Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Measurement and modelling human dermal bioavailability of potentially harmful organic soil Jack Hort

I am a PhD student who recently started a NERC and BBSRC funded studentship through the STARS Centre for Doctoral Training, working with Prof Paul Nathanail, Dr Christopher Vane and Dr Darren Beriro. Prior to starting my PhD, I studied at Aberystwyth University, gaining a first class degree in BSc Environmental Earth Science and then continuing onto study MSc Environmental Monitoring and Analysis, which I completed in September. These two courses focused heavily on geochemistry, laboratory techniques and contaminated land.

One aim of my PhD project will be to standardise an in vitro method for quantifying the dermal absorption of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from soils. The project is currently very relevant to the UK, as PAHs are commonly found in elevated concentrations within the soils of brownfield land, especially sites such as former gasworks where PAHs are formed through the incomplete or inefficient combustion of organic materials. There is over 660km2 of brownfield land in England alone, which is larger than the area of the Greater Manchester Built-up area (630km2) which includes: Manchester, Bolton, Stockport, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford and Bury. The Government aims for at least 60% of new builds to be on brownfield land.

What is Dermal Absorption?

The skin is comprised of three principle layers: epidermis, dermis and hypodermis. The Stratum Corneum is the outermost layer of epidermis which is a protective layer to protect underlying tissues. There are four major pathways for a compound to be absorbed through the skin: intercellular (between cells), transcellular (through cells) and two fissure pathways, via hair follicles and sweat glands. There is a distinct difference between the bioavailability and bioaccessibility of a compound. Bioavailability is the proportion of the total concentration of an organic compound in soil that, following exposure, is absorbed into any part of the skin that then may remain local, or be potentially available for uptake by the blood compartment or tissues for storage, release and distribution to one or more target organs. Bioaccessibility is the total amount of a substance available for absorption, which can therefore be used to estimate bioavailability.

What is dermal absorption?

What Are PAHs?

PAH’s are hydrocarbons composed of multiple aromatic rings (organic rings with delocalised electrons) and are hydrophobic (repels or fails to mix with water) and lipophilic (dissolves in lipids or fats) in nature. Although they can be volatile and water-soluble as low molecular-weight hydrocarbons (< 3 rings) such as benzene. PAH have the tendency to bio-accumulate in plant and animal tissues and are a risk to human health as some are known to be mutagenic and carcinogenic. Although there are over 100 PAHs, the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) 16 are commonly analysed to assess PAH levels to reduce lab costs and to allow long term trends to be easily identified. Of these, benzo[a]pyrene is the most common marker, due to its highly carcinogenic nature.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

‘Killer facts’ supporting geology in schools and colleges... Prof. Chris King

What ‘killer facts’ will help you to ‘bang the drum’ when you want teaching geology in schools to continue in this climate of austerity, staffing cuts, course closures or you want to launch a brand new geology course in your school/college?

These may be the key ‘killer facts’ for you:

  • students perform better in geology than they do in other science subjects'
  • AS to A2 staying on rate is better in geology than in other science subjects
  • geology contains elements of all the STEM subjects – critical for those who want to continue studying a science 
  • geology is seen as a ‘relevant’ and accessible subject, often more so than other science subjects 
  • geology gives the school/college a ‘unique selling point’ (USP) 
  • geology interests both girls and boys 
  • geology is a popular subject 
  • the UK needs geologists! 
  • geologists are well paid 
  • geology plays a vital role in supporting the economy of the UK 
Download the full Killer facts article originally published in Teaching Earth Sciences, complete with supporting evidence.

Students perform better in geology than they do in other science subjects 

An Ofqual analysis in 2015 showed that A-level geology candidates achieved between 0.6 and 1 grade higher than students of an equal general ability who took other science subjects i.e. biology, chemistry or physics. 

The AS to A2 staying on rate is better in geology than in other science subjects 

Data produced by the inter-board Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) shows that the ‘retention’ (or ‘staying on’) rate for geology from AS- to A2-level for the past three years was significantly higher than for biology, chemistry or physics.

Geology contains elements of all the STEM subjects – critical for those who want to continue studying a science 

Nikki Edwards, ESTA Chair, has recently carried out an analysis of GCSE geology which clearly showed that the geology specification contains significant elements of biology, chemistry, physics, maths and engineering (the STEM subjects). 

Geology is seen as a ‘relevant’ and accessible subject, often more so than other science subjects 

Experience has shown that geology can explain the physical outdoor world in ways not readily accessed by other science subjects. 

 Geology gives the school/college a ‘unique selling point’ (USP) 

Teaching geology gives a school/college many strong selling points that can be used to promote the institution. A particular case study is Truro School, which employed a company to identify its strengths and weaknesses in terms in attracting students and parents – the results showed that the fact that geology was an excellent department, and achieved higher grades and success than other subjects, was a major factor. 

