Friday, 21 July 2017

Learning about the living earth: the BGS through the eyes of a newbie... by Grace Davis

Seismogram images of the earthquake on 20/07/17
It’s the end of another busy week at the BGS, and an even busier Friday. On the night of Thursday the 20th, as I’m sure you know, an M 6.7 earthquake hit southwest Turkey and the Dodecanese islands, tragically causing two fatalities, many injuries, and structural damage to buildings. I first heard about it on the radio as I drove to work, and arrived prepared to help with any enquiries we might receive. Most of my morning was spent on Twitter and Facebook, updating people with the information we had and directing them to our earthquake pages if they wanted to know more about why things like this happen.

Taking a step back in time, Monday saw me attending another lunchtime lecture (I think I’m getting to be a familiar sight in the conference room: eagerly clutching my notepad and pen like an anxious child on the first day of school). This one was all about our Official Development Assistance programme. The programme and projects involved are still being developed but, from what I gathered at the lecture, it’s certainly shaping up to be a fascinating and innovative area of work for the BGS that will have truly global implications.

Projects like this were one of the things that drew me to the BGS originally, and continue to intrigue me now. I think that sometimes people believe geology is all about things that have already happened, stuff that is ancient history. Although that’s undeniably part of it, what I have come to realise more and more and is that so much of geology is about the living earth: the processes and changes that are happening in front of our eyes (even though some are far too slow for our eyes to perceive!).

A wonderful example of living geology is the work the BGS does on energy. And if you’re wondering what that work is, well I can’t put it better than the words on the front page of the BGS’ energy web section: “the BGS supports science that seeks to understand and maximise the recovery of dwindling fossil fuel reserves, as well as helping the development of renewable energy such as geothermal power.” This is science that affects us all! If you’d like find out more about this work, why not head over to our dedicated energypages.

There won’t be a post from me next week as I’ll be on annual leave, jaunting around Berlin with my family (birthday wishes to my dad who probably doesn’t want me to mention his age on here). So it’s adieu from me for now!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Jonathan Dean

Jonathan Dean (now at Hull University), who worked as  Post Doctoral Research Assistant at the British Geological Survey until February, reports on the latest group meeting of the research project he is involved with while at the BGS...

The Chew Bahir project team.
The latest meeting of the Chew Bahir portion of the Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project took place in Potsdam in June. Chew Bahir is a lake in southern Ethiopia that was 'drilled' in 2014 to retrieve cores of lake sediment. These extend from the lake bed down to 290 metres into the sediments. This sediment accumulated over the past 500,000 years ago. I presented the isotope data that we produced at the Stable Isotope Facility at the British Geological Survey. By looking at the ratio of one type of oxygen to another, and how this varies from the present day lake bed through the sediment cores at intervals down to 290 metres, we are able to reconstruct how the climate changed between wet and dry over the past half a million years.

Our colleagues on the project are from the UK, Ethiopia, Germany and the US. Some are busy working out how old each bit of the sediment core is, e.g. using radiocarbon dating at the top and dating volcanic ash layers towards the bottom. Others are looking at changes in the type of algae found down the sediment core, to look at changes in how fresh or salty the lake water was over time. Some are taking the reconstructed climate changes and relating them to changes in human history. We want to establish what the climate was like when our species, Homo sapiens, evolved and then spread out of Africa. Some people have suggested that when climate changes from more variable to more stable, that can lead to movements of populations, but we want to test that hypothesis.

 From L-R: Location of one of the more famous Potsdam conferences, where Churchill, Truman and Stalin decided how
 to divide up Germany at the end of the Second World War; the famous Bridge of Spies in Potsdam.
While in Potsdam we visited the famous Bridge of Spies (aka Glienicke Bridge) and the Potsdam Conference venue. The bridge across the Havel River in Germany connects Berlin with Potsdam. The bridge was completed in 1907, although major reconstruction was necessary after it was damaged during World War II. During the Cold War the bridge was used several times for the exchange of captured spies and thus became known as the Bridge of Spies (several films have used this location)... The Potsdam Conference was held at Cecilienhof, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm, in Potsdam, between July and August 1945. The conference participants were the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States (Stalin, Churchill/Attlee, Truman). The 3 powers met to decide how to administer the defeated Nazi Germany, which had agreed to unconditional surrender nine weeks earlier.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Success in Scotland: BUFI Science Festival 2017... by Olivier Humphrey

BUFI Presenters

Hello, my name is Olivier, I am a PhD student at the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (University of Nottingham and BGS) and I have recently attended the BUFI Science Festival 2017, hosted in The Lyell Centre, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.

BUFI (BGS University Funding initiative) supports over 100 projects and the Science Festival is an opportunity for all the PhD students to come and present a poster detailing their work, and to discuss it with both scientific and non-scientific BGS and Heriot-Watt staff members. This year there were 29 presenters with fantastic posters covering a wide range of topics including; environmental geochemistry, volcanology, hydrology and glaciology. My research revolves around iodine geodynamics and plant availability, and this year I presented my poster on ‘Iodine uptake, translocation and storage in spinach and tomatoes’.

Iodine is an essential micronutrient involved in the production of the thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Approximately one-third of the world’s population are at risk of iodine deficiency disorders (IDD); the most severe effects occur during fetal development; leading to goitre, stillbirth, cretinism and mental impairment. The most widely-used method for reducing IDD is dietary supplementation with iodised salt; however, poor salt treatment and food processing reduces its effectiveness.
Due to the epidemic levels of IDD, alternative supplementation methods are required: iodine phytofortification is such a strategy. In my poster I outlined how one aspect of my project aims to develop the fundamental understanding of iodine uptake mechanisms and translocation pathways within plants, and assess the practicality and effectiveness of foliar-spray biofortification as a method of increasing dietary iodine intake.

