Friday, 19 January 2018
Taking a career break as an early career researcher could perhaps be viewed as less than smart but sometimes life just works out that way and anyway when is a good time to take a career break? The bigger issue perhaps is how do you get back in again? If you want to return to research following some time out, especially if you haven’t got a job to go back to can be a big challenge. So many doors seem to have closed, techniques have moved on and your publication record has likely gone into dormancy. From personal experience I felt like I’d blown my chances of working in research, I’d made a decision to take some time out, and getting back in was proving difficult. It’s hard not to take job rejection personally, especially when vacancy after vacancy gets filled with others who have more recent relevant experience. Job applications are draining, interviews are nerve wracking and rejections are demoralising, but somehow you keep going, just one more.
I’d got to the “just one more attempt” before facing up to the “I’m going to need to make a career change” place when I found out about the Daphne Jackson Trust Fellowship scheme. They offer a fellowship for people who have had to take a career break of more than 2 years and, along with a host institution provide funding and support, including retraining for a part-time, two year research position in a STEM subject. It seemed to be the perfect opportunity to return to research and there was a sponsored position available at the University of Nottingham. I allowed myself a small sideways look at hope.
Andrea has started her Fellowship working with George Swann at the University of Nottingham and Melanie Leng at the BGS.
Wednesday, 17 January 2018
Why do we need to know what's under our cities? And what's it got to do with Icebergs?! ... by Catherine Pennington
|Drill auger sections and debris on the London |
Underground track (photograph courtesy of Network Rail)
"This was a serious incident that could have ended very differently had it not been for the vigilance and prompt reporting and actions of our drivers. We carry two million people a year on the Northern City Line" First Capital Connect managing director Neal Lawson, as reported by the BBC.The construction site was 13 metres above the tunnel and because the location of the tunnel wasn't shown on any map available to the site developer or the local planning authority, Network Rail was not consulted during the planning application stage. As a result, no one knew the tunnel and the drills were going to collide.
It also turns out that when the Rail Accident Investigation Branch examined the incident, over half the piles intended for the site would have crashed their way through the tunnel, had they been constructed.
You can read more about it in the RAIB Rail Accident Report.
This kind of scenario, where an asset (e.g. railway tunnel) is damaged or affected by something else (e.g. a drill), is known as a strike.
How on earth can a 'strike' happen with today's advanced detailed mapping technology?This situation could have been avoided entirely had the data about the ground beneath the construction site been coordinated and available to the right people at the right time. Sadly, this incident is just one of many.
At the moment, subsurface information is quite tricky to get at unless you know what you are doing. Data quality can be variable - entirely absent or poor. Meanwhile political and organisational boundaries make it difficult to get a wider picture of the subsurface conditions. Ultimately, there is no central digital map showing what is present, exactly where it is and what issues you need to be aware of.
An incomplete view of subsurface data can have costly and far-reaching outcomes. As well as damage to the underground assets themselves, other consequences include environmental costs and economic costs associated with the millions of hours of road disruption, huge repair and replacement costs, project re-designs and overruns. The Department of Transport estimates that street works account for an estimated cost of £4.3bn annually. Meanwhile the Treasury estimated in 2013 that greater cross-infrastructure collaboration can save the economy an estimated £3bn.
Introducing Project IcebergProject Iceberg aims to address the serious issue of the lack of information about the ground beneath our cities and the un-coordinated way in which the subsurface space is managed. This is an exploratory project undertaken by the British Geological Survey, Future Cities Catapult and the Ordnance Survey.
What are we likely to find in the ground beneath a city?The short answer is ... a lot. It's a complex, highly variable environment that has been through multiple phases of development. Not only are the natural ground conditions varied and often highly disturbed, but the ground contains a large number of built structures and utilities. There are gas mains, sewers, water supply pipes, drains, oil pipelines, old mine workings, tunnels, power cables, telecom cables, boreholes, landfills, basements... and the list goes on. These are owned or managed by different entities, making the job of uniting data quite an undertaking. As well as assets, there's geological information that needs to be taken into account for the design of foundations, slopes, retaining walls, tunnels, roads, rail and more.
Take a look at this:
©Future Cities Catapult
And what's it got to do with Icebergs?It's well known that a large proportion of an Iceberg lies below the surface (Isostasy). The same is true of our cities. We rely on the ground for a wide range of applications: for example provision of natural resources and housing of critical infrastructure and utilities. When it comes to planning, we often focus on the visible parts of our towns and cities and forget the complex and valuable ground beneath our feet – the name Project Iceberg is a reminder not to forget what you can’t see!
