Friday, 24 July 2015

Caves hold clues to past climate…by Laura Deeprose

Laura entering the cave; getting
in and out is a tight squeeze!
Often people look at stalagmites and stalactites within caves and admire their strange shapes and fascinating formations. However, the slow and systematic growth of these cave deposits, referred to as speleothems, can also reveal a vast amount of information about climate from hundreds of thousands of years ago to the modern day. Speleothems are formed by water from rainfall moving through the soil, bedrock and then into the cave. The chemistry of these drip waters reflects the climatic and environmental conditions of the time and therefore the chemistry of speleothems can be analysed to reconstruct past climatic and environmental changes over time. Here Laura Deeprose, a PhD student with Lancaster University and the British Geological Survey tells us more about her exciting research…

My PhD project is focussed on producing a record of past climatic and environmental change between 50,000 – 30,000 years ago in the northern Iberian Peninsula. It was during this period that the last Neanderthals disappeared from our planet and it is believed by some that their demise was related to changes in climate. During this time period a series of abrupt and severe climatic events are known to have occurred across the Northern Hemisphere. These events, known as Heinrich Events, led to widespread cooling and aridity across the Northern Hemisphere, with each event lasting approximately 1000 years. 

Perlas Cave is home to countless
stalagmites and stalactites
Currently, there are few climate reconstructions from areas where the last Neanderthals survived, such as the Iberian Peninsula and those that do exist don’t have a high enough resolution to assess the climatic and environmental impacts associated with these events. A key advantage of using speleothems in palaeoclimate reconstruction is their potential to be accurately dated by uranium-series dating. Uranium is dissolved into solution as water moves through the bedrock and incorporated into speleothem calcite during growth. The subsequent radioactive decay of the uranium to thorium acts like a radioactive clock and can provide us with an accurate and precise age for a given layer of calcite within a speleothem.

Speleothem sample from Perlas Cave after being cut at BGS
After nine months of working on this project I have established a cave monitoring regime in Cueva de las Perlas (northern Iberia) to determine how the climate signal is being transferred into modern speleothem calcite. In addition, I have drilled and sampled numerous speleothems for uranium-series dating. After the dates come back we will select speleothems of appropriate age for further geochemical analyses including oxygen and carbon isotopes, further uranium-series dating and trace elements. All the geochemistry is being done at the British Geological Survey.

Laura is a PhD student at Lancaster University, supervised by Dr Peter Wynn and Prof Phil Barker and at the BGS supervised by Prof Melanie Leng and Dr Stephen Noble


Monday, 20 July 2015

The week we raised a glass to ArcIMS

Last week we raised a glass to ArcIMS as we turned off the software that quite literally put the BGS website on the map. We launched GeoIndex fifteen years ago, almost to the day, thanks to the ESRI ArcIMS web mapping software that enabled organisations like ourselves to serve maps across the internet.  It revolutionised our ability to deliver maps and other spatial data online. GeoIndex provides a map-based index to our geoscience data holdings, enabling users anywhere in the world to discover what information we hold for their area of interest from the comfort of their home, office or when in the field. Over the last 180 years, BGS has amassed vast data assets relating to many areas of geoscience (geological mapping, site investigations, geochemistry, geophysics, minerals, groundwater, geohazards and much more).  Our archive of over 1 million spatially referenced borehole records is one of our most well-used resources with over 50,000 scanned records downloaded every month.

An early version of GeoIndex built using ESRI ArcIMS

OpenGeoscience provides access to a range of similar web viewers that allow users to view, pan, zoom and interrogate interactive maps on a range of topics including London’s soil geochemistry, groundwater levels over time and seabed samples.  Our most popular map viewer is ‘Geology of Britain’, which receives up to 40,000 visitors per month.

Geology of Britain viewer.  This allows you to explore the geology of Britain.

This has led on to the development of mobile apps for iphone, ipad and Android. We created the iGeology app, which allows people to find their current location using GPS and discover the geology under their feet.  The app has been downloaded over 250,000 times.

iGeology is a free smartphone app helping you to discover the landscape beneath your feet.

For those familiar with GIS, we offer several of our data archives as web services that can be integrated into other systems.  Third party organisations can take advantage of these services to combine geological data with their own data and gain fresh insight into their land and property assets.

Our newest solution is the augmented reality iGeology 3D for Android.  Highly innovative, this mobile app utilises the GPS, camera, tilt sensor, compass and motion detector functions on tablets to create a 3D scene of the landscape in which a person is standing – and then layer geological data on top of this scene.  As the person moves, the data displayed synchronises with the changing view.  

ArcIMS also facilitated commercial innovations such as GeoReports, released back in 2002, providing site specific ground condition reports to aid those interested in drilling, investigation, house purchase or for those concerned about subsidence or Radon.

An early version of GeoReports built using ESRI ArcIMS.

The Groundhog system enables the interrogation of 3D geological models of the subsurface, creating virtual boreholes, cross-sections and horizontal sections.