The Lyell Centre
Shortly after arriving in sunny Edinburgh the PhD students and BUFI team went out for a meal, this gave us the opportunity to catch up and meet new students, we even managed to find time for a wee dram or two! On the day of the science festival the weather was back to normal: wet. After arriving at The Lyell Centre we set up our posters and had the chance to look at everyone else’s, all of which looked great. One presenter even bought a virtual reality headset, which enabled people to discover the world of hydrothermal vents off of the coast of Greece. After lunch Professor Mercedes Marot-Valer gave a talk on carbon capture, utilisation and storage; highlighting the need for us, as environmental scientists, to work with engineers and professionals from other disciplines to develop solutions to current global issues rather than just identifying them.

As the festival drew to a close a number of awards were presented; including The Lyell Centre staff prize, a BUFI students peer prize and a highly commended prize. I was lucky enough to win the best overall poster presentation prize! I had a great day and would just like to give a massive thank you to Jon Naden, Ellie Evans and Ann Evans for organising a fantastic event, I'm really looking forward to next year’s BUFI Science Festival.
Prize Winners (left-to-right): Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer (keynote speaker), Iain Stobbs (Lyell Centre staff prize), Ailsa Guild (BUFI students peer prize), Chloe Morris (highly commended prize), Olivier Humphrey (best bverall poster presentation), Jon Naden (BUFI manager)

By Olivier Humphrey

The PhD is supervised under the umbrella of the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry: Dr Scott Young, Dr Liz Bailey and Professor Neil Crout (University of Nottingham) and Dr Louise Ander and Dr Michael Watts (BGS)

Friday, 14 July 2017

Art, Twitter and the Miocene Epoch: the BGS through the eyes of a newbie.. by Grace Davis

If you’ve tweeted the BGS this week, there’s a decent chance it was me who replied to you!  As of Monday I’ve been helping to monitor our social media accounts and I’ve really been enjoying keeping up with your questions, comments and thoughts. From sharing geology-themed school projects to wanting to know more about updates on our website, people have spoken to us from all over the world. It’s great to see how people engage with us and the work we’re doing, and we are keen to keep the conversation flowing, so if you’ve got anything to share with us then please do get in touch.

Guests at the Impossible Views exhibition
I’m Grace and I’m a new starter at the BGS, you may have read my first weekly blog post last Friday – if not, check it out here. I’m happy to report that the end of week two leaves me feeling like I’ve really begun to get stuck in.

Perhaps the biggest undertaking this week has been getting started on what will be one of my main projects here: the communications work for ODA. What’s ODA, you ask? It stands for Official Development Assistance and encapsulates the BGS’s overseas work. This is a large and complex area, and we’re really looking forward to sharing more about it with you as it develops, so watch this space!

Tuesday night saw the unveiling of the Impossible Viewsexhibition, a great opportunity for people to visit our site, take in the art and speak with the people who created it. I attended and, along with assisting with hosting guests, made a rather ham-fisted job of helping to serve drinks (corkscrews are not my forte). It was also lovely to have the chance to meet some more of the BGS staff and their partners at the event.

Speaking of events, I was also able to go to another lunchtime lecture where I learnt about the Brassington Formation, a Miocene deposit in the Peak District. I was fascinated to hear that such deposits (from the Miocene epoch which occurred 23 to 5 million years ago) are extremely rare onshore in the UK. This particular area was only preserved by chance due to the collapse of the soluble limestone/dolomite below it, allowing it to fall into cavities and remain protected until mining and brickmaking activities began in the area.
A large pebble and some of the 'mummified' wood that can be found at the Formation

As you might be able to tell, I was pretty excited to pick up this new piece of geology knowledge and I’ve been eagerly sharing it ever since. And as five o’clock rolls around this Friday afternoon, I can only imagine I’ll be telling it throughout the weekend too so if you know me, be prepared…

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Impossible Views - art and science come together... by Grace Davis

Impossible Views – it sounds rather like a contradiction in terms doesn’t it? Something that couldn’t possibly exist or be seen? Well, in fact: it does and it can! Impossible Views is the name of a new exhibition created out of a partnership between the BGS and Quarrylab, a local artist development organisation. The exhibition features a diverse collection of paintings, drawings, video, audio and mixed media by various artists, all centred around combining art and science together, as well as items from the BGS collections.

I went to see the exhibition myself this week as I prepared to start work on getting the word out about the show. Serendipitously, my arrival happened to coincide with that of several of the artists themselves, there to plan for a private viewing that took place on July 11th. Roy Pickering, artist, painter and founder of Quarrylab, stopped to speak with me about what was going on and how the exhibition had come about. He explained that this partnership between the BGS and Quarrylab is pretty unusual – its aim is to take science and art and focus on the similarities between them, and the ways in which they can complement each other. Professor Mark Rawlinson, a member of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Nottingham and one of the artists featured in the exhibition, recently wrote “From the laboratory to the artist’s studio, the work of the artist and the scientist appear rooted in similar practices, are allied to similar processes, and rely upon similar modes of thinking. And both seem concerned with revelation, the revealing of something hidden or previously unknown.”

During my look-around I met artist Paul Harraway. He showed me the pieces he had contributed and talked about his time spent in Derbyshire and at Siccar Point in Scotland, sketching and drawing in the countryside.

Speaking to Paul, I found myself thinking about the contradiction that his work had managed to capture: the scenes before me looked like completely natural landscapes, full of greenery and gently tumbling slopes. However none of this had happened organically: these sites were created by human hands, by the years of quarrying and earthworks that had taken place there.

