide variety of depths taken from BGS core stores. Unfortunately many of these samples contained high levels of pyrite preventing many forms analysis. The pyrite prevents vitrinite reflectance as it is too bright, as well as causing the samples to be unsafe when heated up to high temperatures as the formation of sulphur dioxide can cause an dangerous explosion. New samples were however collected either handpicked Grange Hill samples that contain low levels of pyrite or samples from a new Becconsall well. Initial testing has been carried out on the samples and selection for and development of hydrous pyrolysis experiments has begun. 

In February I will be presenting for the first time at the Geological Society Conference in London. This should provide a great opportunity to meet people in both academia and corporate environments who have similar interest in the field, as well as showing off our results which have been very promising up to this point. Hopefully by this time as well the paper detailing our results will be finished and on its way to being published in a high impact journal.

High temperature hydrous pyrolysis experiment.
After the return of the Christmas break I will begin my maturation experiments of the samples collected from the Becconsall and Grange Hill wells using the shallower samples with a series of hydrous pyrolysis experiments. Once experimental maturation is completed I will then compare how well this mimics the natural maturation of these shales, by comparison with the deeper cores.  This should show how accurate the experimental maturation process is as and if any adjustments need to be made, while also providing gas production data for these cores. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

UPGro: Hidden Crisis - the story so far...by Helen Bonsor

Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor (UPGro) is an international research programme that focuses on improving the evidence base around groundwater availability and management in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The Hidden Crisis project is a consortium project within the UPGro programme and aims to develop a robust evidence base of the large-scale status of rural groundwater supply functionality across three countries, Ethiopia, Malawi and Uganda, which have struggled for decades with service sustainability.

Helen Bonsor tells us more about the project and provides an update on progress so far after the latest project meeting in Edinburgh.

Overview and aims of the workshop

Since our last project workshop, held in Addis Ababa Ethiopia in September 2015, the first main survey phase of the project (to survey the functionality and performance of a sub-sample of water points and committees) has been completed within each of the three countries, alongside a rapid political economy analysis studies for Ethiopia and Malawi (Uganda to happen within the next few months).

The aim of the workshop was to bring the project team together to foster our growing working relationships, and to:
  1. Review Survey 1 - key challenges and successes – and to review the initial analysis of the data and plan for more detailed final analysis
  2. Planning of Survey 2 - location and site selection criteria, the research approach and aims, methods and logistics
  3. Planning of the Longitudinal studies in the 3 countries for both physical and social science surveys
  4. Interdisciplinary research - to review and discuss our approaches to interdisciplinary science in the Hidden Crisis project and lessons learned from other UPGro Projects
  5. Discuss ongoing stakeholder engagement and a Publication Strategy - for both the country research teams, and for the project as a whole.

Attendees and meeting programme

The workshop was held at the British Geological Survey (BGS) office in Edinburgh, UK, over four days - from 21st to 24th November 2016. Representatives from all institutions and from each country involved in the research consortium attended the workshop - 23 people in total.

Day 1 was focused to reviewing the work of Survey 1 across the three countries and the initial data analysis; on Day 2 the key logistics and research aims of Survey 2 happening  in 2017 were discussed, as well as the political economy work completed so far; Day 3 explored interdisciplinary research in the project, and the key aims and logistics for the longitudinal studies; and, Day 4, was used to identify and review the key priorities and planning actions for the next few months across the project team for the next main research survey phases. Several short “Ted talks” were also given throughout the week.

Hard at work at the 2nd Hidden Crisis project meeting

Summary of discussions

Presentations were made by Dessie Nedaw (Ethiopia), Michael Owor (Uganda) and Evance Mwathunga (Malawi) of the successes and challenges in completing Survey 1 across the three countries.    The project database and QA process which has been developed to store all the data collected by the project (both physical science and social science) from Survey 1, and subsequent surveys.

A preliminary analysis of Survey 1 data from Ethiopia was presented by Dessie Nedaw and Seifu Kebebe.  The analysis used the project approach of examining the impact of using different definitions of water point functionality.  These include: working at the time of visit, having an acceptable yield, passing national inorganic chemistry standards, and whether they contained total thermal tolerant coliforms.

The initial results of the rapid political economy analysis (PEA) work from Malawi and Ethiopia were presented by Naomi Oates and Florence Pichon of ODI, respectively.

Project discussions and group working at the project meeting.
There were detailed discipline group discussions and wider project team discussions to identify the main methods, key criteria for site selection and the main challenges and logistics for planning Survey 2.  Discussion was given to logistical and ethical challenges of repair of water points visited, risk of damage of the water points, and management of community expectations and follow-up during the mobilisation phases.  Key timescales for planning were identified by the project team.