These web-based GIS services developed by BGS make it easier for people to discover and use geological data. They substantially increase the number of people using our resources, and help us reach a wider demographic. Their ease-of-use means that people don’t necessarily have to have specialist knowledge and software to be able to view and use geological maps. We hope this increased use of our data resources will bring long-term advantages for the whole country by stimulating new commercial projects and businesses that will benefit the economy as a whole.

Whilst the use of ArcIMS within BGS has now been replaced by the latest innovations in web mapping technology, it will be remembered for its role in ushering in a new era of online spatial data delivery.

Friday, 3 July 2015

The BGS Open Day - 27 June 2015

Iain Stewart gets captured in 3D!
The BGS 2015 Open Day was held in Keyworth, Nottingham on Saturday 27th June. This year, not only did we have our very own staff on site demonstrating their science, we also had staff from our sister centres (British Antarctic Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, National Oceanography Centre, National Centre for Atmospheric ScienceNational Centre for Earth Observation and of course NERC) to help NERC celebrate their 50 year anniversary.

'William Smith'
We had fantastic warm, sunny weather on the day, the ice cream stall sold out, our talks and tours were full, geological treasure was hunted, children with scary dinosaur faces explored and everyone had a brilliant day.

William "Strata" Smith (aka BGS's David Bate) and Prof Iain Stewart (who just happened to be at BGS for a meeting) were our stars of the day!

See below for round ups of the Open Day from both BGS staff and some of our visitors.  Don't forget to look at the Photobooth photos, you might just see yourself being chased by a dinosaur!.

Talking Science! By Sarah Nice   

"Just taking my inflatable dino for a walk"
 As well as the plethora of exhibits and tours at the Open Day there was a series of comprehensive talks held in our De La Beche conference Suite.  The day kicked off with our Executive Director, John Ludden, giving an introduction of who BGS are and what we’ve been up to.  John then introduced Dr Julia (Jules) West who gave a fascinating talk on “Fukushima – four years on” and the work that she has been involved with in the clean-up operation in Japan.  The talk raised some really interesting questions from the audience about nuclear power and how to keep it as safe as we can.

Next up was Dr Chris Vane, who’s talk on “Muddy Molecules” was about - you’ve guessed it – mud, and how it can help us to find oil and gas, predict catastrophic events and understand the earth’s climate.  Chris talked about  his work which has taken him to far flung corners of the globe.  From taking sediments samples in the river Thames, to mud samples from mangrove swamps Chris’s talk really hit home just how varied the work at BGS can be.  Chris explained all of this with a terrific sense of humour which the audience really appreciated, even down to looking at the organic make up of poo!

Dave Tappin then took to the stage to ask us the question “Did a catastrophic tsunami wipe out the Minoans?” where he presented an in depth background to the 1500 BC events on the demise of the Minoans that forms the basis for a new research proposal that will solve an enigma that has challenged science for 70 years. With breath-taking photos of Santorini, and using evidence from Krakatoa, Dave really helped the audience understand the importance of trying to understand past catastrophic events.

Leanne Hughes teaches field mapping
Our Director of Science and Technology, Mike Stephenson, then talked to the audience about “Why it’s great to be a Geologist in the 21st century”. His talk, aimed to inspire the next generation of geologists, covered the work we do at BGS from earthquakes to landslides, mapping to energy and volcanoes to groundwater flooding. He ended his talk by highlighting the importance of geology in helping to cut the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by considering carbon capture and storage, nuclear energy (and the storage of radioactive waste) and other renewable sources of energy. His talk should definitely have got the younger members of the audience thinking about taking up geology as a future career option, if nothing else for the wonderful photos that Mike showed us on his travels as a geologist!

Last, but definitely not least, Leanne Hughes gave the final talk of the day, entitled “Mapping rocks. How we collect our geological data”. Leanne took us through the various stages of geological mapping, from fieldwork and actual real life “mapping” (with loads of cool photos), to compiling the data collected in the field to making cutting edge 3D geological models and maps. Leanne explained all of this in a fun and easy to understand way, demonstrating to our audience that mapping really does rock.

Purple ... by Gemma Nash

That poor old Blackberry is really tough!
In the purple tent, many happy children went home with an iron pyrite sample after they panned for fools gold; the minerals team smashed up mobile phones to show all the rare earth elements enclosed within; mini wind turbines were built out of paper and pencils to be tested for foundation conditions and CCS was demonstrated using chocolate, milk and balloons! All the while the London Volcano rumbled and smoked in the background.

Blue ... by Mike Ackroyd

I spent an extremely enjoyable day on the BGS Groundwater exhibit on Saturday as part of the Open Day. Our displays and activities were intended to entertain and inform both the kids and their parents. Whilst mum and dad were able to see examples of fluid flow process at depth on exhibits overseen by the groundwater experts I was able to have fun showing the kids the BGS global water cycle model. They had fun filling their sponge clouds with evaporated water from the sea, raining on the mountains, watching the water run-off into the rivers and flow back to the sea. Then the kids pumped water from the aquifers, treated it at the water works and then wracked their brains to think of all the ways it can be used in their homes before it was cleaned again and returned to the rivers. It’s fair to say that some of the kids left us not only slightly wetter than when they arrived but hopefully slightly better informed.