For me, these ideas were the heart of the exhibition: the combination of natural and human-made, the hidden landscapes of quarries, both active and in ruin, and the connection that can be drawn between what we do here at the BGS and the work that goes on in artists’ studios everywhere.  To find out more about the materials collections at the BGS visit our collections webpages.

Impossible Views is open to the public every Friday from now until 13th July. Why not pop along and take a look at this unique combination of art and science? For more information call 0115 936 3143 or email

Friday, 7 July 2017

New beginnings: the BGS through the eyes of a newbie... by Grace Davis

Lithology. Inselberg. Colluvium. These are only three of the many, many words that just one week of work at the BGS has introduced me to. Every time I come across a word that seems like it could come in handy I make a note in my nice fresh notebook. I’m building up quite a glossary (incidentally, inselberg is my favourite so far: for those who don’t know, it’s an isolated hill or mountain rising abruptly from a plain).

I'm Grace Davis and I started at the BGS on Monday 3rd July, joining the Communications team on a fixed term contract. My first day was a fairly unusual one, mainly involving helping to clear up from the Open Day on the Saturday before. A lot of balloons had to be popped and I was the woman for the job – unfortunately this did mean many people’s first impression of me was a loud ‘bang’ followed by a grimace and a ‘sorry!’

I managed to attend the Open Day on that Saturday (along with my boyfriend, parents and friends who were all eager to have a nosy at my new place of work) and was really glad to have a chance to get to know my way around and learn about some of the work that goes on here. I particularly loved the ‘Walk like a Dinosaur’ stand. After all the excitement and ice cream it was a fairly surreal contrast to then come back on Monday, without my friends and family in tow, and actually start working.

The rest of the week was a whirlwind of meeting people, starting on my very first tasks, and doing a lot of learning, exploring and absorbing. I’m starting to feel a little bit like a sponge…
On Wednesday I attended my first lunchtime lecture – hosted by Graeme Taylor, a flood expert from the local council. It was a great opportunity to learn more about what happens when a flood hits and the defences we have against them. I’m definitely going to be looking out for more of these.
I’ve also been working with Impossible Views, a new art exhibition created by the BGS and Quarrylab, a local artist development group. The exhibition is open from now until 13th August and showcases pieces that bring together art and science, looking at the similarities between the two. Keep an eye out for my blog post on the exhibition next week.

And that brings us to today: the end of my first week on the job. It’s been an amazing first glimpse into a whole new world, whetting my appetite to really get stuck into some of the fascinating projects going on here. Look out for my weekly blog posts taking you along for the ride, through the eyes of a complete newbie!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Isotopes in Biogenic Silica Melanie Leng

In June 2017, the ninth meeting of the Isotopes in Biogenic Silica (IBiS) working group met in Blanes, Spain. The meeting was arranged with the aim of those interested in "silica, silicon and isotopes" to meet to discuss recent advances and discoveries in:

  • biological and molecular processes involved in the production of biogenic silica
  • ecological and biogeochemical mechanisms in the production of silica stocks
  • silica isotope tracing of processes in both modern and ancestral environments
  • biotechnology of silica

The meeting was organised by the Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Blanes (CEAB-CSIC) and attracted around 50 researchers from around the world. It was clear from the meeting that the use of silica in biotechnology (mainly as a carrier for other elements that need to be distributed in tiny quantities) is a huge growth area. Other important advances are being made around the signal retained in the oxygen and silica isotopes within the biogenic silica structure, as well as the advancements in analytical protocols and laboratory inter-calibration exercises.

Blanes, the gateway to the Costa Brava, was a relaxed setting for a conference. Although it is a popular tourist town, due to its amazing beach front, it was still early in the season so very quiet. Of note to geologists is the Sa Palomera, a rocky promontory that protrudes into the sea, made of fairly coarse-grained granite (which accounts for the wide, golden beaches).

Please contact Melanie Leng if you are interested in all aspects of the geochemistry of biogenic silica and would like to join the working group. We hope the next meeting to be in Northern Europe in June 2019.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

BGS Open Day 2017: A Huge Success!!

It was truly a great day here at BGS on Saturday!  The sun was shining and people arrived in their droves to attend the BGS Biennial Open Day! This is the third such event we have hosted and it is becoming increasingly popular, with well over 2000 people attending this year.

There was a small army of BGS staff in dark blue t-shirts ready to answer questions and guide people as they got stuck-in to over fifty different activities and learning experiences.  And to top it all, there was even an ice cream van!

As well as a series of talks, the BGS site in Keyworth, Nottingham, was divided into Learning Zones, each one with a different theme: 

The Red Zone included demonstrations and activities on plate tectonics, earthquakes, tsunami, volcano mapping, coastal erosion and mapping minerals on the sea bed (with thanks to NOC).  You could see how mountains are shaped and unearth the secrets of soil or play a protect-your-soil game.  There were fossils through the ages and you could even make your own fossils with Rockwatch, the nationwide club for young geologists.

Getting eaten alive at the BGS OPen Day 2017!
Getting eaten alive!
Fly above and below the landscape on a virtual 3D tour of the UK
Discover information in our boreholes
Face painting!
The sand pit that changes colour!

The Yellow Zone displayed our maps and apps, which are useful to anyone with an interest in geology, from engineers and other scientists to homeowners, gardeners and walkers, or even minecraft gamers.  There was a giant floor map and a place to learn about how we use rocks and minerals in the home.

The Green Zone showcased our landslides and sinkholes research and gave the opportunity for people to talk to the experts about hazards and engineering.

The Purple Zone introduced the Anthropocene - a new geological era that encapsulates human driven biological, chemical and physical changes to the Earth’s system.  You could dig through this era in a sandpit of discovery and also find out about the secret life of your mobile phone!  You could also pan for gold!

