Thursday, 26 November 2015

Symposium on former gasworks in Ghent...by Darren Beriro

The 6th International Symposium on Manufactured Gas Plant Sites (MGP 2015) held in the historical city of Ghent, Belgium, was a great success, with 150 delegates and speakers from five continents. The symposium was attended by consultants, remediation contractors, environmental regulators and site owners, making it both practical and applied
Panoramic photo of Ghent old town taken from the famous Belfry
 The relevance of MGP 2015 to BGS is the discussion around contaminated soil and groundwater present at former gasworks. Conferences like MGP 2015 play an important part in the regeneration and redevelopment of gasworks. This links directly to UK government policies on reuse of brownfields, facilitation of housing and the protection of human health from environmental pollution. The contaminants present at former gasworks are dominated by hydrocarbons, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). This is because the process used to produce the gas relies on the heating of coal (or similar fossil fuel) to high temperatures in a low oxygen environment, resulting in a number of by-products, residuals and wastes including coal tar.  These mainly organic chemicals are complex and are known to be hazardous to human health.

Tondelier former gasworks undergoing remediation on the edge of the city of Ghent
Author asking an inspired question!
The BGS contribution was made by Dr Darren Beriro in the opening presentation of the symposium entitled The Application of Bioaccessibility Testing to Assess the Human Health Impacts at Former Gasworks Sites. The talk gave a concise overview of the bioaccessibility of PAH in soils and made reference to BGS’ in vitro method  called FOREhST (Brownfield Briefing Best Scientific Advancement Award Winner, 2013) and a recently accepted paper on the dermal bioavailability of PAH in soil. Both pieces of work were funded by National Grid Property

In addition to the risk-based management and remediation of former gasworks there were also presentations on the role gasworks played in the industrial revolution around the world. This includes the contribution gasworks made to extending factory operating hours using gas lighting and the utilisation of gas as source of energy. For those that are interested further information about heritage and operational characteristics of gasworks has been produced by Prof. Russell Thomas (Technical Director, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff).

Inside a former gasholder at the Tondelier gasworks
As with any good conference there was a field trip. Instead of the typical jewel in the landscape crown of a country, this one was to the Tondelier Development project and involved descending into a former gasholder.

The conference was a very useful way to meet industry and regulatory representatives from across Europe as well disseminating new and forthcoming BGS science on risk-based brownfield management and redevelopment.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Going South Part 2: Signy Relief… by PhD student Rowan Dejardin

Rowan on board
As described in my previous blog, I’m travelling south with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to collect samples from the South Georgia shelf, as part of my PhD (jointly funded by the BGS and the University of Nottingham, and within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry).

A couple of hold-ups (to fuel the ship – important, and to get a replacement chef – very important!) meant that we were a couple of days late leaving the Falklands to head south. Whilst this was a bit frustrating it did mean we had a couple more days to explore the Falklands and see some more penguins. It also meant that we missed a big storm in the Drake Passage that had looked like it was going to make the crossing interesting, therefore our trip through some of the roughest seas in the world turned out to be quite peaceful!

The trail through the sea-ice left by the JCR,
seen from the stern of the ship 
The first job for this cruise was to drop off the BAS team who will be working on Signy through the summer, with their supplies. As we gradually got further south icebergs started to sporadically appear, becoming more and more frequent until the whole horizon turned white – we had reached the sea-ice ! Up until this point we’d been making good time and might have made up some of the time we’d lost earlier but the ice had been threatening for a while on the satellite images, looking thicker than is usual for this time of year.

A rare sunny view of Coronation Island
At times the sea-ice slowed the ship to a crawl and at one point we virtually stopped. Eventually we made it to Signy, nestled in the lee of Coronation Island, this is the most southerly place the ship would reach on this trip and at one point we were the second most southerly ship in the world!. The cloud lifted and the sun shone on an incredibly rugged landscape of jagged peaks and blue glaciers, surrounding the ship on all sides. The next couple of days were spent unloading the supplies for the Signy summer season and digging out the base form the winter snow, with a chance for everyone to set foot on proper Antarctica and get our passports stamped! The science that the team will undertake on Signy includes a census of the Adelie penguins on the island, the continuation of long-term monitoring of a specific Adelie penguin colony, and a study of lichen community structure. We also had a mini-expedition to collect some seaweed for another of the students on the cruise, which was very intrepid!