Geology interests both girls and boys 

Candidate data in recent years has shown that A-level entries have been around 2/3 male and 1/3 female. However, in the past two years, whilst male entry has declined, female entry has remained stable. See Figure 2.

Probably the ‘killer facts’ discussed so far are the most likely to persuade senior management of the importance of continuing/launching a GCSE or A-level geology course.

Geology is a popular subject
Morocco fieldwork

Geology is usually a popular subject in institutions where it is offered, and in some school/colleges, it is the most popular science subject.
Chae Cruikshank, Science Subject Advisor and Geology Subject Officer for the Awarding Body OCR, has written:
‘In centres which offer A level geology, it competes very well with the other sciences, and attracts students who may not otherwise take a science A level; an analysis of A level entry data by OCR showed that in 1:10 centres of all sizes, geology was the most popular science by entry, and in most other centres, competed with chemistry as the second science, it was only in those centres where other factors were imposed (such as a limit numbers or reduced time allocated) that geology was less popular.’
Students on geology courses are the happiest with their degrees. Discover why Geology rocks.

The UK needs geologists 

That the country needs geologists is evidenced by the fact that the latest published UK government ‘Shortage Occupation’ lists ten geoscience-related shortage jobs (including geologist) and only one physics-related job (geophysicist), one chemistry-related job (geochemist), one biology-related job (bioinformation technician) and no geography-related jobs.

More than 40% of applicants for undergraduate geology degrees have A-level geology (UCAS data 2010 and 2012).

Approximately 44% of students who gained A-level geology that went on to university studied for a geoscience degree (Earth Science Teachers’ Association, ESTA, data 2009-2014).

Geologists are well paid

The salaries of geologists are higher than those of many other professionals. Geologists at Imperial College London have emerged as the top earners in a league table of graduate salaries published in the Sunday Times Good Universities Guide, 2017. Their average wage of £73,267 six months after leaving university surpasses that of medics and engineers. What do graduates earn’ section of the Complete University Guide lists mean professional starting salaries for subject groups for first time graduates who completed their degrees in 2014-15. This shows that, of the 70 subject areas listed, geology is 17th at £24,818.

Geology plays a vital role in supporting the economy of the UK 
Construction minerals map

A recent Council for British Industry (CBI) report has highlighted the key role played in particular by the minerals industry, in supporting the UK economy.
The UK Mineral Extraction Industry report carries the following comments:
‘Minerals directly contribute to the UK economy by generating £235bn in gross value added, representing 16% of the total UK economy.’ (p5)
‘Excluding oil and gas, mineral extraction employs 34,000 people and is 2.5 times more productive than the UK average.’ (p6).
The economy simply could not function without minerals; without them, life as we know it could not be sustained on its current scale. The message is clear: minerals underpin everything in the UK economy.

A longer version of this article was originally published in Teaching Earth Sciences, Vol. 42 No. 2 2017. 

Monday, 13 November 2017

ISOcycles – conference Monte Verita, Andi Smith and Angela Lamb

Andi Smith and Angela Lamb.
In October 2017 a small group of researchers descended on the Monte Verita conference centre in Ascona, Switzerland. This fantastic conference centre is the venue of choice for Congressi Stefano Franscini, the international conference platform of ETH Zurich. The conference was aimed at bringing together experts from a range of scientific disciplines to discuss the topic of “Reaching an integrated use of stable isotopes to constrain biogeochemical nutrient cycles.” Andi Smith and Angela Lamb attended from the NERC Stable Isotope Facility at the BGS and here Andi discusses the conference in more detail...

The Monte Verita conference centre is perched on the top of a hill in the Swiss Alps not too far from the Italian border and offers an idyllic spot for a scientific conference. In the early 1900s this hilltop sanctuary was home to a vegetarian colony, nudist retreat and then sanatorium. More recently, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich have adopted the venue as their main conference centre and host a range of events throughout the year.

ISOcycles 2017 was aimed at bringing together researchers who were currently using stable isotope science to help understand nutrient cycling within the environment. The conference was filled with a number of diverse keynote talks and shorter presentations by PhD students, as well as several dynamic poster sessions. One key difference from many conferences was that time was set aside for breakout discussions.

From L-R: The view from the balcony at Monte Verita: at the far side of the lake you can just about see Italy; Even during
 the day trip away from the conference centre there were lots of discussions about isotopes and nutrient cycling,
between enjoying the view and taking some photos that is…
Once broken up into teams we were given a series of “homework” assignments all of which aimed towards us becoming a more integrated group of researchers and asked the question “can the integrated use of stable isotopes help to constrain biogeochemical nutrient cycles in more detail than is currently possible using one isotope approach”. This topic was hotly contested, but the general consensus was that we should become more integrated, using multiple isotopic systems to help understand nutrient cycling as a multidimensional process rather than a diverse set of stand-alone processes. Hopefully by starting these discussions the community will work more closely together in the future to tackle some of the remaining questions in nutrient cycling and dynamics. We are already looking forward to the next ISOcycles in 5 years’ time.

