Friday, 24 February 2017

Bye Bye to Jonathan Jonathan Dean

At the end of February, Jonathan Dean will bid farewell to the Stable Isotope Facility at the British Geological Survey to start a lectureship at the University of Hull, here he looks back on his time in Keyworth... 

I first came to the Stable Isotope Facility (part of the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry at the BGS) in 2010 as an undergraduate from the University of Nottingham to get experience of working in a laboratory. I subsequently moved on to do a PhD at Nottingham and over the next 3 years I was regularly back at BGS, analysing lake sediments for geochemistry from Turkey. We've now published a number of papers on the isotope work I undertook on those sediments, which we used to reconstruct how the climate of the Eastern Mediterranean region had changed between wet and dry over the past 13,000 years (See Dean et al. 2015a Dean et al. 2015b; Dean et al. 2015c).

In 2014, and after I completed my PhD, I started working at BGS as a 'Stable Isotope Apprentice', where I received training in a large variety of lab tasks including the analysis of organic matter in resource type studies for carbon isotopes and the analysis of oxygen isotopes in carbonates for palaeoclimate research. Following my training I was in an ideal position to apply for and obtain a 2 year post-doctoral post associated on a NERC funded grant based at BGS. For the last 2 years I have been analysing the chemistry of lake sediments from Ethiopia in order to reconstruct changes between wet and dry climate over the past several hundred thousand years in eastern Africa (see my update in 2015 on Geoblogy) and link these changes to the movement of hominins out of Africa. The climax of the project came in January this year when over 60 scientists from around the world gathered at Arizona State University in Phoenix to discuss progress of this international effort. We are aiming to test our hypothesis that changes in climate influenced the history of Homo sapiens and our predecessor species. We're hoping to start publishing our results within the next year, so watch this space!

Overall, what an amazing few years it has been, the Stable Isotope Facility at the British Geological Survey has been a great place to work (and get training) and I hope to continue research collaborations for years to come! I am now looking forward to working as a lecturer in Physical Geography at the University of Hull. Thanks to Chris Kendrick, Carol Arrowsmith, Hilary Sloane and Melanie Leng at the BGS who have supported me through the last 7 years.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Investigating Climate and Environmental Change in Eastern Australia (Part 2) Melanie Leng

The field team made up of researchers from University of Adelaide,
the Queensland government and Melanie Leng  (BGS/University
of Nottingham) and Andy Henderson (Newcastle).
In May 2016 Melanie blogged about her role in a project led by Dr John Tibby and Dr Cameron Barr (from University of Adelaide) on understanding climate change in eastern Australia. This is difficult because few archives of climate change exist in eastern Australia. The team developed a climate record based on the chemistry (carbon isotope ratios) of the broad-leaved paperbark tree, which they correlated to water stress. As a result of that research, Melanie was invited to the University of Adelaide to discuss future collaboration on recent climate change in eastern Australia and visit North Stradbroke Island which was the focus of the original study. Here Mel tells us about her trip…… 

NASA World Wind Landsat
montage of Stradbroke Island
courtesy of Wikipedia.  
Following on from our recent paper in Global Change Biology, I was invited to visit the University of Adelaide to see what expertise we at the British Geological Survey and the University of Nottingham could provide in studying recent climate change along the eastern Australia coastal margin. Climate change is a current hot topic in Australia as it potentially could lead to significant environmental and economic impacts in water security, agriculture, coastal communities and infrastructure. It is important to understand past climate change especially the causes of past increases in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

Scientists from the University of Adelaide are working on the past frequency of climate extremes by undertaking research from the records in lake sediments. The first week in Adelaide was spent in meetings, talking to researchers about their projects, but probably the most important was the work being done on North Stradbroke Island (locally referred to as Straddie). Straddie is the second largest sand island in the world (24 x 7 miles), and lies off the Brisbane coast. The sand island contains both large and small aquifers of water and where these aquifers intersect the sand surface they form small lakes. Sediments have accumulated in these lakes over tens and up to hundreds of thousands of years! We visited several of these lakes to discuss their potential to accumulate sediments (many contain 10s of metres of organic rich muds). These muds contain information through time, the oldest being at the bottom of sediment cores extracted from the lakes, while the youngest are at the top. We are (and will be) analysing some of these sediments for geochemical and biological parameters at the British Geological Survey. These parameters will tell us about changing water quality in the past that is related to water stress (or how dry the climate was in the past).