Leaving eight of our former ship-mates on the remote island we then set off back into the sea-ice to begin out journey north towards South Georgia. On the way north we’ll have the opportunity to conduct some of the first science of the cruise, deploying the CTD at a number of stations on route. The CTD takes a range of measurements, including conductivity, temperature, and depth, as well as collecting water samples from a range of depths. These water samples will mean that one of the other PhD students on the cruise, Jenny Freer from the University of Bristol, can start conducting her analyses, looking for the DNA of lantern fish.

The tender delivering people and supplies to Signy 

Rowan is supervised at the BGS by Melanie Leng, at Nottingham by Sev Kender and George Swann, and at BAS by Vicky Peck and Claire Allen.



Tuesday, 24 November 2015

New appointment in the Stable Isotope Facility...by Andi Smith

Me in the lab preparing lake sediments for
O and C analysis of carbonate
In early November Andi Smith was appointed as a Stable Isotope Geochemist in the Stable Isotope Facility (SIF) in Keyworth. Here Andi explains a bit more about his new role and some of the work undertaken within the SIF.

My Background… 
Before moving to the SIF I undertook a PhD at Lancaster University focused on the use of cave speleothem (stalagmite) deposits to reconstruct past climatic conditions in Northern Spain. As part of this project, I worked with staff at the SIF (my CASE studentship partner), undertaking the analysis of O and H isotopes in karst aquifer waters and O and C isotopes from speleothem carbonate. We used these stable isotope measurements to help trace seasonally variable water infiltration into the cave system and to reveal millennial scale fluctuations in European rainfall intensity over the last 12,000 years.

Following the completion of my PhD I moved to the SIF as the Isotope Intern. This position offered an excellent opportunity to get involved with a range of new sample preparation and analytical techniques and allowed me to diversify my areas of research interest. My new Isotope Geochemist role within the facility will allow me to continue to work in new areas of scientific interest, focussing mainly on the use of stable isotopes as tracers of environmental pollution, nutrient cycling and monitoring subsurface processes.

Me at my cave research site (Cueva de Asiul) in northern Spain
But what exactly do we do at the Stable Isotope facility?

SIF capabilities 
The Stable Isotope Facility provides analytical and scientific support for projects and scientists who wish to use stable isotopes to help answer a wide variety of environmental questions. This means that the current science team work on a diverse range of topics, from tracing the impact of modern environmental pollution within delicate ecosystems to the reconstruction of past climatic conditions over 500 thousand years ago. To cater for these projects the facility specialises in the analysis of different light stable isotopes in a number of materials; including O and H in waters, O and C in sedimentary carbonates, N, C and S in bulk organics (including soils and plants), Phosphate-O in soils, bones and teeth (soon also in carbonates) and N and O in nitrates. This diversity in techniques and our cutting edge analytical facilities means that the SIF works with a large number of collaborators both within the BGS and UK Universities, supporting a number of PhD students and postdoctoral researchers in the process.

Recent and future projects
To try and highlight the diversity of stable isotope applications I have selected two of our published projects from 2015.

The first, published in Environmental Science and Technology (led by Darren Goody, BGS) uses the oxygen isotope composition in phosphate (PO4), a relatively new stable isotope tracer, to assess sources of phosphate in drinking waters. The study conducted a series of tests on UK drinking waters and showed that the O isotope composition of P-O is primarily dependent upon the isotope composition of orthophosphoric acid used for dosing the waters, rather than original water source P-O composition. This study highlights the potential problems with phosphate pollution due to leaking mains water distribution systems.

