Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Sampling starts on the RRS James Clark Ross: ORCHESTRA part 4…by Melanie Leng

Melanie Leng is currently part taking in an expedition to the Southern Ocean as part of  ORCHESTRA (Ocean Regulation of Climate by Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transports), a NERC funded programme with partners at the British Antarctic Survey (lead), the National Oceanography Centre, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and many more including BGS and several UK universities. This is the fourth blog about her trip where the work begins on the RRS James Clark Ross…

Cruising track from the south from the
Burwood Bank (an undersea shallow ridge
off eastern South America) to Elephant
Island (off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula).
We are currently cruising south from the Falkland Islands, crossing the Drake Passage from the Burwood Bank (an undersea shallow ridge off eastern South America) to Elephant Island (off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula). We are repeating some established measurements of ocean temperature, salinity, oxygen, and currents that have been made with support from NERC funding since the early 1990’s but we are also adding some new novel measurements, including O, C, N and Si isotopes, nutrients, and micro plastics to help us understand the changes in the ocean. Most of the measurements are made on discrete water samples collected from depth profiles (down to the sea bed which in places is 5km below the sea surface) taken at regular distances along the transect. The water samples are taken using an instrument called a CTD. A CTD is an instrument used to measure the Conductivity (used to determine salinity), Temperature, and pressure of seawater (the D stands for "depth," which is closely related to pressure) of the ocean but also to collect discrete water samples.  The water samples are taken using a rosette or carousel of “Niskin” bottles. Niskin bottles can be opened at both ends. The open bottle is lowered into the ocean on a wire until it reaches a certain depth and then the bottle is closed by a weighted trigger that is sent down the cable from the surface. Our Niskin bottles are set up in a circular rosette of 24 bottles attached around the CTD instrument. This allows us to take samples at different water depths in a way that seals off the sample and allows it to be brought to the surface without mixing with water from different depths. Getting water samples from different depths in the ocean is important to understand how the water chemistry and physical properties changes with depth.

The CDT (all-women!) sampling team
While the scientist work we have a dedicated crew on board that support us, for the sampling we are indebted to the engineers and deck crew for help with the CTD, as well as those responsible for the successful operation of the ship.  

I am tweeting @MelJLeng and @ORCHESTRAPROJ and Facebooking (Orchestra project) during this trip, as well as updating the BGS britgeopeople.blogspot.com and drakepassageblog.wordpress.com when I have time.

Melanie Leng is the Science Director for Geochemistry at the BGS and the BGS lead scientist for ORCHESTRA. 

Friday, 9 November 2018

On board the RRS James Clark Ross: ORCHESTRA part 3…by Melanie Leng

Melanie Leng is currently part taking in an expedition to the Southern Ocean as part of ORCHESTRA (Ocean Regulation of Climate by Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transports), a NERC funded programme with partners at the British Antarctic Survey (lead), the National Oceanography Centre, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and many more including BGS. This is the third blog about her trip where she updates us on her arrival on the RRS James Clark Ross…

We arrived on the RRS James Clark Ross a couple of days ago to begin the mobilisation (ie organizing our equipment that we will be using to make measurements and take samples) before we set sail. The equipment has been organised over the summer by numerous science teams (to name a few: BAS, NOC, BGS, University of Exeter, University of Southampton) and loaded onto the ship while it was docked in Harwich. Hundreds of boxes from numerous science teams were stowed in the hold. We had to bring all the equipment up to the dedicated laboratories that we will need for sampling across the Drake Passage. Much equipment remains in the hold for subsequent cruises, following this one, before the ship heads back to the UK. The equipment in the labs has been securely strapped down as we are anticipating rough seas. For my isotope analysis, I will take bottles of ocean water for analysis back in the BGS laboratories. Others make measurements on the ship, as the analysis are either relatively easy or the samples will not preserve till we can get them back to our laboratories in the UK.

We are currently cruising south from the Falkland Islands and will be crossing the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula in a few days, repeating some measurements of ocean temperature, salinity, oxygen, and currents that have been made with support from NERC funding since the early 1990’s. We will also be adding new novel measurements, including O, C, N and Si isotopes and micro plastics to the arsenal of information we will be gathering to help us understand the changes in the ocean.

The samples I am collecting are for oxygen and carbon isotopes. The oxygen isotope data will tell us about how much freshwater to seawater there is at particular locations (which will help us understand melting of the Antarctic ice mass and therefore heat) and the carbon isotopes will tell us where the carbon is from and how the ocean uses the carbon. These measurements are particularly important to understand because of the significant changes the Earth is experiencing during the Anthropocene period we are living in.

While the scientist work we have a dedicated crew on board that support us, these are engineers, deck crew and stewards to name a few. The crew, often overlooked, have significant responsibilities which are integral to the successful operation of the ship and our research.

So far the weather has been good to us, blue skies and calm seas, hopefully it will continue!