From L-R: Swallow Lake on Stradbroke Island, one of the contenders to provide a long climate history of eastern Australia;
Fieldwork on 'Straddie' Island, here testing the depth of the sediments within this (currently) dried up lake (Welsby Lagoon).
We visited several lakes including Swallow Lake (the site of the original work on the paperbark tree) as well as Brown Lake (perhaps it got its name from leaching of organic compounds from the peats as the sediments accumulated), and the remarkably resilient Blue Lake which is thought to be untouched by climate change and due to its spectacular setting has been hypothetically referred to as “God’s Bathtub” thanks to Cameron Barr.
One of the locals of a field notebook (note the scale), a fairly
harmless orb-weaver spider.
Through our future collaboration we hope that the team involving staff from the University of Adelaide, the British Geological Survey and the University of Nottingham will be able to make inferences about the controls (local, global, man-made) on the past and future climates of eastern Australia.

The fieldwork was headed by Dr John Tibby and Dr Cameron Barr but included staff from Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innnovation, as well as Melanie and Dr Andy Henderson (University of Newcastle)

Melanie Leng is the Director of the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry at the BGS and University of Nottingham. Follow Mel on twitter @MelJLeng.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Improving the use of geoscience in brownfield redevelopment projects through a NERC Knowledge Exchange Darren Beriro

In January 2017, the Government released a consultation on its Industrial Strategy. The strategy places science, research and innovation as central pillars. In February, it published its housing white paper, which maintains brownfield redevelopment as one of its foundations. Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) geoscience, principally developed and delivered by British Geological Survey (BGS), crucially underpins these policies.

Brownfield sites are a foundation to UK Government housing policy

These political developments are exciting to BGS as well as to me personally because I have been awarded a NERC Knowledge Exchange (KE) Fellowship. The Fellowship will last for three years and aims to increase the impact of NERC geoscience in brownfield redevelopment projects. Knowledge exchange is a two way process where increased understanding and any associated benefits are expected for all parties. During the Fellowship I will evaluate how NERC stakeholders are using geoscience in brownfield projects and try to enhance its application wherever possible. This will help improve UK competitiveness at home and enhance the potential to export expertise.
Knowledge Exchange Methodology

NERC geoscience is all-encompassing and includes: i) data e.g. geological maps, 3D models and soil geochemistry; ii) spatial decision support tools e.g. the BGS SuDS dataset; iii) applied science e.g. bioaccessibility of potentially harmful substances in soils and sensor technology for measuring sub-surface contamination.

NERC geoscience is all-encompassing

During the Fellowship, I will engage with a range of stakeholders including:
  • Landowners
  • Developers
  • Geoenvironmental consultancies
  • Remediation contracting companies
  • Government
  • Regulators
  • Industry bodies
I am planning to hold regional workshops in the autumn & winter 2017/18 which I hope will improve participant understanding of NERC geoscience and how to optimise their use of it. The workshops will also explore the potential barriers and constraints that limit the impact of geoscience within the land redevelopment sector. This approach is an example of knowledge exchange being a two-way process.

Knowledge exchange is a two way process

The Fellowship will include work-based placements.  I will work directly with site redevelopment managers to identify where in the project life cycle NERC geoscience will have the most impact. The benefits to the economy, environment and society of each project will be monitored, quantified and will guide future work.

The results of the Fellowship will be published as technical case studies and made widely available. In addition, a design guide will help NERC and BGS utilise the results of the Fellowship, particularly in terms of understanding end-user needs and increasing the potential of co-design of future NERC geoscience projects and data.

I hope that relationships developed during the Fellowship will present new opportunities for future collaborative projects that flourish beyond the lifespan of this project.

My intention is to keep you up to date with examples of my knowledge exchange activities during the project via LinkedIn, Twitter (@BGSBrownfields) and BGS blogging at GeoBlogy.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Geochemistry Networking Event held in December 2016... by Ginnie Panizzo

On the 16th December 2016 the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (CEG) held a Networking event between key female geoscience researchers the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the University of Nottingham (UoN). The main impetus behind the event was to encourage collaboration between Anne McLaren Research Fellows of the UoN from the Schools of Biosciences, Geography, Chemistry and Faculty of Engineering, with other female researchers at the BGS. The invitation was extended to other early and mid-career researchers at the School of Archaeology, due to the strong research linkages with the Stable Isotope Facility at BGS.

