Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Arrival of the last two core Magret Damaschke

After months of preparation and anticipation, the day finally arrived. On 26 July, the last two core scanners were delivered and moved into place within the new Core Scanning Facility at BGS, Keyworth.


Many hands make light work was especially true for the BGS estates & facilities management and CBRE teams, who made it possible that both oversized instruments were successfully lifted into the building. The large window in front of the old ‘long stay cafe’ was removed and scaffolding erected. Interior work was carried out by a great bunch of hardworking staff, knocking down walls, and removing door-frames and shelves.

On the day, TEP Machinery Movement Ltd were in charge of the lift. Heavy instrument parts weighing up to 750kg were lifted up and carefully navigated through the narrow corridor with only millimetres to spare.

The first instrument to be lifted was the Itrax MC Scanner, which was delivered a day earlier from Cox Analytical Systems in Sweden. Jonny Rudolfsson, part of the Cox crew, was present during the lift to answer any questions about the scanner and to make sure that everyone took the necessary care in handling such  a delicate instrument.

The arrival of the Geotek MSCL-XYZ was equally exciting as the big lorry entered the BGS site. The whole Geotek Team helped with the process of unloading, lifting, and moving the valuable instrument.

X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) Scanners 

Both XRF scanners (Geotek MSCL-XYZ and Itrax MC) will be used to acquire elemental abundances and variations downcore and to produce 2D XRF surface maps of specific target areas of the core. Additional colour linescan and UV imaging capabilities provide records of downcore textural/compositional variation.

The scanners are able to detect a wide range of elements (Mg to U at ppm levels) and allow high-resolution scans, down to 0.1 mm, to be realised. The state-of-the-art high-throughput capability of both scanners allows several metres of core (up to 9 m) to be analysed at once.

XRF scanning is now a well-established, non-destructive technique in various geoscientific and engineering disciplines, where datasets are used to identify critical horizons (e.g., trace metals, ore deposits, cements, soils), to better understand sediment/rock provenances and to implement core-to-core and/or core-to-log correlations. Further, calculated element ratios are often used as proxies for mineralogical, matrix, or environmental changes.

Example: High-resolution image of BGS tuff sample alongside elemental surface map and downcore resolution profile for the element Calcium (Ca).  

The new core scanning facilities have been funded by the UK Geoenergy Observatories project and more information about the project is available here. The project, commissioned by the BGS's parent body the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), follows the Government's 2014 announcement that it would allocate £31 million to create world-class, subsurface energy-research test centres.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Work Experience in the Stable Isotope Facility at Samantha Newman

Samantha beside the vacuum extraction line
Hi, my name is Samantha Newman and I am a sixth form student at George Abbot School in Surrey. I am studying biology, geography and psychology and hope to do geography at university. I travelled all the way up to Keyworth in Nottingham to take part in a work experience week at the British Geological Survey, in their Stable Isotope Facility (SIF). I worked with their geoscientists and learnt about how isotopes play a key role in reconstructing past climate conditions measuring oxygen, carbon and nitrogen isotopes from a variety of materials.

At the start of the week, I was given a tour of all the stable isotope labs with a quick description of what each of the mass spectrometers are used for – to say the least it was a lot of information to take in at once! There are so many different mass spectrometers in the SIF – they can measure isotopes in methane, organic and inorganic carbonates, and within water, plants, soil, proteins, bones, teeth and hair.

For the first few days, I worked with Chris Kendrick to carry out the steps involved in preparing a carbonate sample for analysis on a mass spectrometer. The sediments we prepared were from a Scottish Loch and we wanted to use them to reconstruct past changes in the Loch’s water chemistry. To prepare the inorganic carbonate from the sediment extracted from the Loch, we first had to weigh out the sample – around 10 milligrams - and put them into small glass vials. The small vials were then dropped into bigger vessels with 4 ml of phosphoric acid inside. Next, they were attached to a vacuum line to remove all the air. After this they were left in a 25°C water bath overnight, the vials then had to be shaken to allow the acid and carbonate to react to produce CO2. Any water was removed from the CO2 using the vacuum line and an acetone water trap. Clean CO2 was then collected using a liquid nitrogen trap. These vials of pure CO2 were attached to the mass spectrometer ready for analysis.