I am tweeting @MelJLeng and @ORCHESTRAPROJ and Facebooking (Orchestra project) during this trip, as well as updating the BGS britgeopeople.blogspot.com and drakepassageblog.wordpress.com when I have time.
Melanie Leng is the Science Director for Geochemistry at the BGS and the BGS lead scientist for ORCHESTRA.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

I am in Stanley: ORCHESTRA part 2... by Melanie Leng

Melanie Leng is currently part taking in an expedition to the Southern Ocean as part of ORCHESTRA (Ocean Regulation of Climate by Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transports), a NERC funded programme with partners at the British Antarctic Survey (lead), the National Oceanography Centre, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and many more including BGS. Here she updates us on her journey so far...

Image (clockwise from top left): Stanley main street, a working UK phone box,
the jetty from the Falklands museum, daffodils flowering in the cemetery,
sulphur loving lichens on the sea wall.
After a long flight to the Falkland Islands, via Cape Verde, we (about 30 scientists and logistical staff) are waiting to board the RRS James Clarke Ross currently docked in the Falkland main port, Stanley. Stanley is a vibrant little town of around 2000 people laid out in a grid pattern along the sea shore, facing into the midday sun the town slopes up a hill. The mainly wood and tin homes and businesses have brightly coloured roofs and sit amongst historic cottages and administrative buildings from the time of the main settlers in the 1800’s. Today the weather is very spring like, around 5oC but bight and sunny. It doesn’t feel much different to the UK but the daffodils flowering in the cemetery prove that its spring here and not autumn! Tomorrow we board the ship to begin the mobilisation of the equipment, ready to set sail by the end of the week.

Since this is geoblogy, a bit about the rocks! So far I have only seen quartzite and basalt. The quartzite is a hard, grey, layered rock (Silurian and Devonian sandstones?) which outcrops within Stanley. Many of the older houses are built from it. The basalts sit on top of the quartzites in the surrounding hills - and are therefore younger. Between 1996 and 1998 the BGS re-surveyed the islands and produced the first modern geological map.

I am tweeting @MelJLeng and @ORCHESTRAPROJ and Facebooking (Orchestra project) during this trip, as well as updating the BGS Geoblogy and drakepassageblog.wordpress.com when I have time.

Melanie Leng is the Science Director for Geochemistry at the BGS and the BGS lead scientist for ORCHESTRA.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Do you have an image that means geological macroscope?…by Thomas Galley

Presentation slide at the Cheshire Energy Research Field Site technical briefing
I’ve been afforded the space and time to develop my interest in visual communications during my career in communications and marketing. Also, I love a challenge. So you can see why I jumped at the chance to respond to an interesting request from Mike Stephenson, our Director of Science and Technology at BGS. He contacted me just ahead of the UK Geoenergy Observatories technical briefing. This project will establish new centres of world-leading research into the subsurface environment and the knowledge they generate will contribute to the responsible development of new energy technologies both here in the UK and internationally. The request went something along the lines of:

“Do you have any images of compressed air energy storage?”

I hadn’t.

Mike was preparing his presentation for the event which was to be held at Jodrell Bank and attended by scientists from across the UK and representatives of businesses and industry in Cheshire.

As it was a Friday afternoon, any excuse to drag myself away from my desk was very welcome so I walked over to go and find out exactly what was required. I spied an opportunity to create some really useful visual assets for use in UK Geoenergy Observatories communications. I thought that maybe they could be packaged up for use elsewhere too.

The images that Mike had at his disposal just didn’t seem suitable for the presentation. We had a mix of googled images, BGS graphics and images, and diagrams from various other sources. When we looked at some of the icons that already existed on the internet, it was clear that many of them had been designed to convey concepts through the lens of environmental issues, or the energy industry. There weren’t many icons covering geology or themes from a geological perspective. This meant it was hard to design with consistency, and it was frustratingly hard to achieve a professional looking and sufficiently simple set of slides. The effect was a kind of visual clutter that could act as a distraction from the key messages that Mike wanted to convey.

Simple is hard to do.

We quickly sketched out a few ideas. It was decided that I would work with Debbie Rayner, one of our Graphic Designers at BGS, to produce a set of icons. These would be used as a kind of visual shorthand for some of the concepts that Mike wanted to convey, and we would use them in the slideshow that accompanied his presentation. We didn’t have much time.

It was time to write a design brief and get designing.

Tea break challenge

Why don’t you have a go?

You have ten minutes to complete both challenge one and challenge two.

Materials required:
Small square post-it notes (other brands of sticky adhesive notepads are available) to draw on.

Part one:
Design (draw) a way of conveying in each icon a common visual shorthand for the subsurface. Once you have refined your idea draw it on several of your post-it notes so you are ready for part two.

Part two:
Choose a few geological concepts from the following list and draw each one in to the design of one of your icons.
  • A geological macroscope
  • Seismicity
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Compressed air energy storage
  • Geothermal
  • Geological data
  • Groundwater
  • Carbon Capture and Storage
  • Geology of the UK
For the purpose of this exercise, an icon:
  • Has the minimum number of visual components required to convey the concept.
  • Has an aspect ratio of 1:1.
  • Is drawn in only one colour. For example you could use black on a white background or blue on a yellow background.
  • Does not contain any words. It should work in any language.
Now share them with your colleagues. Ask them if they can tell you what each of the icons you’ve designed means.

The delegation at the Cheshire Energy Research Field Site technical briefing.

