Friday, 8 June 2018

From lab to Lake Victoria, Kenya: a student learning Kelsey Ferris

Kelsey standing on floating Tilapia cages on Lake Victoria, Kenya.
My name is Kelsey Ferris, a Biotechnology student from the University of Waikato, New Zealand. I am half way through my one-year placement with the British Geological Survey, working in the Inorganic Geochemistry Laboratories in Keyworth, Nottingham.

I have been supporting Dr Andy Marriott in his project - Aquaculture: Pathway to food security in Kenya, looking at the link between anthropogenic pollution in Lake Victoria and the geochemical content in caged and wild fish, sediments and lake water. We are investigating the impact this has on health and nutritional quality of aquaculture farmed fish, and the potential of aquaculture to strengthen food security and sustainability for the region. My main role as an analyst in this project is to test the total mercury content of sediments and wild and caged fish tissue, and the water quality parameters taken from key locations in the Winam Gulf of Lake Victoria.

Andy and I partnered with Dr Tracey Coffey from the School of Veterinary Science (University of Nottingham), Professor Odipo Osano from the School of Environmental Sciences (University of Eldoret) and key stakeholders in Kenya’s aquaculture industry, including an excellent research team from the Kenyan Marine Fisheries Research Institution (KMFRI) led by Dr Chris Aura and local aquaculture cage owners.

I was lucky enough to be a part of the fieldwork aspect of the project, and have recently returned from a 10 day trip to Kenya for sampling. We spent 3 days and nights on the largest tropical lake in the world, surrounded by locals in their traditional canoes and floating plant islands which are home to monitor lizards, birds and even hippos. Whilst on board the KMFRI research vessel R.V. Uvumbuzi, we conducted transects of Lake Victoria to be sampled for waters, sediments, and wild and caged Tilapia.

Visual examination of the waters highlighted possible causes of  pollution into the lake indicated by their colouration, which ranged from a vivid green (algal blooms) close to the city of Kisumu and also Siaya County (where intensive cage culture was observed), brown water rich in particulates throughout Winam Gulf, and clear water as we entered the main Lake Victoria basin. This trend was consistent with the strong H2S aroma from sediment samples, an early indication of possible eutrophic conditions due to human interactions. One of my tasks was collecting and filtering water for elemental analysis by ICP-MS and anions by Ion Chromatography in the Inorganic Geochemistry labs, so it was a relief to enter the clear waters so that my thumb could have a rest from the filtering.

From L-R: The RV Uvumbuzi crew, KMFRI researchers with Kelsey preparing to collect water and fish samples;
Assisting in the subsampling of caged Tilapia fish tissue.
As a placement student I have travelled all the way from the University of Waikato to work at The British Geological Survey, and have now had the chance to do fieldwork on Lake Victoria and at the University of Eldoret. The student programme that BGS offers is extremely beneficial because of the combination of routine analytical testing and hands-on fieldwork, which contributes to important real-world research projects. My placement has been very valuable to my studies, allowing me to apply my theoretical knowledge into a practical work environment, and strengthen my initiative and drive to contribute to the scientific community. From wearing a lab coat to a life jacket, you never know where a science degree may take you!

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Continental Drilling and a visit to Melanie Leng

The ICDP Executive Committee and Assembly of Governors in Guilin, China
In early summer each year the International Continental scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) committee meets to assess applications for drilling deep holes in the Earth. This year the meeting was held in Guilin, China. Here Melanie Leng explains a bit about ICDP, the UK’s geoscience ICDP community, and her trip to China as the UK’s representative on the ICDP Executive Committee…

The UK is a member of the ICDP and this enables consortiums of geoscientists from the UK (in collaboration with other member countries) to apply for funding to drill deep holes into the Earth through many kilometres of sediments and rocks in order to get cores of pristine material for scientific study. There are many reasons we want to take long cores through the Earth and like many applications we assessed in China, they often involve assessing natural hazards including volcanos and earthquakes, natural resources and understanding palaeoclimate. Both workshop proposals and full drilling proposals were assessed at the meeting in China and the outcomes will be published on the ICDP website in the coming weeks. The UK has a past history of successfully obtaining ICDP funding.

As part of the meeting (and a rest day after 3 days around a conference table) the ICDP committee also visited the Lijiang River (the Guilin state “AAAAA tourist attraction” and one of the most famous tourist regions in China). The Lijiang river travels hundreds of kilometres passing through a karst region around Guilin where the “jade ribbon winds through thousands of grotesque peaks”. The reported 2,600m of Devonian and Carboniferous limestones, that form the karst terrain within the Guilin Basin, gives the area its dramatic landscape which formed over the past 10-20 million years. The limestone towers have near vertical sides ranging from tens to hundreds of meters in height. The towers have evolved by slow and continuous tectonic uplift of the karst along with slow rates of erosion.
The spectacular karst and towers scenery along the Lijiang River, Guilin

Our visit along the Lijiang River by boat was quite spectacular. The tourist cruiser (twisting and turning along the river amongst the beautiful scenery) was very peaceful despite the hundreds of boats and tourists (this is one of China’s top tourist destinations)! It rained for most of the time we were on the river although that did not detract from the wondrous landscape.