The Blue Zone was full of splashingly good watery fun where you could learn about the water cycle, including how aquifers work.  How do we measure water levels and water quality?

A tour of the BGS core store at the BGS Open Day 2017
A tour of the BGS core store

Fossils through the ages
Digging for dinosaur DNA at the BGS Opwn Day 2017
Digging for dinosaur DNA
The secret life of your mobile phone at the BGS Open Day 2017!
The secret life of your mobile phone

Panning for gold at the BGS Open Day 2017!
Panning for gold!
And if all that wasn't enough, Plymouth University were here helping you walk like a dinosaur to tell you which dinosaur you would have been and how fast you were running compared to animals from today.

Walk like a dinosaur - with thanks to Plymouth University Earth Sciences Department
Walk like a dinosaur - with thanks to Plymouth University Earth Sciences Department
We'd like to thank all the staff and visitors who took part in the Open Day - see you next time!

The BGS Open Day 2017 - a day of fun, interest and geological learning!
The BGS Open Day 2017 - a day of fun, interest and geological learning!

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

BGS wins major impact award!

Scientists at BGS have been getting better at communicating what they are up to beyond just those in the know.  In fact, they have been getting so good at it that they have won an award!  In mid June, there was an awards ceremony in Sheffield, where the finalists gathered to see who would be selected to win Team of the Year at the PraxisUnico Impact Awards 2017.  This award is aimed at recognising knowledge exchange (a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas, data, experience, and expertise) between organisations like BGS and external researchers, commercial groups and the public.

Dr Katherine Royse, Science Director GeoAnalytics and Modelling Directorate,
receiving the Team of the Year award from Nick Starkey,
Deputy Director (Strategy & Impact), Science & Research at BEIS
Dr Katherine Royse, Science Director of BGS’s GeoAnalytics and Modelling Directorate, went along to the gala dinner knowing her team was a finalist in the Team of the Year Category up against some stiff competition.  To her absolute delight, they won!

When asked about the award, Katherine said: "I am so pleased that the directorate has received this recognition. It's an awesome achievement! The Directorate have made significant impact in developing BGS data assets so that they provide both public good and commercial services. This award recognises the hard work and dedication of BGS staff to support the UK innovation agenda, thereby encouraging economic growth and improving societal health and wellbeing.”

Maxine Ficarra, Executive Director of PraxisUnico said:
I would like to congratulate the winners of the PraxisUnico RCUK Impact Awards. They, and all of the finalists, should all be immensely proud of their achievements and contributions. It is great to see so many innovative approaches to knowledge exchange and commercialisation, enabling UK research to deliver impact in so many diverse ways. This work is vital in ensuring that the UK remains competitive, innovative, and able to sustain economic growth.

The GeoAnalytics and Modelling Directorate is a part of BGS that aims to explain, explore and predict the Earth’s response to natural and human-induced environmental change.  Building better partnerships with the user community was a key part of the success of the team. By understanding the community’s needs, the GeoAnalytics and Modelling Directorate have been able to develop usable and understandable bespoke products and services. These include but are not limited to power networks, engineering consultancies, transport providers and the insurance sector, all of whom have contributed to the development of a number of key products and services to date.

If you want to find out more, see:

Well done everyone!

The GeoAnalytics and Modelling Directorate
Some of the GeoAnalytics and Modelling Directorate

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Continental Drilling and Northern Melanie Leng

The ICDP Executive Committee in Kiruna, northern Sweden
In early June each year the International Continental scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) committee meets to assess applications for drilling deep holes in the Earth. This year the meeting was held in Kiruna in northern Sweden. Here Melanie Leng explains a bit about ICDP, the UK’s geoscience ICDP community, and her trip to Kiruna as the UK’s representative on the ICDP Executive Committee.

The UK is a member of the ICDP and this enables consortiums of geoscientists from the UK (in collaboration with other member countries) to apply for funding to deep drill the Earth through many kilometres of sediments and rocks in order to get cores of pristine material for scientific study (take a look at the ICDP website for more information on current projects). There are many reasons we want to take long cores through the Earth and like many applications we assessed in Kiruna, they often involve assessing natural hazards including volcanos and earthquakes, natural resources and understanding palaeoclimate. Both pre-drilling workshop proposals and full drilling proposals were assessed at the meeting and the outcomes will be published on the ICDP website in the coming weeks.

As part of the meeting the ICDP committee also visited the Kiruna state mine (owned by LKAB), the largest underground iron ore mine in the world. The mine has an annual production capacity of over 26 million tonnes of iron ore. The Kiruna ore body may have been formed from volcanic activity where iron precipitated into a syenite porphyry rock and was then tilted to 50 – 60°. Currently the iron is mined at a depth of over a kilometre.

From L-R: View of one of the underground tunnels (lit with blue lights) at Kiruna; Kiruna mine from the surface; some
raw megnetite (iron) ore and the processed iron pellets 
Back to ICDP, the UK has key personnel within the program. Prof John Ludden (BGS Director) sits on the assembly of Governors, I sit on the Executive Committee and Dr Kathryn Goodenough (BGS) is the Chair of the science Advisory Group. Please feel free to contact us about ICDP activities. The next deadline for ICDP drilling and workshop proposals is January 2018. You can also keep up to date with ICDP-UK through our website.

For more information, please contact Melanie Leng

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Our rocks and landforms: the 'great stone book' of Hugh Barron

Siccar Point, Berwickshire. Arguably one of the most important
 geological sites in the world.
Scotland has an outstanding diversity of rocks and landforms created by natural processes over the last 3 billion years or more of the Earth’s existence. They are part of Scotland’s rich geodiversity – the variety of rocks, minerals, fossils, landforms, sediments and soils, and the natural processes that form and alter them. Together, the particular elements of geodiversity record the Earth’s history, as pages of a 'great stone book', and form part of our natural heritage to be passed on to future generations.

