Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Aquaculture: Pathway to food security in Kenya: Continuing the Andy Marriott

Aquaculture cage fish Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus)
collected from a local cage farm.
Well it’s been a fun ride and we have now finally come full circle for the Aquaculture project in Kenya. As I mentioned way back in May 2018 a small group from the Inorganic Geochemistry team (IG) at British Geological Survey (BGS) in collaboration with The School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Eldoret (UoE), The School of Veterinary Medicine and Science (UoN), and the experienced research team at the Kenyan Marine Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) based in Kisumu, Kenya were successful in winning funding from the Newton-Utafiti International Links programme with the British Council. The project investigated problems of “food insecurity” in the Kenyan portion of Lake Victoria (only 6%) and the implications of both anthropogenic pollution and land run-off from changes in land use (soil erosion) and their impact on the health and nutritional quality of aquaculture farmed fish for “food safety” as proxies for pollution.

The idea of exploring how micronutrients contributed to Aquaculture fish, their nutritional quality and the associated problems of pollution pathways and food security were challenging, working in the second largest Lake in the world. Sampling locations were difficult to navigate due to thick matts of water hyacinth (Fig 1) and collecting waters, sediment grabs and cores in 2 metre swells in the Lake would have tested the most hardened of sailors.

Nonetheless, water, sediment samples and most importantly wild and caged fish samples were collected from the May, November and January sampling trips for the project. Samples were prepared in Kenya ready for shipping to and analysis at BGS to identify sources of potential circulation of pollutants from the north to southern locations of Kenya’s borders.

Clockwise from top left: Invasive water hyacinth causes problems with navigation for the local fishermen and communities
 around the Lake; Van Veen sediment grab with collected sediment from the bottom of the lake which will be analysed for
 trace element concentrations; Aquaculture cages (20 x 20m) housing 10,000+ Nile Tilapia.
Initial findings of the Aquaculture project were disseminated at a stakeholder’s workshop including NGOs and local aquaculture cage owners and fisheries managers. The workshop was held on the 25th January at KMFRI headquarters with an introduction from our hosts KMFRI about the Lake and it’s management, followed by talks given from the Aquaculture project leaders Dr Andy Marriott (BGS, PI) and Prof Odipo Osano (Eldoret, Co-PI) and a  talk given from Safina Musa a member of the KMFRI research team.

A breakout was then organised with those attending split into four groups to discuss the findings of the project and to highlight their concerns for the fisheries, aquaculture farming and the state of the Lake. The groups having elected their spokesperson would then put their questions to the project team leaders. Questions from the aquaculture aspect and what possible impact cage culture would have on the local fishermen and water quality were predominant with problems of environmental issues pertaining to the overwhelming issue of water hyacinth were also a major concern.

From L-R: Dr Chrisphine Nyamweya (KMFRI) opening the proceedings at the Aquaculture Workshop at KMFRI
 headquarters; Safina Musa discussing the state of aquaculture in Kenya from the KMFRI research team.
Dr Marriott explained that “wild fisheries and aquaculture coexisted in a relationship and not one of competition” with “one helping to sustain the other” e.g. preventing possible future fish stocks collapsing. Additional to this, was the importance of fish not only as a protein source but for their essential micronutrients which could be one of a number of potential routes to food security in the Kenyan diets. However, fish alone are not the only answer to the provision of essential micronutrients, they also need to be supplemented with a diversified diet e.g. kale, sukuma wiki (collard greens), pumpkin leaves, to boost these as part of the recommended daily intake (RDI).

Moving on from the fisheries discussions, water quality and information on pollution and their pathways were addressed with Prof Osano indicating the “problem was more widely dispersed than just localised input”, with areas covering the drainage basins in Kenya and their effect on the Lake again highlighted from his presentation.

Gaps in the knowledge base needed to be addressed, with both the input contributions “point source” and their impact “end point” effects will need to be monitored if we are to implement measures to control, reduce or more importantly understand these environmental impacts. Collaborative projects between UoE and BGS (Geo-chem & Health, Kenya Rift Valley, IG in Kenya Part II) are continuing to assess the issues of environmental impacts from anthropogenic activities and their connection with health. Further funding for PhDs and MScs hopefully will contribute further to the research.

Finally, an address was made by Lilian Wanjohi (British Council, Kenya) and Caroline Nyanoti (British High Commission, Nairobi) part of the Newton-Utafiti International Links funding body, in congratulating all involved in the Aquaculture project and the achievement of the findings, which highlighted the need to continue to monitor and manage the Lake and to address the concerns of all who use and live in and around its waters.

Dr Marriott concluded that future funding had been successful (Nottingham-GCRF seed funds) which would continue our work from the Newton-Utafiti project through to summer 2019. A further bid is in place (BBSRC-GCRF), which if successful would mean continued work to 2021 on the Lake studying problems of pollution in Aquaculture and wild fish e.g. Food Safety, Human and Ecological Health, through water quality assessments studying associated sedimentation rates in water from soil erosion and changes in land-use.

I would like to thank the Newton-Utafiti International Links programme and the British Council for funding the project and allowing us to do this research. I would also like to thank the BGS-ODA programme and Center for Environmental Geochemistry for their continued financial and technical support. I would also like to thank all of the participants from the County Government of Kisumu, Lake Victoria Environmental Management Program, National Environment Management Authority, Lake Basin Development Authority, Kenya Maritime Authority, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology and researchers from KMFRI who took time to attend the workshop and give us invaluable feedback on the Lake.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Full steam ahead with the sampling on the RRS James Clark Ross: ORCHESTRA Part 3…by Carol Arrowsmith

Carol sampling at the CTD on the
RRS James Clark Ross currently
 out in the Weddell Sea
Carol is half way through a research cruise across the Weddell Sea as part of ORCHESTRA, see her previous blogs Investigating the Southern Ocean: Part 1 and From Chile to the Falklands and beyond: ORCHESTRA Part 2 

We are now cruising along the 60oS latitude, having crossed the Drake Passage, passing Elephant Island (off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula), between Coronation and Laurie Island and are now out in the Weddell Sea at approximately 23oW. This leg of the ORCHESTRA hydrographic/tracer section covers the northern rim of the Weddell Gyre and is called ANDREXII (Antarctic Deep Water Rates of Export). This leg was previously sampled 10 years ago so we are interested to see the difference global warming has made to the ocean.