The designs

So, now you’ve had some experience of the design process and getting feedback, this seems like a good time to see how we did.
Here’s a selection of the icons that Debbie designed:

We used a simple line: curved to denote the earth, and a non-descript building and tree as visual shorthand for the surface. This leaves plenty of space to convey each concept in the area below. The top section of each icon represents our attempt to depict an area of land that could be anywhere.

The bottom section differs each time.

Hopefully the icons convey that the compressed air, the groundwater or the hydrocarbons are underground. This is enough. The context in which the icon is placed will do the rest.

A geological macroscope

I’m particularly pleased with this icon.

It felt impossible to the concept of a geological macroscope inside an icon: The concept is defined by distributed sensors working as one instrument, positioned in arrays to optimise the collection of data. The positioning is not random, but does not adhere to an easily recognisable pattern either.

This finished design has dots to symbolise sensors. There are many of them and their situation in the design has order, but begs the question: What kind of order? This indicates a degree of complexity that is unique to the macroscope concept. It describes to some extent the design of the macroscope planned for the Cheshire Energy research Field Site, yet is non-specific enough that it could represent a future geological macroscope elsewhere.

Design decisions were made that prioritise simplicity. For example it was decided that a sensor drawn as a dot works as well as a drawing of a sensor. We also used white space to depict both the subsurface and that which is above ground: highlighting the concept being conveyed rather than burying it in the dark.

You can see for yourself how Mike used the icons in his presentation at the technical briefing here.

Download all of the icons

You can find all the icons here in the downloads section of the BGS web site.

Feel free to use these icons in your presentations or reports. We hope that they will be a useful resource for people working across the BGS, and people working with and learning about geological concepts elsewhere too.


Please consider these icons a work in progress. We know they are not perfect and we would be more than happy to hear your feedback, and any suggestions you may have for geological concepts that we haven’t covered for a future release.

Thomas Galley is the Communications and Engagement Officer for the UK Geoenergy Observatories. Please contact Thomas if you’re interested in the Observatories, or communicating ideas visually.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Hunting for critical metals in the south-west Atlantic (Part I): RSS Discovery research cruise to the Rio Grande Rise…by Paul Lusty

Location of the Rio Grande Rise and the MarineE-Tech
project research area (red box).
We departed Santos, Brazil on the RRS Discovery (DY094 cruise) on the 20 October heading to the Rio Grande Rise, which is about 1300 km offshore, in international waters. This is the second British-led cruise of the of the ‘Marine ferromanganese deposits - a major resource of E-tech elements (MarineE-tech)’ project. The project is funded by the NERC Security of Supply of Mineral Resources (SoS Minerals) Research Programme, which aims to understand ‘critical’ metal cycling and concentration in natural systems, and determine how to minimise the environmental impacts of extraction. Critical metals are mineral raw materials (e.g. cobalt, tellurium, niobium and the heavy rare earth elements) vital to technologies (e.g. components of electric vehicles: motors/batteries; renewable energy generation: photovoltaic cells, wind turbines) for transition towards a low carbon future, and for which concerns about security of supply exist. Demand for some critical metals is expected to grow by orders of magnitude as manufacturing of green or low-carbon technologies expands globally. All these materials are ultimately derived from the Earth and MarineE-tech aims to improve understanding of the geological and oceanographic processes controlling the concentration of critical metals in deep-ocean mineral deposits.

A typical example of a ferromanganese crust: the dark layer,
deposited on a sedimentary rock substrate
Some critical metals, notably cobalt and tellurium, are highly concentrated in hydrogenous ferromanganese (Fe-Mn) crusts, which form directly from seawater, on virtually any hard substrate in the oceans. They are particularly common on deep-ocean plateaus and seamounts. During 2016 the MarineE-tech project undertook the most comprehensive study of Fe-Mn crusts on a single seafloor edifice, at Tropic Seamount in the north-east tropical Atlantic. As a follow-up to the Tropic study the current expedition is investigating Fe-Mn crusts on the Rio Grande Rise (RGR) in the south-west Atlantic.

The RGR is the largest bathymetric feature on the oceanic part of the South American plate and is located about 2000 km west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The RGR is divided into a number of sub-regions and is intersected by a major north-west south-east-trending submarine graben structure. The current expedition focuses on a small area on the western side of the RGR, investigating the 25 km wide graben and its adjacent Fe-Mn crust covered plateaus. The origin of the RGR is the subject of continued debate. It is an aseismic, volcanic oceanic plateau that is likely to have formed on or close to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and may have a common origin with the Walvis Ridge, which extends off the coast of Africa. Basalt ages suggests these deep-sea plateaus principally formed between 89 and 78 million years ago. 

Extensive Fe-Mn crust deposits are known from the RGR and the area is the focus of commercial mineral exploration. The study area was selected to improve understanding of the local-scale controls on Fe-Mn crust formation and metal concentration, and associated marine ecosystems. The Discovery cruise involves researchers from the National Oceanography Centre, British Geological Survey, University of Edinburgh and the University of São Paulo. We have a diverse range of scientists on board, including geologists, biologists, geochemists and oceanographers. Pierre Josso from BGS, a MarineE-tech post-doc researcher, is also attending the cruise. Pierre’s research focuses on improving age models for Fe-Mn crusts by combining a range of techniques including cobalt-chronometry, LA-ICP-MS studies and Os isotopes.

