Sunday, 23 August 2015

Fieldwork to investigate human induced changes on important Asian wetlands…by Melanie Leng

Suzanne McGowan, Melanie Leng and Ginni Pannizo (left
to right taking cores of sediment from Tasik Chini. 
Exponential population growth, urban expansion and climate change are changing the quality of freshwaters around the World. In countries such as Malaysia which aims to become a “fully developed” nation by 2020 rapid deforestation, urban development and resource exploitation have put drainage basins under unprecedented pressures. A team from the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (BGS and the University of Nottingham) went on a site investigation to look at one of Malaysia’s premier wetlands, the famous Tasik Chini site in central Pahang to investigate the current and past water quality status using information preserved in the sediments that have accumulated on the bottom of the lake. Here Melanie Leng tells us more… 

The tropical lowland lake Tasik Chini in Malaysia is currently undergoing rapid ecological change which threatens the livelihoods of populations living around the lake as well as the economy of the region (ie agriculture, fisheries, tourism, industry). Tasik Chini is of national and international importance, having been awarded protected status by UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme. Immediate threats to the lakes include pollution (from sewage, toxins from catchment mining, acid rain from coal burning), land development (soil erosion and rapid sedimentation, fertilizer runoff from oil palm), invasive species (Cabomba caroliniana in place of the native lotus), hydrological modification (artificial raising of the water level which has altered the natural flood pulse) and climate change. Effective management of these ecosystems is required before they are irreversibly damaged. This new research project between the BGS and the University of Nottingham (Malaysia and UK campuses) aims to provide the first palaeolimnological (lake sediment core) study of continuous human and environmental change on the Peninsular Malaysia spanning the last few centuries. 

Deforestation is a big problem in the catchment due to
mining and palm oil plantations. 
This month I was part of a team that went to Taski Chini to extract sediment cores as part of a reconnaissance study. The sediments record changes through time (the oldest sediments being at the bottom of the cores and becoming younger upwards). We will be analysing the sediments for geochemical and biological parameters. These parameters will tell us about changing water quality both now and in the past before many of the pressures were placed on the system (ie sedimentation rate, algal biodiversity, primary production, toxic algal species, heavy metal and organic pollutants). The field work was a success with us taking 7 sediment cores from across the lake (each core was approximately 1m long and represents sediment accumulation over the last few hundred years). The sediments were sampled on site and are now awaiting analysis. Overall we hope to show the ecological status of the lake prior to human intervention and show the recent anthropogenic changes to the lake ecosystem with a view of future mitigation.  

Tasik Chini panorama from the Tasik Chini Resort. 
This fieldwork was headed by Dr Suzanne McGowan, Head of School of Geography, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, with strong collaborative links with Prof Dato' Dr Mushrifah Idris (Director of the Tasik Chini Research Centre) and Mr Muhammad Shafiq Bin Ruslan in Malaysia. The project team includes Dr Keely Mills (BGS), Prof Sarah Metcalfe (UoN), and Dr Ginnie Panizzo (UoN). Much of the analytical work will be done within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry, UoN-BGS. Many thanks to Shafiq’s students who helped with the fieldwork. This project is being funded by the University of Nottingham.

Thanks to the support from Shafiq (left), and his students Minisha, Noor
(on the right) and Yasmin from the Tasik Chini Research Centre. 
Melanie Leng is the Director of the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry and Science Director for the Stable Isotope Facility at the BGS. Follow Mel on Twitter @MelJLeng





Thursday, 20 August 2015

Limnogeology and the biggest little city in the world…by Jack Lacey

Jack, Jonathan and Melanie in downtown Reno. 
In June, scientists from around the world gathered in Reno, Nevada (USA) for the 6thInternational Limnogeology Congress (ILIC6) to present and discuss their multi-disciplinary research on lake sediment records. Centre for Environmental Geochemistry PhD student Jack Lacey reports on the meeting and tells us about his experience…

The International Association of Limnogeology hosts a conference every four years and this time the meeting was held in Reno - the “biggest little city in the world”. Over 150 limnogeologists, geologists, limnologists, palaeontologists and geochronologists travelled to the Peppermill Casino Resort to discuss the latest in lake-based research; the UK-BGS contingent comprised myself, Melanie Leng and Jonathan Dean.