We are roughly half way into our sampling of sea water for temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, dissolved inorganic carbon, total alkalinity, inorganic nutrients as well as taking meteorological and surface ocean observations. The sample collections and data measurements are being undertaken by various teams of scientists from NOC, BAS and PML, as well as me from the BGS. My samples, for the determination of oxygen and carbon isotope ratios (to tell us about heat and carbon source), will be analysed when they arrive back at the stable isotope laboratory of the BGS head office in Nottingham later this year. We are collecting samples from various depths from 100 “stations” (stopping points on the cruise), we have collected 67 stations and collected 1200 samples so far (and its quite hard work!)…

Some of the women on board the JCR with me celebrating
International Women’s Day 2019 in the snow and hail!
The sea water samples collected from various depths in the ocean are taken using an instrument called a CTD. A CTD is a device used to measure the Conductivity (used to determine salinity), Temperature, and pressure of seawater (the D stands for "depth," which is closely related to pressure) of the ocean but also collects discrete water samples. The water samples are taken using 24 “niskin” bottles arranged around in a circular rosette. The CTD is lowered into the water with the niskin bottles opened at both ends until it reaches the maximum bottom depth. Using a weighted trigger that is sent down a cable the bottles can be closed remotely. The 24 niskins are closed at different depths as the CTD is brought back to the surface. So niskin 1 contains the deepest water sample and 24 the surface sample. Getting water samples from different depths in the ocean is important to understand how the water chemistry and physical properties changes with depth. We expect to see more anthropogenic impact in the upper few hundreds of meters of the ocean.

See my previous blogs 1 and 2:
Investigating the Southern Ocean: Part 1
From Chile to the Falklands and beyond: ORCHESTRA Part 2

ORCHESTRA is in the second year of a five year collection programme around the World’s oceans. I will be collecting samples from the RRS James Clark Ross. I will be tweeting @CarolArrowsmith and @ORCHESTRAPROJ and Facebooking (Orchestra project) along the way, as well as updating the BGS Geoblogy. Carol Arrowsmith is a chief technician in the stable isotope facility at the BGS.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Tropical palaeoclimate meeting as temperatures break records in the UK…by Heather Moorhouse

The DeepCHALLA group meeting in February 2019
In 2018, the UK NERC-funded collaborators of the International Continental scientific Drilling Program - DeepCHALLA project met in Cambridge amidst a Siberian blast, known as the “Beast from the East”, as temperatures plummeted and ice and snow disrupted UK travel. In 2019 however, the scientists met in tropical Lancaster, during maximum temperature records for the month of February. It is predicted that weather events will be increasingly unpredictable, variable and extreme, and the temperature differences between our two meetings merely serves to highlight the future under climate change.
This is why projects such as DeepCHALLA are important. If we can improve our understanding of what drives long-term climatic variability, we can then improve our predictions about what might happen in the future. Such predictions can help communities improve resilience to climate change. DeepCHALLA is a collaboration of scientists looking into ~250,000 years of climate and environmental change in equatorial east Africa. Much of our knowledge about global climate systems come from the poles so this is a fundamental research gap in which to explore.

The DeepCHALLA group meeting in February 2018
The meeting this February in Lancaster consisted of NERC-funded UK scientists from BGS, Cambridge University, Lancaster University, SUERC and Queens University, Belfast; alongside collaborators from Belgium and Israel. We have been looking into a variety of proxies from a lake sediment core taken  from Lake Challa, a deep volcanic crater lake on the Kenyan-Tanzanian border. There have been some exciting reconstructions of the past environment using the volcanic ash, radioactive isotopes, palaeomagnetic signals, and chemical markers from phytoplankton remains found within the sediments.

My role at Lancaster has involved working with the BGS group, to prepare samples from the organic matter and the phytoplankton remains found within the sediment. In other words, we have been looking at the chemical markers stored within these proxies that provide a unique snapshot of the environment at certain times in the lakes history. Specifically, we have been using these proxies to help understand changes in lake carbon cycling using the carbon isotopes and ratios of precipitation versus evaporation of the lake using the oxygen isotopes. We are particularly interested in the period known as the African “mega-droughts”, unprecedented periods of drought that lasted millennia and were believed to have occurred around 130-90 thousand years before present. Nearly (but not quite all…) of the laboratory analyses are complete and so, the next steps will involve bringing together all the proxies across the entire project, in order to provide a robust chronology of the “mega-droughts” and other events, and determine how the landscape and lake has evolved over time and how the climate may have helped shape this.

Heather is a post doctoral research assistant on the NERC funded grant (between Lancaster, BGS, Cambridge, Belfast, SUERC) based at Lancaster University.

Follow us on twitter @ICDP_DeepCHALLA and Facebook DeepCHALLA

Friday, 8 March 2019

Eloise: BGS Apprentice and Woman of the World!

As it's both National Apprenticeship Week and International Women's Day it would be remiss of us not to hear from another of our wonderful female apprentices. Today Eloise takes over the blog to tell us a little more about her experience at the BGS:

Hi, my name is Eloise, I am an apprentice at BGS and I am going to tell you about my experience so far!
When I finished school at 17 I really didn’t want to go to university; the idea of being in thousands of pounds worth of debt for a degree really didn’t appeal to me, not to mention the fact that I had no idea what career path I wanted to go down. I began as an apprentice in a leisure centre and became a qualified lifeguard / swimming teacher and gym instructor but soon realised that I wanted to expand my learning beyond the limits of a pool.