A half day of the workshop was focused on a wider project team discussion of our approach to interdisciplinary science – and the key challenges and opportunities of doing this in the next phases of the project.  Kirsty Upton (of the UPGro programme co-ordination group) gave a presentation of an external MSc research paper, which has reviewed the different approaches to interdisciplinary science across the 5 UPGro consortium projects.  Lissie Liddle (PhD student Cambridge University) presented the systems dynamics analysis she will be conducting for the Hidden Crisis project, bringing together physical and social science data, as part of her PhD within a Bayesian network analysis; and, Richard Carter then led a facilitated project discussion on our different perceptions of physical and social science factors to HPB failure.  

For more information please visit the UPGro: Hidden Crisis website or follow us @UPGroResearch

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Poster presentation at the Royal Society of Chemistry...by Saeed Ahmad

Hi, my name is Saeed, I am a PhD student at the University of Nottingham in the School of Biosciences, and on the 14th of November I attended an Early Career Researchers Meeting on the Environmental Chemistry of Water, Sediment and Soil at the Royal Society of Chemistry.

PhD Research 

I am investigating the availability of iodine and selenium in soil and their uptake by crop plants in the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). Gilgit-Baltistan is an extremely remote area in North East Pakistan and situated at the border region of Pakistan, China and India. The landscape of the area is very mountainous and more than half of the area is located 4500 meters above sea level. The local population is largely dependent on locally produced agriculture produce. The Gilgit-Baltistan area has a high rate of endemic goitre and a low concentration of urinary iodine in the local population. The overall aims of my study are to assess the factors controlling the iodine and selenium status in soils, water and plants in Gilgit-Baltistan, and ultimately examine the effects on the local population. I have recently collected soil, plants and water samples from GB which I am currently analysing by using different analytical techniques. After completing a preliminary investigation and obtaining some data on iodine and selenium contents of soil and wheat crop I presented a poster on Geochemistry of iodine and selenium in Gilgit-Baltistan at the Royal Society of Chemistry in London.

Students from the Geochemistry Group attending the conference.

Excitement and concern 

Leading up to the conference I was both excited and concerned. I was excited that I would have the opportunity to present my work and talk with other early career researchers. My concern was about missing the train and not getting to conference on time as I had to catch an early train from Nottingham. Luckily I managed to catch 6.30 am train and got to the conference venue on time along with my other colleagues from the Geochemistry Group from the University of Nottingham.

Chris Collins presenting me with my 1st prize certificate.

Poster Presentation

When we arrived at the Royal society of Chemistry, we were welcomed at the registration desk by very friendly staff from the organising committee and were guided to the poster stands. After putting my poster up, I walked around the lobby and glanced at the other posters. Everybody’s poster was very impressive, eye catching, and presenting new ideas and findings on a variety of topics in environmental chemistry. All those who gave oral presentation also did really well. Two of my colleagues Baset and Heather gave amazing presentations on iodine and selenium.

A Great Result 

The key note speaker Professor Chris Collins also gave an impressive presentation. It was a great day and I had the opportunity to speak to researchers from other universities across the UK, it was amazing to see what other people are researching. The posters were judged by the judges during poster sessions and lunch break. At the end of the day a prize giving ceremony took place, and the conference organisers announced that I had won 1st prize in the poster competition! When they called my name I couldn’t believe it! I felt extremely happy and honoured to go to the front and receive the certificate and a prize from Professor Chris Collins. It was a day that I’ll never forget. It all happened due to the invaluable support and guidance I get from my supervisors who are always available whenever I need them and for encouraging me and the whole group to attend such events. My day began with the stress and worry of missing the train and ended with the joys and happiness of winning the 1st prize.

My PhD is supervised by Dr Scott Young and Dr Liz Bailey from the University of Nottingham and Dr Michael Watts from BGS, within the joint Centre for Environmental Geochemistry.



Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Coming together for Drifting Apart: sharing the geological heritage of the North Atlantic...by Kirstin Lemon

Partners and sub-partners at Glen Roy in Lochaber Aspiring
UNESCO Global Geopark during the 4th Project Meeting.
As geologists, we get many opportunities to be involved in projects that often involve working with a number of partners from across the world. As part of an EU-funded project, I attended the 4th project meeting of 'Drifting Apart' in Fort William in Scotland as one of several sub-partners that are involved in this fascinating area of geological heritage.