BGS Earth Observation and 3D technologies for volcano monitoring ... by Francesca Cigna & Deodato Tapete

As part of BGS' Volcanoes stand, this year we designed exciting demos, virtual 3D tours and volcano hunts using Earth Observation data and GeoVisionary, to discover volcanoes of central and southern Italy that the public could even touch via printed 3D models!
Whilst little kids were captivated by ancient myths of Cyclops and giants living within active volcanoes, grown-ups got engaged with remote sensing technologies to gather objective evidence of volcanic activity and associated hazards.

As soon as they grasped our science, people acknowledged the public benefits of having BGS geoscientists working on volcano hazards in densely populated areas.

Many visitors came back for a second round of activities and demos at the end of their visit – unafraid at all to turn the Earth upside down with the 3D mouse!

 BGS' Volcanoes Stand ... by Lorraine Field

3D view of Mount Etna (Italy) in GeoVisionary
To complement the Earth Observation and Volcano Hazard parts of the BGS' Volcanoes stand, we had posters giving a basic introduction to volcanoes, different eruptions and the rocks they produce. A wide range of rocks were set out for people to handle: everything from volcanic bombs to gabbros. The different varieties of obsidian and the pumices were particularly popular with the kids. The adult visitors were especially fascinated by the Eyjafjallajökull ash, and that it was this fine, innocent, grey powder that caused so many problems! One enthusiastic little girl had even brought her rock identification book with her and went through every rock on display, reading out the entries to her very patient father.

We also had a microscope set up so that we could show what scientists can discover from the crystals within the rocks. Many people came back two or three times to compare what appeared to be a 'boring' basalt in a hand specimen with the corresponding thin section with its brightly coloured crystals!

BGS Volcano Hazards ... by Katy Mee

Also on the BGS Volcanoes stand, visitors could learn about the many different hazards produced by volcanoes from lava flows, pyroclastic density currents (PDCs) and volcanic mud flows (lahars), to volcanic gases and ash clouds. Examples from previous eruptions in Montserrat, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Colombia showed the true devastation that can be caused by some of these hazards, particularly the high speeds and enormous power produced by PDCs and lahars. Visitors also learnt about a multi-disciplinary, collaborative project that BGS is involved with trying to increase resilience to natural hazards in volcanic environments of Ecuador, Colombia and the eastern Caribbean.

The kids loved having a go at recreating the volcano hazard map for Nevado del Ruiz volcano, Colombia by squirting a sticky concoction of watered-down golden syrup over a 3D model of the volcano. And another 3D model of Soufrière St. Vincent volcano (St. Vincent and the Grenadines) was overlain by an ash 'veil' which demonstrated how different parts of the island might be covered by thinner or thicker deposits of ash during an eruption, depending on which way the wind was blowing.

Yellow ...

Hook a dino... by Denise Langley

The hook-a-dino proved a great success with our younger visitors (and a few of the not-so-young ones too!).   The dinos had more of a cute factor than any real scientific authenticity – although this didn’t stop the children from having a good go at identifying the one that they had successfully hooked!  Some of the very small children were more interested in the balls and splashing about in the water – but who could blame them?!

Maps and apps ... by Patrick Bell

Over in ‘maps and apps’, visitors where fascinated to discover the vast range of datasets BGS hold and were delighted to receive a free personalised GeoReport describing the geology of their house, its natural ground stability and its liability to flooding.  Younger visitors wowed their parents by demonstrating their hitherto unrevealed spatial awareness as they used the BGS Geology of Britain website and iGeology app to navigate around their area to pinpoint where they live. I thought one mother was going to drive her 5 year old straight down to Southampton for a job with OS as he panned around the aerial image of the Vale of Belvoir naming all the villages!

National Oceanography Centre ... by Lauren Noakes

Showcasing some of our latest discoveries at the BGS Keyworth Open Day allowed us to bring Oceanography to an eager and excited new audience. We introduced Heti the Yeti Crab (pictured) and our 'Exploring Ocean Fronts' displays to big and little kids alike. The whole day was extremely good fun and it was great to be there with our other sister research centres celebrating the NERC 50th Anniversary. Thanks to the amazing staff at BGS for having us and an even bigger thanks to the hundreds of visitors who chatted to us and tried to 'Beat the Cube'! For more news about our research and discoveries keep in touch via @NOCNews

Friday, 26 June 2015

A picture speaks a thousand words: delving into GeoScenic ... by Caroline Adkin

GeoScenic was launched in early December 2009 as part of OpenGeoscience, a free service where these images can be downloaded and used for private study, educational activities and research.

GeoScenic is an image library which currently has over 86,000 modern and historical images from BGS's archives. These images can be located under various categories such as Best of BGS images, a summary of the best photographs from the collections, Geoscience Subjects, covering a range of topics such as geoscience areas of interest, fossils and general photographs, and Special Collections, covering important or historical collections from the archives.

Each of these main categories will also have many subcategories. The existing images cover a range of subjects, for example different rock structures around the UK, fossils and the impact of natural events on the landscape for instance flooding and volcanoes, which have become of great interest to many people in recent times. It is also proving extremely popular with both teachers and members of the public.