I started with the BGS in January 2018 after finding a Level 2 Business administration apprenticeship being advertised on the BGS website. Since then I have completed the Level 2 qualification and have been taken on again for another 18 months to complete Level 3.
I learnt more in one year about the working environment through on-the-job training than school ever taught me. 

My first twelve months at BGS went like a flash and it doesn’t seem like 5 minutes since my first day!  The amount of apprentices on site has grown considerably since I joined, and we now have people of all ages, from school leavers to full time staff wanting to learn a new skill. 

Currently my time is split between two teams; Corporate Communications and Business Development. This split has been fantastic for me, as it allowed me to experience the work that the two teams do and find out what I do best. I have a love for meeting and talking to new people, getting involved with projects and I have been really lucky to get involved in some really interesting events, such as the BGS family fun day at our Keyworth office. I love that the public gets to see so many things that they may not realise the BGS does!

At last year’s family fun day I was able to talk to members of the public about all the amazing things I had learnt so far in my apprenticeship and help out with activities for young children. I also helped with the set up and running of the event on the day and collecting feedback from visitors.  
As you can see from the photos, I had a lot of fun… captioned by my colleague Mike Ackroyd ‘Come to BGS and see the world’…. or be the world if you get overexcited like me!

This year’s open day is coming up soon so keep an eye out if you come along… I may or may not be trying out the Dino costume again.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

National Apprentice Week 2019

The British Geological Survey is passionate about developing minds and introducing people to science, whether it’s schoolchildren visiting our main Keyworth site – more on that next week – or offering apprenticeships within one of our many research, business development or communications teams. 

The BGSs apprenticeship programme welcomes both school leavers and those wanting a career change the opportunity to learn new skills and develop in both a professional and personal context within the British Geological Survey. As an organisation, we realise that not only do apprenticeships benefit those appointed, but that we as an employer and the wider economy as a whole are enriched by employing a new workforce with a thirst for learning.  

To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, we invited a few of our current apprentices to tell us a little bit about their role within the BGS, and how they’ve found the process:


My apprenticeship at the BGS is within the professional development team for Groundhog Desktop. My first six months alone have been such a steep learning curve, not only through moving from education to the world of work but also in developing new skills. Communication, independence, presentation skills and delivering training are just some of the areas within which the team at BGS have helped me to progress. With the creation of a 3D viewer to sixth form/school outreach providing the next generation of potential apprentices with the information they need on the opportunities out there, this apprenticeship and the team is allowing people to access some amazing opportunities to improve themselves.


I’m a Database Engineer and analyst at the BGS. I’ve only been here for about five weeks, however I settled in straight away and have learnt so much already. So far, I have been working with a team of experienced database developers to design a laboratory information management system. This has not just progressed my problem solving and IT skills but, more importantly, my communication skills and ability to work professionally and effectively in a team. I am very excited for all the opportunities I will face in the future to work a variety of different projects in the many different scientific fields that BGS takes part in.


I have been an apprentice at the BGS for six months now, working in informatics for data science for a business administration course. Although the transition from school to work has been entirely new to me, BGS helped fit me to a role that suits me best, as well as pushing me to become a better-rounded person. Offering different courses and activities, such as football, within the workplace has also been enjoyable and has helped me develop outside of an office setting. BGS has helped me understand the core qualities needed and desired within a workplace and has helped me to work on the skills I need, which has led to me being more confident within myself. BGS has made me feel welcome and useful within the company, taking care of me now and also looking toward my future career.


I work in the data ingestion team within the BGS. My apprenticeship course is a Business Administration Level 2 Qualification. I’ve been at the BGS just over six months now, and in that time I have already learnt so many new skills and come across new challenges. Working in a team that has enabled me to recognise and develop skills has been brilliant and has helped me to progress as a person, as well as in a work context. This apprenticeship has given me some fantastic opportunities and I look forward to the future.


Since starting my apprenticeship here at the BGS I’ve had all sorts of responsibilities in my role as a Digital Marketer. I’ve taken part in events, designed logos and infographics and produced newsletters which are sent out to thousands of people, helping to improve our product exposure. I’ve learnt so much from working here and from the wide variety of projects I have worked on. It’s helped me understand what my interests are and where I want to go next.


I recently completed an apprenticeship in Business Admin in the library at the British Geological Survey. The BGS offered me a path whereby I could learn the skills required to work in libraries ‘on-the-job’, gaining relevant and practical experience, without having to return to university and pursue a specialised (and expensive!) Library Science post-grad. The past one-and-a-bit years have been an extremely valuable experience as I have developed my skill set and learnt new things, especially with regards to communication, organisation & data handling. With libraries becoming increasingly digital, and the changes happening in how we publish (open-access etc.), it is a very interesting time to be working in a research library. I look forward to the rest of my time here and taking advantage of all of the opportunities that BGS has to offer.


I’m currently working at the BGS within the Groundhog Desktop development team as an Apprentice Software Developer. I have been working here for just over seven months and in that time I have learnt so much, not just in programming but also developing business skills. I have done lots of tasks whilst here, ranging from working on the Groundhog application to visiting a university to help train students in using the software. My experience at BGS has been invaluable in helping me progress as a person, and with the amazing opportunities that I’ve been offered so far, I can look forward to my future career.

The British Geological Survey’s apprenticeship scheme offers paid work for approximately one year and can lead, in some cases, to securing a permanent role within the company. Please keep your eye on our jobs page for details on upcoming schemes. 