Attaching samples to the mass spectrometer
The results we collected showed that over time the Loch had become more marine and less influenced by freshwater. This suggests there was a period of sea-level rise.
While waiting for the results, I learnt how to weigh out tiny amounts of BGS’s in-house standard for the organic carbon technique – which was actually freeze dried broccoli! I had to learn how to weigh out 0.7–1.5 milligrams of the powder and then fold it into tin buckets in preparation for the mass spectrometer.

As if I thought I couldn’t weigh anything smaller, I helped Hilary Sloane by weighing out international (IAEA) standards for another mass spectrometer that required only 50-200 micrograms (about the size of a full stop!), which is 1000 times smaller than the samples I weighed before earlier in the week! We then analysed the standards and achieved nearly perfect results!

On my last day, I learnt about how the isotope lab played a key role in the investigation of Richards III’s skeleton. Using their isotope techniques to examine different parts of the skeleton they were able to identify what Richard III’s diet had consisted of and where in England he lived. I was also given a tour of the BGS geological walk way and the National core store which is filled with drilled cores from across the UK and contains over 500 km of cores and thousands of tonnes of rock.

Overall, my week at the BGS was extremely interesting and really opened my eyes to the importance of isotopes in so many research areas of geoscience. I really appreciate all the patience the geoscientists had with me as I learnt about their jobs and completely admire the work they do. I would like to thank Chris Kendrick, Hilary Sloane, Andi Smith, Angela Lamb and Jack Lacey for all helping me throughout the week and providing me with this invaluable experience.

Samantha Newman is a sixth form student at George Abbot School in Surrey

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

DeepCHALLA goes to Nairobi, Kenya and….Lake Challa!…by Heather Moorhouse and Erin Martin-Jones

A handful of members from the UK DeepCHALLA team
This July, four scientists working on the Lancaster-BGS-Cambridge joint led DeepCHALLA project attended the African Quaternary Environments, Ecology and Humans (AFQUA) conference hosted at the National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi. This meeting brings together researchers who study the Quaternary period (last 2.6 million years) and are interested in past climate, ecosystem and ecological change, as well as human evolution across the entire African continent…

East Africa, is home to the East African Rift (EAR) Valley, one of the most extensive active rifts on Earth. The EAR valley represents the formation of a new ocean, created by two slowly moving diverging continental plates. This has resulted in volcanic and seismic activity, as well as producing some of the world’s most dynamic and unique ecosystems including the EAR lakes. These lakes are some of the oldest, deepest and largest in the world. Thus, these lakes have sediment records millions to hundreds of thousands of years old, capturing long-term changes in their local and regional environment. In addition, past eruptions from volcanoes along the EAR emitted ash that not only is relatively easy to date but provided excellent preservation of the remains of our human ancestors and the megafauna they hunted. This resulted in the region being termed “the cradle of mankind”, globally important archaeological sites which have advanced our understanding on the evolution of our own and other species. During the AFQUA conference, attendees were lucky to visit such globally unique ecological and archaeological sites.

The international group of scientists working on DeepCHALLA are investigating ~250,000 years of environmental change using sediments retrieved from the bottom of Lake Challa, a steep-sided crater lake on the Kenyan, Tanzanian border, close to Mt Kilimanjaro. Whilst technically not considered an EAR lake, Challa’s creation is a result of the volcanic activity caused by rifting.  Presentations and workshops were conducted by all four of the UK-based scientists working on the DeepCHALLA record, and involved how to produce reliable radiocarbon chronologies by Dr. Maarten Blaauw, Queens University Belfast and understanding the patterns and drivers of fires in Africa by Dr Daniele Colombaroli from Royal Holloway alongside others. Heather and Erin ran a workshop on how lake sediments can be used to understand natural hazards.