From L-R: The RRS Discovery preparing to depart from Santos Brazil. The autonomous underwater vehicle Autosub 6000
 is installed in its launch and recovery system on the back deck; The screens in the main laboratory on the RRS Discovery
 from which HyBIS is controlled and the mission is run.
A joint University of São Paulo and National Oceanography Centre research cruise to the RGR in January 2018 provides important background information for planning the current expedition, including ship-based bathymetry (25 m resolution) and data obtained from a number of dredge lines and gravity coring. During the current cruise we plan to examine two areas identified by the previous work in much greater detail. We will be mapping the seafloor to identify areas of Fe-Mn crust using the autonomous underwater vehicle Autosub 6000. This will provide high resolution swath bathymetry (1 m resolution), sidescan sonar (5 cm resolution), sub-bottom profiles (10 cm resolution) and magnetic data. This data will be interpreted on the ship and used for planning dives with the robotic underwater vehicle (HyBIS). We will undertake 12 hour missions with HyBIS to ground truth the autonomous underwater vehicle data, create geological and ecosystem maps from the high definition camera observations, and collect rock and biological samples with its manipulator arm. Seafloor dredging will be used to collect additional samples across the mapped areas. All rock and biological samples are initially processed on the ship. For the geological material, this involves photographing the samples, cutting the rocks to expose the Fe-Mn crusts and making initial sample descriptions.  We are likely to have about 14 days on station at the RGR and have 24 hours of operation on the ship to maximise the use of our time at sea and the amount of data collected. This study will provide new insights into crust formation on the RGR and allow the MarineE-tech team to make comparisons with the crusts they have studied in the north-east Atlantic.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Connecting people and places through geology...by Andres Payo Garcia

What are the similarities and differences between Slapton Sands and Utah Beach?

Challenged by this question, is how 36 bright MsC/MPHIL Environmental Change and Management  students from the University of Oxford started their field trip along the Start Bay coastline in the South coast of Devon, England, UK. I am Andres Payo, lead researcher of the coastal resilience and marine shallow geohazards research line at the British Geological Survey, and I want to share with you my experience on how to communicate the importance of geology on issues that matters to people today.

On Sunday 30th of September 2018 I was driving from the nearby hotel to the Slapton Ley Nature Centre where I will meet the students to start the field trip with a one-hour introductory talk. I am not alone on this trip but with my wife Ruth and my son Andres to whom I am keen to show the beautiful coast of Start Bay. We have eaten our breakfast as fast as possible (you do not want to be late when not one, but 36 people are waiting for you) and gave us a good 40 minutes for what is only a 20 minutes’ drive along the coast. When we were only 2 minutes away from the Centre…surprise! the road was closed because it was damaged during the last storm (duh! I should have known that!). We have to turn around and spend another 20 minutes driving through an alternative route to the Centre to reach the place just right on time. Even before I start the describing the talk and walk, here you have the first issue that connect coastal processes (coastal erosion) with an everyday activity (driving from A to B). 
Why I started this talk with the question outlined in the title has two logical reasons. The first one is the historical connection between Slapton and the D-day (thanks to Andrew Hughes for pointing me towards the Operation Tiger facts). The second one is just because my experience with Oxford MsC students (this is the second time that I lead this talk and walk) tells me that they just love to be challenged. If you are wondering what are the main geomorphological similarities and differences between this two sites you will have to search the internet and look at the two pictures above in detail. In the internet you will find that one key similarity was the presence of the coastal lagoon (Slapton Ley) as the Germans did inundated the coast to make it more difficult for the troops to advance. There are not that many large lagoons in UK. By looking at the two pictures you will notice that there are no soldiers walking with their boots underwater in the gravelly Slapton but you see a few in the sandy Utah beach. As the sediment size becomes smaller so does the slope of the beach. That is why the boats could reach the very shoreline in Slapton but not in Utah beach.


To avoid this blog becoming too long, I will let the students describe what they think geology is before and after the day that we spent together. Before that, I would also like to acknowledge the great outlines that Dr Gerd Masselink from Plymouth University shared with me to help me deliver the talk and walk.

“As for my impressions on geology before and after the talk, there are two main points: a) geology is less static than I previously thought and b) geology does have an impact on a human timescale. Let me expand on those two points.

Even though I took the class on Coastal Landforms and Processes like I mentioned, I still thought of geology itself as more the study of static rocks, i.e. this rock is type A made of minerals xyz and this is type B made of minerals uvw (kind of what we did for the very beginning of the talk, on igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks). For some reason, I thought of geology as separate from wave action, erosion and sediment transport, which are dynamic processes. This field trip crystallised for me the links between the study of the rock parent material (what I thought geology was mostly about) and the study of dynamic changes the parent material undergoes.