Internationally, Scotland is regarded as the birthplace of modern geoscience, led by geologist James Hutton in the late 18th century. At Siccar Point in Berwickshire, Hutton and  John Playfair (Scottish Geologist and mathematician) unlocked ‘the abyss of time’ and presented a vision of a living world that recognised the crucial links between geology, soils, plants, animals and human beings. Our geodiversity is an asset of national and international importance with many sites celebrated around the world and contributing key aspects of world geoheritage. Our geodiversity is vital for interpreting past geological processes of global significance, such as plate tectonics, mountain building, volcanism, carbon cycling and glaciation and some of Scotland’s rocks also contain a rich variety of fossils that have significantly advanced our understanding of the evolution of life.

Geodiversity is vital as the foundation for biodiversity. The nation’s diverse assemblage of landforms, soils, water, nutrients and natural processes support nationally and internationally important terrestrial and marine ecosystems and species, and Scottish soils store large amounts of carbon, an important consideration in climate change mitigation. We live in a dynamic landscape where understanding of river, coastal, subsurface and slope processes are a vital part of nature-based solutions to management of hazards such as flooding, sea-level rise, coastal erosion, subsidence and landslides.

On land and sea, geodiversity makes a significant contribution to Scotland’s economy as a source of energy and materials, playing a critical role in the:
  • exploration and production of mineral resources such as oil, gas and building materials;
  • development of infrastructure, waste storage and remediation of pollution;
  • research and development of carbon capture and storage (CCS), geothermal energy and subsurface energy storage;
  • location of wind and hydro-power renewable resources;
  • provision of ecosystem services.
The distribution of rocks and landforms has shaped human activity in Scotland, from the earliest Palaeolithic settlers up to the present day, influencing sites of settlement, land use and water sources, while the variety of Scotland’s building stone resource is reflected in the local character and distinctiveness of our built environment. Scotland’s geodiversity forms the bedrock of our varied landscapes and spectacular scenery that attracts visitors from around the world and forms a vital part of our economy. Our landscapes also provide the stage for diverse recreation and outdoor activities, contributing to the economy and people's health and wellbeing.

Our geodiversity has been a powerful influence on cultural and intellectual development, as a source of inspiration for art, sculpture, music, poetry, literature and science. It forms part of our ‘sense of place’ and provides what Neal Ascherson called our ‘stone voices’ – “the way human experience in Scotland has been built so intimately into its geology that a people and its stones form a single cultural landscape.”

But perhaps the best description of the importance of geodiversity to Scotland can be found in the Scotland’s Geodiversity Charter (the first of its type in the world) prepared by the Scottish Geodiversity Forum and partners. It presents a vision that geodiversity is “recognised as an integral and vital part of our environment, economy, heritage and future sustainability to be safeguarded for existing and future generations in Scotland”.

This blog was first published in Scotland's Environment's blog section 'Our rocks and landforms: the great stone book of Scotland'. Over the next few weeks the blog will be exploring the exciting projects that their partners are working on in this area and looking at the maps, data tools and information available on their website. 

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The start of a major new research project (ORCHESTRA): Part Carol Arrowsmith

Mel carefully collecting
sea water samples for
carbon measurements.
The British Geological Survey (BGS) is a major partner in a scientific programme called ORCHESTRA (Ocean Regulation of Climate through Heat and carbon Sequestration and Transport) which has been running for over a year. The project aims to improve our ability to understand and predict the role of the Southern Ocean currents to modulate global climate. The BGS’s contribution to this research is to analyse the oxygen and carbon isotope composition of the ocean waters from the World’s oceans over a 5 year period. In particular the carbon data will be used to investigate where carbon is ether absorbed by the ocean or expelled into the atmosphere. This is particularly important as the oceans regulate atmospheric CO2.  

Over the last year we at the BGS have been very busy analysing transects of the oceans to track currents and understand where freshwater enters the oceans through the oxygen chemistry. Very soon we will start measuring the carbon. As several laboratories are involved in the carbon analysis we need to check that we all get the same results. So we needed to collect an average water to distribute to all the labs involved...

Carol working at the mobile lab
once we were back on land. 
In May during a mini heat wave, myself and Melanie Leng set off on a trip to collect an average sea water. Our closest coast (North Norfolk) was chosen. We booked a couple of slots on a fishing boat and sailed about 2 miles from the coast. We carefully collected the samples for the different labs while being watched by a dozen tourists who were there for the fishing. These samples have now been packed up and sent around the world. At the BGS we have started our measurements, and look forward to receiving the data from the other labs. Being able to reproduce sample analysis within a single laboratory and also checking different labs get the same data from comparable samples is an important step in any experiment design.

The ORCHESTRA project is led by Prof Mike Meredith at the British Antarctic Survey. For further details please go to our website.

Facebook: Orchestraproject

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Understanding Underground: promoting positive partnerships at NICS Kirstin Lemon

The Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI) is just one of numerous science directorates at the British Geological Survey. However, despite being staffed by scientists from the BGS, the GSNI is unique in that it is also an office of Northern Ireland's Department for the Economy (DfE) and sits very firmly within the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS).

At the end of May, the NICS put on the biggest public sector showcase of the year, NICS Live, when various sectors of the NICS get the opportunity to showcase the work that they do and highlight how this benefits the citizens of Northern Ireland. The event brings together leaders from across Northern Ireland's public sector to share best practice, promote innovation and discuss how to better deliver public services for citizens. Presenting at this huge event is a competitive process and applications have to be submitted well in advance before being assessed by a number of senior managers.