#NationalApprenticeshipWeek #NationalApprenticeshipWeek2019 #NAW2019 #BGS #BritishGeologicalSurvey #GroundhogDesktop #Internships

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Capacity strengthening in field collections and laboratories for geochemical sampling and public health in Western David Samoie, Odipo Osano & Diana Menya

In late 2018 BGS was awarded funds from NERC via the GCRF funding initiative to supplement on-going activities in developing countries supported by the BGS-ODA programme, with one of the objectives to enhance activities at a local level.  Here David Samoie from the University of Eldoret describes a field collection initiative which he led and organized with this funding support.

This was to be the 5th field sample collection for a joint project between the University of Eldoret (UoE), Moi University (MU) and British Geological Survey (BGS) in collaboration with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC-WHO). The project seeks to explore a potential link between soil geochemistry and the spatial incidence of esophageal cancer and other human/animal health issues in the Great Rift Valley corridor in western Kenya – see previous blog.

Preparation and Training

For the previous 4 sampling trips, members of the BGS team led 3 separate field teams with two or three field assistants (academic leads from UE and Moi, technician and post graduate students) to help out in the field and in most Counties a Public Health Officer. Through the activity, training was provided in sampling and initial sample processing procedures for soil, drinking water, crops and urine from rural households, alongside data capture for each site onto fieldsheets.  Gradually each Kenyan member took on more responsibility with emphasis on quality assurance. Training included:
  • Detailed planning before and after sampling for sample locations and logistics.
  • Accurate record keeping in the field and cross-checking of samples with field lists.
  • Use of photography as backup of record in the field – daily back-up of field sheets.
  • Avoiding sample contamination and ensuring sample preservation.

Good isn’t always expensive! The sampling team was trained on the Use of Maps.Me. A free mobile Smartphone software application. This application is a very powerful tool in pre-sampling site planning, route guidance and recording of the geographic coordinates and altitude of actual sampling site.  Sampling an area of 3835 km2 with an even spatial spread would not have been possible without the support of the software and training. The sampling sites for our first independent field collection using the NERC-GCRF funds were predetermined using soil type/pH maps and locations for previous collections. Thirty selected sampling points were pre-assigned onto the mobile app.  ( and used to navigate from one site to another, making sure to get as close as practically possible to these predetermined GPS sites.



Armed with smartphones, app. and other sampling gear the Kenyan team managed to collect 302 samples of Soil, Water, Urine and Plants, from 30 households in Bungoma and Busia counties in Western Kenya. Field data capture sheets were completed, along with water chemical parameters measured at each household.  Soil samples were sieved to 2 mm when found dry and plant samples were washed to remove surface contamination.
At the end of each day, samples were checked against field sheets, water and urine samples stored in cool boxes and plant/soil samples aired where possible. On completion, all samples were taken to the UoE lab for further processing before shipping to UK. The processing involved air drying of leafy vegetables in a glass house (circa 30oC); peeling and freeze drying of fruits and root vegetable; pulverizing grains by use of coffee grinders taking care to avoid cross contamination; and oven drying of soils. The soil samples were packed in zip lock bags, the leafy vegetables in paperbags and the rest of the samples were packed in vacuum sealed plastic bags.

All samples were cross checked again to prepare sample lists for export permission by the Kenyan Authorities (KEPHIS).
Waters and urines were refrigerated, soil samples were oven dried at 30oC and then split spilt to provide a reference sample to create an archive at UoE for future student projects and a portion to be sent to BGS for analyses.

Our experience - Challenges and Mitigations

  • Impassable roads. Because the sampling points were randomly and evenly spread on the map, sometimes it was hard to reach the actual locations.  The routes suggested by the software app. were sometimes practically impassable and minimal adjustments were to locations were made when required. Certainly 4x4 vehicles is recommended at all time during sampling.
  • Informed consent and honor of African Culture and taboos were adhered to. We strived to win confidence of household members and in many occasions the enthusiastically participated in sample collection at the field and provided required information.
  • At the time of sampling in January, it was dry season and the roads were more easily passable, but very dusty. Travelling for about 200 km everyday for 5-6 days on unpaved and dusty roads was testing. The area of sampling also required more precautions for mosquitoes.

Benefits of sampling and laboratory experience to UoE

This sampling exercise has greatly benefited UoE lab staff and students to put into practice the training received from BGS for field collections and instigation of quality assurance procedures from collection to lab data output. Via this training in Kenya and through training secondments to BGS funded by Professional Fellowships (CSCUK-ACU) for David Samoei (May-2017) and Doreen Meso (May-2019), the UoE laboratory capacity has been greatly enhanced by this interchange of experience.

The lab has also benefitted greatly with equipment procured for sampling. These include Freeze driers, coffee grinder, balances, sieves, and other expendable laboratory supplies, soon to be joined by equipment to improve capacity in preparing samples for chemical analyses via BGS and a network of jointly funded grants’ applications.

Our future prospects is to undertake more processing of sample collections at UoE, such as basic and fundamental tests like pH, LOIs and chemical extractions to a greater quality of output with guidance from high end facility labs such as at BGS and other partners in the network. This will greatly reduce the workload in BGS in relation to processing samples from Africa, through building confidence in local capability. These will necessitate further training and exchange of skills to be able to develop data outputs to international standards comparable for publication and to be able to offer paid analytical services within Kenya to provide sustainable and more regular sources of income using our peers as a benchmark.

This collaboration so far has opened opportunities for individuals in our labs, as well as a widening network to bid for joint proposals for a broadening range of research projects in the theme of environmental geochemistry and health. Continuing collaboration with BGS will help to develop the network of funded projects and to build local capability through practical experience and supplementation of equipment where possible.                      