P711374 Aerial views of flooding in Cumbria 2009.
Since the launch, there has been a total of 48,814,120 views. The most popular images being viewed are photographs of flooding and pictures from one of the Special Collections, the Henry Mowbray Cadell Archive.

Henry Mowbray Cadell
P769232 India tour. Mosque.
From the HM Cadell photographic archive.

Born in 1860, Henry Cadell was a mining consultant and industrialist. He had acquired considerable geological knowledge of the Lothian coalfields. In the 1850s, he had passed on a wealth of geological information about the Bo'ness area to Archibald Geikie. Cadell later went onto study geology under Geikie at Edinburgh University in 1878.

Archibald Geikie became director of the Geological Survey in 1882. Cadell joined the Geological Survey in Scotland in 1883. Staff were being recruited to work in the Highlands, at that time the largest part of the British Isles that remained geologically unsurveyed. Cadell spent much of his time mapping this region and rapidly became an efficient and reliable field geologist. His focus was mainly on the complexities of the Moine Thrust Belt.

During this time, Cadell's interest in the geometry and mechanisms of thrusting was demonstrated in 1885 with 'squeeze box' experiments that compressed wet sand and plaster of Paris (later settling for clay, sand and plaster of Paris) layers to recreate thrust geometries similar to those that he had been mapping.

Cadell's career in the Survey ended in 1888, following the death of his father. Following his marriage in 1889, he travelled extensively to many parts of the world, for example Norway, USA, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand, Russia, India and Burma, recording geological and geographical information.

Cadell's archive comprises of notebooks full of copious notes, diagrams and sketches. His watercolours portray less detailed information. The photographs were taken on his extensive travels around the world.

In addition to views, there have been numerous downloads, and once again the most popular being pictures of flooding, but also photographs from other Special Collections including the National Stone Collection, microscope slides from the Sir Joseph D. Hooker Collection and photographs from the Edmund Oswald Teale Collection.

P776120 Genus: Stigmaria; Taxon:
Plants: Gymnospermophyta;
Locality: Wolverhampton.
Microscope slide from the
Sir Joseph D Hooker Collection.
Sir Joseph D. Hooker

Born in 1817, Joseph Hooker was one of the greatest botanists of the 1800s. Hooker joined the Survey in 1846 until 1847. During his brief time here, his work involved plants of the Carboniferous Coal Measures.

In 1846, the Geological Survey was under the directorship of Henry de la Beche. Hooker, as one of the new employees, and part of a small team of geologists, palaeontologists and surveyors, spent the summer investigating the Bristol, Somerset and South Wales coalfields.

The majority of the slides in the collection comprise of sections of Coal Measure plants. Labels had been inscribed onto the glass – few of which were signed J.D.H 1846. The remaining slides comprise of fossil wood collected on previous travels including some samples collected by Charles Darwin (who was a very good friend) whilst on HMS Beagle. According to Darwin's correspondence, he and Hooker exchanged some fossil wood slides in 1844. This would appear as to how some of these sections found their way into the collection.

This 'unregistered' slide collection had become 'lost' at some point. Hooker was off on his travels and was unavailable to assist cataloguing his collection. The collection was moved around a few times over the years. With each move, the significance of the collection became more obscured until 2011, when by chance the collection was rediscovered. The collection has since been photographed and made available online.

Edmund Oswald Teale (formerly Thiele)

Born in 1874 in Australia, Edmund Teale first started his career as a field geologist with the Geological Survey of Victoria where he worked in Australia and New Zealand. Around 1908, after gaining a First Class Honours degree in Geology, Palaeontology and Mineralogy, Teale travelled to Africa to start what would become an illustrious career. Starting first in Nigeria then in Portuguese East Africa. He became Assistant Director of the Gold Coast Geological Survey in 1915.  Unfortunately he returned to Australia in 1916 due to the occupation of the German colony in the First World War.

In 1917, Teale (formerly Thiele) anglicised his name and also found employment in the Geology Dept at the University of Melbourne. After the war, he returned to Africa, and continued his explorations, some with Albert Ernest Kitson when they discovered diamonds on the Gold Coast in 1919. Teale then went on to establish the Geological Survey of Tanganyika in 1926, where he remained Director until 1935. Teale was created a knight in 1936 during his colonial service there.

P776550 Mrs Charlotte Teale trims Edmund's hair. Field camp,
PortugueseEast Africa. 1911. EO Teale photograph collection.
After his death in 1971, he left behind a massive archive which is now held by the British Geological Survey, after years travelling widely through Africa and Australia. A few items still reside in the Australian archives. The collection comprises of a typescript autobiography, around 1400 photographs and lantern slides covering his life, work and travels in Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Other items include diaries for 1928-1936, many letters, field note books, testimonials and a typescript history of the Geological Survey in Tanganyika.