Lake Challa
Erin is investigating how volcanoes throughout the EAR system have behaved in the past, in order to provide an indication of the potential for future eruptions. Kenya and Tanzania are home to 28 volcanoes which are suspected to have been active over the last 10,000 years, however historical and geological evidence for the timing and size of past eruptions remains minimal. The workshop explored how we can also use lake sediments to chronicle the timing and magnitude of past eruptions.  Through time, lakes capture and preserve volcanic ash (tephra) horizons in their stratigraphically-resolved sediments, providing a picture of past volcanism that is frequently more complete than that preserved in outcrop. The geochemical fingerprint of glassy particles comprising each tephra acts allows it to be traced back to the source volcano and can be used to map out tephra dispersal, and dates on sediment sequences can be built into Bayesian age models to understanding the timing of past eruptions. Erin used the near-continous and well-dated Challa record as an example, finding previously unrecognised eruptions from cinder cones in the Kilimanjaro region over the last ~250,000 years.  Such knowledge on past volcanism is crucial to developing an understanding of the potential for hazards in this rapidly developing area, and is part of a wider effort to shed light on the volcanic record throughout East Africa using lake sediments at the Cambridge Tephra Laboratory.  

Alongside Erin, Heather spoke about how we can use fossilised algae from photosynthesisers (microscopic to larger plants) in lake sediments to understand climate and human impacts on lake ecological communities. Like many lakes globally, lakes in East Africa and those across the continent have been subject to climatic variability and pollution from the intensification of human activity and growing human populations Understanding the timing and magnitude of ecological change can help pinpoint impacts and causes of environmental modifications and ultimately guide where management should focus.

Erin enjoying the volcaniclastic deposits of the dried up river bed found
 in the catchment of Lake Challa
Post-conference, Erin and Heather were lucky enough to go on a scientific pilgrimage to Lake Challa itself, having missed the opportunity of helping with the drilling campaign in early 2017 as theit jobs had not yet begun. They walked along the top of the steep crater wall of the lake and Erin was excited to see how past volcanism had impacted the landscape at and around Lake Challa, including the thick reworked tephra accumulations in an ephemeral river bed and the numerous, and now vegetated volcanic craters. Whilst it was the dry season in Tanzania, and cool 24°C, they braved the water to take some water and rock scrape samples. These will tell them what phytoplankton or microscopic photosynthesisers are growing in the lake currently, and can be used to help interpret the historical changes documented in the lake sediment deposits.

This blog was written by Dr Heather Moorhouse, Diatom Isotope Research Technician working at Lancaster University, alongside the stable isotope facility at the British Geological Survey and Dr Catherine (Erin) Martin-Jones at the University of Cambridge.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Rock solid advice for geoscience PhD students…by Melanie J Leng and Anson Mackay

Two experienced PhD supervisors share seven steps to achieve a successful geoscience PhD, a fuller version of this article will appear in the Geoscientist in a 3 part series starting with the September issue.

Embarking on a PhD is a big decision, and completing one is a consuming task that will take up years of your life. Working towards a PhD develops you as a person and helps you to understand and solve problems, and can make you a better communicator. It can also increase your confidence time management skills, and give you deep and sophisticated knowledge in a specific scientific subset. Here we provide advice:

1. Your supervisor

Usually in the geosciences you have to work closely with at least two supervisors (a main one and a spare or two covering different aspects of your research), so check them (and their research groups) out via their online presence. Once you have secured a PhD position, take responsibility for setting the agenda during meetings and writing up minutes with actions and deadlines for comment. This should help to ensure you have the support you need from your supervisor. If at any time you feel that the relationship with your supervisor is deteriorating, seek immediate guidance from your departmental graduate tutor.

2. Organising your data

Train yourself to be competent in a data analysis and drawing package. For us, the programming language R is essential, and will augment what you can do with your data. Bespoke analytical packages for your particular field will also be essential to learn. Gantt charts are useful to plan milestones, from the experiment to thesis scale, while the workplace communication tool Slack is increasingly being used to interact with project partners.

3. Presentations

Presentations are a challenging but essential aspect of working in the geosciences, and universities offer training. Start by giving presentations to your peers and supervisors, with the long term aim of presenting at international conferences (like the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly). Many people find public speaking daunting or debilitating. Seek help and support from your peers, supervisor, postgraduate training, and welfare office. Tricks abound to lessen the stress: practise, practise, practise; use Powerpoint’s Presenter Tools; write out memory aides on small cards.