Whenever I thought of geology, I would think on the geological timescale, which in the end made geology seem less relevant to the present environmental changes humans face. With this field trip however, especially the evident signs of beach erosion and the events at Hallsands, I came to the understanding that geology can have an impact within the human timescale, that it’s not just about how rocks formed thousands and thousands of years ago.”
“Before I thought geology was the study of rocks and the formation of landscapes over very long periods of time but I did not associate anything more specific with it. (I studied theoretical physics before coming here) The talk and the walk helped me understand several aspects better: For one, how findings from geology are relevant for present-day economic/political decisions (the building of seawalls, understanding why the US army chose Slapton to practice landing, the story of Hallsands). It was also fascinating to learn more about the methods used to analyse a coastline for example and to see "how a geologist looks at a coast" - which is a perspective I have never taken on a coastal walk before - which features are noticeable and which are important to understanding the development of a coastline in the past.”

“…my thoughts on geology before the trip (roughly) pertained to the study and classification of lithospheric properties, though I was unclear on its applications. Afterwards, I understood how the study of geology (and geomorphology) incorporated longer-term views of history and processes of change (ex. climate, volcanic, etc.) that I didn't realize before. Ultimately, your talk and our trip allowed for a greater appreciation of the applications of geologic study, including looking to the past, present, and future.”
“For me what stood out was the connection you showed between geomorphological processes/systems (in this case coastal, but presumably broader as well) and what we non-geologists normally think of when we think about geological processes. I think your part of the course was central to understand that geology is more more dynamic and changing than just looking at rocks to learn where they came from. And to see that it can also change on such a short timescale instead of only on a geological-epoch timeline, was really perspective-changing as well.”
“Prior to the Slapton trip my previous experience with geology was largely related to constructing a historical record and dating various sediments, what I found particularly fascinating about your talk in Slapton was that it framed geology in a way that was very operationally relevant. For example, the discussion surrounding how a knowledge of geology/research by geologists could have averted the disaster at Hallsands was very interesting and reframed how I see geology's role in solving modern day challenges. Overall, it was an informative, relevant, and well delivered program and we were all grateful to have your expertise on the trip. I think connecting geology to its current or possible contributions to public life is a great way of demonstrating it's importance and getting the attention of the general public.”

“I already studied geology back in Montreal, and we did some field trips, but I found the one you organized much more interesting. The component of geomorphology connected geology to the human scale rather than the purely geological scale, which often feels removed from any environmental management concerns. I also love when geology and geomorphology analyse the "forensics" of what happened millions of years ago, and uncover the mystery of ancient environments! To me, it is one of the most interesting parts of geology”
“Before the talk, I saw geology as a science that studied elements of our Earth that remain relatively constant.  After hearing about the Slapton case study from Andres, I realized that geology studies changing systems that not only affect the natural environment during long periods of time but can have great immediate effects on society if not taken into consideration during policy and decision making processes. The presentation and walk by the coast really helps to put these topics into perspective by seeing first-hand the interaction between geological processes, ecosystems, and coastal towns.”
“Geology, before the trip, appeared as something profound that geologists do. In past, I have struggled with identifying rocks on my own and identifying how geological processes shape any landscape. Hence, it was an uncanny feeling that morning to figure out the history of Slapton Ley by observing sediments and construe it piece by piece. To hold a flint or a slate and call it by its right name was a happy feeling. It seemed almost like a detective story where we were trying to put different pieces of the puzzle together and understand how the coastline of Slapton Ley was transformed over the course of time. Some aspects of the story were quite shocking and made me realize the fragility of life on our planet. The most memorable experience was to hold a Devonian sedimentary rock in Devon and find myself connected with the big history. At that moment, I saw myself, in the third person, as a geologist.”

If you have read the students feedback all the way until here and you are a geologist, you are probably feeling as happy as I am feeling 😉…any time that I might feel down, I will re-read this post to boost me up.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Getting a taste for Australian drought history…by Nick Patton

Nick Patton placing packed sediments within a mass
spectrometer for isotope analysis.
Hello, I am Nick, I recently started my PhD program at The University of Queensland (in collaboration with the Centre of Environmental Geochemistry at BGS and University of Nottingham) studying landscape evolution and climate variability within eastern Australia…

Why are we concerned with Australian Drought?

Australia is recognized as the driest inhabited continent with remarkable deviations in rainfall both spatially and temporally. With a simple satellite image, one can see these changes in precipitation where the deep green of the east coast rapidly transition to shades of brown moving inland. Situated in the middle of this transition, in the sub-tropics of Eastern Australia, lie some of Australia’s most fertile farm lands, largest and most biodiverse ecosystems and the third biggest urban area (Brisbane). Due to the rapid population expansion and agricultural pressures, climate change is likely to have dramatic effects on local water supply. A report submitted by The Bureau of Meteorology and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in 2016 states that Australia has experienced a mean temperature increase of 1oC since 1910. Naturally, drought is not an uncommon occurrence here. Since the settlement of Europeans, up to seven major droughts have been recorded. The most recent drought, dubbed the “Millennium Drought” starting in 2001 and which lasted till 2009 caused over $7 billion in losses in agriculture per year, major strains on power production, and created reductions in drinking water availability. However, the true responses of future climate scenarios are difficult to uncouple due to the lack of understanding of past climate variability and its complex interactions with human disturbances. Thus, understanding the past to inform future long-term changes in hydrological balances and frequency, scale, and intensity of droughts in the subtropics is critical for the development and security of Australia.