Jack presenting part of his PhD research on Lake Ohrid. 
The conference programme was centred on several invited keynote talks, which covered a highly interesting and broad range of topics and timescales including climate impacts on the human occupation of Mesoamerica, assessing natural hazards (earthquakes, floods, tsunamis), and advances in the use of isotopes in diatom silica in lake research (Melanie’s presentation).

In addition to the keynotes, poster sessions were also held that provided a great opportunity to network with other scientists. I presented some of my recently published work on a pilot core from Lake Ohrid, a high-resolution record covering the last 12,000 years, and in conjunction with Melanie, showcased our new 630,000 year isotope record from Lake Ohrid as part of the Scientific Collaboration on Past Speciation Conditions in Lake Ohrid (SCOPSCO) project. 

Mid-week the group took a break from presentations and posters and went on a field trip to Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe is on the border between Nevada and California and has exceptionally clear water due to its relatively small drainage basin. We had a whistle-stop tour of several sites around the lake and also visited the Tahoe Science Centre, which had an impressive outreach programme including a 3D movie about the lake’s geological past.

ILIC6 conference delegates at Lake Tahoe, photo courtesy of Sudeep Chandra.
After the conference was over I had a spare day before my flight back to the UK, so hired a Ford Mustang and went for a drive! I managed to see quite a few spectacular places, including Mono Lake, Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake, as well as visiting Bodie - an old mining ghost town.

Tufa towers at Mono Lake.
Overall the conference was a great trip, I listened to many engaging presentations and discussed lots of exciting research that is being carried out on lakes from the Arctic to Patagonia. I had never been to the US before, and can thoroughly recommend visiting the Tahoe area for its lakes, mountains and fantastic scenery. I very much look forward to the next ILIC meeting, in Argentina!

View out across Lake Tahoe from Incline Village. 
@JackHLacey (BGS BUFI-funded student at the University of Nottingham within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry)
  

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Planning the analysis of half a kilometre of African lake mud...by Jonathan Dean

Jonathan Dean is a Postdoctoral Research Assistant working the Stable Isotope Lab at the British Geological Survey, and here he introduces the new project he is involved with: analysing sediments from Ethiopia. 

In the end of June, around 20 scientists from the UK, Germany and the US met at the University of Cologne to discuss our new project: the analysis of half a kilometre of sediments taken from Lake Chew Bahir in Ethiopia. We aim to use the sediments to reconstruct how the environment of east Africa has changed over the last 500,000 years.

Scientists from the UK, Germany and the US are involved in the project
We are particularly interested in how the climate changed during the time our species Homo sapiens, has existed: the last 200,000 years or so. We want to understand whether climate changes could have encouraged our evolution and ultimately our migration out of Africa to populate the rest of the world. Because no such long-term records of past climate change from this era have been produced before, ideas linking climate and human evolution have so far been mostly speculative.

Chew Bahir when the lake sediments were being drilled in November 2014 (Photo: Julian Ruddock)
The sediment cores were taken in November 2014 from the dried-out lake basin and we started to take samples from them in a laboratory in Minneapolis in April (see GeoBlogy: Ancient links between climate and vegetation). At the meeting in Cologne, we planned how analyses will be undertaken over the next year, with some people in the group working to date the sediments to work out how old each section is, and some analysing how the chemical composition has varied in order to reconstruct how the climate changes over time. My job is to look at how the ratio of one type of oxygen to another changes in the core, which will help us to understand how the climate has changed through time from wet to dry.

More information is available on our website and a video of the project by our 'artist in residence', Julian Ruddock from the University of Aberystwyth can be viewed here.










Friday, 7 August 2015

Hidden landscapes in the city: the world of urban gardens and allotments...by Jon Stubberfield

Preparing for a day down at the allotment
Dale allotments in Sneinton, Nottingham
Hi, my name is Jon and I am a PhD student at the University of Nottingham. The demand for urban gardens and allotments is on the rise as is the pressure for space in our towns and cities. But is it possible to re-invent urban spaces for use as gardens and allotments or should we look elsewhere? Are urban soils suitable for the everyday gardener’s needs and is gardening as healthy an activity as everyone says it is?