Andi Smith and Angela Lamb are part of the Stable Isotope Facility at the BGS.


Thursday, 9 November 2017

Stable Isotope Geochemistry Training course at Charly Briddon

A bit about me…

Hi, my name is Charly and I am a second year PhD student at the University of Nottingham in the School of Geography and part of the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry at the BGS. Let me start by introducing what I do. I am investigating the impact of aquaculture (in this case, the high intensive farming of fish in cages) in freshwater lakes on the island of Luzon, in the Philippines. I will be using the physical, chemical, and biological information (i.e. proxy data or indicators) preserved in sediment profiles to help me reconstruct how past environmental conditions have changed within these lakes.  Stable isotope analysis is an important part of my research as I will be using carbon and nitrogen isotopes to determine changing levels of productivity and sources of organic matter (terrestrial vs. algal) within these lakes. This will help to disentangle the impacts of aquaculture from other catchment effects such as climate.

So  a bit about the stable isotope course…

On the 31st October I joined 29 other PhD students for a two day Stable Isotope Geochemistry Training Course held at the British Geological Survey.  Since we all intended to use stable isotope analysis as part of our research it was an ideal opportunity to learn more about this technique and its many applications. Over the next two days we were treated to a number of very informative lectures starting with an introduction to stable isotopes (Dr Jack Lacey, BGS) and how a mass spectrometer works (Kyle Taylor, Elementar) to the palaeoclimate applications of oxygen isotopes (Prof Melanie Leng, BGS) and nutrient cycles (Dr Andi Smith, BGS).  We also got to appreciate the diverse uses that stable isotope analysis can be put to. For example, in the field of archaeology stable isotope analysis by Dr Angela Lamb (BGS) on the remains of Richard III has been used to give an insight into his life. This has ranged from using oxygen isotopes to determine where he lived at different stages of his life to using carbon and nitrogen isotopes to see changes in his diet after he became king. Other interesting applications are the use of a range of different isotopic ratios from animal tissues to understand changes in food web structures and animal diets (Dr Jason Newton, SUERC) and isotopes in geological applications (volcanic hazards and mineral deposits, Prof Adrian Boyce, SUERC).

Guest speaker Adrian Boyce (University of Glasgow and SUERC) lecturing
on the geological applications of stable isotopes.
One of benefits of attending the course was to make contact with other students and on the first day each of us was called on to give a speed talk on the subject of our research. It was fascinating to see the wide range of projects being undertaken using stable isotopes from using carbon and sulphur isotopes to determine flame retardant contamination from land fill sites in the UK gull populations to the use of strontium to help find people missing in Guatemala.

One of my personal highlights of the course was a tour of the geological walkway and the geological repository.  The geological walkway is a selection of different rocks from each of the geological periods in the Earth’s history from the Precambrian to the Quaternary. Here we got to see Lewisian gneiss, the oldest rock in Britain! On our second day a tour of the National Geological Repository included a stop to see 500km of sedimentary core archives, its sheer size making you realise the huge amount of scientific research that is carried out at the BGS.  We also got to see the isotope facility, 16 different mass spectrometers (!) that are used in analysing the different isotopes such as oxygen, silicon, carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and sulphur (and then there are all the heavier mass isotopes in the radiogenic part).

Wow, the National Geological Repository at BGS, showing the storage of both
onshore (left) and offshore (right) sedimentary cores from different geological
periods from in and around the UK.
I would like to thank Prof Melanie Leng and all the other educators (from both BGS and SUERC)  that made this course so informative and useful. On a personal note I made many new friends who I am sure I will keep in touch with throughout my academic career.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

How to draw pictures in the sand on a sunny(ish) beach Catherine Pennington

Dr Jon Lee helping us interpret the geology at Happisburgh, Norfolk
Dr Jon Lee helping us interpret the geology at Happisburgh, Norfolk
I've just got back from a new field-based BGS training course that I enjoyed so much I want to tell you all about it.  It's called Quaternary Deposits, Processes and Properties (catchy title) and is designed for geoscientists who undertake geology-based fieldwork or 3D geological modelling who want to gain experience in describing Quaternary deposits.

It was four days in total.  The first day was at our headquarters in Keyworth where we were given an introduction to the geology of East Anglia, human evolution in the area and an overview of current coastal management issues.  After this followed the nitty gritty of how you describe, interpret and classify Quaternary deposits according to the most recent British Standard. 

Then it was off to Sunny Norfolk for the next three days to put all this into practice.