Women in geochemistry  

Close to 20 female scientists from the BGS and UoN attended the event. Dr Virginia (Ginnie) Panizzo, who organised the event, kicked off the workshop before introducing Prof Melanie Leng (the Director of the CEG) who provided an overall introduction to the CEG.

Networking and discussions

Delegates were given the opportunity to provide a brief introduction to their analytical specialities and research interests to the rest of the group, so as to facilitate discussions throughout the day. This proved a great success for many inter-disciplinary dialogues. Networking continued during and after lunch in informal break out groups before a tour of the BGS laboratories closed the day.

Insightful and worthwhile 

All delegates involved found it an insightful event and a great chance to meet other like-minded female geoscientists at the BGS and UoN. We hope that it will serve as a worthwhile kick-start to other such events for geoscientists alike between the two Institutions.

Please contact Dr Ginnie Panizzo if you are interested in future women in geochemistry networking. Ginnie is an Anne McLaren Research Fellow of the UoN and Visiting Research Associate at the BGS.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Geochemistry in Michael Watts, Elliott Hamilton, Belinda Kaninga, Kenneth Maseka and Godfrey Sakala

Victoria Falls. 
Michael Watts and Elliott Hamilton returned to Africa to undertake two main tasks; (1) find a conference venue for the Society for Environmental Geochemistry 2018 international conference to be hosted in Victoria Falls, and (2) undertake fieldwork in the Zambian copperbelt as part of the Royal Society-DFID project.

We met up with Dr Godfrey Sakala (Zambian Agriculture Research Institute or ZARI) and Professor Florence Mtambanengwe (University of Zimbabwe) in Victoria Falls and viewed venues for hosting 150-200 people.  The location is ideally suited, with ample accommodation, conference facilities, transport connections, activities, is safe to walk around and of course the spectacle of Victoria Falls, which is a must see and a gentle introduction to Africa for the uninitiated.  A video was filmed to begin the promotion of the conference and signpost SEGH 2018 VicFalls which will appear on shortly.

Krigged geospatial map for chromium to identify locations
 for experimental plots. 
We moved onto Zambia with Dr Sakala and headed up to Kitwe in the Copperbelt to join Prof. Maseka from the Copperbelt University (CBU) to follow up on previous field collections in Mugala village where field characterisation identified specific plots for experimental trials to investigate the influence of soil management strategies, such as organic incorporation, liming, low tillage (Conservation Agriculture) on the uptake of metals deposited through dust onto agricultural soils from nearby mine tailings.  Elliott Hamilton will explain more in a follow-up blog about his PhD and some of the findings so far. Belinda Kaninga, one of our Royal Society-DFID PhD students has set out her first season field experiments as identified by the site characterisation and will bring the resultant soil and crop samples to BGS for analysis next May.

Both Elliott and Belinda are using the same location for experimental trials, with Elliott focussing on the control parameters for chromium (Cr) soil-to-crop transfer employing elemental speciation and isotope dilution for pot experiments using soil samples collected on this visit across the range of Cr concentrations and soil pH identified. These experiments will be undertaken at Sutton Bonington campus (University of Nottingham).  The processing of samples back in ZARI also allowed us to work with lab staff, review training needs and preparations for our upcoming purchase of Microwave-Plasma Atomic Emission Spectrometers in each of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, Belinda is investigating a broad panel of metals (Pb, Cu, Zn, Cd, Mn, Al, Ni) and the application of specific Conservation Agriculture methodologies and potential influence on the availability of metals for soil-to-plant uptake.  Belinda has conducted pot trials at the ZARI research station in Lusaka, but as mentioned, recently set up her field plots in collaboration with the village chief and local farmers which will run over two seasons.

