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

Friday, 21 April 2017

BGS to release more open Gerry Wildman

OpenGeoscience: Understand more about the geology of the UK

BGS is committed to releasing as much information as possible as ‘open’. For us this means that anyone can use and re-use data for free under the terms of the Open Government Licence. As with many other open data providers, all we ask is that any use of BGS data is acknowledged as such. We hope that by releasing information as ‘open’ we can encourage wider use, and that more people learn about the geology of the UK and it’s impacts on our lives, as well as to stimulate innovation and encourage the creation of products and services.

The BGS OpenGeoscience website. 
Since 2009 our platform for releasing data has been through ‘OpenGeoscience’. OpenGeoscience includes a variety of free to view/download resources including; access to 1:50 000 scale geological data, over a million boreholes logs, scanned versions of its map catalogue, access to our vast photo library and a host of web services and applications.

So far, OpenGeoscience has been a huge success. We’ve had 250,000 downloads of our iGeology smartphone app, have jumped from delivering just a few thousand borehole scans, to over 1 million a year and see around 450,000 hits to our 1: 50,000 scale web map service each month. However, we want to go even further and have been working on a host of new open products and services for 2017. Highlights include:
  • Ability to view the full text from a wide range of BGS publications, including our memoirs and regional guides.
  • Downloadable, coarse-scale versions of our popular hazard datasets for Great Britain: GeoSure subsidence models and mining hazard (not including coal).
  • Open versions of our environmental chemistry GBASE data for the UK and the thickness of superficial deposits model for Great Britain.
  • Summary information and locations of landslides in Great Britain.
If you are unable to find what you’re looking for in OpenGeoscience, it may still fall under our commercial services. BGS reinvests the income from our chargeable services into maintaining both our commercial and open products. This sustainable business model helps us to continue to provide free access to our wide collection of geological data and information.

A selection of what is available on OpenGeoscience. From L-R: BGS Geology 625k,  G-BASE geochemical data and
offshore geochemistry.
We’re always keen for you to share your open data requests and stories with us. Contact us at or follow us on twitter @BGSdata.

Friday, 14 April 2017

7 'eggs'-tremely tenuous links between geology and Kirstin Lemon

As a geologist working a great deal with the public, I pride myself in being able to bring geology into absolutely everything. After all, geology is literally the foundation of everything! But when it came to writing a blog on the links between geology and Easter though, I have to admit that it wasn't as easy as it first appeared. So, I think you'll agree that some of these links between Easter and geology are somewhat tenuous, but it's all a bit of fun and it will hopefully provide a little bit of light entertainment after all of those Easter eggs.

1. Easter Island

Located in the SE Pacific Ocean, Easter Island is a remote and isolated island about 3,700km west of Chile. It is famed for its massive stone carvings of human-like figures known as Moai (more on those later) but it's story goes back much further. The island is an amalgamation of three overlapping shield volcanoes that erupted between about 780,000 and 110,000 years ago, and is part of a 2,500km-long chain of underwater volcanoes called the Easter-Salas y Gomez Seamount Chain.

2. Rano Raraku

Moai at Rano Raraku, Easter Island (Image: Wikipedia).
Rano Raruku is just one of several volcanic craters found on Easter Island (or Rapa Nui as it is also known). It is from this location that the majority of the famous stone carvings originate, and where the tuff (essentially consolidated volcanic ash) was quarried and sculpted before being transported elsewhere. Only around 50 of the 900 statues were carved from other rocks, namely basalt, trachyte and scoria, all of which were available locally. Rano Raraku is known as the Moai quarry and there are still nearly 400 statues remaining.

3. Easter Plate

We're nearly finished with Easter Island, but we couldn't move on without talking about the Easter Plate, a small tectonic plate or microplate in the SE Pacific. The Easter Plate is bounded on the west by the Pacific Plate and to the east by the Nazca Plate that are pulling apart from each other at the East Pacific Rise. The Easter Plate is not surprisingly named after Easter Island which is to the east of the microplate on the Nazca Plate.

4. EGG

So it's not a real Easter egg, or even a regular egg but 'Embed Google and Geology' (or EGG for short) allows you to use BGS data to create a custom geology or earthquakes map of the UK and embed it in your own website. Advanced users can even customise their maps by changing the size, show surface geology or earthquakes, change to map from satellite to road maps, and change the centre and map zoom. This neat, self-contained packaged is an easy way to add geology information to your website.

5. Easter Ross

The James Hutton Building with feature wall to the right of the entrance.
A loosely defined area to the east of Ross in the Highlands, Scotland, Easter Ross has been the focus of many geological papers and other publications. Some of its best known geology is its Middle Devonian sandstone that has been used in the façade of the James Hutton Building at the BGS headquarters in Keyworth (and part of the Geological Walk). The building incorporates a 'feature wall' with a stylized representation of Siccar Point, the location with which James Hutton is synonymous. Instead of the Upper Devonian Stratheden Group sandstones found at the famous locality in Berwickshire though, the 'feature wall' uses sandstone from the Black Isle Sandstone Group, from Balaldie Quarry, Fearn, in Easter Ross.

6. Rabbit Ears Peak

I couldn't let an Easter geology blog go without mentioning some form of Easter 'Bunny'. In this case, it is Rabbit Ears Peak, in the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado, USA. The name comes from the distinctive double towers that resemble rabbit ears made up of volcanic material that erupted around 30 million years ago. Subsequent erosion has sculpted the peak into the 'rabbit ears' that you can see today. Unfortunately, I have no images that I can freely share but if you want to see what Rabbit Ears Peak looks like then have a look here.

7. Chocolate Rock Cycle

And finally, we couldn't finish off with at least some mention of chocolate. If you are left with a plethora of Easter eggs then instead of making the usual rice-krispie buns then why not use them to learn about the chocolate rock cycle, all thanks to this great resource produced by the Geological Society. You can find out about sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks all through the medium of chocolate; educational and edible!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

COST TU1206 Sub-Urban Conference, Alex Donald

Attendees at the COST TU1206 Conference in Bucharest
The conference of the TU1206 Sub-Urban Action took place at the Faculty of Civil Engineering Technical University of Civil Engineering Bucharest on March 14-16th 2017.
The COST action, supported by the EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020, comprised a network of Geological Surveys, cities and research partners from 31 countries that worked together to improve how we manage the ground beneath our cities.

The culmination of four years of work, the video presentations are available on the website along with interviews of key participants across the sub-urban network.

Key outputs of the project include:
  • Opening up the Subsurface for the Cities of Tomorrow - A Working Group 2 report that considered practices and techniques on the themes of (1) Subsurface information and planning, (2) Data acquisition and management, (3) Geotechnical data and geohazards in city subsurface management, (4) Groundwater, geothermal monitoring and modelling, (5) Geotechnical modelling and hazards, (6) Subsurface geochemistry, and (7) Cultural Heritage.
  • 15 Short-term Scientific Mission reports that brought together experts from different disciplines and regions, across Europe and beyond, to foster collaboration and exchange knowledge.
  •  A toolbox to assist translating recommended methodologies, good practice and guidance into workflows that can be used by sub-surface experts, urban planners and decision makers. 

While the conference in Bucharest brought to a conclusion action TU1206 Sub-Urban the work doesn’t stop here. The website will continue to grow thanks to an enthusiastic network of members and will hopefully provide plenty of material for those of you interested in the Urban Sub-surface.

For further information on BGS’s work on Urban Geology see and

For more information on COST Sub-Urban contact Alex Donald