4. Writing

When writing papers, agree in advance what data you will include and who you need to co-author with. This can be tricky if you are part of a large multi-national project where data are “owned” by different people, and will be ready for publication at different times. Being very clear about expectations in developing the paper is important. Be informed about recent developments in Open Science. Set up your own Google Scholar and ORCID accounts for maximum outreach. Many academics have ResearchGate profiles, although restrictions still exist on what papers can be uploaded.

5. Training

Some expert skills for geoscience PhD students can be gained through training courses, including writing, presenting, statistics, coding, health and safety for fieldwork and laboratory work, and building CVs. Take the initiative and search out desired courses; do not rely on being told what to learn. Remember one-on-one training with your supervisors is important and needs to be factored in.

6. Get involved

Learn to say yes! Grab opportunities as they arise; everyone loves positivity and you will demonstrate energy and teamwork. Apply for positions of responsibility when they arise; early career representatives are often needed for committees. These can be great experience of finding out how learned societies work, and you can influence what and how decisions are made.
Learn to say no, if you’re simply over-committed and too busy to take on more work. Never give an immediate answer – think the request over for a day or so and consult with friends and colleagues. Saying yes should be an opportunity - not just a way to fulfil the wishes of others.

7. Work-life balance

Most academics consider their work as a vocation. Don’t be put off by this culture. Make sure you have a life outside of your PhD: spend time with your friends, participate in a sport or hobby. The mental health of PhD students is precarious: postgraduate students are up to six times more likely to experience depression and anxiety compared to the general population. Universities offer welfare services and you can also seek help through your doctor. It is important to get plenty of sleep, learn how to shut off in the evenings and weekends. Remember there are those around you who are going or have gone through the same experiences, so connect with your peers.

Melanie Leng is Director of Geochemistry at the British Geological Survey, UK, and Professor in Isotope Geoscience at the University of Nottingham, UK. Twitter @MelJLeng. Anson Mackay is Professor in Environmental Change at UCL, UK, and an Honorary Research Associate at the British Geological Survey. Twitter @AnsonMackay. The pair have supervised over 100 PhD students.

The fuller version of part 1 of this article can be found at: Leng, M. & Mackay, A. Essential tips for a rock-solid PhD: Part I. Geoscientist 28 (8), 28-29, 2018;, part 2 and 3 will appear in October and November issues of the Geoscientist.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Using geochemistry to study rainfall variability and human impact history of the Australian subtropics…by Charlie Maxson

The team from my recent trip to Blue Lake.
Hello, I am Charlie, a PhD student between the University of Adelaide, the University of Nottingham, and the British Geological Survey. I have recently started my PhD looking at Holocene rainfall variability and human impact in subtropical Australia…  

Rainfall variability in Australia can be extreme from year to year. Large-scale rainfall drivers like the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, Indian Ocean Dipole, and Southern Annular Mode create quite variable conditions across the country due to the ever-changing nature of these systems. The complex nature of, and interactions between, these systems create a distinct challenge in determining how rainfall will vary over a given period in Australia. This variability in rainfall and the changing climate could lead to significant economic, environmental, and water resource issues if not properly understood and addressed.

My approach to understanding rainfall variability will be an in-depth study of the lakes of North Stradbroke Island, known locally as ‘Straddie’. Straddie is the second largest sand island in the world. It formed during sea-level high stands in glacial cycles through the last million years. Sands were pushed in and settled on the location of the island, creating dunes. Dune hollows then filled with organic matter, creating an impermeable layer, into which rainfall collected, creating lakes on the island. Over 50 of these lakes now exist, with some histories going back at least 200,000 years.

Blue Lake from above.
Of particular interest is Blue Lake; a unique lake in Australia because it is particularly resistant to changes in climate through the Holocene (approximately last 12,000 years). Blue Lake is a groundwater ‘window lake,’ meaning it is an expression of the groundwater table at the surface of the island. While other lakes on the island are exclusively filled by rainfall and drained by evaporation, Blue Lake is fed by the groundwater table and drains out through a single outflow creek. The utility of Blue Lake is that it is a very stable system, so any change in the lake itself can be inferred as a change in regional climate. With the data from Blue Lake I hope to infer changes in the source of rainfall (and thus air temperatures) from isotope data going back through time. I can then quantitatively reconstruct climate on Straddie through the Holocene and better understand human impact. Ultimately, I will be inferring rainfall source (tropical Pacific or Southern Ocean), which will tell us about the influence of large climate drivers in the past.