Belinda Kaninga and one of her experimental plots.
A further project was initiated with Prof. Maseka and Dr Sakala to investigate the potential exposure to metals from dust inhalation from the Mugala mine tailings in the nearby village, comparing pathways of exposure from environmental samples through to biological samples from a biomonitoring collection (urine, blood).  The focus of the project will be a two-year MSc project undertaken by Lukundo Nakaona, in collaboration with the CBU Department for Environmental and Agricultural Sciences and Medical School, ZARI and BGS-UoN (CEG).  There are many other possibilities for environmental-health exposure and food security studies with our close partners at ZARI, CBU and UNZA (University of Zambia).  In particular, scope for GCRF (Global Challenges Research Fund) proposals to provide capacity strengthening in technical capability to cement the strong scientific activities of our partners both in Zambia, the wider Royal Society-DFID network in Zimbabwe and Malawi and with other partners in Kenya and Tanzania.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Assessing ground motion from Kieran Parker

Diagram showing satellite image acquisition process to enable multiple
 images to be assessed. Source
Ground movement is an issue of global concern and one that regularly grabs the attention of the media due to its impact to public safety, property and infrastructure networks often necessitating expensive remedial action.

In Northern Ireland, ground movement is closely associated with slope instability, most notably on the margin and valley slopes of the Antrim plateau as well as surface subsidence in areas of historic mining. While most of the movement is natural there is also the human influence which exasperates or creates instability through social development and extractive legacy. The extent and form of surface motions can vary dramatically from location to location with a number of controlling factors. These movements are traditionally monitored with the placement of instrumentation around sites which have been causing persistent problems however these methods are costly, time consuming while also limited by resources only enabling a number of areas to be assessed over the long term.

Subsequently, there is a clear need for accurate assessment of ground motion for land use planning and development across areas suspected of being susceptible to movement along with a better understanding of the instigating factors and potentially the development of tools that will enable early warning to a catastrophic movement event.

Throughout 2016, the BGS Earth and Planetary Observation and Monitoring (EPOM) Team, Shallow Geohazards and Risks (SGR) Team and the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI), together with Queen's University Belfast (QUB) have been working on a research study to analyse the benefits of using satellite radar interferometry  (InSAR) techniques to remotely assess risk to infrastructure associated with ground movements in Northern Ireland. The project is analysing historical radar data available for 1992-2010 obtained from the European Space Agency (ESA) operated ERS1/2 and ENVISAT satellites.

The methodology works by processing of numerous images collected by the satellites during each repeat pass. Stacked together these images allows for the extraction of reflective targets and measure, to millimetre precision, surface displacement. A total of 127 images will be analysed throughout the project.

InSAR techniques have the capability to remotely monitor large areas which would enable a step change in techniques currently used by organisations to analyse risk to their infrastructure network.
Distribution of radar reflectors identified by processing satellite radar data aquired
from ERS 1/2 (left) from 1992-2000 and ENVISAT (right) from 2002-20.
The project team is working with five major stakeholders TransportNI (TNI), Northern Ireland Railway (NIR), Department for the Economy (DfE), Arup and Belfast City Council (BCC) to examine areas of slope instability and subsidence which have proven to be problematic in the past while also aiding the identification of others areas potentially at risk.

While the data coverage takes in an area of 3,000 km2, the project will focus closely at problematic sites identified by the stakeholders:
  • Site 1: North Belfast – A densely populated urban location, this area has been subject to shallow translation landslides with evidence of movement can be seen at Ligoniel Park and Throne Bend on the Antrim Road. 
  • Site 2: Belfast-Bangor Railway line – This section of rail line is positioned within steep sided cuttings prone to instability, particularly after periods of heavy and prolonged rainfall.
  • Site 3: Carrickfergus – The residential town contains eight abandoned salt mines which display continual subsidence. Over the past two decades a number of crown holes have appeared at various locations as a result of mine collapses resulting in the permanent closure of two public roads.
  • Site 4: Straidkilly, Antrim Coast Road (A2) – Positioned at the base of the Antrim Plateau, the A2 is a scenic route used extensively by the many coastal towns and villages as well as a high number of tourists. This section of road cuts through soft Jurassic clays and debris from the slide area has frequently reached the road increasing the risk to users and also leading to road closures.

Aerial photo of crown hole collapse at abandoned Maidenmount salt mine,
Carrickfergus 2001. The collapse generated a hole >100 meters in diameter
with 8 metre vertical displacement.  © Crown Copyright
Preliminary InSAR results display variable movements in many of the known landslide areas while also highlighting motions associated within areas of historic mining activity. The initial results have also identified a number of areas of interest which are displaying subsidence and surface heave potentially as a result of water abstraction, soil compaction and shrink swell processes. 