The second study, published in Geology (with Andy Farrant, BGS) presents the first terrestrial climate record from southeast Arabia. This climate archive highlights several periods of increased rainfall and vegetation expansion during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 6 (ca. 160–150 ka), MIS 5 (ca. 130–75 ka), and during early MIS 3 (ca. 55 ka). These finding lead us to believe that there were multiple windows of opportunity for human dispersal out of Africa, linked to climate amelioration.
In the future, we hope that the SIF can also offer invaluable support to the wider projects within BGS, including using C and H isotopes of methane (CH4) to monitor methane pollution in groundwater’s and importantly help distinguish between biogenic and thermogenic methane sources.

How to work with SIF?
We work with a wide range of collaborators so if you think that your environmental research could be improved or diversified through the use of stable isotopes get in contact with one of the team!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The front line of geoscience - now with added Unesco...by Kirstin Lemon

Earlier this week, Unesco legally endorsed the new label of Unesco Global Geoparks, their first new programme in over 40 years. Many of us have known about Global Geoparks for years, but what are they, and why should we care?

A Unesco Global Geopark (as they are now known) is an area with internationally important geological heritage. Here in the UK, there is no shortage of that so what else is needed? Well for a start, they must have a sustainable tourism strategy which in simple terms means that these rocks and landscapes must be used used to attract visitors to the region. In addition, they must also work with and for their local communities, making them the ideal places to disseminate geoscience information.

Unesco Global Geoparks provide a perfect platform to engage with the public, in particular in topical issues such as climate change mitigation and geo-hazard awareness. Due to high visitor numbers, quite often Unesco Global Geoparks are the front line of geoscience. They are one of the few places where the general public can easily learn about geology, and understand more about the dynamic planet that we all share.

Geoplay in English Riviera Unesco Global Geopark
All of the Unesco Global Geoparks in the UK have very successful public science engagement programmes. Some of them are very innovative when it comes to geoscience communication such as the Geoplay Park in the English Riviera Unesco Global Geopark that tells the geological story of the Geopark area through a series of themed areas in a carefully designed play park. The North Pennines AONB Unesco Global Geopark have the Rock Detectives children’s geology club, something that has now been rolled out in many other Unesco Global Geoparks.

But it’s not all about geology for the public, many of the UK Unesco Global Geoparks have been involved with and still are involved in cutting edge research. Fforest Fawr Unesco Global Geopark, located in the western half of the Brecon Beacons National Park has been used as an outdoor research laboratory for years. Some of the recent research activities have been focused on Traeth Mawr, a peat bog that was a former lake. This important site is being used to apply new and innovative research investigating the effects of climate change and human activities using sediment DNA and pollen stratigraphy. This includes evidence for the introduction of grazing animals at the site and on plant and animal biodiversity from prehistoric times to the present day.

Cuilcagh Mountain, Marble Arch Caves Unesco Global Geopark
Marble Arch Caves Unesco Global Geopark is located in the limestone uplands of Co. Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, and Co. Cavan in the Republic of Ireland. The hydrogeology (or the way that the water flows through the rocks) of Cuilcagh Mountain, the iconic mountain that straddles the border,  has been studied for a number of years. A great deal of the research was specifically for the Geopark as it was important to understand the flow of water into the Marble Arch Caves from a public safety perspective. However, the research in this area is by no means complete and an application has just been made for funding to compile a karst database, with particular focus on the area on the Marble Arch Caves Unesco Global Geopark in a bid to fully understand the complex landforms and their distribution in the area.