The urban allotment: a place of tranquillity and peace

From my first few visits to allotments in Nottingham I can see the immense value of these great spaces. Often up a neglected side-road or avenue, on first sight it’s clear that they offer something completely different to the hustle and bustle of city living. The effect of ‘Vitamin G’ or greenspace as it has been termed by some authors[1], is readily apparent here with birdsong replacing the sound of city traffic. Add in the outcomes from eating fresh produce, the range of activities required in maintaining a garden and it is not surprising that much has been written about the health benefits of gardening. Indeed, although not yet recognised directly with funding by the NHS[2], gardening therapy is not uncommon as a treatment for a range of illnesses including recovery and rehabilitation from chronic illness and depression to war injuries. Allotments also offer safe, inclusive, social communities for a wide range of individuals that would perhaps never otherwise meet and often cater for some of the most vulnerable in society. The first part of my PhD aims to quantify these benefits through the use of a gardening and health survey and provide some insight into the routines of allotment life.

Handing out surveys at the Grow Your Own event in Woodthorpe Park
The pressure on urban space for public growing

Despite the many benefits of allotments and the long waiting lists to get a plot[3], the limited availability of land and cuts to council budgets make it increasingly difficult to do so. I owe a considerable debt to the allotment team at the City Council in Nottingham for allowing me to visit allotments, meet with plot holders, and take soil samples as part of my project work. They have been incredibly supportive of our research and are keen on any information they can find which supports the value of public gardening spaces in the city. However, as more local authorities face budget cuts and are required to house a growing population, the creation of new spaces for gardens and allotments is likely to become less of a priority.

Taking soil samples at St Ann's allotments, Nottingham
A further issue is finding soils that are appropriate for gardening in towns and cities in the first place. Many urban soils in large cities in the UK have a history of misuse from the industrial revolution to the present day[4] and can contain high concentrations of toxic elements such as cadmium, arsenic and lead which could pose a health risk to gardeners were they used for this purpose. The second part of my PhD involves determining and quantifying the potential health risks from toxic elements in urban soils and comparing these with the health benefits of gardening. Soil samples taken from existing allotments will help to give us an idea of the physical and chemical composition of soils and how they may be altered through gardening activities. Improving the process of assessing the impact to health from gardening in this way, could help policy makers make better decisions over the re-development of neglected urban spaces as gardens and allotments in the future.

My thanks go to my sources of funding which come from the University of Nottingham, the James Hutton Institute and the British Geological Survey and for the continued support of these institutions. I would also like to thank the many plot holders who have taken the time to be present on their plots to allow us to take a soil sample and for returning questionnaires and all the other people that have made this possible. It has been great to meet you all and I hope you continue to enjoy your gardens and allotments for many years to come!

Thank you for reading,

Jon Stubberfield

PhD student, with the Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Division, University of Nottingham (supervised by Prof Neil Crout, Dr Scott Young), James Hutton Institute (Dr Rupert Hough, Dr Mads Troldborg) and British Geological Survey (Dr Louise Ander). 

1 Groeingroenewegen P., Van den Berg A.E., De Vries S and Verheij, R.A. (2006). Vitamin G: Effects of Green Space on Health, Well-Being, and Social Safety. BMC Public Health 6, 149


2 Royal Horticultural Society science-blog post last accessed May 5th 2015. Should Gardening Be Available on the NHS? Available at https://www.rhs.org.uk/science/science-blogs/science/november-2014/should-gardening-be-available-on-the-nhs 

3 Campbell M. and Campbell I. (2009). A Survey of Allotment Waiting Lists in England. Transition Town West Kirby with the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners. Available at http://ww.transitiontownwestkirby.org.uk/files/ttwk_nsalg_survey_09.pdf 

4 Nature Conservancy Council. (1991). Soils in the Urban Environment. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Osney Mead, Oxford OX2 0EL

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Data4Sustain - a webGIS renewable energy feasibility tool funded by Innovate UK...by Darren Beriro

Earlier this year BGS staff in Environmental Modelling and Informatics were working to develop a new project called Data4Sustain. After a number of long days and excellent work by the business lead, Land Quality Management, we learned that Data4Sustain successfully attracted prestigious funding from UK’s Innovation agency, Innovate UK[1] (Solving Urban Challenges with Data – Feasibility Studies[2]) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Over the next 12 months, Data4Sutain will produce a prototype web-based geographical information system (webGIS) for landowners, developers, community groups, local authorities, and their advisors to conduct renewable energy feasibility studies.