Newtownards, Co.Down showing significant subsidence
within the centre of the town. Raw ERS-1/2 satellite
data provided by ESA under grant id.32627.
These results were presented at a workshop held at Queens University Belfast in September 2016 where the stakeholders were given the opportunity to have a close look at the data in areas where their assets may be affected by ground motion. With each reflective point representing average annual motion over 100m x 100m ‘parcels’, the workshop enabled stakeholders to identify several sites each of greatest interest where the team will process the data further to increase the resolution by reducing the size of each parcel thus providing more precise results of ground movement leading to a more accurate assessment of the risk to the infrastructure network. Crucial for the stakeholder will be the identification of trends leading up to major movement.

The project team is currently working through the time series data from reflective points in areas of interest to analyse the variations of motion across the areas while also validating it with previously collected terrestrial and airborne data obtained by the stakeholders.

The potential outcome will be an enhanced capability to monitor and assess hazards associated with ground motion across the infrastructure network and for the stakeholders to implement regional scale hazard mapping using satellite technology to compliment terrestrial monitoring. This could see huge benefits in mapping and understanding geo-hazards allowing better informed engineering techniques to be considered, better targeting of sites while reducing the risk to people monitoring on unstable ground. Further outcomes from the project will be the capability to communicate the risk posed by ground movement and the development of an early warning system.

The project started in February 2016 and will run for 18 months, until July 2017.

Project: InSAR for geotechnical infrastructure: enabling stakeholders to remotely assess environmental risk and resilience (NERC Grants: NE/N013018/1 and NE/N013042/1)

Project Team:
Queen’s University Belfast (QUB)
Dr David Hughes, Dr Jenny McKinley, Dr Shane Donohue, Conor Graham

British Geological Survey (BGS) / Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI)
Dr Francesca Cigna, Dr Vanessa Banks, Kieran Parker, Alex Donald

The project is funded by NERC under the Environmental Risks to Infrastructure Innovation Programme (ERIIP). ERS-1/2 and ENVISAT raw satellite data is provided by ESA under grant id.32627. For further details contact Dr David Hughes at Queen's University Belfast or Dr Francesca Cigna.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Transitioning from Flame AAS to MP-AES: benefits and Emmanuel Chidiwa Mbewe

Emmanuel with 'A Practical Guide to ICP-MS'.
My name is Emmanuel Chidiwa Mbewe from Lilongwe University Agriculture and Natural Resources in Malawi. I work as a Chief Technician in Soil Sciences within the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. Currently I am undergoing a Commonwealth Professional Scholarship with the Inorganic Geochemistry team within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry, during which I have experienced modern methods of laboratory analyses, systems of work, including quality assurance and overall management of tasks and data to demonstrate confidence in data output.  I also attended a meeting in London for the Commonwealth Scholarships Commission (CSC) Fellows Connect 2016 which enabled me to meet other Fellows based around the UK, to share my experiences and celebrate my fellowship. 

Before I depart for Malawi at the end of the week, I will attend the 2016 International Fertiliser Society Agronomic Conference in Cambridge to hear talks on agronomic techniques relevant to aspects of fertiliser recommendation development, the role of fertilisers in reducing emissions, grassland nutrition, and precision farming.  There will also be a presentation on the work of Grace Manzeke, the first winner of the Brian Chambers award.

MP-EAS Demonstration

A highlight of my stay was when I had a chance to visit the Reading Scientific Services on the University of Reading campus along with Elliott Hamilton, where we received a demonstration on the use of MP-AES 4210 by Agilent Technologies, in advance of a transition from use of Flame Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (FAAS) to Microwave Plasma Atomic Emission Spectroscopy (MP-AES), which will be purchased from the Royal Society-DFID project. Both of these techniques are used for elemental determination in a variety of sample materials including soil and plant samples.

Major Advantages

Emmanuel using the MP-AES.
The MP-AES will be purchased and delivered in February 2017. The major advantages of FAAS are:
  • reducing operating cost, increasing safety;
  • improving analytical performance through improved sensitivity and;
  • multi-element capability and ease of use.
The largest running cost for level entry spectroscopy is the source gases. FAAS uses a combination of air and acetylene, or nitrous oxide and acetylene. These two gases are provided in cylinders which regularly needs replenishment. These gases are quite expensive in developing countries like Malawi. On the other hand, the 4210 MP-AES uses nitrogen that is extracted straight from the air to sustain the plasma. The Agilent 4107 Nitrogen generator coupled to an air compressor supplies all the free nitrogen required at greater than 99.5% purity. This leads to dramatic reductions in operating costs over the life of the instrument.