GSNI was the only office of the DfE that won a place at the event and we took full advantage of this opportunity. Not only did we emphasise the huge part that geoscience plays in Northern Ireland's economy, but also how it benefits all other sections of society. Before the event, we compiled a number of core messages, all designed to highlight the huge impact of GSNI and the geoscience sector as a whole.
  1. Developing the economy: we support Northern Ireland's economic sector and job creation a number of sectors including aggregates, valuable minerals, oil & gas, and geothermal.
  2. Research, data and innovation: our scientists acquire, maintain, analyse and interpret geoscience data to support and inform decision-making. 
  3. Underpinning infrastructure: we supply information on geology and ground conditions to develop Northern Ireland's transport, utility, energy networks and construction sector.
  4. Monitoring the environment: we provide information to help protect and sustainably manage Northern Ireland's natural environment.
  5. Enhancing tourism: we provide advice and guidance on developing our natural landscape for sustainable tourism.
  6. Protecting human and animal health: we assess and mitigate risks to human and animal health from natural hazards.
  7. Supporting education: we help to develop and design resources for schools that educate and inspire future earth scientists. 
Our core messages were all presented at a fully interactive exhibition stand that was available for all delegates throughout the day and through this, provided a number of new points of contact within various sectors of the NICS.

From L to R: The interactive stand at NICS Live; DfE Permanent Secretary, Dr Andrew McCormick and BGS Director of
 Science and Technology, Prof Mike Stephenson. 
Our talks programme was called 'Understanding Underground: geology forms our landscape, resources our economy and underpins our infrastructure'. This rather ambitious event put particular emphasis on the positive partnerships that GSNI has developed over our 70 years of publics service. Given that we only have 12 scientists working at GSNI, it is these partnerships that have helped us to achieve our high level of success in such a diverse range of sectors.

Speakers at the 'Understandng Underground' session. 
The programme was opened by Prof Mike Stephenson, BGS's Director of Science and Technology, who set the context. This was followed by a session on Research and Innovation by Dr Marie Cowan, Director of GSNI and Dr Jennifer McKinley, Director of Research at the School of the Natural and Built Environment at Queen's University Belfast. Next up was a session on Minerals and the Economy by Dr Mark Cooper, Chief Geologist at GSNI together with Gordon Best, Director of the Quarry Products Association NI. Geothermal Energy was next on the agenda and was delivered by Derek Reay, Team Leader at GSNI and Ric Pasquali, Chair of the Geothermal Association of Ireland. The session finished with a session on Geology and Sustainable Tourism by Dr Kirstin Lemon, Team Leader at GSNI and Tanya Cathcart, Marketing Manager at Fermanagh Lakelands Tourism. The entire programme was chaired by Lorraine Fleming from Mineral and Petroleum Branch at DfE and was closed by June Ingram, Director of the Energy, Telecoms, Minerals and Petroleum Division at DfE.

Over 1000 delegates attended over the entire day and the talks programme was fully-booked with approximately 100 people present. Of the 98 delegates who registered to attend GSNI's talk session, almost 1/3 were from Grade 7 (Principal Officer) to Senior Civil Service grades from all nine Northern Ireland government departments and the Northern Ireland Office, which demonstrates the breadth and depth of the impact. Afterwards, Twitter was singing the praises for the DfE and GSNI, in particular, complimenting the gender balance of speakers and DfE senior female representation.

We hope that by attending and presenting at NICS Live we have been able to not only increase the awareness and understanding of what GSNI does, but also highlight the impact that our scientists have on not just the economy, but on all elements of the lives of each and every one of Northern Ireland's citizens.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Age of Grit and Lime: the Bedrock of Clive Mitchell

Clive Mitchell is Head of Communications for the British Geological Survey (BGS) responsible for communicating the science of the BGS. He is also a senior industrial minerals specialist, secretary of the Extractive Industry Geology conference, a Chartered Geologist, responsible for MineralsUK website and a member of the British Standards Institute (BSI) technical committee for aggregate test methods. This blog was originally written for the Institute of Quarrying (IQ) Quarry Garden project, on display at the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show in celebration of 100 years of the IQ.

My thoughts of Derbyshire are usually full of the walking routes I’ve followed across the Peak District. As a geologist, the contrast evident in the geology of the White and Dark Peaks is stark. The seemingly peaceful, verdant green pastures, drystone walled farmland of the limestone dales surrounded by the brooding heathland moors and the dramatic sheer-sided edges of the gritstone uplands.

For the keen observer, the evidence of past industry and human ingenuity is all around, often overgrown and gently merging back into the landscape. My walks often take me along canal tow paths and mineral railway lines, through rocky cuttings, dripping tunnels and steep inclines, which provided the mills, factories, stone quarries, lime kilns and farmers with access to markets in the surrounding cities. It’s hard to envisage the roar of the engines, the huge volume of material and the large number of people that must have passed along now largely tranquil routes such as the High Peak, Tissington or Monsal trails.

The limestone and gritstone forming the Peak District are sedimentary rocks that have been a source of valuable materials since the days of Romans lead mining. Alongside the Coal Measures in the east of the county, these rocks were deposited in the Carboniferous over 340 million years ago and are exposed in the north, east and part of the south of Derbyshire. The younger geology of north-east Derbyshire includes high quality Permian-age dolomite (‘Magnesian Limestone’) that is the raw material for magnesia refractories and was in the past used as a valuable ‘freestone’ to build the Houses of Parliament. In the south of the county, sand and gravel is produced from the Triassic Sherwood Sandstone and the river gravels in the Trent valley. The modern day focus of the minerals industry in Derbyshire is the quarrying of construction minerals, particularly limestone, sand and gravel, brick clay and sandstones, and also industrial minerals including industrial grade limestone and dolomite.