Unlocking eastern Australia’s past climate

Roughly 100 km west of the east coast, Coalstoun Lakes National Parks may just hold the key to uncovering Australia’s climate history. Situated within an agricultural district, an unsuspecting volcanic remnant is extruded 150 m off the local basin floor. Despite the seemingly desiccated exterior of this landform, nestled tightly within the caldera lies an oasis of lush rainforest encircling two small lakes (~1 km2 each). For nearly ~600,000 years the creators have persisted, potentially making the Coalstoun Lakes containing the longest and continuous palaeoecological record for Queensland. Like two buckets, these lakes accumulate rainfall during the sub-tropical summers and slowly redistribute their contents to the local wildlife and aquifer. As the rains recede, drawing into the drier winter’s months, the water slowly become exhausted by either evaporation or groundwater discharge, unless replenished by the following year’s wet season. Along with the rain, over time sediments have been accumulating, filling the basin with exotic aeolian particulates, adjacent hillslopes sediments, and local in-lake production year after year. Stacked in sequential order, remnants of the sub-tropics complex environmental history is preserved through glacial and interglacial times. This makes Coalstoun Lakes an exciting and ideal site for reconstructing past climates over a long timescale. 

a) Eastern Australia depicting the dramatic changes in ecotones moving west from the coastal tropics, to the
 subtropics, the arid continental interior. b) View of the Upper Coalstoun Lake within Coalstoun Lake National Park,
 Queensland. In August 2018, both lakes contained no water; however, the rainforest taxa within the small catchments were
 thriving. c) Section of Upper Coalstoun Lake core with sample extracted for carbon 14 dating. Additional subsamples were
collected every centimeters for organic carbon content and isotope analysis. d) Biggenden banded snail (Figuladra bayensis)
 collect and ran for oxygen and carbon isotopic analysis to determine precipitation variability over the life span of its life

Working towards answers

The two main research areas for my thesis are: 1) evaluate the paleoclimate of the eastern subtropics of Australia by utilizing stable isotopes, and 2) create a modern hydrological model of the Coalstoun Lakes system using a mass balance approach. These research focuses will be accomplished utilizing an assortment of samples (ie: vegetation, a 4.5 m sediment core, two species of snail shells, and soil samples) which were collected by a variety of scientists over several years. In addition, future plans are in motion to extract two pairs of cores from both lakes approximate depth of 15 m, covering nearly 150,000 years of climate. My intended focus is on stable isotopes from sponge spicules but I have taken advantage of an available core (thanks to efforts from Mike Evans and Kevin Welsh) to look at some carbon isotopes also.

To start my project off on the right foot, in mid-September I undertook a three week stint at the British Geological Survey’s Stable Isotopes Facility and the University of Nottingham under the advisement of Prof. Melanie Leng and Dr. Matthew Jones, respectively. The first two weeks at BGS were focused on preparing and weighing vegetation and sediments to be analyzed for organic carbon isotopes, along with any calcium carbonate containing layers for bulk oxygen isotopes. With any additional time between running samples, I began sampling on a snail shell. In short, snails consume moisture from rainfall which is incorporated in the structure of its aragonite based shell. As, the organism grows it retains the oxygen isotope allowing us to reconstruct the precipitation variability over its lifespan (~10 yrs). We selected one species of snail (biggenden banded snail) and began the intricate sampling by drilling 0.8 mm holes into the shell. In all, 200 samples were attained from the apex (oldest section of the snail) to the outer rim. Samples were carefully collected perpendicular to the growth bands simultaneously recording all flaws or cracks to aid in data interpretation. Results of the analysis will not only give us insight on the modern climate, but it will also provide us with an interesting perspective on the local biology and lifecycles of the Biggenden Band Snail that has yet been documented.

During my final week, I spent acquiring information on hydrological and isotopic modeling at the University of Nottingham. I focused my attention on developing an experimental design and setup to aid in model selection. Specifically, I annotated manuscripts utilizing mass balance approaches help in my understanding of model sensitivity and complexity.  This prompted discussions on future sampling procedures and instrument set up that will optimize our modeling efforts.

My time at BGS and the University of Nottingham has provided a fantastic opportunity to work with an interdisciplinary group of scientist. In the future, I hope continued collaboration is possible to help guide my academic growth and cementing the techniques and skills needed for coupling of both hydrologic and isotopic disciplines. As the preliminary data are continued to be analyzed, we begin to piece together the intricate past of Australia’s drought history. With any luck, the implications of our work will directly address frequency, severity, and duration of drought hazards and future climate scenarios we may face.

Nick Patton is a PhD student at the University of Queensland, working in collaboration with Prof Melanie Leng and Dr Matt Jones (BGS and University of Nottingham).

Twitter @NickRPatton, webpage: nicholasrpatton.weebly.com 

Friday, 26 October 2018

Apprenticeships: an alternative route to a successful career...by Jacob Poole

It is easy to fall into the mind-set that university is the only option if you want a solid career with a good wage. That is the mind-set I fell into when I was picking out which A levels I wanted to work towards. The problem was, at 16, I had no idea what I wanted to do or what I was working towards. As a result, I had no direction. I did my AS exams (I did not entirely fail...or pass) and then I decided that the best thing for me to do was drop out.