Innovate UK funds projects that are business led and are designed to commercialise products and services that contribute the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the UK. Taking research and experience in environmental geoscience and applying it to real-work projects is an important function of BGS. Data4Sustain is expected to help the Government achieve renewable energy targets by assisting businesses and organisations select which renewable energy technologies might be suitable for their development site or existing building – a process that usually takes a lot of time and money.

BGS data will help facilitate sustainable benefits to the UK by using its data holdings on ground conditions including soil geochemistry, soil properties, surface geology, solid geology and groundwater characteristics. These data are valuable resources alone, but when combined with above ground data, the skills in Environmental Modelling and Informatics, business and end-user input, you get renewable energy innovation and Data4Sustain.

Consortium members are made up of business partners and applied research organisations: Land Quality Management and Nottingham Energy Partnership and Nottingham Geospatial InstitutePositive Homes and University of Nottingham Estates Office, who have extensive experience in installing and using renewable energy, will trial the system as potential end-users.

A prototype webGIS will be produced to display information about when a technology (e.g. geothermal, hydro, wind, solar) will and will not work for a given site or building. The webGIS will utilise urban datasets and combine these with technology specific ‘operating windows’ to identify where is most likely to provide an attractive location for new installations.

BGS Geology Map Viewer - Nottingham
WebGIS is an interactive tool that displays geographically relevant information and data in a user friendly web-based environment. Examples of a successful BGS webGIS services include:

·       BGS Geology Map viewer

If you are interested in contacting the project team please email or call LQM on 0115 7484080. To register your interest in Data4Sustain and keep up to date with the latest developments please sign-up to the Data4Sustain mailing list. Alternatively contact me at BGS directly.




[1] Innovate UK is the new name for the Technology Strategy Board – the UK’s innovation agency.  Taking a new idea to market is a challenge. Innovate UK funds, supports and connects  innovative businesses through a unique mix of people and programmes to accelerate sustainable economic growth. For further information visithttps://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/innovate-uk

[2] Feasibility Studies is a single-company or collaborative R&D grant scheme run by Innovate UK  that allows businesses the opportunity to test an innovative idea and its feasibility to be developed and eventually taken to market. Feasibility studies are a way for companies to carry out exploratory studies which could lead to the development of new products, processes, models, experiences or services. The study could involve for instance investigating  the technical feasibility of a new idea.

https://www.gov.uk/innovation-get-details-about-innovate-uk-funding-competitions#feasibility-studies

Future visions for water and cities...by Stephanie Bricker

With eight grand challenges, five bold future visions and 200 co-creators, the UK Water Partnership opened the debate on water for our future cities. The Research Council (RCUK) showcase event, held at the Crystal in London on 30th June, brought together a welcome mix of government, industry professionals and academics and city players to unlock the potential of a reimagined city water cycle. The water challenges faced by our cities may not come as a surprise; to reduce water demand, ensure there is plentiful supply of good quality water, maintain effective infrastructure (above and below ground - more on that later), city groundwater management, reducing or exposure to extreme events, protecting our environment and lastly, adopting a whole-systems approach - which in essence means working together to solve all of these challenges. The UK Water Partnership is surely the first set towards this?

While the challenge may be predictable, the future visions put forward by the UK Water Partnership are not, they embrace the physical, digital and social fabric of our city to ensure both effective water supply and a resilient and liveable city. The five future visions, presented by lead-experts, pitch innovative but plausible solutions to city water management from  city food production through to floating infrastructures and hi-tech sensors and robotics.