Safety Concerns

When using FAAS there are concerns about safety aspects because of the use of acetylene and nitrous oxide. The major concerns cover a wide range; from storage and handling of cylinders, to the use of the flame in the instrument. Presence of a naked flame is of a concern in laboratories especially those that handle organics, which are highly flammable, for this reason FAAS have to be attended to all the time. All these issues are eliminated with the use of 4210 MP-AES.

Improved Performance

Improved analytical performance comes about because there is an improvement of in detection limits for MP-AES compared to FAAS. In the case of some elements such as Ca and V this can be an order of magnitude lower. An improvement in detection limits implies that it is possible to analyse elements that otherwise have high detection limits in FAAS like phosphorus and boron. In other words, elements that cannot be analysed on FAAS are easily analysed on the MP-AES. It can also analyse up to 10 minutes at a time using the same sample volume as an FAAS. Selenium can be measured using hydride generation within the same analytical run as other samples. The higher temperature of nitrogen plasma atomisation /ionisation also improves the linear range and stability compared to FAAS.

When it comes to ease of use in MP-AES, this results from the fact that with the hotter plasma source of 4210 MP-AES, chemical interferences that are encountered in FAAS are eliminated. This means that the element specific sample preparation required on FAAS is not needed which greatly simplifies the sample preparation process.

Change from FAAS to MP-AES

With the benefits highlighted above, I look forward to moving from using the FAAS to using the MP AES.  The challenge that awaits me on my return to Malawi, is to prepare the laboratory building services in time for delivery of the instrument, which promises to vastly improve our current capability for elemental analyses, whilst keeping costs down. I won’t be alone in this challenge, partners on the Royal Society-DFID project will also be receiving an MP-AES in Zambia and Zimbabwe in February to March and we will share the training experience through collaboration and regular interaction, with support from the sales company (Chemetrix) in South Africa and colleagues from the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (BGS-University of Nottingham).

Many thanks to Agilent and Reading Scientific Services for hosting the demonstration of the MP-AES. Thanks also to Robert Thomas who donated 50 of his textbooks ‘Practical Guide to ICP-MS – a tutorial for beginners’.  These textbooks will be given to students and technicians within the Royal Society-DFID network, as well as other partner organisations in Africa.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

First Year of my PhD: Generating a better understanding of the UK’s shale Patrick Whitelaw

Shale samples from our core store.
The shale industry is rapidly changing, with large developments such as the first fracking licenses being awarded since I started my research. However still relatively little is known about the UK’s shale gas potential and how much focus should be placed the industry’s development. With the research I am currently undertaking aiming to help shape and direct the government’s legislation on a controversial industry. 

Initially my PhD started with a wide range of training, learning to use the machinery and conduct the experiments that will form the core of the next four years. These include hydrous pyrolysis where shale samples are heated up under intense pressures to simulate subsurface conditions. High pressure methane adsorption, to understand the potential of shale to adsorb methane, and consequently how much methane can be extracted from it and surface area and porosity measurements to calculate the pore volumes of shales which when correlated with methane adsorption can provide information about their gas holding potential.  Determining the maturity of the shale (how far along the gas production lifeline they are) with vitrinite reflectance has been ongoing, as this is a skill that takes years to master. 

High pressure volumetric analyser for high pressure
methane isotherms.
I have continued work on immature Rempstone shale samples from the midlands which have not yet produced oil and gas. Using hydrous pyrolysis sequential experiments, the amount of gas generated by these samples over a lifetime of subsurface conditions has been calculated, and using data from the high pressure methane adsorption experiments, which correlate well with the pyrolysis, a much better estimate of the amount of methane these shales are able to produce has been formed. Currently this data is getting written up for publication, hopefully in a high impact journal. 