Kangaroos on Straddie lounging about.
They're a common sight on the island.
This study will have particular importance to traditional owners of Straddie and for understanding Holocene climate variability across Australia. Ecological management will be of utmost importance in the near future to best preserve the unique natural beauty and biodiversity seen in Australia. My hope for this project is to inform the local managers of Straddie (the QYAC; Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation) of possible outcomes of human induced climate change.

Charlie Maxson is a PhD student between University of Adelaide, the University of Nottingham, and the British Geological Survey and is being supervised by Dr John Tibby, Dr Jonathan Tyler and Prof Melanie Leng. Follow Charlie on Instagram and twitter @charlie_maxson

Monday, 27 August 2018

Another One Bites The Dust: Dust-to-crop chromium transfer in Zambia – A student Sophia Dowell

Sophia in the lab
Hi my name is Sophia Dowell, I’m an undergraduate chemistry student from the University of Surrey.  I have been working at the British Geological Survey for just over a year, joining the Inorganic Geochemistry team in Keyworth, Nottinghamshire as an industrial placement student in July 2017. The majority of my work whilst here has been focused around the operation of the Agilent 8900 triple quadrupole Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) under the supervision of Elliott Hamilton. ICP-MS is used for simultaneous multi element analysis, on a wide variety of sample matrix's from ground waters through to urines and bloods. I have been working on this instrument independently since March, and now have a much better understanding of both the operation and principles. As part of my work, I have also learned how to conduct key laboratory tests, such as determining soil pH and the Unified Barge Method (UBM) analysis for looking at elemental bioaccessibility. Now that my year is coming to an end at the BGS, I have started to train Nicholas Porter who is also a University of Surrey, industrial placement student. I am training Nicholas the basics and passing on my knowledge, so that he can continue my work within the ICP-MS laboratories.

Alongside my work within the lab, I undertook a short research project looking at dust-to-crop transfer of chromium in Zambia. This links directly with Elliott’s PhD work and follows on from both Emily Leader and Lee Evans who were past placement students from the University of Surrey. Chromium (Cr) exists naturally in the environment as both trivalent (Cr (III)) and hexavalent (Cr (VI)) forms. Trivalent chromium is essential for animal well-being and is considered to be vital for insulin regulation and glucose metabolism inside the body. On the other hand hexavalent chromium is classified as a Group A human carcinogen with the respiratory tract being the main target organ for Cr(VI) following inhalation. Although chromium can enter the environment through natural processes the origin of Cr(VI) in the environment is largely anthropogenic.

SEM images with dust on the washed pumpkin leaves
The study used dusts created from the Zambian soils Elliott collected whilst on fieldwork (Elliott Hamilton’s blog) in a glasshouse study at the University of Nottingham’s Sutton Bonington campus. Pumpkin leaves were grown over a period of 3 weeks before the Zambian dust was applied to the leaves. After 4 days the leaves were harvested and brought back to BGS for analysis. The leaves were digested and analysed using ICP-MS and it was found that the chromium concentration in the leaves exposed to the dusts was elevated in comparison to the control leaves. It was later determined, with the help of Dr Lorraine Field, that this increased concentration in washed leaves was likely due to dust particles adhering to the leaf surfaces, rather than through absorption as shown by  scanning electron microscopy (SEM). The SEM images show dust on the washed leaves which was not visible to the human eye.

After I have completed my placement, I will be returning to the University of Surrey for the final year of my undergraduate chemistry degree. I hope to continue into a career in environmental chemistry research after my degree, pursuing a MSc in analytical chemistry or geochemistry. I have loved my time at BGS and in the Inorganic Geochemistry team and believe that the placement has helped me not only develop new laboratory skills that will make me more employable as a graduate, but it has also given me many positive memories of my time here!