The Underworld 

As team leader for urban geosciences at NERC's British Geological Survey my interest was of course 'Cities and the Underworld'; a vision where we dig deep, installing more underground infrastructure, and where the subsurface is utilised to deliver effective drainage, water, heating and cooling. Alongside Prof Chris Rogers of the University of Birmingham and Thames Water's Michael Jones, I was given 5 minutes to pitch my thoughts on the subject. My message is simple, a city that maximises the benefit of the underworld is one that identifies the ground as part of its infrastructure, maps out the services the ground provides and recognises the value of those services through effective subsurface management. Like any city asset, we need to understand the functions of the subsurface, how these functions interact with each other and the limits beyond which these functions are no longer provided. All of these things are achievable through effective monitoring, performance evaluation and subsurface planning and governance, with urban demonstrators proving the opportunity to appraise the physical, digital, social and political of these visions. This is not a far-future concept, through pan-European subsurface good practice we are already starting to see re-envisaged subsurface planning in UK cities, and where on city leads others will follow.


Five future visions for water in cities:
  1. Green Food and Garden Cityscapes: Sensitive urban design and highly monitored 'systems of systems' support city food production and green city landscapes.
  2. Flood Proof Cities: A combination of engineering, green infrastructure and nature-based solutions are used to reduce exposure to sea-level rise and extreme weather events. 
  3. Smart Homes and City Networks: City digital data-hubs harness the internet, sensors and citizen participation to deliver optimal economic efficiency and environmental performance to provide utility services. 
  4. Cities and the Underworld: Infrastructure is increasing built underground in cities and the subsurface is utilised to deliver effective drainage, water, heating and cooling. 
  5. Community Transition Cities: Utilities support resource stewardship in communities actively transitioning towards sustainable habits and practice. 
video

Water research for our future cities - what the experts think: 

'We need to value our water infrastructure more...' Sir Mark Walport

'Bring together the boundaries between science and engineering and make sure we meet the challenges together for a sustainable and resilient future.' Dr Helen Reeves, British Geological Survey 

'We need to engrain and scale up dissemination of science research and integrate into mainstream industry, in a language and format that is accessible and readable. the digital era brings lots of opportunity but lots of noise and we need to make sure the science research cuts through the noise.' Briony Turner, ARCC Network

'We should consider water as an element of a number of systems within cities, how does water impact those systems. We should look at the interface of water with energy, IT etc. to understand how powerful water is in the city, which in turn will lead to a number of innovative business models.' Prof Chris Rogers, University of Birmingham

'We need to make sure the baseline data is sufficiently robust to support multidisciplinary research and an integrated approach...' Peter Bide, Independent

Read all about it...

UK Water Partnerships Thought Piece 'Future Visions for Water and Cities'

Find out more about the EU COST Sub-Urban Action 






Monday, 3 August 2015

Combatting malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa...by Grace Manzeke

Grace Manzeke
Smallholder rain-fed agriculture supports livelihoods of more than 60% of the Zimbabwean population. Like any system, it faces various challenges that include poor soils, poor crop yields and climate change and variability among others. Working in these communities for over 10 years now, the Soil Fertility Consortium for Southern Africa (SOFECSA) at the University of Zimbabwe has been promoting impact-oriented research for development through a multi-institutional disciplinary approach. This has opened an avenue of research that could be explored in these farming communities, some of which require external regional and international support such as relevant skills and knowledge to address the inherent and emerging challenges.

As a research fellow for SOFECSA, I recently acquired a Commonwealth Professional Fellowship award (CSCUK) with the Inorganic Geochemistry team at the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the University of Nottingham (UoN) through the Joint Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (CEG) to gain relevant skills and knowledge on modern sampling design and implementation, database management, GIS, geostatistics and laboratory quality assurance techniques. The BGS is a centre for technology excellence with laboratories equipped with modern instruments and dedicated technologically sound staff, statisticians and geochemists relevant to support emerging research on alleviating extreme poverty and malnutrition in Zimbabwe smallholder communities and the region. This support is fundamental for my Royal Society (DFID) (See GeoBlogy: The Future is Africa) - PhD project on geospatial characteristic of micronutrient deficiency in Zimbabwean soils. Results generated to date during the CSCUK training showed that our soils are very acidic with low total Zn concentrations of 29.1mg kg-1 implying the need for agricultural interventions to enhance crop productivity. I would recommend the future of soil science research in Zimbabwe to be inclined towards use of table isotopes e.g. 70Zn for detecting available soil nutrients to promote soil-plant transfers to combat regional 'hidden hunger' estimated at 40%. This is a novel approach that is currently implemented at the UoN and would recommend for sustainable agricultural interventions in Zimbabwe and sub-Saharan Africa. The CSCUK project enabled me to develop collaborative links with other CSCUK Fellows hosted by the Inorganic Geochemistry team at the BGS (See GeoBlogy: Discovering Malawi's spatial data), and other experts at BGS and UoN who will be able to provide assistance in establishing sustainable research links.