Using the method developed on the Rempstone samples, I am aiming to see similar results with different shales from northern England near in Lancashire, the area where the fracking licences have been awarded. Initial sampling of two shales from the Grange Hill and Preese Hall (the first prospective shale well drilled in the UK) wells was carried out with samples from a wide variety of depths taken from BGS core stores. Unfortunately many of these samples contained high levels of pyrite preventing many forms analysis. The pyrite prevents vitrinite reflectance as it is too bright, as well as causing the samples to be unsafe when heated up to high temperatures as the formation of sulphur dioxide can cause an dangerous explosion. New samples were however collected either handpicked Grange Hill samples that contain low levels of pyrite or samples from a new Becconsall well. Initial testing has been carried out on the samples and selection for and development of hydrous pyrolysis experiments has begun. 

In February I will be presenting for the first time at the Geological Society Conference in London. This should provide a great opportunity to meet people in both academia and corporate environments who have similar interest in the field, as well as showing off our results which have been very promising up to this point. Hopefully by this time as well the paper detailing our results will be finished and on its way to being published in a high impact journal.

High temperature hydrous pyrolysis experiment.
After the return of the Christmas break I will begin my maturation experiments of the samples collected from the Becconsall and Grange Hill wells using the shallower samples with a series of hydrous pyrolysis experiments. Once experimental maturation is completed I will then compare how well this mimics the natural maturation of these shales, by comparison with the deeper cores.  This should show how accurate the experimental maturation process is as and if any adjustments need to be made, while also providing gas production data for these cores. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

UPGro: Hidden Crisis - the story so Helen Bonsor

Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor (UPGro) is an international research programme that focuses on improving the evidence base around groundwater availability and management in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The Hidden Crisis project is a consortium project within the UPGro programme and aims to develop a robust evidence base of the large-scale status of rural groundwater supply functionality across three countries, Ethiopia, Malawi and Uganda, which have struggled for decades with service sustainability.

Helen Bonsor tells us more about the project and provides an update on progress so far after the latest project meeting in Edinburgh.

Overview and aims of the workshop

Since our last project workshop, held in Addis Ababa Ethiopia in September 2015, the first main survey phase of the project (to survey the functionality and performance of a sub-sample of water points and committees) has been completed within each of the three countries, alongside a rapid political economy analysis studies for Ethiopia and Malawi (Uganda to happen within the next few months).

The aim of the workshop was to bring the project team together to foster our growing working relationships, and to:
  1. Review Survey 1 - key challenges and successes – and to review the initial analysis of the data and plan for more detailed final analysis
  2. Planning of Survey 2 - location and site selection criteria, the research approach and aims, methods and logistics
  3. Planning of the Longitudinal studies in the 3 countries for both physical and social science surveys
  4. Interdisciplinary research - to review and discuss our approaches to interdisciplinary science in the Hidden Crisis project and lessons learned from other UPGro Projects
  5. Discuss ongoing stakeholder engagement and a Publication Strategy - for both the country research teams, and for the project as a whole.

Attendees and meeting programme

The workshop was held at the British Geological Survey (BGS) office in Edinburgh, UK, over four days - from 21st to 24th November 2016. Representatives from all institutions and from each country involved in the research consortium attended the workshop - 23 people in total.

Day 1 was focused to reviewing the work of Survey 1 across the three countries and the initial data analysis; on Day 2 the key logistics and research aims of Survey 2 happening  in 2017 were discussed, as well as the political economy work completed so far; Day 3 explored interdisciplinary research in the project, and the key aims and logistics for the longitudinal studies; and, Day 4, was used to identify and review the key priorities and planning actions for the next few months across the project team for the next main research survey phases. Several short “Ted talks” were also given throughout the week.

Hard at work at the 2nd Hidden Crisis project meeting

Summary of discussions

Presentations were made by Dessie Nedaw (Ethiopia), Michael Owor (Uganda) and Evance Mwathunga (Malawi) of the successes and challenges in completing Survey 1 across the three countries.    The project database and QA process which has been developed to store all the data collected by the project (both physical science and social science) from Survey 1, and subsequent surveys.

A preliminary analysis of Survey 1 data from Ethiopia was presented by Dessie Nedaw and Seifu Kebebe.  The analysis used the project approach of examining the impact of using different definitions of water point functionality.  These include: working at the time of visit, having an acceptable yield, passing national inorganic chemistry standards, and whether they contained total thermal tolerant coliforms.