We started in Happisburgh, a site well known for its coastal erosion and somewhere we have monitored as part of our Slope Dynamics Project since 2001.  The beach here is around 900 metres long and we were tasked with interpreting the entire cliff section to understand what's there and how it got there.

Starting the cliff section at Happisburgh, "draw what you see...."
Starting the cliff section at Happisburgh, "draw what you see...."

Over half of the bay had geology that looked like this, a nice gentle layer-cake affair:

The cliff section at Happisburgh. From top to bottom: Happisburgh Sand Member, Ostend Clay, Happisburgh Till
The cliff section at Happisburgh. From top to bottom: Happisburgh Sand Member, Ostend Clay, Happisburgh Till

But then the further south we went, the more complex it became.  There was quite a bit of head-scratching, debate and even argument (!) about the palaeoenvironmental conditions (what the environment was like when the sediments were deposited).

tting stuck-in at understanding the geology and Happisburgh
Getting stuck-in at understanding the geology and Happisburgh
And then we all drew our different theories in the sand:

Professor Emrys Phillips drawing his interpretation of the Happisburgh cliffs
Professor Emrys Phillips drawing his interpretation of the Happisburgh cliffs
Another sand drawing of the cliffs in front of us.  No idea who drew this.   It definitely wasn't me.
Another sand drawing of the cliffs in front of us.  No idea who drew this.   It definitely wasn't me.
My first attempt to interpret the 900 m cliff section at Happisburgh
My first attempt to interpret the 900 m cliff section at Happisburgh

East Runton

The last morning was spent at East Runton where we were again asked to interpret the cliff section.  This time, we were more confident and were able to use everything we had learned over the previous two days at Happisburgh.  Again there was debate and a lot of drawing in the sand but we came to an agreed interpretation that I would like to tell you all about here but that would spoil it for those going on the course in the future!  Instead, here are some pics...

The cliffs at East Runton, Norfolk
The cliffs at East Runton, Norfolk
Field sketch of the cliffs at East Runton, Norfolk
Field sketch of the cliffs at East Runton, Norfolk

So how exactly do you describe, interpret and classify Quaternary deposits?

Dave Entwisle teaching us how to tell the difference between a silt and a clay by their behaviour
Dave Entwisle teaching us how to tell the difference
between a silt and a clay by their behaviour
After drilling or mapping, often the only remaining evidence of what was discovered is the description provided on the borehole log, section or notebook.  This can vary enormously depending on who made the description and which classification they were following, if any.  High-level decisions can be based ultimately upon these descriptions as, for example, structures are build or tunnels dug.  So what might seem like a small part of the work on the day is actually very important to get right.

BS5930 : 2015 is a description of the behaviour of engineering soils based on material and mass characteristics.  An engineering soil is an aggregate of mineral grains that can be separated by gentle agitation in water.  Most Quaternary deposits are engineering soils.  BS5930 : 2015 aims to standardise description and terminology to reduce ambiguity and error, no matter who describes them. 

Sounds easy right? Well, once we'd got the hang of it, it was actually.  It's a systematic examination process where everything is considered in a logical sequence so you are guided through your description from beginning to end.  Whilst a more sedimentological description may have been what some of us are more used to, everyone could see the merit of the engineering description.

Getting to grips with the Munsell Colour Chart...

Monday, 30 October 2017

Ghosts, witches and zombies: 'terra'-fying tales from Northern Kirstin Lemon

The island of Ireland is known for its ghost stories, with every nook and cranny of the island having a tale or two to tell. Halloween is one of our favourite times of year; a great excuse to dress up, have a bit of fun and generally make fools out of ourselves. It is known for its Celtic origins, being synonymous with the festival of Samhain (pronounced SAH-win), marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker half of the year. It was a time when cattle were brought in for the winter, livestock were slaughtered and bonfires were lit to fend off evil spirits. It was also said to be a time when the boundary between this world and the 'otherworld' were blurred so the souls of the dead could come back for a visit.

In Northern Ireland, there are a huge amount of spooky stories, many of which have been passed down from generation to generation. Over the years they will have been exaggerated and added to, all with the intention of scaring the life out of everyone listening, and there is no better night to tell these than on Halloween. Many of the stories have their origins in the diverse landscapes of Northern Ireland, and in some cases these were a way of helping to understand geological processes before science had helped to provide the answer. Here's just a few of the best ones and please let us know if you can think of any more.