Led by the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust, the project, funded through the European Regional Development Fund’s Northern Periphery and Artic Programme is running from 2015 to 2018 with the ultimate aim of promoting innovative products and services for social and economic prosperity, and hopes to build a strong network of geoheritage destinations.  A total of seven partners (and numerous sub-partners) from across the periphery of the North Atlantic region are involved and hope to unearth and strengthen the understanding of our interconnected geological heritage in an EU-funded project appropriately named ‘Drifting Apart’.

The project includes partners and sub-partners from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as well as from Scotland, Norway, Iceland, Russia, and Canada and includes a mix of UNESCO Global Geoparks and Aspiring UNESCO Global Geoparks at different stages of development. Through the project, it is intended to help strengthen the links between these areas through cooperation and virtually reconstruct the shared geological heritage that these areas enjoy. 

Due to our high level of experience in ‘popular’ geological interpretation and in developing geological-based tourism products, the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland is working together with the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust and Fermanagh and Omagh District Council (Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark) to develop key elements of the project. To date these have included compiling the Drifting Apart storyline, helping to develop educational resources and deliver training for tourism and community groups all of which will help the project to achieve its main aims and objectives.  There are a number of key areas that the project will focus on:

1. Drifting Apart storyline and learning opportunities
Visiting one of many interpretative sites in Kenozero National Park, Russia
during the 3rd Project Meeting.
By highlighting the geological ‘story’ of the entire project area it will increase the awareness and understanding of not only each regions unique geological heritage, but also help to explain how these areas were once physically connected. Despite the geographical differences that exist, this will explain the dynamic nature of our planet and allow for a greater appreciation of the project areas shared geological story. The storyline will be used to develop a transnational geoheritage trail, including interpretation in all of the partner areas linked in to the Drifting Apart story. 

2. Virtual learning
Whilst the aim of the project is to encourage visitors to each of the partner area, in reality this will only be possible by a limited number of people. To address this, a virtual learning element has been included within the project so that the geological heritage of the entire area can be shared and enjoyed from anywhere in the world.

3. Geopark model and knowledge transfer
The partners included are made up UNESCO Global Geoparks of varying levels of experience as well as Aspiring UNESCO Global Geoparks at different stages in geopark development. Through the project, each partner will be able to learn and share experiences and develop potential models for future geopark growth. 

Partners and sub-partners in Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark, Iceland
 during the 2nd Project Meeting.
4. Geo-tourism and geo-education 
All UNESCO Global Geoparks work on a ‘bottom-up’ approach so one of the most important aspects of the project will be to increase the awareness and understanding of both the individual partner areas in addition to their place in the entire Drifting Apart story. This will be done through the development of common education products with specific local elements as well as similar training for communities and tourism providers. 

The next project meeting will be held in Stonehammer UNESCO Global Geopark, Canada in May.

For more information on the project and to keep up to date with the most recent developments then see http://driftingapart.ccght.org/ or @DriftingApartEU 


Friday, 9 December 2016

BGS Stakeholder Event 2016...by Prof John Ludden CBE

Every year we hold a forum to provide our stakeholders with a summary of recent science results, its impact, and our future direction. Here, our Executive Director, Prof John Ludden CBE, provides us with an update from the most recent stakeholder forum.

John Ludden presenting at the BGS Stakeholder Forum.
BGS held its biennial stakeholder event in the Geological Society of London in November. This event involved a number of different types of stakeholder which covered academia, governmental and the private sector.
 
Mike Stephenson (Director of Science and Technology) presented a snapshot of BGS science to 2021, where he underlined the vision of BGS to place infrastructure and real time monitoring at the heart of BGS science, in particular to underpin future energy development of the UK , but also in urban development and in sea-floor technology for mapping and resource development
 
Michelle Bentham (Head of Partnerships and Innovation) summarised our refreshed focus on the innovation pipeline form new ways of measuring the earth and applications to critical infrastructures to provide strategic data and ultimately spin out commercial activities and licences.
 
Questions from the audience had a strong focus on the UK regional agenda and underlined that although BGS is expanding its role overseas, and despite diminishing base line funding for the UK, there are important regional problems. Not the least of these are coastal erosion, development of new energy supplies and large infrastructure, such as HS2.
 
In conclusion of this event showed:
  • A shift in BGS towards real time subsurface monitoring underpinned by state of the art underground facilities and sensor development.
  • A stronger focus on innovation and partnerships
  • An opportunity for BGS to expand globally both in ODA implementation and in developed countries
  • The need to defining a new place for BGS in UKRI & UK government that ensures flexibility and allows BGS to prosper.
  • And finally, that BGS is at an exciting cross roads in its near 180 year development and we have a stakeholder group who believe in us.
Both the presentation delivered and the meeting itself can be viewed here.