Friday, 24 August 2018

Getting involved in 'stuff' outside your Robert Šakić Trogrlić

Robert together with other participants of the Young Water Leaders
Summit 2016 in Singapore Image source 
Hi, I'm Robert and I'm a 3rd year PhD student at Heriot-Watt University, researching the role of local knowledge in flood risk management in Malawi. I am jointly supervised by Heriot-Watt University (Dr Grant Wright, Prof Adebayo Adeloye), BGS (Dr Melanie Duncan) and Polytechnic Malawi (Dr Faidess Mwale), and funded through the Hydro Nation Scholars Programme by the Scottish Government. Throughout my PhD I have sought out a number of extracurricular activities.  They have helped me better understand my research topic, meet people from different fields and countries, and taken me across the world. These activities have, in different ways, helped enhance my understanding of my topic and helped me develop as an early career researcher.  By sharing my experiences, I hope to demonstrate to other PhD students how they could become involved in similar activities.

What was I doing and why?

When I was starting my PhD, the prospect of being dedicated to one single topic for 3-4 years of my life seemed a bit scary. No matter how much I felt passionate about my field of research (Disaster Risk Reduction), I was very keen on introducing more dynamics into my life as a PhD student. But keeping in mind that time is a valuable resource, I wanted to be involved in initiatives that are still related to my professional and academic interests.

That’s why I decided to become a volunteer with the Water Youth Network - WYN, a vibrant community of students and young professionals working as a global connector in the water sector. For the past two years, I have been a co-coordinator of the Disaster Risk Reduction working group within the WYN, and through my involvement in the WYN, I also had an opportunity to act as a Focal Point in the Science Policy Interface Disaster Risk Reduction team of the United Nations Major Group of Children and Youth.

The last two years were a joy, because I had a chance to be a part of different types of projects, from involvement in policy advocacy, organising capacity-building workshops to organisational strategic development. I got to work with unbelievably driven international community of young people working across disciplines on creating sustainable futures.

Where did it take me?

Literally, it took me places, gave me exposure and opportunity to take part in global conversations. I was involved in organising the Young Water Leaders’ Summit during the 2016 Singapore International Water Week; I was an invited speaker at the United Nations HABITAT III conference in Ecuador in 2016; I was a co-chair at the UNISDR’s Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction in Mexico in 2017; I was a speaker at the ECOSOC Youth Forum at the UN Headquarters in New York City in 2018. And my favourite part –I was part of the organising team for the Pressure Cooker Event on Risk Communication during the 2018 Understanding Risk Forum in Mexico City. (Read Anna Hicks and Jim Whiteley's blog for more on this event).

Robert co-chairing a session on Disaster Risk Governance during the
Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Mexico 2017 Image source
How have all these activities benefited me and my research?

  • Exposure to interdisciplinary environments: If we are to solve global challenges, one-size-fits-all solutions are not the way forward, and sometimes very differing perspectives need to be integrated. This lesson has also benefited my PhD, because it directly influenced how I was approaching the problem I am addressing, by making my approach more interdisciplinary. One thing led to another, and now, as a trained engineer, I am doing a qualitative study for my PhD using social science methodologies.    
  • Networking and collaboration: Being part of a youth organisation gave me the opportunity to meet inspiring people, both young leaders and ‘legends’ in the field. It’s directly beneficial for my study, because I got a chance to discuss and receive feedback on my PhD from a variety of people. In addition, you never know what future collaborations might come out of your new network. For instance, during one of the events we were organising in the Netherlands, an idea emerged of jointly writing a journal paper with 9 other co-authors, which we later published in an academic journal.
  • Leaving your comfort zone: As PhD students, we are very often tied to a specific topic and we rarely get an opportunity to explore how our research can influence policy and practice. While being involved in different projects, I got not only the chance to learn new things about my field, but also to see explicit links between my research and some of the critical policy issues.  
  • Learning new skills: We are all aware of the challenges of the academic job markets and increased interest towards developing so called ‘transferrable’ skills. Getting involved in work outside our PhDs can really help us develop these skills. I was lucky to learn a lot about, for instance, working in and leading interdisciplinary and international teams, fund raising and strategic thinking.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

A visit from Freetown: Institutional strengthening of geoscience in Sierra Darren Jones

Tour of the labs given by Simon Chenery and
John Wheeler in Keyworth
Earlier this summer we had the privilege of welcoming visitors from the National Minerals Agency (NMA) and Petroleum Directorate (PD) of Sierra Leone. BGS has developed a strong partnership with these geoscience institutions since 2015 as part of a wider extractive support programme funded by the UK Department for International Development. This project has involved various BGS staff across multiple directorates over the last few years.