Was I giving up any chance of a career? Would I be stuck working a low paid job for the rest of my life with no hope of career progression and wage growth? At that point, it hit me. There was another route to success available to me. In the current climate of apprenticeships and college courses, with the right attitude and work ethic, you can pick up a career without a degree.

I had just turned 17. How does a 17 year old decide what they want to do for the next 50 years of their life? My interest was in computers; I had built my own gaming computer, fixed my parents computers, soldered wires together my rabbit had chewed. I decided that would be what I would pursue. Bring on the job hunt! I started searching for an apprenticeship that I could travel to easily. Thankfully, living in Nottingham, there are lots of IT opportunities in the area. I found a college course in IT that promised an apprenticeship. I applied, went for an interview and I was offered a position at the college, starting in August.

BGS held a round of interviews for about 15 people in my college course, with two job openings. I applied and interviewed for both a Network Support role and a Web Developer role. For my interview, I took in a copy of a website I had made at college in the hope this would increase my chances. I recently asked the Head of Information Systems, Patrick Bell, what made him decide to hire me over the others? He said that my ability to communicate with adults and my enthusiasm towards computers were what mainly got me the job. Admittedly, at the time, I wanted the Network Support role, as I had no idea how anyone could write code (how times have changed!). BGS offered me the role of Web Support Apprentice (Web Developer) and I haven’t looked back since.

During my first months at BGS, I worked hard. I spent hours learning simple coding languages (HTML and CSS) and received tutoring from my line manager in the harder to grasp concepts. I was making changes to existing web pages and creating basic pages of my own from scratch. My work was relatively simple, but allowed it me to find my place in web development.

After a few months, I transferred to another team. I learnt more advanced programming languages (MySQL, PHP and JavaScript) for a project called CO2 Stored. CO2 Stored provides an online search facility for information relating to potential CO2 storage sites. I regularly felt way out of my depth. However, as an apprentice I was given more room to learn whilst doing work, so I took advantage of that and tried to learn as much I could in the time I was given.

Upon completion of my apprenticeship, BGS offered me a permanent position as a Web Developer. This is where my career really started to take off. I took everything I had learnt over the year of my apprenticeship and kept on learning. I spent hours at home learning more and more in my own time and actively sought help from colleagues on areas that were harder to grasp. I would say the key to being successful in your apprenticeship and the beginning of your career is not losing your enthusiasm.

I gradually found my niche in front-end development; I am good at it and passionate about it. I transferred onto teams as the front-end developer where the whole look and feel of the application was down to me to work on. This was daunting at first, but it allowed me to learn so much that I wouldn’t have learnt if I was working under someone else’s guidance. I spent hours researching best practices and ways to make websites usable by all types of users, including those that are visually and hearing impaired.

I received guidance and tutoring from my colleagues to grow my knowledge to cover the full stack of application development including the creation of databases. This led to me being the sole developer on some projects, where I advanced existing code written by more experienced developers. I then went one-step further and designed the complete architecture for an application called GeoSocial. GeoSocial harvests social media messages relating to geohazards (landslides, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions) and displays geo-located tweets on a Graphical User Interface (GUI). I was responsible for deciding the server operating system to use, the language for the backend and frontend code and the software for the database. It was then down to me to develop, configure and manage the system! This is still my proudest achievement to date, not because the system is overly complex, but because in the space of 2 weeks I created a robust system from scratch with very limited knowledge of most of the technologies I was using.

When I began my full time contract at BGS, I started on a junior grade at Band 8. After a couple of years at this band, growing my programming and professional skills, I was encouraged to apply for promotion. This was quite a gruelling process, but made me aware of the bigger picture to the work I was doing. After around 5-6 months of creating my promotion case, with continuous feedback and help from many experienced colleagues and managers, I sent off my application for review. Around two weeks later, I received an interview offer and went to London for an interview with very senior members of staff from across the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Whilst this was perhaps the scariest thing I have done at work, it definitely helped me with my long-term career goals. Shortly after the interview, I received notice that my application was successful, and I was promoted to the graduate grade of Band 7!

During my time at BGS I’ve been privileged to be able to visit Bucharest and London for week long trips, I’ve been down to Southampton to attend a conference and I’ve had countless training courses. BGS has given me the knowledge and opportunity to become the developer that I am today and receive the salary that I will be doing upon my departure from BGS. My experience at BGS really does show that apprenticeships are a great way for companies to find new employees, and that young people do not necessarily need to get a degree to get a lifelong career.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Climate change responses in small English lakes...by Blaine Hancock

Hi, I am Blaine Hancock and I began a NERC funded PhD at the University of York in October 2017 working in partnership with the British Geological Survey and Environment Agency. My main research aims are to understand how the biogeochemistry and productivity of small English lakes have responded to anthropogenic climate change and using this to predict how they may change in the future.
The impacts of climate change on lake biogeochemistry is largely understudied with the majority of research investigating impacts at a hydrological level. Biogeochemical changes in small lakes are particularly understudied despite 90% of England’s estimated 6,000 lakes falling within this classification (<10 ha in size). Small lakes tend to support more unique and threatened species compared to larger lakes with many of them in England being granted Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status and/or are designated conservation sites. Evidence suggests that these refuges for threatened species show an enhanced response to climate change, which is characterised by a faster rate of water temperature rise than in larger and deeper lakes. In general, climate change is expected to produce conditions which will become increasingly unfavourable to submerged plants. Increases in the cycling of carbon and nitrogen through a lake catchment has the potential to increase algal growth in surface waters and reduce light penetration. A loss of submerged plants will have a significant impact on the organisms that depend on them and degrade the lake ecosystem as a whole. It is therefore essential that we understand how lake biogeochemistry responds to changes in climate and how this impacts lake systems at an ecological level. Through this we can make predictions as to how these lakes will change in the future.

