Keith Ambrose - a geology champion... by Hazel Gibson

Hi, I’m Hazel Gibson, a PhD researcher from Plymouth University, who is interested in what people think about geology and how that affects how we as geoscientists communicate it. During July I was up at the British Geological Survey speaking to the scientists about their work, what makes them passionate about it and why they think it’s important to us. The following is a series of short 'people posts' about the real faces behind the BGS.

Keith at his desk in Keyworth.
Keith Ambrose will have been working for the British Geological Survey (BGS) for 40 years on the 7th of October 2014. In his time the BGS has moved from offices in central London, embraced computer technology and started producing digital 3D maps of the geology of the UK. Keith is a Principal Geologist, which basically means that he is a field geologist. He has spent most of his career collecting information to make maps and build models and now that he goes out into the field less, he is going back through old data trying to improve it and with that improve the quality of the maps we use. You might think that is an odd job for someone to have, but a lot of the older data that the BGS holds hasn’t been looked at since it was first collected, because there is so much of it!! Much of the data comes from boreholes or trial pits; the boreholes especially help us to understand what is happening deep down. By integrating the old data with new data collected with newer methods, Keith is able to double check all the models and maps made for specific areas. He is also able to see the bigger picture the way that the original mappers couldn’t. “Sometimes I'll be examining a map and I'll see how rocks under Teesside and Nottingham (for example) equate with rocks under the North Sea, how the onshore relates to the offshore and I can fill in a gap in the model.”
“I never really thought about geology at school,” he told me “I had a really keen geography teacher and enjoyed doing all the physical geography, so I thought, this could be fun.” He did have a cousin who was a geologist, so when he got to university at Newcastle, he decided that geology was the subject for him and has never looked back! He got a job at the BGS in 1974 and when he started there were no computers at all – everything was done by hand. “It was a very manual process, we had cards and cards of data, but it was a very antiquated process.” 

The Charnwood Forest map and guide that Keith helped to
create, that highlights the areas important geological heritage
Luckily things have moved on from then and Keith embraced the technological revolution with enthusiasm. One of the things Keith is passionate about is protecting the geodiversity of our country. Now I imagine that many of you have heard of biodiversity and are thinking, ‘but how can rocks go extinct?!’ Well, obviously rocks won’t die out the same way that a living organism will, but there are many examples of geologically interesting and unique places in the UK that are not found anywhere else in the world. In some cases, it is like these examples of geological environments, rock or mineral types or historical locations are all on the critical list and we only have one chance to save them or they will be lost forever. Keith has taken on a leading role in the defence of our nation’s valuable geological heritage.

In particular Keith has always been interested in the National Forest, Breedon on the Hill and Charnwood Forest; writing a series of guides, trails and maps to highlight the value of these areas and making DVD’s about Charnwood and Breedon to help teachers, walkers and anyone who is interested to appreciate the spectacular geology of these areas. But that is not all, Keith has also written chapters for books to tell the next generation about what geodiversity is and why we must protect it, he has been involved in the creation of a Geodiversty Charter for England (the Scottish equivalent can be seen here) that will be published and approved by the Government and he has helped develop the Geodiversity Action Plans of various areas dedicated to preserving their local geology. “I really just want people to come out and look, to see how science relates to their environment and to understand what geology does for you.” he said to me. With Keith leading the charge of protecting the varied, interesting and beautiful geological environments of the UK, I’m sure many people will do just that.

You can read more about Keith's thoughts on geodiversity here
Find out more about the UK Geodiversity Action Plan.