The trip began with a visit to BGS HQ in Keyworth, meeting our very own John Ludden who gave our visitors a great introduction to BGS, our strategy and current governance model. Following this Simon Chenery gave them a comprehensive tour of the Keyworth lab facilities from thin section prep through to the state-of-the-art equipment used across our projects.   The NMA in particular took inspiration from this as they are currently in the process of setting up a laboratory with help and advice from the BGS. No trip to Keyworth is complete without a visit to the impressive core store; Scott Renshaw provided a tour, of which I am sure, impressed our visitors.

Discussion of Mam Tor Landslide with Pete Hobbs
John Ford, Pete Hobbs and Leanne Hughes delivered an excellent day of field training in the Peak District demonstrating the use of digital geological mapping program SIGMA. We also visited the Mam Tor landslide that was of significant interest following the landslide disaster in Freetown last year. Following this, our guests were treated to some of the UK’s finest geology on a sunny day along the Yorkshire coastline, visiting classic Jurassic outcrops at Robin Hoods Bay and the Cretaceous chalk cliffs of Flamborough Head.

The trip concluded with a visit to Hull, with a special invitation to the Guildhall by the Mayor and the Freetown Society of Hull. Hull and Freetown share a historical link and are established twinned cities, so this visit was a great opportunity to share experience and celebrate their partnership. Dr Liam Herringshaw also showed us around the geology department at the University of Hull.

I would like to extend my gratitude to all of you who have been involved in organising this tour and/or worked on the project. I am sure we all look forward to continue developing this partnership with both institutions into the future.

Twinned cities united as one. Meeting of the Freetown Society
of Hull, the Mayor of Hull, Geology Department at University
of Hull, BGS and our Sierra Leone visitors

Monday, 20 August 2018

The latest BGS Innovation Bootcamp – geology and Katy Lee

Katy Lee leads the Hazard & Resilience Modelling Team at BGS, focusing on the development of BGS data products and innovations. In our latest GeoBlogy she tells us about the recent BGS Innovation Bootcamp on geology and heritage. 

Who was involved?

The BGS and Historic England (HE) have been developing joint research ideas at an ‘innovation boot camp’, held at BGS in July.

Researchers from Historic England’s Strategic Research and Partnerships Team and BGS Hazard & Resilience Modelling (HARM) Team came together to discuss new research collaborations and innovative ideas.

Part of the HARM Team’s strategy is to focus on:
  • Co-development: Explore and develop methodologies with the aim to provide and develop new and pre-existing products and innovative services.
  • Research: Ever-changing research developments result in constantly evolving outputs that product development can draw upon. For example, scientific research, developments in data analytical techniques (particularly fast-moving currently), Commissioned Research for specific users can potentially be scaled up to provide data from the broader community or even into other market sectors, and the development/release of new datasets both internally and externally.
  • Funding opportunities: All development requires funding from either National Capability or other sources and we look to bring in additional income to support our product development activities.

The bootcamp provided an ideal opportunity to explore some aspects of these aims and aspirations.

Some of the team had already had ‘bootcamp’ training last year, provided by no-nonsense innovation company ‘Nonon’, which was a great success so we were able to draw on this experience and some of the techniques for this current event. 

From L-R: Using a lean business canvas ensures we consider all factors, needs and users; Brainstorming in an innovative

What did we talk about?

We had initially discussed multiple different project or topic ideas and, in preparation for the bootcamp, had narrowed it down to 7, ranging from: coastal change impacts to factors controlling rates of organic decay/preservation of historic artefacts.

On the day, we focussed in on 4 main topics: using historic mining ponds in upland regions for Natural Flood Management; 3D borehole data interpretations for the Anthropocene and Holocene; multihazard impacts on historic assets; and Coastal vulnerability.

What did the day involve?