From L to R: Sheep Pasture Incline, High Peak Trail, Derbyshire; Dene Quarry (disused), Cromford, Derbyshire.
Some of my favourite places in Derbyshire are the ‘Blue John’ caverns at the western end of the Hope Valley near Castleton, where the fabulous purple fluorspar is still mined, although on a very small scale. Fluorspar is one of the few minerals to be worked on an industrial scale within the Peak District National Park (for example, near Stoney Middleton) as it is a considered a resource of national strategic importance. Some superb examples of Blue John used in table tops, inlays and vases can be seen in the mineral collection in Chatsworth House.

Ashover Grit, Stanton Moor Quarry, Matlock, Derbyshire.
Chatsworth is a fitting location for the Institute of Quarrying (IQ) Quarry Garden at the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show this year (7-11 June 2017). As with many buildings in the Peak District, it is built with locally quarried stone. The main house is built using Ashover Grit. This is an attractive honey coloured sandstone with Liesegang rings (formed by iron staining) and was quarried a few miles away on the hills overlooking Bakewell, a stone’s throw from the Monsal trail. The Ashover Grit also forms the bedrock below Chatsworth House itself and was recently quarried at Burntwood Quarry. This quarry, located on the Chatsworth Estate, was reopened 100 years after it was last worked and was totally overgrown. The stone produced is part of the current restoration work being carried out at Chatsworth House and was also incorporated into the IQ Quarry Garden.

Clive Mitchell, British Geological Survey, 30th May 2017

Friday, 26 May 2017

The Past Global Changes Open Science Meeting, Zaragoza…by PhD student Savannah Worne

Savannah presenting preliminary PhD research

“The PAGES (Past Global Changes) project is an international effort to coordinate and promote past global change research. The primary objective is to improve our understanding of past changes in the Earth system in order to improve projections of future climate and environment, and inform strategies for sustainability.” (, Accessed May 2017).

In May 2017, several members from the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (BGS/University of Nottingham) travelled to Zaragoza, Spain, to give talks and present posters at the PAGES 5th Open Science Meeting (OSM), including myself, Professor Sarah Metcalfe, Dr George Swann, Dr Matt Jones, fellow PhD student Nick Primmer and Dr Stefan Engels. Over 800 scientists from 51 countries also participated, where over the course of the four-day conference there were 9 plenary talks, 344 additional talks and 649 poster presentations across 30 different themes covering  a broad range of topics including Quaternary climate change, Ancient DNA, Volcanic eruptions and Data Stewardship, to name a few.

My personal motivation for attending the PAGES OSM was to share new results from my PhD research, which I have been producing over the last year with my supervisors Dr Sev Kender and Dr George Swann, as well as Prof Melanie Leng from the British Geological Survey and Prof Christina Ravelo from the University of California Santa Cruz. This was the perfect opportunity to present my new results as part of the Mid Pleistocene Transition session. For further information about the Mid Pleistocene transition and my PhD research, please see: .

We know that in the modern day the Bering Sea is a source region of CO2 the atmosphere, as warm, nutrient rich water from the deep Pacific meets the continental shelf and upwells to the surface, releasing CO2 the atmosphere. However it is hypothesised, that during cold glacial periods since the MPT, upwelling of Pacific Deep Water (PDW) was prevented by stratification of the water column from either increased sea ice or formation of cold intermediate waters, or a combination of the two. Reduction of upwelling PDW may mean that the Bering Sea was a net sink of CO2 to the atmosphere in these severe glacial periods.
The PAGES OSM was held at the Auditorio de Zaragoza
To investigate this I used the nitrogen isotope (δ15N) record, which can be used as a record of nutrient utilisation. This is because the light isotope 14N is preferentially taken up by phytoplankton as they grow. So as more of the nutrient supply is used, phytoplankton begin to utilise the 15N as well. Therefore when we look at our sediment record, the ratio of 14N to 15N (δ15N) can tell us how much of the nutrient supply was used at the time the phytoplankton were deposited on the ocean floor.

The preliminary results which I presented at PAGES suggested that during severe post-MPT glacials, a more stratified water column caused high nutrient utilisation despite low phytoplankton productivity. A simultaneous increases in North Pacific Intermediate Water (NPIW) was also found at another nearby site in the Bering Sea (Knudson and Ravelo, 2015). We also found that there were larger variations in post-MPT stratification (0 – 590,000 years ago) than before, concurrent with glacial lengthening. The conclusion was therefore that there was an increase in water column stratification during post-MPT glacials, probably linked to the closure of the shallow Bering Strait (~50m) following sea level drop, and due to the formation of North Pacific Intermediate Water in the Bering Sea. I will now look to continue my research in reconstructing how sea ice evolved during this time, to assess its role in changing productivity, nutrient utilisation and PDW upwelling.
Overall, attending the PAGES OSM was highly rewarding, as I got to discuss my first sets of results with a large range of scientists both in my specific field and those with a wider appreciation for palaeoceanography. I am now more enthused than ever to continue my PhD research continue and answer unsolved questions about MPT palaeoceanographic change.

First meeting of the UK consortium of the DeepCHALLA project... by Heather Moorhouse

The DeepCHALLA UK party at the BGS plus International lead
investigator Dirk Verschuren (Ghent University)
We held the first meeting of UK scientists working on the International Continental scientific Drilling Programme’s DeepCHALLA project at a very rainy BGS Keyworth. This NERC funded consortium of scientists is part of a large, international team that will investigate over 214 metres of lake sediment cores dating back to ~250,000 years, to understand climate change in equatorial east Africa.