John Ludden

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

JC142 Marine E-tech cruise to Tropic Seamount, north-east tropical Atlantic...by Paul Lusty

Some of the new data acquired for Tropic Seamount, including
 ship-board multibeam swath bathymetry and geoacoustic 
sub-bottom profiler,  AUV surveying, ROV sampling and 
CTD water information
We are now in the final few days of our exploratory cruise to Tropic Seamount (23.5° N, 20.4° W), about 650 km south of the Canary Islands. We are amassing a significant dataset, having mapped the majority of the area of interest with ship-board multibeam swath bathymetry and geoacoustic sub-bottom profiler. This data is valuable for identifying hard rock areas for more detailed surveying with the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Autosub 6000, and rock sampling using the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Isis.

We have taken about 35 CTDs to measure conductivity, temperature and depth (pressure), and collect water samples at a range of depths over and around the seamount. We have completed 14 AUV missions to acquire higher resolution swath bathymetry, sidescan, sub-bottom profiles and still images of the seafloor in specific areas of interest. This data has been ground truthed with numerous ROV dive (18 to date), which have used for geological mapping, rock sampling (we have collected more than 250 rock samples, many insitu), core drilling (a total of 46 cores have been acquired) and biological surveying and sampling. This is probably now one of the most thoroughly surveyed seamounts globally, and the new datasets will form a basis for geological and oceanographic research for years to come.

The new rock cores have been acquired using a core drill designed at the National Oceanography Centre specifically for this project and mounted on the front of the ROV. The cores are potentially the most valuable samples for studying the lateral variations in ferromanganese crust composition, texture and thickness as a result of local-scale processes, such as such as micro-topography, currents and sedimentation rates. These cores form the basis for the research BGS is leading on, which will be delivered by a two year post-doc position, held by the newly appointed Pierre Josso. Pierre undertook his PhD with the University of Southampton on the potential for recovery of rare earth elements from metalliferous sediments on Cyprus. He will be joining BGS/NIGL in February to work on these cores and other samples, with the objective of establishing a litho-chemo-stratigraphy across the seamount.

Science operations were suspended at very short notice last week when the RRS James Cook received a ‘mayday’ call from a yacht in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers transatlantic race, which had departed from Grand Canaria. Just after 14:00 on Wednesday the yacht crew sent a message indicating that their boat was taking in water, their pumps were overwhelmed and they were sinking. As the closest available ship, about one and a half hours away, we were obliged to pull off station and head to the yacht at full speed. With the RRS James Cook using all four engines we accomplished an unheard of speed of 17 knots, reaching the yacht and its crew in about 1 hour. By the time we reached the 36ft yacht ‘Noah’ the crew (three adults and two children) had abandoned the sinking vessel and boarded their small yellow inflatable life raft, which was still close to the yacht. The James Cook pulled up close to the life raft which gradually floated alongside. The crew of the James Cook were fully prepared and well trained, handling the situation very professionally. Lines were thrown to the life raft to provide a link to the deck of the James Cook, some 3-4 metres above sea level and the raft. A ladder was lowered, but it took several attempts, despite the very calm sea conditions, to bring the life raft into a suitable position for the people on board to grab the ladder and clamber onto the James Cook.

The scene when the RRS James Cook arrived at the abandonded yacht ‘Noah’, with the small life raft containing five people
 floating away from the vessel.The life raft alongside the RRS James Cook as the ship’s crew help the people off the life raft
 and up the ladder hanging down the side of the ship.
Despite the good daylight conditions it was a precarious operation to move the five people from the constantly moving life raft onto the deck of the Cook. In about 30 minutes all five of the yacht crew were safely rescued onto the James Cook, where they were warmly welcomed by crew and scientists. We then had to retrieve the AUV, which was still in the water when we received the SOS call. The ship now exceeded its capacity so we steamed back to Tenerife, our departure port, dropping the yacht crew off early on Friday morning. We were literally alongside for about 1 hour (probably the shortest port call in the history of the RRS James Cook) before being led back out by the harbour pilot to travel back to Tropic Seamount. The Captain of the RRS James Cook placed a special request to NERC to use three engines to get us back to Tropic Seamount as soon as possible. This uses considerably more fuel, but as a result the rescue and return journey to Tenerife only cost us about 60 hours.