We used tools and techniques for developing lean business models, stakeholder analysis, and personas. This enabled us to identify research themes that we could take forward and investigate in more detail. After a short introduction, the day soon swung into action and everyone became very busy. Initial discussions soon developed into fledgling ideas and then a little more information could be added. Lots of post-it notes and whiteboard doodles were employed throughout the day. We also had a brilliant team of ‘artists in residence’ to help communicate ideas through drawings and sketches.

What were the results?

At the end of the day, each team presented their idea in a 5-minute elevator-pitch and a group vote decided that the 3D deposits/borehole interpretation idea was the winner! This idea will be taken forward by BGS and HE and developed into a feasibility project. Congratulations not only go to the 3D deposits team but also to everyone who took part, it was a fantastic day with much success and lots of ideas that we can now build on. Well done everyone.

From L-R: More coffee!...finalising the idea; Heritage and hazards: one of the sketches used to 'pitch' the idea

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Investigating natural and human impact on Eastern Australia wetlands…by Melanie Leng

Nick, Mel and Jamie at the currently dry Coalstoun lakes.
For 3 years Melanie Leng has been working with researchers from the University of Adelaide and University of Queensland on understanding natural and human impacts on sensitive wetlands along the eastern Australia coastline. With the team from Adelaide, Mel has previously helped develop climate records from the leaves of the paperbark trees that are preserved in North Stradbroke Island lakes. Here Mel tells us about a recent repeat visit to eastern Australia…

The impact of recent climate change and humans on sensitive ecosystems in Australia is a hot topic. I have teamed up with researchers from the University of Adelaide and University of Queensland to combine our expertise to try and solve some of these questions. In August, I first went with researchers from University of Queensland to the Coalstoun Lakes area, North of Brisbane. The Coalstoun lakes formed within old volcanic craters which last erupted 600,000 years ago (yet they are still amongst the youngest volcanoes in Australia). There is still evidence of the basalt lava around the craters. The track up the side of the dormant volcano runs through prickly shrubs and thicket, and the lakes area is a refuge for many birds (being surrounded by agricultural land). The forest around the crater comprises bottle trees, ash and tea-trees. Interestingly the two crater lakes were dry when we visited in August (dry/mid-winter), which is an unusual occurrence and may be an indicator that the lakes are at a critical point in their evolution (i.e. filling up with sediment) during a particular dry spell. We have taken cores of sediment through the lakebeds and plan to reconstruct past climates, and hope to better understand the causes of long-term variability of water availability in eastern Australia. This will help understand drought risk, critical for the sustainability of agriculture, the security of urban water supplies (especially for the greater Brisbane metropolitan area) and for power generation. In addition, through improved understanding of the long-term ecological dynamics and human impacts at Coalstoun Lakes, this study will also generate improved management outcomes for Coalstoun Lakes National Park. This research is being led by PhD student Nick Patton who is based at University of Queensland but with supervisors at University of Nottingham and the British Geological Survey. Look out for Nick’s future blogs!

Blue Lake on North Stradbroke Island.
I then went back to Brisbane and took the ferry to North Stradbroke Island to meet with colleagues from the University of Adelaide. We visited Blue Lake (so called because the water quality reflects the sapphire colour of the amazingly clear blue skies). Blue Lake is thought to be untouched by human impact (due to its connection to a deep and extensive aquifer under the island). The theory being that Blue Lake sediments should provide information on centennial and millennial changes in the sources of rainfall over the eastern Australian continent. Ultimately, we need to understand where and when the aquifer was filled and current recharge rates in order to protect the ecology of the island and monitor human impact. This research is being led by Charlie Maxson who is a joint PhD student between the University of Adelaide, the University of Nottingham and the British Geological Survey. Look out for Charlie’s future blogs!

Thanks to Prof Jamie Shulmeister and Nick Patton (both University of Queensland), and Associate Prof John Tibby, Dr Cameron Barr, Dr Jonathan Tyler and PhD students Haidee Cadd and Charlie Maxson (all University of Adelaide), as well as staff from the Queensland Department of Science, Information, Technology and Innovation for their collaboration.

From L-R: Koala on North Stradbroke Island; A rare Barking Owl in Coalstoun Lakes National Park.
Melanie Leng is the Director of the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry at the BGS and University of Nottingham. Follow Mel on twitter @MelJLeng.