We acknowledge the funding from the NERC-GCRF funds, via the BGS-ODA programme for this sampling trip and previous support over the last few years. Technical support from the BGS Team (Dr Michael Watts, Dr. Andy Marriot, Dr. Dan Middleton, Humphrey Olivier) especially the ever present remote assistance, constructive criticism and reminders from Dr. Michael on Whatsapp platform; the  sampling team (David Samoei, Doreen Meso, Job Isaboke, Esilaba Anabwani, Melvive Anyango, Amimo Anabwani, for exacting themselves during whole sampling period; Prof Odipo and Dr. Diana Menya for effective local coordination, pre-visits to the local Health facilities: Public health Officers, Community Health Workers and Community Heath Volunteers of Bungoma and Busia Sub county Hospitals for effective community entry; and the Management of University of Eldoret and Moi University for its support during the whole process.

Monday, 4 March 2019

From Chile to the Falklands and beyond: ORCHESTRA Part Carol Arrowsmith

A Magellanic penguin
Carol Arrowsmith is currently part taking in an expedition to the Southern Ocean as part of ORCHESTRA (Ocean Regulation of Climate by Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transports), a NERC funded programme with partners at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) (lead), the National Oceanography Centre, (NOC) Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and many more including BGS.  

I left the UK last Saturday and flew to Punta Arenas in Chile. There we waited (with various, BAS, NOC and university colleagues) to board the RRS James Clark Ross; a few days later we departed for the Falkland Islands. On board our first task was to lash down all the equipment in the ship’s laboratories needed for our sampling and familiarise ourselves with the layout of the ship. We have been accompanied for most of the journey so far by a variety of birds and mammals, including magnificent black-browed albatross, that mostly just sit in the water surrounding the ship waiting for food (to upwell from beneath the ship).

Carol in front of the RRS James Clark Ross in Stanley
After three days sailing we docked at Stanley, Falkland Islands. We were unexpectedly granted 3 hours shore leave so some of us disembarked (even after 3 days of an 8 week cruise it was great to be on land!)…The Falklands bright and breezy as its late summer here.  We walked to nearby Gypsy Cove, the most accessible wildlife site from the capital city. It is part of the Cape Pembroke peninsula which is a National Nature Reserve. The small bay with its white sandy beach is sheltered from prevailing winds and is home to good numbers of Magellanic penguins who breed here, nesting underground in burrows.

Heading back to the ship, we were caught in a hailstorm and there was even some snow, all to be expected in a day in the Falklands!

In Stanley we dropped off some crew and picked up a mass spectrometer and fresh supplies. We are now heading  for the Drake Passage and to the Antarctic Peninsula, some of the roughest oceans in the world! We expect to start sampling soon after…

ORCHESTRA is in the second year of a five year collection programme around the World’s oceans. I will be collecting samples from the RRS James Clark Ross. I will be tweeting @CarolArrowsmith and @ORCHESTRAPROJ and Facebooking (Orchestra project) along the way, as well as updating the BGS Geoblogy. Carol Arrowsmith is a chief technician in the stable isotope facility at the BGS. 

Friday, 1 March 2019

Increasing data exploration through a single licence

Unlocking the value in geospatial data

Geographically referenced data or ‘geospatial’ data has become an increasingly important part of our day to day lives. On a personal level it’s been helping us plan routes, holidays, where to live and shop. Behind the scenes, it’s helping power online retailers, set insurance prices, and prioritise where roads, schools and homes are built. Britain has some of the best geospatial data in the world, and whether we realise it or not, it is changing the way we see the world and the way we live our lives.
In 2018, the UK Government set up the Geospatial Commission as an impartial expert committee within the Cabinet Office, to drive the move to use public and private sector geospatial data more productively. Research estimates that this could contribute up to £11 billion of extra value for the economy every year. The British Geological Survey (BGS), along with HM Land Registry, the Ordnance Survey, the Valuation Office Agency, the UK Hydrographic Office and the Coal Authority have been identified as Partner Bodies of the Commission as we hold the UK’s most valuable location data. As partner bodies we are working with the Commission to make the most of the opportunities presented by geospatial data. Before we can do that our first challenge is to remove some of the barriers or blockers that restrict access to data.

Removing the licence barrier

One of these barriers identified by the Geospatial Commission was licensing. Anyone who has tried to access any form of protected data will appreciate that conditions placed on data can severely hamper access. Getting past the legal terms and conditions can cause real headaches.
Licensing of data is an important function for many organisations including BGS. It helps to protect our intellectual property, explains the limits of liability and ensures it can be re-used in a way that allows us to generate income which supports the ongoing maintenance of the underlying data. We can’t simply remove terms and conditions nor switch to an ‘open’ licence. We can, however, make the terms under which we supply data easier to understand and consistent with the other Partner Bodies.

Harmonised terms for data exploration

Under a Geospatial Commission funded project, licensing experts from the partner bodies, have been working to create a single Data Exploration Licence to enable anyone to take data from our organisations under harmonised terms. The Data Exploration Licence will allow anyone to freely access data while they research and develop ideas and propositions. They can even display their results and create working prototypes before having to commit a commercial arrangement.
The partner bodies anticipate rolling out the Data Exploration Licence in April but we’re keen to start talking about it now. If you’re want to know more about this or the wider project to simplify licences please contact Gerry Wildman.
A geospatial data revolution requires a licensing revolution. We’re hoping this is the first step on a journey to more closely aligning licenses across the Geospatial Commission’s Partner Bodies.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Investigating the Southern Ocean: Part 1…by Carol Arrowsmith

Carol organising her equipment at BAS prior to departure
In a few days I will be embarking on my leg of the major NERC project called ORCHESTRA (Ocean Regulation of Climate through Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transport) to collect seawater samples for isotope analysis. My leg is called ANDREX II - Antarctic Deep Water Rates of Export (ANDREX), and is the second time this part of the ocean has been sampled. I will be boarding the RRS James Clark Ross in Punta Arenas and following a stop off in the Falklands will start sampling from the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula along the 60°S parallel and across the Southern Ocean to 30°E, before returning to the Falklands in mid April.