Rock sampling using the manipulator arm on ROV Isis. Once a rock is collected
it is placed in a compartmentalised and numbered sample box on a retractable tray
which slides out from beneath the ROV. The images also shows push cores with
 t-handles for sediment sampling using the manipulator arm. The grey niskin used
for collecting uncontaminated rocks samples for microbial studies is situated
on the bottom lefthand side of the image

Anyway we were back on the science programme by Saturday 26th November. Improved physical and chemical characterisation of ferromanganese crusts is crucial to understanding local-scale processes controlling deposit formation and predicting their occurrence. One of the first missions once back at Tropic Seamount was a 17 hour ROV drilling dive, with the aim of acquiring 12 drill cores (the maximum number the ROV can collect in a single deployment) over a lateral distance of some 100 m of ferromanganese crust pavement. These cores will principally be used by BGS to investigate lateral variations in crust thickness and composition, using a combination of high resolution trace element geochemistry and isotope analysis. The ROV drill requires a flat surface for the ROV to land on, so its use is restricted to the large areas of rock pavement, mainly occurring on the summit of the seamount. However, as water depth is likely to have a strong influence on crust composition and thickness it is important to sample over the full depth range of the seamount, from the summit plateau at about 950 m down to where the flanks meet the abyssal plain in water depths >4000 m. This type of sampling relies on picking up loose rock with one of the manipulator arms on the ROV Isis or preferably snapping off insitu samples from the seabed exposures.  The manipulator arms are very powerful and capable of lifting about 200 kg, but it still challenging to break pieces off the highly encrusted rock slabs whilst attempting to keep the ROV static. The crust samples we are obtaining typically have very nice sub millimetre-scale layering, representing millions of years of gradual deposition and reflecting paleooceanographic changes (e.g. water mass provenance, depth of the oxygen minimum zone, biological productivity, current velocity and upwelling patterns) in the north-east Atlantic. To compliment the scanning electron microscope, laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) and isotope studies planned at BGS, high-resolution x-ray computer tomography scanning will be done at the University of Leicester. This quick and entirely non-destructive technique allows the reconstruction and visualisation of the internal structure and textures of materials in three dimensions. It is ideally suited to imaging materials such as crusts, which have well-defined, compositionally distinct layers. Combined with compositional data provided by LA-ICP-MS, this technique provides a powerful tool to explore the heterogeneity (or lack of continuity) of litho-chemo-stratigraphy within crusts and nodules at the centimetre scale.

The potential role of microbes in Fe-Mn deposit formation remains unclear. To study this process colleagues at NOC are collecting small pieces of ferromanganese crust to study. In an attempt to transport these from the seabed sampling site to the surface in their ambient environment we have adapted a niskin bottle mounted on the front of the ROV. Once a piece of rock has been placed in the niskin it is closed to seal it from the wall column as the ROV is recovered back to deck. The uncontaminated material will be used to study any microorganisms colonising the crust and which may have role in concentrating E-tech elements in these deposits.

From L-R: Ferromanganese crust samples collected with the ROV Isis manipulator arm spread out in the laboratory on the
 RRS James Cook, ready for cutting and subsampling; A cut section from a nodular block of ferromanganese crust. Note the
 intricate growth layers, which have been deposited on lithic fragments incorporated into the nodule during development
The ROV dives also provide an excellent opportunity to study the marine ecosystem and fauna populating the seamount. Seamounts are generally considered to support high levels of biodiversity and unique biological communities. There is therefore potential for conflict between the location of sessile biology and the highest grade ferromanganese deposits. We are collecting lots of imagery to assess the type and diversity of fauna inhabiting the different seamount environments over varying depth ranges. Images and other habitat data are supported by the collection and photographing of type specimens by the ROV during the geological sampling operations.

Clockwise from top left: A ‘Dumbo Octopus’ (Grimpteuthis spp.) photographed during a ROV dive. These deep-sea ‘umbrella
 octopuses’ are rare and notable for their fins that resemble elephant ears; A large crab (the red laser dots are 10 cm apart)
 walking over ferromanganese nodules sitting in soft sediment on Tropic Seamount; Typical sessile fauna on an area of
 ferromanganese crust pavement on Tropic Seamount; Crinoids growing on a sandy sediment covered bank and facing the
 current direction (the red laser dots are 10 cm apart). 
The remaining few days of the cruise will be spent conducting another ROV-based plume experiment as part of a study examining the potential environmental impacts resulting from exploring for and extracting seabed mineral deposits. We have to recover the three moorings, which we placed across the seamount at the start of the cruise to record hydrographic data over a 30 day period. We are also planning another series of ROV rock sampling dives and further AUV surveys. The RRS James Cook returns to Tenerife on the 8th December where some of the equipment will be offloaded for trials early next year on the RRS Discovery, which is also docked in Santa Cruz.

Paul Lusty
Co-Chief Scientist JC142