ContactFor more information, you can contact Stephanie Bricker at BGS or see Project Iceberg
Friday, 12 January 2018
The geotechnical industry has for some time adopted the Association of Geotechnical and geoenvironmental specialists (AGS) digital format for borehole data. Transferring borehole data in this format allows the industry to share data more easily, load it into a range of software types, create bespoke graphical logs and also re-use the data for creating 2D cross sections and 3D geological models. The AGS format has been specifically designed for the sharing of geotechnical data and thus our project aimed to make this a reality from the BGS archive; we wanted the ensure that the National Geoscience Data Centre not only archived and shared analogue borehole data, but also digital AGS data.
The solution moving forwards…
Sharing is key here
So now the proof will be in the pudding…
I have data but it’s not mine, can I upload it?
How many AGS files can I download at any one time?
Can I access the originally deposited AGS file?
If I state that the data is confidential what happens?
Wednesday, 10 January 2018
|Elephants within the Kruger National Park|
The working hypothesis for this project is that African elephants (Loxodonta Africana) are being drawn towards a mining area just outside the Kruger National Park in South Africa, due to the unique geochemistry of the area. Previous studies have suggested that the soil in areas surrounding the mine, and associated plant and elephant faecal samples may be low in minerals such as phosphorus, causing a deficiency in the plants, and driving the elephants to seek these minerals elsewhere. It is therefore thought that the elephants may be attracted to the mining area due to the mineral provision in the plants, soil and water. Unfortunately, elephant incursion into the mine and nearby human settlements has resulted in human-elephant conflict, causing risk of injury and loss of income. It is hoped that the results of the project may help to inform key locations in the elephants’ home range where mineral-supplemented forage or mineral licks may be placed to reduce the drive to seek additional sources of minerals, thereby reducing human-elephant conflict.
|African elephants on land next to direct mine site|
The project is very fortunate to have access to banked blood and tail hair samples from the Kruger National Park BioBank, collected opportunistically from elephants within the Kruger National Park, banked tail hair, toenail and blood samples from collared elephants monitored by Elephants Alive (EA), as well as tracking data from seven animals collared by EA on the mine site. These data greatly inform elephant movement and thus the sampling strategy for environmental sampling in the area, as well as providing a baseline level for minerals in African Elephants (Loxodonta Africana). I am very much looking forward to processing and analysing these samples in the coming months and pairing the data with the appropriate environmental samples.
I would like to thank the fantastic field team and especially our game guard Desmond who gave great reassurance during long bush walks – his knowledge and experience was phenomenal. I would also like to thank all of the staff at SAEON who gave up vast amounts of time to assist with fieldwork, scientific services and Peter Buss & the veterinary department at SANParks (KNP) and collaborator Michelle Henley from Elephants Alive.
I would like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to all five of the UK zoos which have assisted with this project to date; Colchester Zoo, Knowsley Safari, Twycross Zoo, Noahs Ark Zoo Farm and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, to all the elephant keepers for collecting the samples and acting as an endless bank of knowledge for the animals they care for, the vet and research teams for assisting with logistics, and of course the elephants themselves. I am enormously excited to visit each zoo in the coming year and explain the results obtained, to provide a profile of the mineral status of each animal and hopefully give the zoos valuable data, to aid them in continuing to advance the captive care of these phenomenal animals.
Friday, 5 January 2018
|One of our collaborators from China (at the|
back) and me collecting sediment core
|Fuchi dam constructed at the confluence of the Yangtze River and Honghu Lake in 1971|
At the moment the analysis of the carbon and nitrogen isotopes is underway at the BGS and it is hoped that these will help to track the source of organic matter in ecosystem state change and provide information about the productivity of these shallow freshwater ecosystems.
Linghan Zeng is a PhD student in the School of Geography, University of Nottingham working within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry.
Friday, 29 December 2017
|GSNI staff on Curran Strand, Portrush in October 2016|
The first geological survey
A country in need
Between 1922 and 1946, there was no geological survey in Northern Ireland and any geological advice came from the small geology department at Queen’s University. The only exception to this was during World War II when a number of special investigations were carried out by geologists from the Geological Survey of Great Britain to identify resources such as aluminium ore (bauxite) that were critical for the war effort.