Why are we collecting seawater samples from the World’s oceans?

Since the industrial revolution, the global ocean has absorbed around 30% of anthropogenic (human-produced) CO2 emissions. In addition, 93% of the total extra heat in the Earth system since the onset of global warming has been absorbed by the global ocean. Improving climate prediction requires us to learn more about how the global ocean works, and how it interacts with the atmosphere to control the split of heat and carbon between them, especially given the extra heat and carbon we are currently producing.

The Southern Ocean is key

A key region in this context is the Southern Ocean, the vast sea that encircles Antarctica. The Southern Ocean occupies around 20% of the total ocean area, but absorbs about three-quarters of the heat that is taken into the ocean, and approximately half of the CO2. This is because of its unique pattern of ocean circulation: it is the main region where deep waters rise to the surface, allowing new water masses to form and sink back into the ocean interior. This exposure of “old” waters to the atmosphere, and the production of new waters at the surface, is fundamental to the exchanges of heat and carbon with the atmosphere.

The track of the ANDREXII cruise
Despite knowing the key role that the Southern Ocean plays in global climate, there are many important unknowns. These include how exactly heat and carbon are taken up by the oceans and how fast this occurs (especially important because of the Anthropocene period we are living in), and how much heat and carbon is currently stored in the oceans. These questions are being addressed using various chemical and physical measurements of the ocean, including the stable isotope composition of the seawater (which we are responsible for at the BGS). Oxygen isotopes will tell us about how much freshwater to seawater there is at particular locations (which will help us understand melting of the Antarctic ice mass and therefore heat) and carbon isotopes will tell us where the carbon is formed and how the ocean uses the carbon.  

The ANDREX leg in particular seeks to assess the role of the Weddell gyre in driving the southern closure of the meridional overturning circulation, in ventilating the deep global ocean, and in sequestering carbon and nutrients in the global ocean abyss.


ORCHESTRA is in the second year of a five year collection programme around the World’s oceans. I will be collecting samples from the RRS James Clark Ross. I will be tweeting @CarolArrowsmith and @ORCHESTRAPROJ and Facebooking (Orchestra project) along the way, as well as updating the BGS Geoblogy. Carol Arrowsmith is a chief technician in the stable isotope facility at the BGS. 

ORCHESTRA (Ocean Regulation of Climate by Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transports) is a programme funded by NERC and includes partners at the British Antarctic Survey (lead), the National Oceanography Centre, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and many more including BGS.

Monday, 18 February 2019

How to heat a city…and decarbonise it using heat pumps! David Boon and Gareth Farr

With only 11 years to go until the first UK emissions target deadline, the race is now on for the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 57% by 2030 of 1990 levels. BGS geoscientists, David Boon and Gareth Farr ask ‘How on earth will we do it?’.

Cartoon illustrating the concept of using shallow urban aquifers and
heat pumps in district heat networks.
Credits: City of Cardiff Council/BGS/WDS Green Energy Ltd
In our first blog titled 'How to Heat a City', we announced our intention to install a pilot open loop Groundwater Source Heat Pump (GWHP), as part of an InnovateUK funded feasibility study to better understand how UK shallow aquifers can supply low carbon heating in urban areas. The recently established Cardiff Urban Geo Observatory hosts the GWHP pilot, which is conveniently surrounded by a world class groundwater monitoring network with over 100 temperature sensors in 60 boreholes, providing high resolution baseline data. Groundwater in urban areas can be slightly warmer than rural areas, due to the ‘subsurface Urban Heat Island effect’, and this human footprint actually makes heat pumps run more efficiently.

The pilot GWHP scheme is a collaboration between WDS Green Energy, City of Cardiff Council and the British Geological Survey. The physical infrastructure comprises two shallow boreholes (~20 m deep) that abstract and simultaneously re-inject shallow groundwater from an ice-age sand and gravel aquifer which underlies much of the city.

The heat pump system works by passing groundwater through a heat exchanger where 2 Kelvin degrees of its thermal energy is transferred to a heat pump which uses a gas phase-change to raise the water temperature to a useable 46oC. The heat pump keeps the inside of the school at a comfortable 22oC using a renewable energy resource that has low carbon emissions and is cheaper to run than the old gas boilers. 

As part of the InnovateUK project we fully instrumented the heat pump system with sensors above and below ground to allow us to follow its long-term environmental impact and energy performance. The project proved this technology could be scaled-up across Cardiff and other UK cities with similar shallow aquifers, where the geology allows.

The GSHP pilot plant room and associated monitoring and data telemetry. (Credit: BGS-UKRI)
Shallow aquifers can be a super-efficient way to run a heat pump as the borehole pumps do not require much energy to lift the water compared with deeper schemes. The energy efficiency of our pilot GSHP system is around 450 %, over four times more efficient than a condensing gas boiler, and is actually saving the council money on its energy bills!  And what about that all important CO2 target? …well after 3 years' the pilot GWHP had reduced the cost of heating with a 35 % reduction in CO2 emissions from the school overall.

The project has also had impact on energy policy in Welsh Government and was featured as a case study in a recent National Assembly for Wales Low Carbon Heat Research Briefing. The Cardiff Urban Geo-Observatory, which includes the heat pump monitoring pilot, has also been selected along with the Glasgow UKGEOS site as a pilot area for a new 3-year EU GeoERA project called MUSE (Managing Urban Shallow Geothermal Energy), and as a European Plate Observing System (EPOS) site.