Grace Menzeke is a Research Assistant in the Department of Soils & Agriculture at the University of Zimbabwe. She is currently a PhD student working on a Royal Society-DFID funded project awarded to the British Geological Survey and University of Nottingham Africa Network. 


Friday, 31 July 2015

Dinosaurs and disasters: a summer of pseudo-science...by Kirstin Lemon

With the school holidays upon us, there is the usual plethora of movies to see in the cinema, all in a vain bid to cash in on poor unsuspecting parents that are trying to keep the kids entertained. Super heroes and strange yellow creatures are all popular but, it is the dinosaurs and earthquakes that are proving to be the box office smashes. But just how accurate are these movies with regards to their scientific content and are they providing misinformation to a media-driven society.

Let's start with San Andreas. We all know the name San Andreas, it's probably the only fault that everyone knows by name, so there's no prizes for guessing that this movie is about earthquakes. The general story line is that a number of seismologists make a breakthrough in earthquake prediction whilst visiting the Hoover Dam in southern California. Rather coincidentally, a previously unknown fault ruptures triggering a magnitude 7.1 earthquake causing the dam to collapse, killing one of them in the process. It turns out that this is just the beginning of a series of events that occur all along the San Andreas Fault system including a huge magnitude 9.1 earthquake that destroys pretty much all of southern California, and ends with a monstrous tsunami that devastates San Francisco Bay.

Real earthquake damage in Oakland, California
So what about the science; is any of this actually possible? First of all, we all know that this fault system exists, but it is not capable of producing earthquakes of such a high magnitude. San Andreas is a strike-slip fault, meaning that two plates are moving past each other horizontally. Generally, they don't build up as much stress as other types of fault so it is unlikely that it would get above magnitude 7 or 8. Secondly, strike-slip faults are not generally capable of generating tsunamis, and certainly not ones of the size seen in the movie. This scale of tsunami requires a subduction zone, when one plate is being forced downwards into the mantle, causing huge earthquakes. When this occurs far out at sea, the water above is displaced and a tsunami can be generated. The list could go on but I think you're getting the point.

Now let's move on to Jurassic World. It was one of the most hotly anticipated movies of the year, being a sequel to Jurassic Park that was released back in 1993 (there were a couple in between but it's best not to talk about them). The story now is that after the disastrous attempt at opening Jurassic Park, the owners have worked out all the problems and have opened Jurassic World, the first dinosaur-based theme park. All of the old favourites are there Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, Ankylosaurus, baby Triceratops (aw, how cute) and of course the dinosaur that everyone loves to hate, the Velociraptor. It is also revealed that the Jurassic World scientists have been breeding genetically-engineered dinosaurs who of course turn out to be lethal and wreak havoc on the park.

Artists impression of a Velociraptor (restraining an Oviraptor)
There is obviously a happy ending, it's Hollywood after all, but what about the science in Jurassic World? Well first of all, the name is a bit of a sore point as many of the dinosaurs that feature in the movie didn't live during the Jurassic period at all, and were in fact from the Late Cretaceous. Secondly, the Velociraptor would actually have been the size of a turkey when they were alive and would have been covered in feathers. The Tyrannosaurus would likely have had feathers too but this wasn't shown in the movie either. One of the new additions to Jurassic World was the the mososaur, a huge marine reptile that was portrayed to be almost twice its actual size. Again, the list goes on but you're getting the picture.

So the general consensus is that accurate science is lacking in the majority of the movies that are released in our cinemas. We all know that Hollywood needs to make jaw-dropping, fast-paced, non-stop action movies, otherwise they don't sell so they have to stretch a few truths. But is there anything really wrong with that?