Many of the Unesco Global Geoparks have been mapped and surveyed by the British Geological Survey and are areas of what are known as ‘classic geology’. The Highlands of Scotland have been the focus of research for over 100s of years and now the North West Highlands Unesco Global Geopark is part of that area. Over the last decade, the British Geological Survey has been revising the geological map of the area and has constructed a series of cross-sections that show the geological structure below the surface (click here to download). This extensive range of data is invaluable as it is used for providing information and advice to underpin a range of major infrastructure developments but is also a vital educational tool and helps in the understanding of this complex region. The island of Anglesey is now home to GeoMôn Unesco Global Geopark that has a complex series of landforms and sediments that formed during the last ice age. This distinctive ‘footprint’ is seen as gently rolling landforms and glacial sediments and these have been displayed and interpreted in the interactive Anglesey i-Map. These fantastic landscapes that have been mapped and survey over many decades have now been transformed into a valuable resource for school students, teachers, undergraduates and academic researchers.
Communicating geoscience in Geopark Shetland

Communication is an integral part of this research and Geopark Shetland have taken the role of Unesco Global Geoparks as geoscience communicators one step further. They been involved with organising ‘The Geological Fabric of Scotland’ supported by the University of Aberdeen’s Public Engagement Enabling Fund and the Scottish Government. The aim of this was to share and discuss geological research in Geopark Shetland, allowing geological researchers to communicate their results to the general public at a suitable level, and also to help alleviate the problem of miscommunication of scientific information.

The UK's seven Unesco Global Geoparks are a valuable chink in the armour of geoscience communication. They play a significant role in raising awareness of topical issues, and due to the strong infrastructure, expert local knowledge and associations with research institutions many of them have a key role to play in furthering out understanding of these internationally important sites.

For more information on the UK Unesco Global Geoparks, then click here.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Going South Part 1: How to get to the Falkland Islands...by PhD student Rowan Dejardin

My PhD project (jointly funded by BGS and the University of Nottingham and within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry) is focussed on trying to reconstruct changes in ocean conditions through the last 15000 years around the Subantarctic island of South Georgia. The marine sediment cores that I’m working on were collected in 2012 by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) ship, the RRS James Clark Ross (JCR), that sails south every year to conduct a range of science projects in addition to providing logistical support to British Antarctic bases. Earlier this year I successfully applied for funding from the Collaborative Gearing Scheme to join a BAS scientific cruise sailing from the Falkland Islands in November, so that I could collect sediment samples that will allow me to calibrate the proxies I am using to reconstruct past conditions.

RRS James Clark Ross
The first challenge of this adventure is getting from the UK to the Falklands Islands! The simple way to get there is with the MOD operated flight via Ascension that takes around 20 hours. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks before we were due to fly, we found out that there wasn’t room on the MOD flight and we’d be flying with commercial carrier LANChile on a slightly more circuitous route that takes around 50 hours! In spite of the excessive length of this route it did provide to opportunity for a flying visit to Santiago, Chile, where we spent the night awaiting our connecting flight to the Falklands. As this followed the best part of 24 hours travelling from the UK, via a brief stopover in Sao Paulo, Brazil and absent bags in Santiago, we were all a bit dazed but managed to drag ourselves into the city for gigantic steaks and Pisco sours, the local specialities! Somebody had evidently informed the tectonic plates of the time of our early morning flight as we were woken by an earthquake just in time to grab some breakfast before heading off again. The ‘quake was small by local standards but pretty exciting for us tourists!

The spectacular views allowed by following the Andes south
from Santiago to Punta Arenas
Another advantage of this longer route was the spectacular views afforded by following the Andes south from Santiago to Punta Arenas (where we briefly landed to go through Chilean customs), before crossing the mountain range on our final leg of the journey to the Falklands. We finally arrived at Mount Pleasant airport two days after we set off and were driven through stunning Falklands’ scenery, full of jagged stone ridges and rivers of rock, to the port of Stanley, where the JCR was waiting for us!

The next couple of days were spent setting up scientific kit and making sure everything was securely lashed to the deck before set off to cross the unpredictable Drake Passage. In between this work we were lucky enough to get some free time to walk out to some of the islands’ beautiful white sand beaches were we saw a Gentoo penguin colony, a young elephant seal, a lonely king penguin, and tiny Commerson’s dolphins playing in the surf!! We’ve tested some of the new equipment (and I saw my first ever live foraminifera!) and we should be heading out to our first destination, Signy in the South Orkneys, in the next 24 hours or so. We’re all keen to start doing some science as soon as possible and I will endeavour to provide more updates on the progress of the cruise!
The wildlife on the Falklands 
Rowan is supervised at the BGS by Melanie Leng, at Nottingham by Sev Kender and George Swann, and at BAS by Vicky Peck and Claire Allen.