1. Benaughlin

View of the Cuilcagh Mountains with Benaughlin in the front right.
Our first port of call is Benaughlin in Co. Fermanagh. Translated literally as 'peak of the speaking horse' this limestone hill is renowned locally for the legend of Donn Binn Maguire. Being one of the ancient Kings of Fermanagh, Donn Binn Maguire used to go hunting across his lands and on one particular evening he caught sight of a beautiful white stallion. After giving chase, Donn Binn Maguire found that he was completely lost, and before he knew it he had chased the horse into a cave, of which there were many in west Fermanagh. The horse had been a lure to the underworld of the fairies, known to most Irish people as 'the good folk', a strange kind of dangerous supernatural being that was not to be messed with. Donn Binn Maguire was held captive in the underworld where he became undead, being nether dead or alive, and was allowed to go back to the real world on certain nights of the year including Halloween, to bring back a human being for company. It is still a tradition for people to hang a branch of mountain ash above the door to ward off Donn Binn Maguire who may try and take away the prettiest girl, the best scholar or the strongest athlete. Thanks to the Lower Carboniferous limestone geology, there are hundreds of caves in Co. Fermanagh, many of which are steeped in superstition.

3. The White Lady

Located near the Co. Antrim town of Glenarm , the White Lady is a relict sea stack carved out of Cretaceous limestone (more commonly known as chalk) by the action of the sea. At one time, this sea stack would have been surrounded by the sea, but relative lowering of sea level has left it stranded and is one of many similar features including relict sea caves that can be seen all along this coast. The White Lady is so called because it resembles a female figure as you approach and it shares the same name as the ghost that supposedly haunts the nearby Ballygally Castle. Legend has it that the castle is haunted by Lady Isobel Shaw who leapt to her death from a window after her husband locked her in her room because she couldn't produce a male heir.

3. The Vanishing Lake

Looking into Loughareema. Image courtesy of Tourism NI.
Loughareema, or the Vanishing Lake, in Co. Antrim has been a source of puzzlement for decades. To scientists, Loughareema is regarded as one of Northern Ireland's most enigmatic geological sites. This ephemeral or temporary lake lives up to its title as the vanishing lake as it may be empty of water one day and be completely full the next. To most other people however, Loughareema is best known for its ghost stories. Local legend tells us of the drowning of a coach and horses in the 19th century as they tried to cross the lake when it was full. Bizarrely, a road had been built through the lake when it was empty so in the dead of night it was impossible to tell if water levels were high or low. It is said that on nights when the lake is full, a phantom ghost haunts the shoreline, and together with the prospect of the sight of a kelpie, or water-ghoul, Loughareema is not short of a story.

4. Calliagh Bera's Lake

Slieve Gullion in Co. Armagh is part of the Slieve Gullion Complex, made up of three distinct units of igneous rock that were intruded during the Palaeogene period. Slieve Gullion is made up of layers of igneous rock of varying chemistry which adds to the geological interest of the region. The complex geological history of this area on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has led to a diverse range of strategic landscapes that have been the location for many historical battles. They are also the source of many myths and legends including that of Calliagh Bera, a witch-like creature who took the form of an old woman or 'hag'. One of the best-known stories involves the most famous of all Irish legends, the giant Finn McCool. Finn McCool was said to be captivated by a beautiful young woman on Slieve Gullion called Calliagh Berra. She claimed to have lost her gold ring in the nearby lake and asked Finn to retrieve it for her. He searched for the ring and eventually found it, only to discover that Calliagh Berra had put a spell on the lake and that he had been transformed into a wizened old man. Finn’s men later found Calliagh Berra and managed to persuade her to change him back, but even though he returned to his former self, his hair remained grey. The lake on Slieve Gullion still bears the name of Calliagh Bera.

5. Lough Neagh

True colour satellite image of the north of the island of Ireland with
Lough Neagh visible in the centre of Northern Ireland
Lough Neagh is the largest lake by area in the UK and Ireland with five of the six counties of Northern Ireland having shores on the lake. The depression occupied by the lake formed during the Palaeogene period as a result of crustal stretching and thinning associated with the opening of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is known as a pull-apart basin where subsidence generates space for the deposition of sediments. However, over the generations there have been many alternative theories as to how Lough Neagh formed. One such story includes a well that stood in the centre of the area where Lough Neagh is now found. The waters were supposed to be under the influence of the fairies and were looked after by a local witch. One day the witch forgot to close the gate through which the water flowed and it overflowed causing her to drown and the water that escaped gave rise to Lough Neagh. An alternative story is associated once again with Finn McCool who is said to have scooped up a chunk of earth too throw at his rival Scottish giant. The chunk of earth landed in the Irish Sea forming the Isle of Man, and the crater left behind is now Lough Neagh!

6. Fairy Wells

There are hundreds if not thousands of holy wells dotted across the island of Ireland. Most of these are natural springs, present in abundance due to the dominance of Carboniferous limestone geology. A great number of these springs were given links to Saints after Christianity reached Ireland, but prior to that, many of these would have had spiritual importance for pagan rituals, as water seemingly appeared from nowhere. A lot of these sites were said to be 'fairy wells' and were said to be the homes of fairies so were looked after for fear of angering the 'good people'. Around the edge of the Belfast hills there are records of an abundance of 'fairy wells' and many of these natural springs have now been covered over. There are however stories of strange goings-on including apparitions close to the site of where the 'fairy wells' were located. After all, if you mess with the fairies then you will live to regret it!  