Many thanks to our gracious Chinese hosts lead by Dr He Qingcheng of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences for hosting the ICDP committees this year...

Back to ICDP, the UK has key personnel within the program. Lizzie Garratt (NERC) currently sits on the assembly of Governors, I sit on the Executive Committee and Dr Kathryn Goodenough (BGS) is the Chair of the Science Advisory Group. Please feel free to contact us about ICDP activities. The next deadline for ICDP drilling and workshop proposals is January 2019. You can also keep up to date with ICDP-UK through our website.

For more information, please contact Melanie Leng

Friday, 1 June 2018

Unseen video footage: The Holbeck Hall landslide 25 years on... by Catherine Pennington

This weekend, it will be 25 years since the Holbeck Hall landslide and, while searching through our archives, we found some unseen video footage taken at the time from an aeroplane (drones hadn't been invented yet).  There is no sound and the images are a little hazy due to the weather, but you can get a good idea of the scale of this landslide and some of the damage it caused.

The Holbeck Hall landslide in brief

On the night of 3rd June 1993, a rotational landslide began in cliffs near Scarborough, Yorkshire, that destroyed part of the four star Holbeck Hall Hotel two days later.  Fortunately, the hotel was evacuated before anyone was hurt, despite the alleged reluctance of the guests to leave, even when there was "a gaping chasm 10 m from the hotel"[1].

It involved an estimated 1 million tonnes of glacial till that flowed across the beach forming a promontory 200 m wide, projecting 135 m from the foot of the cliff.  This famous landslide attracted the attention of the national and international press and has been used to demonstrate landslide processes and slope remediation to schools and university groups ever since.

More about the Holbeck Hall landslide

The Scarborough Coastline

The coast is a dynamic, ever-changing environment and landslides of this size will have been evolving these cliffs over the last five thousand years or so, when sea level roughly reached its present position.  In fact, numerous landslides have been recorded along this section of coast over the last few hundred years.  One such landslide (described as an earthquake at the time) took place in December 1737 where an acre of pasture with five cows grazing on it subsided.  The cows, apparently unperturbed, were rescued unharmed two days later[1].  You can find out more about landslides along this section of coast, and elsewhere in Great Britain, in our National Landslide Database.

During the development of Scarborough as a seaside resort, the Victorians regraded and landscaped large sections of cliff (including the landslides) to make public areas with gardens and promenades.  They also built large hotels and private dwellings in many cliff top areas.  Managing this legacy has been the job of Scarborough Borough Council who, along with the North East Coastal Observatory, monitor the cliffs and landslides.  They have been assessing and maintaining this coast for decades and much of their work is freely available on their websites, including a great source of data and reports.

Photograph Archive

Here are some more photos from the BGS archive...

The Holbeck Hall landslide 1993.  P707132. BGS Copyright NERC.
The Holbeck Hall landslide 1993.  P707132. BGS Copyright NERC.

The Holbeck Hall landslide.  P707131. BGS Copyright NERC
The Holbeck Hall landslide.  P707131. BGS Copyright NERC.

Holbeck Hall landslide.  Wreckage of the Hotel, Scarborough. P509016. BGS Copyright NERC.

Holbeck Hall Hotel landslide, Scarborough - Damage to hotel and gardens. Extensional features and rotated blocks. P509023. BGS Copyright NERC.
Holbeck Hall Hotel landslide, Scarborough - Damage to hotel and gardens. Extensional features and rotated blocks. P509023. BGS Copyright NERC.
Holbeck Hall Hotel landslide - damage to the hotel. BGS copyright NERC.
Holbeck Hall Hotel landslide - damage to the hotel. P509025. BGS copyright NERC.

Holbeck Hall Hotel landslide - damage to the hotel. BGS copyright NERC.
Holbeck Hall Hotel landslide - damage to the hotel. P509027. BGS copyright NERC.

Holbeck Hall Hotel landslide - damage to the hotel. BGS copyright NERC.
Holbeck Hall Hotel landslide - damage to the hotel. P509028. BGS copyright NERC.

The damaged Holbeck Hall Hotel after the landslide. P509209.  BGS copyright NERC.
The damaged Holbeck Hall Hotel after the landslide. P509209.  BGS copyright NERC.

The damaged Holbeck Hall Hotel and landslide. P509030.  BGS copyright NERC
The damaged Holbeck Hall Hotel and landslide. P509030.  BGS copyright NERC.
The damaged Holbeck Hall Hotel and landslide 1993.  P509049.  BGS copyright NERC.
The damaged Holbeck Hall Hotel and landslide 1993.  P509049.  BGS copyright NERC.

More photos and information

The full Holbeck Hall photograph archive

For more information, contact

[1] Clements, M. (1994). "The Scarborough experience - Holbeck landslide, 3/4 June 1993." Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Municipal Engineer 103(June): 63-70.