Thursday, 5 November 2015

A PhD on understanding the properties of shale rocks and their ability to hold gases…by Patrick Whitelaw

Hello, my name is Patrick and I have just started my PhD within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry, between BGS and the University of Nottingham Faculty of Engineering.  My research focuses on understanding the properties of shale rocks and their ability to hold gases specifically methane. Due to the commercial success of the US shale gas industry the UK has become increasingly interested in trying to understand how much gas is generated and stored within our shale reservoirs.  I will be comparing shale rocks matured under high pressure water pyrolysis conditions in the laboratory to natural shale rocks matured under geological conditions to understand gas storage as a function of maturity over geological timescale.

The aims of my research involve determining the ability of shale rocks to hold gas within their pores using high pressure methane isotherms, to characterise these pores using BET surface area measurements, as well as using Rock Eval to determine the ability of the shales to generate hydrocarbons. Together these techniques will allow a better simulation of how deep subsurface shales generate and retain gas, and overall a better estimation of the UK shale gas reserves.

Currently as I have just started I am focusing on becoming familiar with both the equipment I will be using during my PhD, such as Surface Area and Porosity Analysers (for BET calculations) and HPVA (for high pressure methane isotherms)  and high pressure pyrolysis equipment, as well reading the literature related to the subject.

My supervisors for this project are Dr. Chris Vane (BGS), Dr. Clement Uguna (BGS/University of Nottingham) and Professor Colin Snape (University of Nottingham).


Monday, 2 November 2015

The start of my PhD research into iodine deficiency...by Olivier Humphrey

Hi, my name is Olivier and I have just started my PhD within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (University of Nottingham and the BGS). My research revolves around iodine geodynamics and plant uptake. This is an important and worthwhile research project because iodine deficiency affects around 2 billion people worldwide. Iodine deficiency diseases (IDD) have a range of effects including goitre, growth impairment and mental retardation. My work will help to inform practical strategies to tackle iodine deficiency, such as correct land management and biofortification of iodine into crops. Parent material contributes very little to iodine concentrations is soils. Soil-iodine is predominately derived from volatilized methylated forms in seawater, which enter the soil-plant system via rainfall and dry deposition. Whilst coastal-proximity is an important factor in iodine concentrations, many other soil characteristics contribute to its mobility and availability once deposited in soils.

The main aims of my PhD research are to: develop methods for identifying organically-bound species in soil solution, investigate whether plant uptake is active or passive and to improve the model assessing the dynamic relationship of iodine in soils.

So far…I am becoming familiar with relevant literature and developing laboratory skills that will be required throughout the course of my PhD. I have been conducting microwave TMAH iodine extractions on vegetation samples collected from Tanzania and plan to measure total iodine concentrations in these samples using ICP-MS.

In order to accomplish the aims of this research project, a comprehensive array of laboratory experiments are required: pot trials, using a wide range of English soils, will be spiked with iodide and iodate in a variety of inputs methods, including (i) progressive addition in irrigation and (ii) initial addition. Grass will also be grown and I-129 isotopic labelling techniques used to distinguish the dynamics processes controlling iodine mobility and plant uptake.

The results of these experiments will ultimately lead to a better understanding of iodine geodynamics and will be used to develop a variety of practices to help improve iodine concentrations in food therefore reducing the number of people suffering from IDD.

More blogs when I get some data!

Olivier's
PhD is supervised by Dr Scott Young, Dr Liz Bailey and Professor Neil Crout (University of Nottingham) and Dr Michael Watts and Dr Louise Ander (BGS)