Monday, 23 October 2017

Kick starting the new Red River Delta project in Vietnam…by Ginnie Panizzo

Ginnie sampling waters
Earlier this year, four members of the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (Suzanne McGowan and Ginnie Panizzo; University of Nottingham with Chris Vane and Melanie Leng; BGS) travelled to Hanoi, Vietnam to meet their Vietnamese Academy of Science and Technology (VAST) collaborators on a new 3 year project. The project entitled “Assessing human impacts on the Red River system, Vietnam, to enable sustainable management” was awarded to  Suzanne McGowan (UK) and Do Thu Nga (VN) under the Newton Fund RCUK-NAFOSTED Research Partnership Call and includes a 10 strong research team. Here Ginnie tells us about the trip…
The Red River in Vietnam supports 20 million inhabitants, includes a major rice-growing region, the mega-city of Hanoi and a range of industries each of which have expanded in recent decades. The Red River Delta (RRD) delta area of the river is the agricultural heartland of the region and provides crucial ecosystem services, including the retention and removal of nutrients and pollutants for groundwater (drinking water) and marine resource protection, carbon processing and flood protection. With increasing upstream and downstream pressures on this resource, the aim of our research is to assess the current status of riverine physical parameters, ecology and pollution (e.g. nutrient loading, heavy metals) as a means to best mitigate against further impacts (e.g. climate change and the future expansion of Hanoi).

The team in Vietnam
Our trip began with meetings with the Directors of the different institutes of VAST. A tour of the VAST facilities was given and an introduction to other colleagues at the Institute who also have an active research interest in the RRD. On day two, we hit the field, how quick was that! Having gathered all of our research equipment the team set off to sample (for waters and sediments) the upstream reaches of the Red River and its tributaries (the rivers Da, Thao and Lo). Along the way we engaged with stakeholders including meteorological monitoring stations situated on the river banks. Our first overnight stop was Hoa Binh Reservoir on the Da river, where we were given a tour of the inside workings of the hydropower dam built in 1988. Until recently and during its peak capacity, this dam had the potential to provide most of Vietnam’s power. An impressive feat! However, the downstream implications of this intensive river management (reduced nutrient and sediment delivery) have been noticed and one of our work packages is to asses the rates of these changes via palaeolimnological techniques. The following day the team collected four sediment cores from the deepest reaches of the reservoir. This was quite a challenge given the size of the reservoir and involved reaching a depth of 80 m. Nevertheless, this was a great success and the team extruded the cores on site ready for storage and future analyses on biogenic silica content, organic stable isotopes, algal biomarkers and particle size analysis. The following days we travelled to the other tributaries of the Red River Delta (RRD), along the Thao and Lo rivers. Further cores were also collected from Thac Ba reservoir before returning to Hanoi. The final stages of our fieldtrip involved visiting the lowland regions of the RRD. Here the noticeable shift in land use was seen from Acacia, tea and rubber forestry (upstream) to one of lowland rice paddy fields and shrimp farms.

A total of 6 sites were visited from close to the mouth of the Day estuary to more upstream locations, south of Hanoi. Noticeable differences could be seen just in the colour of the waters as well as dissolved oxygen content, compared to sites upstream of Hanoi, indicating the impacts that intensive agricultural practices and pollution sources have had on the waters of the RRD.

Thac Ba reservoir
At the final meeting at the end of the visit some key decisions were made on future sampling and laboratory practices and procedures over the next two years of the project. The UK partners will be visiting Vietnam again in Spring 2018 to conduct the next wave of river sediment sampling, as part of our pollution impacts work package. Overall, we had a thoroughly enjoyable and exciting field campaign and we are in no doubt that this will lead to a very fruitful collaboration between the partners and future PhD students on the project.

Ginnie Panizzo is a Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham and Visiting Research Associate at the BGS.

Take a look at the Red River Project Facebook page.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Northern Ireland's Geodiversity Charter: safeguarding our rocks and Kirstin Lemon

The Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI) has just launched Northern Ireland's Geodiversity Charter. Kirstin Lemon, a Team Leader at GSNI and co-author of the Charter tells us more.

What is a Geodiversity Charter?

A Geodiversity Charter is a guidance document that sets out a clear ambition to recognise geodiversity as a vital and integral part of the economy, environment heritage and future sustainable development. This is necessary to safeguard and manage geodiversity for both current and future generations.
The aim of a Geodiversity Charter is ultimately to better inform decision makers and support policy at a strategic level as well as encouraging stakeholders to work together and take a more holistic approach to conservation management of geodiversity. By raising the awareness of geodiversity at a variety of levels it will lead to better protection of geological heritage, and the ability to sustainably manage natural resources, so that the full range of economic, social, educational and environmental benefits can be realised.