New pictures are being added on a regular basis. This is an excellent way of showing the public and promoting the variety of work and activities carried out by BGS scientists. If you would like to see what images are available on GeoScenic then go

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Roaming Romania for Rare Earths ... by Victoria Honour

Victoria Honour from the
Camborne School on Mines
Victoria Honour from the Camborne School of Mines is currently doing her MSc research project with BGS. Here she tells us about her experience of looking for rare earth elements (REE) in Romania. 

Concerns over resource security have been present since the industrial revolution: the future of coal, copper and cobalt supplies have all been questioned in the past.  Today, the EU has a list of materials deemed critical to Europe’s economic growth but for which there are concerns about security of supply.  Rare Earths are top of this list and consequently in 2013, the European Commission funded a project called EURARE (, which aims to set the basis for a European REE industry. 

The EURARE project has identified numerous deposits for further evaluation across Europe, including in Romania.  The rare earth deposit in Romania is hosted by the Ditrău complex, which lies in north-eastern Romania, an area known for being the coldest in the country.  It is an alkaline layered intrusion with high levels of REE, niobium and molybdenum.  The current information available on this fascinating intrusion is rather sparse, so this is where my MSc project and Romanian fieldwork with the BGS comes in. 

The aim of the fieldwork was to examine the field-relationships between the rare earth mineralisation and the complex and obviously, as geologists, collect samples for later study.

Mineralogist, Paulina Hirtopanu's office in Budapest
Myself, Kathryn Goodenough and Richard Shaw started the trip off with a fascinating meeting at the University of Bucharest with local professor and mineralogist Paulina Hirtopanu.  We saw some spectacular specimens and it was a great opportunity to get our eye in for what we would see once we headed to the complex. We also met with Strategic Resources who hold prospecting permits for the complex and provided us with fantastic support throughout our fieldwork.

After our fleeting glimpse of Bucharest, we headed northwards, experiencing the less-risk-adverse driving style of the Romanians, alongside plenty of horses and carts (number plates on carts are essential). We arrived in Gheorgheni, a small Romanian town in eastern Transylvania, and began investigating the geology of the complex.  The complex covers a 18km2 area so there was lots of ground to explore, but we were assisted by local geologist Dr Gyula Jakab and Strategic Resources’ knowledge of the area and specifically, outcrop locations.

Exploring a mine waste dump

Sulphide and molybdenum mineralisation along a vein
The area was extensively explored in the 70s leaving an abundance of mine waste dumps at the entrance to exploration galleries.  Even in this ‘waste material’, we found many gigantic, fist-sized monazites rich in rare earths.  There were beautiful mineralised veins cutting through the complex, full of molybdenum, sulphides and monazite (a rare earth bearing mineral); we brought some of these samples back to the UK and hope to be able quantify the processes which occurred to form the rare earth enriched veins.  We also saw magma mixing ‘frozen-in-time’ in a quarry that had been explored for dimension stone… brilliant exposure ready-cut for geologists. 

The scenery in Romania was stunning; alpine-esque mountains perfect for hiking, giving us some amazing views when we dragged ourselves away from studying the rocks!  We were chased a few times by the ‘cow-dogs’ who objected to geologists getting too close to their herds.  We saw an abundance of interesting insects and were lucky enough to see a European brown bear and her cub!

The Alpine-esque scenery of Romania
The geology was outstanding and challenging, holding so much potential for both academic study and economic extraction.  Our collected samples are currently being processed, ready for the analytical stage of the project.  This is a fascinating project that I’m really excited to be working on with the BGS!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Mobile School Seismology in the Chiller ... by Tim Pharaoh

Tim Pharaoh holding the compact
 seismic sensor and data logger
Tim Pharaoh visited Iceland in April at the invitation of Greenhead College, Huddersfield. He accompanied a 40-strong party of AS level Geography and Geology students and their teachers on a 5 day itinerary in the SW part of the island. Following the ‘classic’ route through the ‘Golden Triangle’, the party discovered the benefits of geothermal energy at the ‘Blue Lagoon’; experienced ocean-free Mid-Atlantic Ridge at  Þingvellir; observed dramatic glacier recession; and a host of ‘alien’ volcanic, landscapes. These are now immortalised in TV shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Fortitude’, and films such as ‘Prometheus’, ‘Interstellar’, ‘Thor’ (predictably!) and ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’. The excursion enabled deployment of a new compact 3-component seismic sensor and data logger manufactured by Gulf Coast Data Concepts (, packaged in a waterproof case and no bigger than a lunchbox.

The objective was to carry out a sensitivity test of the device with a view to possible wider use in the BGS School Seismology programme. The sensor records up to 30 days of seismological data onto a micro-SD card, which can be analysed subsequently using SeisGram2K software on a laptop PC, either in the field or in the lab. The sensor was deployed in the grounds of Hotel Laki, Kirkjubæjarklaustur, in the surreal setting of a ‘whale cemetery’ at the rear of the hotel. Interlopers to this scene may have thought they were caught up in the filming of ’Walter Mitty 2’! The students helped to bury the device, and recover it 36 hours later. The theoretical sensor self-noise (i.e. acceleration detection limit) is just above 0.02m/s/s. At this level, signal from an M2 event would only be detectable closer than 10 km from the sensor; from an M3 event, closer than 60 km from the sensor; from an M4 event, closer than 120 km from the sensor.  The record from the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) shows that there were no significant seismic events in the vicinity during the deployment, the eruption of the Bárðarbunga volcano having ended a few weeks previously. As a result, no seismic events were detected by the sensor, only ‘cultural noise’ from Max as he recovered it with a shovel. However, the ease of deployment was demonstrated and the sensor should be capable of delivering useful and interesting data from an active seismogenic zone. Since nature was not forthcoming with a seismic signal, we had to improvise with our own Vibroseis source!