Seven decades of subsurface science
The GSNI carried out a major evaluation of groundwater in the late 1970s, leading to the publication of a report on the potential of the Lagan Valley. This work led to the abstraction of groundwater at a number of sites in the Belfast and Lisburn areas including by major companies such as Coca Cola who have specifically chosen their location as a result of this work.
During the early 1980s, GSNI designed and supervised a drilling programme to investigate the lignite potential of Northern Ireland. A number of boreholes were drilled to the south and south-west of Lough Neagh, around Coagh and near Ballymoney and substantial thicknesses of lignite were encountered. Although there was enough lignite identified for to fuel a lignite power station, the environmental impact of such a development was deemed so great that a moratorium on further exploration has been in place ever since.
In the 1990s, GSNI became one of the first Geological Surveys to actively support geological-based tourism with the initiation of the Landscapes from Stone project in conjunction with the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI). This project identified walking and driving tours, and produced a number of popular publications that would pave the way for further projects.
Towards the end of the 1990s, the GSNI together with counterparts in in the GSI began to plan an integrated project to acquire continuous regional geochemical and airborne geophysical data across the whole island. Building on the success of individual local geochemical and geophysical surveys it was identified that such a project could stimulate further exploration throughout the island of Ireland. In 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, the project proposal received the support of the Chief Scientific Advisor to the President of the USA.
In 2001, GSNI was instrumental in establishing the first Geopark in the UK that would then go on to become the first cross-border Global Geopark in the world in 2008. GSNI has since been a trailblazer leading the way for Global Geoparks to ultimately become UNESCO Global Geoparks.
|One of the many awards being received as part of the Tellus project|
2010sThe early part of the 2010s concentrated on the more focused application of the data acquired during the Tellus project, with both mineral exploration and environmental objectives. This was also accompanied by the extension of the project across the Irish border and the creation of the Tellus Border project, that included not only further airborne geophysical surveys and ground geochemical samples but also allowed for the merging of the two datasets to provide a continuous suite of data.
In 2011, GSNI became involved with the IRETHERM project, an academic-government-industry collaborative research project aiming to develop a holistic understanding of the geothermal energy potential of the island of Ireland. GSNI has also been working with DfE licence holders to explore the potential for compressed air energy storage (CAES) in the thick salt beds located in East Antrim. CAES uses excess electricity to pump compressed air undergoudn which can then be released to the surface to generate electricity when demand is high. Both projects go some way to demonstrating GSNI’s commitment to ensuring energy security and enhancing sustainability.
What does the future hold?
GSNI still has at its heart carrying out scientific research for the public good of Northern Ireland. There is still a large focus on providing impartial and independent geoscientific advice for the benefit of the economy, but societal challenges mean that the nature of this work has evolved. GSNI now also has a role to play in contributing to the green economy by searching for alternative energy sources, providing information that helps to monitor the natural environment, contributing to the acquisition of data that helps safeguard both human and animal health, and helping to develop sustainable tourism resources. A lot has changed in 70 years, but this ‘small but perfectly formed’ geological survey continues to develop and adapt to the needs of the citizens of Northern Ireland and will do so for many, many years to come.
Saturday, 23 December 2017
Day 1: Christmas CardsAs part of the BGS Archives we hold a collection of Christmas Cards sent by John Vernon Harrison in the 1920s. JV Harrison was born in 1892 and graduated in Chemistry and Geology from the University of Glasgow in 1914. From 1916 to 1918 he served with the Royal Engineers in Mesopotamia and then in 1918 he joined the geological staff of the Anglo Persian Oil Company. He carried out fieldwork in Persia and Iraq, and also travelled extensively including to Honduras, USA, Mexico, North Borneo, Hong Kong, Japan, Canada, Peru, Jamaica, Venezuela, Trinidad and Colombia. He sent many Christmas cards using photos from his travels all of which are available to view in GeoScenic.
|One of the many Christmas cards sent by JV Harrison. This one is from the volcano of Poas in Costa Rica in 1832.|
Day 2: Christmas Eve LandslideWe maintain the National Landslide Database that has over 16500 records of landslides from across the country. Much of this information is gathered from surveys and reports by the Landslide Response Team and much of this is from historical evidence. One such historical landslide occurred in Whitby on Christmas Eve in 1787 in the area now known as Henrietta Street. Just under 200 families were left destitute as a result of the catastrophe and together with subsequent landslides in the same area resulted in Henrietta Street being significantly shorter in length.