Why does Northern Ireland need a Geodiversity Charter?

Northern Ireland for its size, is one of the most geologically diverse places on Earth and it is this geodiversity that has helped shape the fabric of our every day lives. Geodiversity has not only shaped our natural and built environment, but it influences our historical and cultural heritage, biodiversity, education, the economy and our health and well-being so it provides essential benefits for our society.
Geodiversity in Northern Ireland is often overlooked despite the fact that it is an integral part of our natural environment. As a result, it can be taken for granted and it is constantly under threat. By increasing the understanding of the true value of geodiversity in Northern Ireland, the economic, social, cultural and education benefits will be realised. By changing the attitude, it will be possible to achieve a better and more sustainable outcome for every person in Northern Ireland.

Is this the first Geodiversity Charter in the UK?

No, there are already Geodiversity Charters for Scotland and England. Scotland had the first Geodiversity Charter in the world which was published in 2012. It has been very successful in widening the appreciation of Scottish geodiversity and its impact on society, and now has over 60 signatories.

Who will benefit from the Geodiversity Charter?

Northern Ireland's Geodiversity Charter will benefit every citizen in Northern Ireland but specifically a number of key sectors have been targeted who will not only benefit from the Charter but can help to achieve some of the main objectives.
  • Individuals and Communities: Who can experience and enjoy the local landscape and geodiversity and appreciate its value and importance.
  • Landowners and Managers of NGOs: Who can take into account the geodiversity of the land that they manage, try to work in sympathy with natural processes and consider how geodiversity can be appreciated and understood.
  • Industry and Business Sector: Who can endeavour to ensure that new industry and business opportunities take geodiversity into consideration and strive to meet best practice standards.
  • Local Authorities and Public Agencies: Who can ensure that due consideration, management, enhancement and promotion of geodiversity are an integral part of decision-making.
  • Education: Who can share and promote the values and applications of Northern Ireland's geodiversity through teaching at all levels.
  • Academia and Research: Who can continue to develop the geodiversity framework of Northern Ireland including its wider values and applications.

What does the Geodiversity Charter mean for the future?

To date, there are over 20 organisations that support Northern Ireland's Geodiversity Charter. This collective voice will help to maintain and enhance our geodiversity and achieve the future vision of raising awareness, policy integration, enhanced conservation, and continued research. As the success of the Charter spreads, it is hoped that more organisation will add their support, which will help to achieve the overall objective of safeguarding and managing our geodiversity appropriately for current and future generations.

Northern Ireland's Geodiversity Charter was produced by Kirstin Lemon and Sam Roberson at the GSNI with financial assistance from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affair's Environment Fund (2016-2017). Funding was awarded under Theme 2: Promotion of health, well-being, resource efficiency and sustainable economic development, realising the full value of our environment.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Geoscience for Sustainable Futures... by Joel Gill

At the end of September, the British Geological Survey launched ‘Geoscience for Sustainable Futures’, at an evening reception at the Geological Society of London. The event gathered representatives from civil society, the private sector, government, and academia to hear about and discuss our ‘Official Development Assistance’ programme of collaborative research and capacity building.

The world faces many challenges that span the interface between Earth science and human activities. For example, ensuring access to sufficient and nutritious food, identifying and protecting water resources, developing sustainable cities, tackling energy poverty, understanding the impacts of environmental change, and increasing resilience to natural hazards. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to address these challenges. The 17 SDGs aim to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and ensure environmental sustainability.

Engagement of Earth sciences is critical in delivering these 17 goals around the world. Geoscience for Sustainable Futures will draw on our research expertise in natural resources, urban geoscience, and natural hazards to develop three platforms of research and capacity building, addressing multiple SDGs. This programme aims to enhance the lives and livelihoods of some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.
Research platforms will be characterised by a collaborative approach, working in partnership, especially in-country, with diverse sectors to deliver enhanced economic and social development. Platforms will contribute to improved understanding and management of natural resources (e.g., soils, energy, minerals and water), infrastructure, and urban environments, together with the strengthening of Earth science services, training, and skills.