One of the unexpected consequences of San Andreas is an increase in the awareness of earthquakes in California. It is estimated that only one-tenth of people living there are prepared for a large earthquake. Since the movie was released it has got people talking and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has teamed up with the producers to create a multi-media campaign that focuses on earthquake preparedness.

The majority of geologists are drawn in at an early age by the exciting elements of the science; mostly earthquakes, volcanoes and of course dinosaurs. As a young girl, I can still remember watching Jurassic Park back in 1993 and was completely blown away. It inspired me to become a scientist and I am sure I am not the only one. Jurassic World is now doing the same and as I sat in the cinema and looked round at the sea of young faces, including my two young children, it is apparent that a whole new generation of scientists has been born as a result.

Looking for fossils: inspiring the next generation of scientists
I know there will be purists that read this who think that the inaccurate science and the misinformation provided by Hollywood is damaging to the science of geology, but personally I think that we should be thankful. In our digital age there is no mechanism more powerful to spread the message of disaster preparedness or to inspire the next generation than the silver screen, and the obvious social media frenzy that these then generate. I think that if you ask the majority of geologists what inspired them to take their chosen career path, the answers may be unsurprisingly similar to my own.





Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Do a few sand grains reveal the 'lost' mid-Cretaceous deserts of North Africa?...by Andy Newell

Quartz grain imaged by a scanning electron microscope
The image to the right might look like a NASA image of some distant planet but it is actually a grain of sand recovered from a deep borehole in the Sahara desert of central Algeria. The quartz grain, magnified many times using a scanning electron microscope, comes from the 'Continental Intercalaire', a thick unit of sandstones, mudstones and carbonates which lies below much of the Sahara desert. Vast quantities of groundwater are stored within the Continental Intercalaire deposits.

This quartz grain, like many others within the Continental Intercalaire in central Algeria, is interesting because the corners have been well rounded, leaving distinctive broad, bulbous grain edges. Such rounding of quartz grains is nearly always associated with aeolian transport, where sand grains bounce along in the wind and many high-energy impacts polish and round the grain edges. However, the Continental Intercalaire of North Africa is normally considered to have been deposited by rivers, deltas, and lagoons in a marginal marine setting.

Geologists at work in the Sahara desert of central Algeria 
Our work at Krechba (In Salah) in central Algeria (see map) has clearly shown the existence of ancient rivers in the Lower Cretaceous Continental Intercalaire.

Map of the study area, Krechba (In Salah) in central Algeria


3D seismic images showing the sinuous river channels
(indicated by yellow arrows)
These are spectacularly shown in 3D seismic images as sinuous river channels (indicated by yellow arrows) which, during the lowermost Cretaceous meandered lazily across what is now the Sahara Desert.

However, in an overlying unit we call the Krechba Formation (see the borehole correlation below) the channels disappear and the deposit is dominated by weakly-consolidated sands (shown by the yellow colour) that show convincing microscopic evidence for wind-blown transport.

Borehole information showing the correlation of the sandstones (shown in yellow) across the study area
This seems to point toward a major change of environment in the mid-Cretaceous of central Algeria, from lush river floodplains in the In Salah Formation to an arid desert represented by the Krechba Formation, possibly similar to the modern Sahara. On a global scale, this can probably be related to the initial opening of the South Atlantic Ocean in the mid-Cretaceous which caused a major reorganisation of climatic zones, with the initial establishment of a hot arid belt across northern Africa. While this was likely to have been detrimental to life in the Sahara region during the mid-Cretaceous it is actually of high benefit in the context of the Continental Intercalaire today and its vital role as an aquifer. Thick piles of aeolian sand and sandstone happen to provide enormous amounts of space or porosity for the storage of water and an understanding of the depositional environment of the Continental Intercalaire has important implications for estimating the size and long-term sustainability of this vital resource.

Further details on the work are available in the journal 'Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology'. 'The Cretaceous Continental Intercalaire in central Algeria: subsurface evidence for a fluvial to aeolian transition and implications for the onset of aridity on the Saharan Platform' by Andrew Newell, Gary Kirby, James Sorensen and Antoni Milodowski found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2015.07.023.