The sediment cores were retrieved from Lake Challa, a crater lake found 3 degrees south of the equator, on the eastern flank of mount Kilamanjaro, and which lies directly on the border of Tanzania and Kenya. The region is subject to two rainy seasons a year, but the length in between these seasons is changed over thousands of years as the Earth changes it orbit of the Sun, and has led to periods of aridity and drought. In particular, around 110-160 thousand years ago, it is believed that mega-droughts which lasted thousands of years at a time, led to the dispersal of our hominin ancestors out of Africa and caused vegetation changes leading to the high biodiversity of the region today.

The DeepCHALLA drilling rig on the lake
Ice cores from the north and south poles have provided incredible climate reconstructions which have been used to predict future changes to our global climate. However, past climate change in equatorial regions is still relatively unknown. This project will help broaden our perspective of climate change in a region which has suffered droughts and severe food shortages in recent years, and will help modellers to predict future weather patterns here. Furthermore, this lake sediment record is unique because it extends to a period so far back in time that we can test our theories about why our ancestors migrated out of the continent.

A diatom from Lake Challa that will be analysed to reconstruct
250,000 years of climate history in equatorial east Africa
The UK scientists will be involved in providing novel dating techniques and isotopes from the lake Challa sediment record to help determine the timings and nature of climatic change. Colleagues from the University of Cambridge (headed by Christine Lane) will use visible tephra and cryptotephra (not visible to the naked eye) emitted from volcanic eruptions alongside radioisotopes and palaeomagnetic signals (undertaken by colleagues in Belfast (Maarten Blaauw), Glasgow (Darren Mark) and Lancaster (Barbara Maher) to help provide one of the most accurate chronologies of lake sediment cores spanning such millenial timescales in the region. BGS and Lancaster University will undertake analyses of oxygen, carbon and silicon isotopes (Melanie Leng , Philip Barker and me) from diatoms found in the lake sediments to determine changes to the hydrological climate and nutrient cycling. Diatoms are phytoplankton whose cell walls are made up of silica or glass and so, are often well preserved in sediments making them an ideal proxy to investigate. Other work will involve looking at carbon isotopes from organic matter in the sediment which will help to understand changes in the terrestrial vegetation around the lake.

This exciting project will begin with a sampling party in Ghent in June, where we will collect all the mud we need to undertake our analyses. Watch this space for how our project progresses and what interesting stories our data may tell us. We would like to thank ICDP, NERC and Dirk Verschuren and colleagues from Ghent University for their hard work in retrieving a successful sediment record to work on and organising the sampling party.

Heather is a post doctoral research assistant on the NERC funded grant based at Lancaster University.

Monday, 22 May 2017

The European Geosciences Union General Assembly, Jack Lacey, Melanie Leng, & Andi Smith

Welcome to EGU! Hosted at the Vienna International Centre, Austria
In April, 14,496 scientists from 107 countries participated in the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly in Vienna, Austria. Over the course of the five-day conference there were an astounding 4,849 oral and 11,312 poster presentations, with several authored by staff from the British Geological Survey. The BGS Stable Isotope Facility was represented by Jack Lacey, Melanie Leng, and Andi Smith. In this blog they report on their week at EGU and tell us about the work they presented on lake and speleothem records... 
This year we travelled to EGU to share new results from work carried out as part of two large international research projects, the Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project (HSPDP) and the Scientific Collaboration on Past Speciation Conditions in Lake Ohrid (SCOPSCO) project, and from a detailed speleothem record from Northern Spain.

The HSPDP looks to understand how environmental change influenced human migration out of Africa using long sediment cores recovered from five lakes in the East African Rift Valley. Our main research at the BGS Stable Isotope Facility focuses on one of these sites in particular; Chew Bahir in Ethiopia. Isotope data were used along with other measurements from international colleagues to tell us more about what has driven climate change in eastern Africa over the past 500,000 years, and what conditions were like at the origin of modern humans and their dispersal out of Africa. We are still at a relatively early stage in the project, but it looks like climate had a massive influence on the adaptability of early Homo Sapiens which may have driven them to move out of Africa.

Andi presenting his work on speleothem from Northern Spain
Moving from East Africa to the Mediterranean, Lake Ohrid on the Balkan Peninsula is one of the largest and oldest lakes in Europe, and contains many hundreds of unique species. In 2013, an ICDP drilling campaign recovered cores reaching 570 meters below the lake floor. This exceptional sediment sequence contains a continuous record of environmental change over the past 1.4 million years, and will allow us to study the influence of climate and geological events on evolution of the unique organisms in the lake. It appears that species in Ohrid are able to cope with both long-term and rapid environmental change, and unlike other old lake systems, there have been no major extinction events since the lake formed. The upper half of the core was recently the focus of an open-access special issue in the journal Biogeosciences.

Still further northward, Andi gave a talk on speleothem climate records from Cueva de Asiul in Northern Spain. This small but beautiful cave system has already provided insight into rainfall dynamics in southern Europe throughout the Holocene, in work published in Scientific Reports in 2016. However, this year’s talk focussed on the last 2000 years of the Holocene, showing a strong relationship between rainfall in northern Spain and changes in the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). It is hoped that a more detailed investigation of this speleothem will help us to understand in more detail how the NAO has changed in the past and the impact that change had on different areas of Europe. Interestingly the speleothem also reveals a period of major environmental change around AD 1557, possibly recording major deforestation linked to industrialisation on the northern Spanish coast from which the Spanish Armada was launched only a few decades later.

Catch up with #EGU2017 on Twitter
EGU is a very engaging conference and a great place for geoscientists to meet, and share and discuss their research. If you would like to find out more about any of the research above, contact information and links to our EGU abstracts are included below.

Jack Lacey @JackHLacey
Melanie Leng @MelJLeng
Andi Smith @AndiSmith10