CO2 emissions reductions resulting from switching from a gas boiler to a
shallow groundwater source heat pump.
Data courtesy of Cardiff City Council.
We will continue to monitor the environmental impact of the scheme on the aquifer source, and the BGS Geothermal Team is keen to support other UK cities in their journey to explore their range of geothermal resources. The project has also attracted lots of interest from industry keeping the project’s Principal Investigator, David Boon, busy giving presentations to stakeholders such as the IEA Heat Pump Technologies Annex 52 meeting in London in September 2018, seminars for Construction Excellence Wales and APSE Energy. The research findings will feature in a new CIBSE Code Of Practice (CP3) and in peer-reviewed papers.

Although open-loop ground source heat exchangers are not suitable in all geological environments, we have been working to understand the wider 3D geological and hydrogeological settings at a city-scale, with the release of a 3D superficial geology model of Cardiff. This evidence will allow better ‘above’ and ‘below-ground’ planning and regulation, and will (we hope) stimulate market growth in renewable energy systems and supply chains.  More demonstration projects like this are needed to improve the image and public perception of renewables. Local authorities can invest in renewable energy such as heat pumps using interest-free Government-backed finance schemes like the SALIX finance and the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme. Case studies such as ours can give society and business the confidence to invest in shallow geothermal technologies to accelerate the energy transition.

David Boon and Gareth Farr have jointly managed and overseen the creation of the Cardiff Urban Geo Observatory (2014 – 2018).  The project has evolved naturally out of City Region Geoscience project (under former Chief Geologist Wales, Dave Schofield), the 2015 InnovateUK feasibility project (led by David Boon), and by listening to local stakeholders in Wales. Massive thanks go out to the project team: Ashley Patton, David Schofield, Alan Holden, Rhian Kendall, Laura James, Steve Thorpe, Corinna Abesser, Johanna Scheidegger, Jon Busby, Susanne Self, BGS Dando Drilling Facility, and others. Key partners are Cardiff Harbour Authority, City of Cardiff Council, WDS Green Energy, David Tucker (Nu Vision Energy (Wales)), and Innovate UK/ BEIS. @BGSWales

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

BGS and Heriot-Watt Partnership in Action: Geochemistry and Carbon Burial at the BSRG AGM Joe Emmings

Joe visiting Hutton’s Unconformity at Siccar Point during the
BSRG AGM pre-conference fieldtrip
In late December, Joe Emmings (BGS) and Tom Wagner (Heriot-Watt University) convened Geochemistry and Carbon Burial Sessions at the British Sedimentological Research Group (BSRG) AGM. Here Joe tells us about the conference and ongoing research in this area…

Integration of geochemistry and sedimentology is vital to understanding ancient sedimentary deposits as hydrocarbon, metal or aggregate resources, and as records of climate change and carbon burial. For this reason we convened sessions focussed on this topic at the BSRG AGM recently hosted by the Lyell Centre in Edinburgh. BSRG this year involved around 300 delegates from across the UK and overseas presenting and discussing ongoing research in sedimentology and related fields.

About a third of the conference focussed on understanding modern sedimentary processes in a variety of settings, including continental, nearshore and shallow through to deepwater settings. This is based on the principal of uniformitarianism; that ‘the present is the key to the past’. If we better understand modern sedimentary processes, this knowledge is then applied to ancient deposits for a variety of purposes. For example, experimental sedimentology using flume tanks or live monitoring of sediment density flows, can help us better understand reservoir variability, a critical parameter for oil and gas extraction or carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Geochemical research on sedimentary rocks is typically used to understand hydrocarbon reservoir and source potential. Yet this research is not limited to oil and gas research, and is increasingly applicable to a wide range of areas. For example, geochemistry used to understand mechanisms and timing of sandstone diagenesis is important for CCS. Hydrocarbon source rocks, often termed ‘black shales’, are enriched in redox-sensitive metals which can become mobilised and concentrated, as part of mineral systems, to produce important metal deposits. Black shales are the record of ancient basin sinks of large volumes of organic carbon and metals fixed under anoxic conditions. Topics at BSRG included understanding the genesis of stratiform manganese deposits in Cyprus, and focus on the models for anoxia in a variety of ancient settings. Black shale research also helps understand the impacts of global warming on modern marine systems. Modern anoxic settings, such as the Black Sea, are rare and spatially limited compared to some periods in the ancient record. Yet it is highly likely global warming is causing the expansion of modern marine hypoxic ‘dead zone’ phenomena. Therefore ancient anoxic ‘events’ are potential analogues to ‘dead zones’. In this respect, this is the principal of uniformitarianism but in reverse. Through this research we can better understand timings, spatial extents and impacts of these anoxic events.

BSRG also hosted for the first time a special session bridging the gap between sedimentology and society. The session included presentations on microplastics in the natural environment, sedimentary geohazards and energy storage in sedimentary reservoirs. Many of these applied research areas are likely to become increasingly important if we want realise our global decarbonisation targets as set out in the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C.

Taken as a whole, the 2018 BSRG AGM shows the importance of sedimentology to a wide range of current and future applications, including energy, metal resources, construction, understanding and mitigating climate change, and ultimately society.

Joe Emmings is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate in Geochemistry at the British Geological Survey’s Stable Isotope Facility and Centre for Environmental Geochemistry. Please contact Joe if you are interested in his research field at

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Seeing is knowing: From physics, philosophy, and Shakespeare to a new set of geological visualisation models for the Katie Whitbread

Central England Geological 3D  Model
Observations are the root of scientific knowledge. Because we can observe distant galaxies in the vast expanse of space, we also can learn about the laws that control our universe and uncover our solar system’s fourteen billion year history. Perhaps the relationship between seeing and knowing is too obvious to be particularly striking. But turning the premise on its head leads to some interesting questions; What do we know about things we cannot see? What can we know about things that are beyond our capacity to observe? It is easy to shrug our shoulders and assume that things we can’t see don’t matter. But what if it is important that what is out of sight is not also out of mind?