Greenhead College students and Tim Pharaoh burying the sensor 
Should your school or college have the opportunity to visit such a region for a reasonable period in future, you may want to try it out for yourselves!  If so, please contact Paul Denton, of the BGS Schools Seismology Programme, directly.

Thanks to a relay of individuals who allowed the transfer of the sensor from Fulneck School to Greenhead College before the trip! The assistance of Richard Brewster, Becky Gould, Frédérique Jaffeux and their students with this experiment is gratefully acknowledged. We also thank Hotel Laki, a great place to stay, for their hospitality.


Paul Denton, Schools Seismology Programme, BGS Keyworth (
Web     Facebook Twitter @schoolseismo

Tim Pharaoh, Energy and Marine Geoscience Programme, BGS Keyworth  (
Richard Brewster, Geography Department, Greenhead College, Huddersfield (
Becky Gould, Geology Department, Greenhead College, Huddersfield
Hotel Laki,  Kirkjubæjarklaustur (

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Continental drilling and a trip to Minneapolis ... by Melanie Leng

Melanie Leng in Minneapolis
In early June the International Continental scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) committees met to assess deep drilling of the Earth applications for 2015. The meeting was held at the world famous LacCore (National Lacustrine Core Facility) in Minneapolis. Here Melanie Leng explains a bit about ICDP, the UK’s geoscience community involvement, and her trip to Minneapolis…

The UK is a member of the ICDP, this enables a consortium of geoscientists from the UK (in collaboration with other member countries) to apply for funding to drill through kilometres of sediments and rocks in order to get columns of pristine material for scientific study (take a look at the ICDP-UK website for more information). There are many reasons to want to drill the Earth, and like many applications that were assessed at the meeting, they often involve assessing natural hazards including volcanoes and meteorite impact structures and understanding past climates and environments. The June 2015 meeting was a great success in that many applications for drilling very long holes in the Earth were funded, and the great news for the UK is that many involved UK scientists (more will be shortly revealed on theICDP-UK website).

The St Anthony Falls Laboratory on the shore of the
Mississippi in Minneapolis
As well as assessing proposals the committees visited the LacCore and the Continental Scientific Drilling Coordination Office (in the USA) facilities in Minneapolis. LacCore and CSDCO provide infrastructure for scientists utilising core samples from the Earth’s continents in their research, through integrated support for drilling, through project design to curation of samples and data. The committees also visited the world famous St Anthony Falls Laboratory (part of the University of Minnesota), which is built on the shores of the Mississippi River and uses the river as a natural laboratory to better understand water flow and sedimentary processes. Being able to quantify the behaviour of rivers is very important, for example, to help restore rivers and streams after catastrophic events, to stabilise deltas at the mouths of major rivers, and for watershed and water resource management.

Some of the ICDP committee members at the LacCore
including the BGS Director (far left)
Back to the ICDP… The UK has key personal within the program, Prof John Ludden (BGS Director) sits on the Assembly of Governors, I sit on the Executive Committee and Dr Kathryn Goodenough (BGS) is part of the Science Advisory Group. Please feel free to contact us about any ICDP related activities. The next deadline for ICDP proposals is January 2016. You can keep up to date with ICDP-UK activities through the website. Keep a look out for the news about the new, very exciting, funded drilling projects.   

Melanie Leng (@MelJLeng)

Friday, 12 June 2015

Measuring magnetic history at Godrevy Point ... by Anthony Swan

Even in these days of the ubiquitous handheld GPS, those of you who regularly take to the hills and moors across the UK will be aware that a map and compass are essential for navigating you safely home.  Experienced walkers will know the importance of magnetic variation and how it can change from location to location, but will say that it is always west of Grid North. Well historically (since the production of OS maps) yes, but now in the very south-west corner of the UK this can no longer be said to be true.

How can this be? Surely your compass always points in the same direction? Well not exactly, you see most people think of the Earth’s magnetic field as a traditional bar magnet, the type you used in physics class with a north & south pole at each end (something we call a dipole), but as my colleague Sue explained in an excellent blog last year this is not strictly true, the field is more complicated than that. It varies in both strength and direction depending on where you are on the Earth and your compass will always align itself with the local magnetic field. To complicate matters further, this field also varies over time, for example the field across the UK currently has an easterly movement of 10-13 arc minutes (0.17-0.27°) per year. It is this slow easterly movement of the field that now sees that south-west corner of the UK with an easterly Grid Magnetic Angle (GMA).