Research Platform 1: Integrated Resource Management in Eastern Africa
Eastern Africa faces natural resource challenges due to exponential population growth, rapid urbanisation, and economic development. We aim to improve human welfare and future economic development by characterising resources in the context of a changing natural and social environment.
A key research theme is to understand the links between geology, soils, water and agriculture to help tackle micronutrient deficiencies (so called ‘hidden hunger’). Our hydrogeological expertise will investigate the diverse natural and anthropogenic stresses on groundwater resources, aiming to improve and ensure water security and quality. Research on the location, extent and characteristics of critical metal resources, essential for use in many technologies, will help to inform natural resource governance.
Agriculture in Tanzania (Public Domain)
Research Platform 2: Resilience of Asian Cities
Asian cities are exposed to multiple natural hazards and environmental stresses, rapid urbanisation, and significant uncertainty in their resilience to environmental change. We aim to improve their resilience by integrating geoscience knowledge in urban subsurface planning and decision-making, and urban-catchment science in India and south-east Asia.
Key research themes include using data informatics, sensor technologies, and modelling systems to improve integrated urban planning, identify new and economically viable uses of the subsurface and its resources, and avoid conflicting and potentially harmful subsurface uses. Research on the diverse stresses faced by cities and the sub-urban surroundings will help strengthen development of planned and resilient city networks.
Urban Development in Vietnam (Public Domain)
Research Platform 3: Global Geological Risk
Geological hazards (such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and landslides), and their associated risk and impacts, are of key concern to long-term economic growth. Understanding these dynamic processes, and using this information to improve disaster risk reduction, can increase the security and sustainability of development, and protect lives and livelihoods.

We aim to characterise complex, multi-hazard processes in Latin America and the Caribbean, eastern Africa, and Asia. A key research theme is to integrate citizen science, innovative technologies, and understanding of environmental processes, hazards and impacts to strengthen resilience.

Eruption of Montserrat (© NERC)
Follow our progress and get involved

We will be sharing further information and outputs from Geoscience for Sustainable Futures on our website and the BGS Global Twitter pages over the coming months and years. Whether you represent an organisation in one of the countries that we will be active in, are a UK-based academic or development practitioner interested in collaborating, or a member of the public interested in the application of geoscience to international development - we would be delighted to hear from you.

Discussing Integrated Resource Management in Eastern Africa at the launch of
Geoscience for Sustainable Futures.

Advance of the Agonic – what does this mean? Susan Macmillan

Global map showing declination from the World Magnetic Model at 2015.0
The agonic is a line on a global map along which the directions to true north and local magnetic north coincide. In other words it is where magnetic declination, sometimes simply referred to as magnetic variation, is zero. The global map shows declination from the World Magnetic Model at 2015.0. Shown in green is the agonic line. 

For the past 350 years in the UK and Ireland declination has been westerly (magnetic north west of true north) and the agonic line has been advancing from the east. In 2017 the agonic line arrived at East Anglia and Kent and is due to pass slowly over the British Isles during the next few years with declination becoming easterly behind it. Susan Macmillan of the Geomagnetism Team explains a little more.

Magnetic declination at mid-2017
At the BGS regional and global models of the Earth’s magnetic field are derived every year to keep accurate track of the slow changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. These models use data from observatories, satellites and repeat stations and are widely used for navigation and orientation. The map shows how declination currently varies across the UK and Ireland in more detail than the global map. Also shown are locations of ground-based observatories and repeat stations. The BGS run Lerwick (LER), Eskdalemuir (ESK) and Hartland (HAD) observatories and UK repeat station network and Met Éireann runs Valentia (VAL) and Irish repeat station network.

What is causing this gradual change in direction of magnetic north?

The Earth’s magnetic field is sustained by a dynamo process in the liquid outer core of the Earth. Interactions between the flow of the molten iron-rich material in this region and the magnetic field generate electrical current that, in turn, creates new magnetic field which sustains the field. Energy sources for the fluid motions are primarily convection - as the Earth slowly cools down, warmer fluid ascends and cooler fluid descends and solidifies onto the inner core. This in turn changes the chemical composition of the fluid, and buoyancy forces result. The effect of these deep Earth processes on declination at the four observatories in the UK and Ireland can be seen in the graph. Note several sharp changes in trend in this graph, for example at 1925, 1969 and 1979. The cause of these so-called geomagnetic jerks is not fully understood.

What does this mean for compass users in the British Isles?

Magnetic declination at the four observatories in the UK and Ireland
The advance of the agonic line to the UK and Ireland will affect compass users when swapping between map bearings and magnetic bearings. A common mnemonic to help remember whether to add or subtract magnetic variation when converting from map bearings to magnetic bearings is “East is least, west is best”. This mnemonic is applicable for any type of map and anywhere in the world, no matter whether the north lines on the map are true north lines or grid north lines or whether magnetic north is west or east of map north. “Least” in this context means “subtract” and “best” means “add”. If converting from magnetic bearings to map bearings, as one would if locating one’s position on a map using back bearings from known features, the sense of the correction should be reversed.

Some mnemonics, however, will no longer work when magnetic variation is easterly. Examples of mnemonics which are soon to be redundant in the UK and Ireland are “grid to mag, add - mag to grid, get rid” and “MMM (Magnetic to Map Minus)” – can you think of others?