Day 3: Christmas Day Earthquake (or not)
|The UK Seismograph Network|
Day 4: Christmas LecturesThis very British Christmas tradition was begun by Michael Faraday in 1825, and now the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures are delivered annually as a series of lectures on a single topic that are specifically aimed at the general public, especially children. The topics vary widely and have included How to Survive in Space, Crystals & Lasers, and The Message in the Genes to name but a few. Whilst there has not been a lecture series dedicated to specifically to geology (yet!), all of the topics are designed to inspire and engage the next generation of scientists which is something that BGS actively tries to encourage. This year's Christmas Lectures are being delivered by Prof Sophie Scott from University College London who will lead the way on a fascinating journey through one of the fundamentals of human and animal life which is our unstoppable urge to communicate, very appropriate for our Christmas GeoBlogy!
Day 5: North PoleWe all know that Santa lives in the North Pole and to find him, all we need to do is look at our compass and follow it North. But did you know that the magnetic field of the Earth is changing slowly every day and in 2014, for the first time in 350 years, we saw the direction of magnetic north move from being west of grid north to east of grid north. At BGS, our geomagnetism team measures, records, models and interpret variations in the Earth's magnetic field. In the UK, we run three magnetic observatories that constantly monitor the change in the Earth's magnetic field, in Lerwick in Shetland, Eskdalemuir in Dumfries and Galloway, and Hartland in Devon.
Day 6: Reindeer
|The Bone Caves at Inchnadamph|
Day 7: Snowflake Obsidian
The chances of getting a picture postcard Christmas with crisp white snow in the UK are pretty slim. Perhaps the best chance of getting any kind of 'snowflake' is to get your hands on some snowflake obsidian. Obsidian is a type of volcanic glass formed when lava cools down so quickly that crystals don't have time to form. In the case of snowflake obsidian, this usually dark-coloured glassy rock contains white spots that resemble snowflakes that are known as spherulites. Obsidian is relatively unstable (in a geological timescale) and it is rare to find any that is older than around 20 million years. As a result, over time the obsidian undergoes a process called devitrification whereby it loses its glassy texture and crystals form which is what the 'snowflakes' are. Because of this characteristic, obsidian is only found in areas with recent volcanic activity so there are no outcrops in the UK but there are significant deposits in volcanically active countries such as Mexico, Iceland and Indonesia.
Day 8: Puddingstone
Christmas pudding is a much celebrated part of a Christmas dinner in the UK but in geological circles we have a 'pudding' of our own. The Hertfordshire Puddingstone is a type of conglomerate made up of rounded flint pebbles held together by a silcrete matrix and it gets its unusual name as the rounded flint pebbles are thought to resemble the plums in a traditional Christmas pudding. Puddingstone is very hard which led to it having a variety of uses including as supplementary building stone and being used as querns by the Romans.
Day 9: Glitter
What would Christmas and New Year be without a bit of sparkle? Before the modern use of plastic glitter, there were many other ways to 'bling' up your home and body using minerals that are known to both geologists and non-geologists alike. Glitter has been used as decoration from as early as 30,000 years ago when mica flakes were used to give cave paintings a glittering appearance, and Prehistoric humans were also believed to have used hematite to give cosmetics a bit of sparkle too. The ancient Egyptians produced glittering cosmetics using finely ground malachite, and it is now thought Mayan temples were sometimes painted with glitter paint made from mica dust.
Day 10: Coal
Coal is often associated with Christmas as you would have been given a lump in your stocking if you were on Santa's naughty list. Coal occurs in the form of layers in sequences in sedimentary rocks with almost all onshore coal resources in the UK being within rocks of Carboniferous age. Coal is made up of the remains of plants from millions of years ago, making it a fossil fuel, and it was mined in the UK from as far back as Roman times. Coal mining in the UK dramatically increased during the Industrial Revolution and reached a peak in 1913 when 287 million tonnes was produced. The use of coal has been steadily decreasing, and it was announced in April 2017 that the UK had gone for its first day without coal generated electricity since the Industrial Revolution.