How do we know this? Well, people have been measuring and recording the magnetic field for hundreds of years. From early naval explorers who soon realised that as they circumnavigated the globe their compasses didn’t always point north, through to scientists on Captain Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition, to us today at the British Geological Survey (you can find out more about us and our historical archives at this address:

How do we measure the field? Well that’s something we at the BGS are very good at, in fact we in the UK are considered world leaders in what we do. And what we do takes us to some remote and interesting places around the world, from as far south as the Antarctic region to the very north of Alaska, with some sunny places in between.

The BGS run a series of magnetic observatories both in the UK and around the world, which allows us to produce very accurate global models of the Earth’s magnetic field. However these observatories are spaced too far apart for us to accurately model the local magnetic variations across the UK that hill-walkers and ramblers rely on (we have three UK observatories located in the UK: Shetland Islands, Dumfries & Galloway & north Devon).

To produce the regional variation values that appear in your Ordnance Survey maps we run a programme of spot measurements across the UK every summer. We have a total of 41 of these so-called repeat stations across the UK, visiting each one every four years.

If you’re thinking that it would be interesting to head down to one of these stations and take a look, I’m afraid that you may be a little disappointed. There’s nothing actually there to indicate their presence, no markers, no trig-points, just open fields.

Each time we occupy a measurement site there are a certain number of tasks we need to carry out before we measure the magnetic field. Firstly we have to find the site location, we now use a modern GPS system that can give us our location to millimetre accuracy, however in the recent past the only way to find the site would be take measurements from recorded landmarks (which sometimes wasn’t easy, as some of those landmarks had a habit of disappearing in the four years since the last visit).

Once the site has been found, we walk across the site area with a device that measures the full value of the magnetic field. This device doesn’t give us the direction of the field, but it indicates its strength and the site survey will tell us if anyone has contaminated our measurement location with magnetic debris since we last visited (someone might have decided to bury a cable or metal waste nearby).

Once we’re confident that we’ve found the measurement location and that the site is magnetically clean, we then have to determine the direction of geographic (or true) north. To do this we have a couple of methods - we can either use the differential GPS system or we can use a north seeking gyroscope. Either method allows us to determine the direction of true north from our measurement site with an accuracy of better than 10 arc seconds (0.0027°).

After obtaining our true north direction (azimuth) we take a series of measurements throughout the day using a survey theodolite (a device that can very accurately measure angles) with a fluxgate magnetometer fitted on top (this magnetometer can be thought of as a digital compass, but can measure the field much more accurately than a standard field compass).

At any point on the Earth the magnetic field can be thought of as a 3-dimensional vector, that is to say that it is made up of both horizontal (northerly and easterly) and vertical components. You may not know that your standard field compass is set up to compensate for the force of this vertical component. If however you decide to take your Northern Hemisphere compass on holiday to say Chile, you’ll find it useless as the vertical component of the magnetic field in the Southern Hemisphere is in the opposite direction and your compass needle will no longer be balanced.

Our measurements throughout the day are essentially aligning the theodolite perpendicular to both the vertical and horizontal components of the magnetic field and very accurately recording the angles. Whilst making the angular measurements we are also running an instrument that measures the strength of the field (the one we used for the site survey). By combining the angle and strength measurements we can then use simple trigonometry to resolve the 3D vector of the magnetic field at that location.

Before we use this data in our regional models and pass it on to the Ordnance Survey for use in their maps we have to do one more thing. You see, as well as the magnetic field varying slowly over time (something we call secular variation), it also varies throughout the day due to the heating effect of the sun in the upper ionosphere (diurnal variation). The effects of space weather can also dramatically change the magnetic field throughout the day (you can find out more about this from our web-pages). These short-term variations have to be removed from our data before we pass it on to the Ordnance Survey and to do this we use our observatory data to determine the value of these variations at each site at the time of the measurements.

The values we record on site give us the declination angle at that particular location (that is the angle between true north and local magnetic north). We then produce a model of declination for the UK and correct it for grid north before supplying the Ordnance Survey with Grid Magnetic Angle (GMA) values for across the UK.
So why are we measuring magnetic history? Well, at the beginning of June this year, on a very wet and windy Cornish day we visited our repeat station at Godrevy Point (GOD on map). The measurements performed on this day were the first time in over 350 years that anyone has measured an easterly GMA across the UK, and it’s something we at the BGS are very excited about.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Science-Based Archaeology within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry… by Angela Lamb and Holly Miller

On 1st June BGS hosted a workshop with the aim to bring together scientists from BGS and the University of Nottingham to facilitate more collaboration between the institutes on the theme of Science-Based Archaeology. Here Angela Lamb (BGS) and Holly Miller (University of Nottingham) tell us about the workshop….