The initial results of the rapid political economy analysis (PEA) work from Malawi and Ethiopia were presented by Naomi Oates and Florence Pichon of ODI, respectively.

Project discussions and group working at the project meeting.
There were detailed discipline group discussions and wider project team discussions to identify the main methods, key criteria for site selection and the main challenges and logistics for planning Survey 2.  Discussion was given to logistical and ethical challenges of repair of water points visited, risk of damage of the water points, and management of community expectations and follow-up during the mobilisation phases.  Key timescales for planning were identified by the project team.

A half day of the workshop was focused on a wider project team discussion of our approach to interdisciplinary science – and the key challenges and opportunities of doing this in the next phases of the project.  Kirsty Upton (of the UPGro programme co-ordination group) gave a presentation of an external MSc research paper, which has reviewed the different approaches to interdisciplinary science across the 5 UPGro consortium projects.  Lissie Liddle (PhD student Cambridge University) presented the systems dynamics analysis she will be conducting for the Hidden Crisis project, bringing together physical and social science data, as part of her PhD within a Bayesian network analysis; and, Richard Carter then led a facilitated project discussion on our different perceptions of physical and social science factors to HPB failure.  

For more information please visit the UPGro: Hidden Crisis website or follow us @UPGroResearch

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Poster presentation at the Royal Society of Saeed Ahmad

Hi, my name is Saeed, I am a PhD student at the University of Nottingham in the School of Biosciences, and on the 14th of November I attended an Early Career Researchers Meeting on the Environmental Chemistry of Water, Sediment and Soil at the Royal Society of Chemistry.

PhD Research 

I am investigating the availability of iodine and selenium in soil and their uptake by crop plants in the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). Gilgit-Baltistan is an extremely remote area in North East Pakistan and situated at the border region of Pakistan, China and India. The landscape of the area is very mountainous and more than half of the area is located 4500 meters above sea level. The local population is largely dependent on locally produced agriculture produce. The Gilgit-Baltistan area has a high rate of endemic goitre and a low concentration of urinary iodine in the local population. The overall aims of my study are to assess the factors controlling the iodine and selenium status in soils, water and plants in Gilgit-Baltistan, and ultimately examine the effects on the local population. I have recently collected soil, plants and water samples from GB which I am currently analysing by using different analytical techniques. After completing a preliminary investigation and obtaining some data on iodine and selenium contents of soil and wheat crop I presented a poster on Geochemistry of iodine and selenium in Gilgit-Baltistan at the Royal Society of Chemistry in London.

Students from the Geochemistry Group attending the conference.

Excitement and concern 

Leading up to the conference I was both excited and concerned. I was excited that I would have the opportunity to present my work and talk with other early career researchers. My concern was about missing the train and not getting to conference on time as I had to catch an early train from Nottingham. Luckily I managed to catch 6.30 am train and got to the conference venue on time along with my other colleagues from the Geochemistry Group from the University of Nottingham.

Chris Collins presenting me with my 1st prize certificate.

Poster Presentation

When we arrived at the Royal society of Chemistry, we were welcomed at the registration desk by very friendly staff from the organising committee and were guided to the poster stands. After putting my poster up, I walked around the lobby and glanced at the other posters. Everybody’s poster was very impressive, eye catching, and presenting new ideas and findings on a variety of topics in environmental chemistry. All those who gave oral presentation also did really well. Two of my colleagues Baset and Heather gave amazing presentations on iodine and selenium.

A Great Result 

The key note speaker Professor Chris Collins also gave an impressive presentation. It was a great day and I had the opportunity to speak to researchers from other universities across the UK, it was amazing to see what other people are researching. The posters were judged by the judges during poster sessions and lunch break. At the end of the day a prize giving ceremony took place, and the conference organisers announced that I had won 1st prize in the poster competition! When they called my name I couldn’t believe it! I felt extremely happy and honoured to go to the front and receive the certificate and a prize from Professor Chris Collins. It was a day that I’ll never forget. It all happened due to the invaluable support and guidance I get from my supervisors who are always available whenever I need them and for encouraging me and the whole group to attend such events. My day began with the stress and worry of missing the train and ended with the joys and happiness of winning the 1st prize.

My PhD is supervised by Dr Scott Young and Dr Liz Bailey from the University of Nottingham and Dr Michael Watts from BGS, within the joint Centre for Environmental Geochemistry.