Day 11: Gold
|The Sperrin Mountains in Northern Ireland|
Day 12: Christmas Trees
Monday, 18 December 2017
Dr Jonathan Dean is a Lecturer in Physical Geography at the University of Hull, and until this year worked at the British Geological Survey. His book chapter, written with Prof Melanie Leng from the Stable Isotope Facility at the British Geological Survey and Prof Anson Mackay from University College London, is now out in the Encyclopaedia of the Anthropocene and can be accessed here: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/518688/
Wednesday, 13 December 2017
|John Merritt describing the Alturlie Gravels that formed|
from a retreating ice sheet.
To Moraine or not to MoraineAn optional day to start, organised by Martin Kirkbride and Adrian Hall, took us high into the Cairngorm Mountains to look at a newly defined moraine that represents the development of a Little Ice Age glacier in Coire an Lochain. Martin presented evidence for his interpretation of the moraine, with combination of geomorphology, cosmogenic dating and glacial modelling. Fortunately, his hypothesis managed to withstand the scrutiny of the party, even as the rain started to pour! Check out his paper.
Its main event time!
The following three days were the main field trip, which explored the glacial landscapes and features along the edge of the Moray Firth. We started off at Alturlie Point where we looked at deltaic deposits related to a retreating Moray Firth ice-stream. There was much debate regarding the presence of gravel in the deposit and whether these could possibly represent kettle hole deposits in the delta. Elsewhere quickly deposited gravels resulted in some very eye-catching soft-sediment load structures.
Following on from this we went on to the SSI site at Ardersier to look at world-class folding and soft-sediment deformation structures in the Ardersier Silts. Emrys Phillips guided us through these complex structures, showing the benefits of applying some structural geology knowledge to glaciology, a fantastic example of interdisciplinary collaboration in science. This spectacular site shows the power of a moving glacier and how it can deform sediments, representing a crumple zone in fore-front of the glacier.
|From L-R: Ball and pillow soft structures in the Ardesier Silts; Sandy inter-beds within the Alturlie Gravels.|
Seriously, this is a rock?
Day 2 and the impressive geology kept coming. We started by looking at the Old Red Sandstone. Upon arrival we find a “rock” that can be dug out with a spade. This remarkable change in character is due to the de-calcification of the rocks, making them a pale white colour, providing a very soft section. It’s the hydrofracturing that really captures the imagination of the group. The pressure and movement of the glacier above has resulted in high-pressured water causing fractures in the bedrock. The fractures are filled with clay and contains broken up pieces of the surrounding Old Red Sandstone.
|From L-R: The group exploring hydrofracture networks in the Old Red Sandstone, related to an overriding glacier;|
Decalcification and hydrofractures in the Old Red Sandstone.
Landscapes and deposits of the Findhorn Valley
The final day of the trip was spent in the stunning and picturesque Findhorn Valley. Incredibly, the valley has Devonian (420-360 Ma) aged deposits, suggesting that it was also a valley in the Devonian time. This was a natural point for Adrian Hall (also a BGS VRA) to jump in and give us an overview of ancient landscapes in the area. This resulted in a spirited debate on the uplift history of Scotland. Was the Scottish Highlands ever covered in Cretaceous-aged chalk? We certainly see them in the offshore area, but how far did this extend on-land? Watch this space for some very exciting science in the future!
The final section of the trip was in the river cliffs along the River Findhorn. The 15 m thick section exposed, represents glacial-meltwater draining from an ice-front resulting in small delta/fan pro-grading down the valley. The energy of the delta system was represented by metre sized rip-up blocks that are now entrained in the fluvial deposits. A more recently exposed section shows lacustrine rhythmites and spectacular photogenic climbing ripples that underlie the glacial delta deposits, representing older phases of the glacial delta/fan system.
Overall, a fascinating trip which provided an excellent opportunity to see some of the most interesting glacial features and deposits in Scotland. Most importantly the excursions created an environment for lively and enthusiastic debate. Many thanks to field trip leaders for organising a fantastic trip and I look forward to QRA/GLWG 2018 in sunny Iceland!
Monday, 11 December 2017
|From L-R: Two of the DeepCHALLA lake sediment core sections - the lighter layers are rich in diatoms; Difference|
between a sample rich in diatoms (left) and a sample with little diatoms and more mineral matter (right).
|SEM image of fossilized diatoms from lake sediment 39 metres deep. |
Image shows diatom fragments, Afrocymbella species.