Angela Lamb introducing the day's agenda
Melanie Leng started us off with an introduction to the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry and how the centre has evolved over the year since its creation. The aim of the workshop was for both institutes to share their research interests and techniques with each other to find areas of common ground for research. We started the day by BGS staff presenting how their specific research areas have been and could be applied to Archaeological problems. Angela Lamb gave the first talk of the day, summarising the use of stable isotopes in Archaeology and how multiple isotope systems can be applied to questions including the origins of agriculture, climatic change, origin and migration of animals and past dietary regimes. As Professor Jane Evans couldn’t join us I showed a video of Jane elegantly explaining how isotopes work:

Carolyn Chenery discussed how radiogenic isotope systems work and their application to the study of human and animal origin and migration, followed by Melanie Leng who showed us examples of how isotopes can be used to gain sub-seasonal scale climate records from mollusc shells. Chris Vane is head of Organic Geochemistry within the Centre and he summarised the various organic provencing techniques he thought were relevant, provoking much interest and discussion. Simon Chenery rounded off the BGS talks with a review of how we can measure the availability of metals in the environmental and also how elemental microanalysis by ICP-MS can examine the origins of materials such as pottery and glass.

In the afternoon, University of Nottingham staff gave us their research summaries, which included examples of the great collaborations already happening between the institutes. Naomi Sykes illustrated some results from the AHRC funded Fallow Deer and Chicken projects, emphasizing how isotopes can inform us about the origins, movement and domestication of animals and how this is important for future food security. Julian Hendersonhas also a well established research connection with BGS and explained how geochemistry has enhanced his work on the origins of glass within Europe and the near East. Hannah O’Regan has also worked with BGS for many years and shared her work on the diet and evolution of Macaques and her current interests involving linking isotope data with geo-satellite imagery and examining fungi as a hidden food resource. Will Bowden rounded up the talks with a look at the Roman site of Caistor in Norfolk, and his research on the evolution of the town and its relationship to the surrounding landscape, in particular how humans interacted with the nearby river. There were clear potential linkages with BGS’s organic geochemistry techniques.

The day ended with a lively discussion about how we could move things forward, especially routes for funding, and I know many individuals left with new contacts forged and a strategy for taking things forward.

By Angela Lamb, Research Scientist at the NERC Isotope Geoscience Laboratories, British Geological Survey and Leader of Stable Isotopes in Archaeology within the Centre of Environmental Geochemistry and Holly Miller, Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham and Visiting Research Associate at the NERC Isotope Geoscience Laboratories.


Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Rock Whisperers: tales from the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival ... by Kirstin Lemon

Horace the travelling Plesiosaur cinema. Just one of
the attractions at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival. 
The first bank holiday weekend in May usually means planning barbecues, family outings and other relaxing pastimes. But for a team of dedicated scientists from the British Geological Survey it meant something completely different; it was time for the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival!

This popular festival attracts over 10,000 people to Lyme Regis, arguably one of the UK's most important fossil localities. The significance of this Dorset coastal town doesn't stop there though, and in 2001 the entire Jurassic Coast was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its contribution to the study of earth science. It is now one of only two sites in the UK to receive such a status because of their geology.

Lyme Regis is therefore a natural choice for a festival dedicated to all things 'fossil' and those that attended weren't disappointed. The activities on offer included walks, talks, theatre, music, comedy, exhibits and of course lots of hands-on science!

Clive Mitchell showing off the Climate Through Time map.
The theme of the festival was 'Mapping The Earth', to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of William Smith's geological map. In keeping with the theme, the BGS stand was based on an interactive Climate Through Time map. This allowed people to explore the links between our planet's changing climate and the different rocks that formed as these environmental conditions varied through geological time. This was all supported by some giant Lego and some handy rock sets.

So on a cold and blustery Friday, the Grand Marquee on the beach at Lyme Regis became a hive of activity as dozens of schools from the surrounding area joined us for the Schools Day. It was a bit of a baptism of fire for those of us that had never attended the festival before, but we quickly got into our stride, exploring the geology of the British Isles with the hundreds of school children that came to see us. Many of the kids already knew a good deal about geology, but there were quite a few that didn't so we got to work in explaining how diverse our geology is and exactly what some of our rocks look like. If the 'oohs and aahs' were anything to go by, we've hopefully inspired a few geologists of the future.

Exploring the geology of the British Isles
with local school children.
The next two days were open to the public and out of the thousands of people that came into the Grand Marquee, we must have talked to the majority of them. The huge variety of people that attended the Fossil Festival meant that we are able to explain what BGS does, introduce them to our iGeology app, talk about the William Smith map, as well as carrying on using the interactive Climate Through Time map.

The feedback was amazing with many people commenting that after visiting us they knew a lot more about the geology of where they live as well as about many of their favourite places in the British Isles. And of course we had a few comments about the very friendly and knowledgeable BGS staff!

We weren't alone in the festivities and were joined in the Grand Marquee by scientists from organisations such as the Natural History Museum, British Antarctic Survey, National Oceanography Centre, Palaeontological Association, Geological Society, and Rockwatch. They were accompanied by exploding volcanoes, crinoid-making workshops, make your own dinosaur footprints sessions as well as a CSI Jurassic Coast activity. The huge number of different activities on offer meant that the Grand Marquee was literally a hands-on science centre for the duration of the Fossil Festival.

The Lyme Regis Fossil Festival takes place annually on the first bank holiday in May. For more information see

If you would like your very own Climate Through Time map you can download it as a PDF for FREE here.