Lake coring on Blea Tarn, Cumbria
My study sites (Lake Gormire, North York Moors; Sunbiggin tarn, Yorkshire Dales; Blea tarn, Lake District) are all SSSI’s with Lake Gormire containing sparse but rare species of macrophyte and Sunbiggin Tarn a recognised conservation site for three species of very rare snail. Sediment cores were taken from each lake using a gravity corer over the summer of 2018 and subsampled on the shoreline. The cores will be dated using radiometric techniques to establish a chronology and will most likely reach back to around 1850AD. The cores will also be analysed for carbon and nitrogen isotopes at the BGS Stable Isotope Facility to assess how changes in the sources of organic matter to the lakes have developed over time. Sedimentary pigments (chlorophyll and carotenoids) will also be used to assess how the lakes productivity has changed and uncover the wider impacts to algal communities. Together these data will be compared with historical instrumental weather records to provide a robust understanding of how climate change experienced in the UK over much of the 20th and 21st centuries has affected lake biogeochemistry and productivity. This information will be used to project future lake conditions and help understand the direction and magnitude of biogeochemical change in English lakes.

Blaine is a NERC-funded PhD student at the University of York, supervised by Dr Katherine Selby (University of York), Dr Glenn Watts (Environment Agency), and Dr Jack Lacey (British Geological Survey).

Monday, 22 October 2018

Wish me Fair Winds and Following Seas: investigating the Southern Ocean Part 1…by Melanie Leng

In less than a week I will be heading off to the Southern Ocean to help with “fieldwork” (seawork is more appropriate!) collecting seawater samples for ORCHESTRA. ORCHESTRA (Ocean Regulation of Climate by Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transports) is a programme funded by NERC and includes partners at the British Antarctic Survey (lead), the National Oceanography Centre, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and many more including BGS.

Why are we collecting seawater samples from the World’s oceans?

Since the industrial revolution, the global ocean has absorbed around 30% of anthropogenic (human-produced) CO2 emissions. In addition, 93% of the total extra heat in the Earth system since the onset of global warming has been absorbed by the global ocean. This is equivalent to around 170 terawatts — the power that would be required for each of the seven billion people on Earth to continuously operate sixteen 1500 watt hairdryers! Improving climate prediction requires us to learn more about how the global ocean works, and how it interacts with the atmosphere to control the split of heat and carbon between them, especially given the extra heat and carbon we are currently producing.

The Southern Ocean is key

The overturning circulation in the Southern Ocean.
The circulation around the Antarctic enables deep waters rise
to the surface, allowing new water masses to form and sink
back into the ocean interior taking heat and carbon with it.
A key region in this context is the Southern Ocean, the vast sea that encircles Antarctica. The Southern Ocean occupies around 20% of the total ocean area, but absorbs about three-quarters of the heat that is taken into the ocean, and approximately half of the CO2. This is because of its unique pattern of ocean circulation: it is the main region where deep waters rise to the surface, allowing new water masses to form and sink back into the ocean interior. This exposure of “old” waters to the atmosphere, and the production of new waters at the surface, is fundamental to the exchanges of heat and carbon with the atmosphere.

Despite knowing the key role that the Southern Ocean plays in global climate, there are many important unknowns. These include how exactly heat and carbon are taken up by the oceans and how fast this occurs (especially important because of the Anthropocene period we are living in), and how much heat and carbon is currently stored in the oceans. These questions are being addressed using various chemical and physical measurements of the ocean, including the stable isotope composition of the seawater (which we are responsible for at the BGS). Oxygen isotopes will tell us about how much freshwater to seawater there is at particular locations (which will help us understand melting of the Antarctic ice mass and therefore heat) and carbon isotopes will tell us where the carbon is formed and how the ocean uses the carbon.   


The James Clarke Ross.
ORCHESTRA is in the second year of a five year collection programme around the World’s oceans. I will be collecting samples from the RRS James Clark Ross. Next week I will fly to the Falklands Islands and then cruise south across the Drake Passage to Antarctica, collecting samples and making measurements along the way. Finally we will return to Port Stanley before flying home. I hope for Fair Winds and Following Seas!  

I will be tweeting @MelJLeng and @ORCHESTRAPROJ and Facebooking (Orchestra project) along the way, as well as updating the BGS Geoblogy and drakepassageblog.wordpress.com when I have time.

Melanie Leng is the Science Director for Geochemistry at the BGS and the BGS lead scientist for ORCHESTRA.