Take the ground beneath our feet – of course we know it is there, for the most part we can take its firmness and solidity for granted. So long as it doesn’t give way we can go about our business. Job done. But what is the ground beneath our feet made of? What actually happens down there? The answers really do matter…

What the ground is made of has far reaching impacts, stretching well beyond giving us a place to stand (and build). The Earth supplies much of our energy, all our resources of metal, aggregates, and stone, a lot of our salt and water, and (apart from the space junk we leave floating in orbit) it must also store all our material waste. Society is not only built on the earth, it is built from it. So we all have a stake in our planet.

South Wales Geological 3D Model
For many decades, conversations about rocks, sediments and landscapes used to be held largely in the relatively ‘niche’ domains of science and industry. Now, our search for energy, and decisions about how we manage our environment and resources are increasingly matters of public debate. Geology matters to us all.

As the British Geological Survey, our role is to ‘shine a light’ into the subsurface – using a range of tools for investigating what is hidden below ground. This helps us deliver targeted insights to support industry, regulators and planners, but it doesn’t stop there. We also deliver open access resources designed to provide everyone and anyone with the opportunity to see into the subsurface, to learn more about what is down there, and how we know.

With the digital revolution in geoscience, 3D geological models are now offering enhanced visualisation of the subsurface – literally allowing us to see into the ground. This mysterious hidden domain that was once largely conceptualised within the minds of geologists, and depicted in codified form on geological maps, is at last being opened up and revealed to everyone.

Marking a new stage in our delivery of open access resources for the UK, BGS have now launched a new set of 14 Regional Geological Visualisation Models, developed as 3D pdf ‘documents’ and available from the BGS website. The models, initially covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland (with models for Scotland planned), reveal the 3D geology of the UK by linking the UK3D national fence diagram of cross-sections with 1:625 000 bedrock geological maps. A range of interactive tools have been designed to allow users to navigate and explore, revealing the hidden structure of the world beneath us.

So this is an invitation to take a look, to learn about your world, to see the places you know from a new angle. Shakespeare wrote that “all the world’s a stage” – to really know this ‘set’ in which we go about our lives, to understand the myriad of relationships that are part of our story, we first need to be able to see the Earth.  So get stuck in… and when you do take look at the models – tell us how you find them, and help us see our way to making the world beneath our feet more visible. 

Monday, 4 February 2019

Can we use carbon isotopes to tell us about past levels of CO2 in the atmosphere? Barry Lomax and Melanie Leng

This carbon cycle diagram shows the storage and annual exchange of carbon
between the atmosphere, hydrosphere and geosphere in gigatons - or billions of
tons - of carbon (GtC). Carbon isotopes of plant materials from the geological
record have been used in the past to predict past CO2. Our research suggests
more work needs to be done to understand this proxy.
This is a public domain image from Wikipedia.
Dr Barry Lomax and Prof Melanie Leng are isotope geochemists who work on understanding how the isotopic composition of environmental materials can tell us about past environments. Here they blog about their new paper, available via open access in the premiere geochemistry journal (Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta), co-authored by Dr Janice Lake and Dr Phillip Jardine on the use of carbon isotopes in plant materials to predict atmospheric CO2. The paper sets out to test this relationship to determine if it could be used as a tool for estimating changes in atmospheric CO2 concentrations through geological time.
Understanding both the long term carbon cycle and rapid perturbations in atmospheric CO2 observed through the geological record has become increasingly important as we enter a period of human induced carbon cycle variations especially the rapidly increasing atmospheric CO2. A major limiting step in understanding the climate system sensitivity to changes in atmospheric CO2 over geological time has been the variability in modelled solutions of “palaeo-CO2” concentration which vary considerably between different types of modelling solutions. To validate estimates of past CO2 we need CO2 proxies, those currently most commonly used include the study of the numbers of stomata in fossil leaves, or the carbon isotope chemistry of fossil organisms. The carbon isotope composition of fossil plant material is thought to provide a direct measure of the past atmospheric CO2 concentrations through geological time, however there is extensive scientific controversy and debate in the literature. We set about to validate this approach which if successful would allow us to assess changes in amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from the dawn of vascular plants in the Lower Palaeozoic which would help us predict the responses of modern plants to changing CO2 concentrations.

From a physiological standpoint changes in carbon isotope composition of plant tissue is linked to changes in water use efficiency of the plants that are ultimately controlled by the opening and closure of the stomatal pores which regulates gas exchange. For carbon isotopes to be used as an accurate and precise method to reconstruct CO2 the major requirement is to demonstrate that changes in CO2 are the main driver of changes in the carbon isotopes. This relationship needs to be independent of other environmental conditions that can affect the way plants use water such as temperature and specifically the amount of water availability.

Arabidopsis thaliana (common name Thale cress),
a small flowering weed used as a model plant
in many science fields. Copyright Wikipedia.
In our experiment we used Arabidopsis thaliana (common name Thale cress), a small flowering plant native to Eurasia and Africa, where it is considered a weed as it readily colonises roadsides and disturbed land and has a short life cycle. Thale cress has a relatively small genome, and it was the first plant to have its genome sequenced. It is used to understand molecular biology of many plant traits, including flower development and light sensing. Thale cress is an ideal experimental plant as its short life span allows for many experiments to be carried out within a short period of time. In our experiments, the Thale cress was exposed to different watering regimes (low, medium and saturated) and grown over a wide range of CO2 concentrations (from 380 to 3000ppm; the current amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is over 400ppm and climbing rapidly) relevant to conditions what plants would have been subjected to through plant evolution.

We compared the concentration of CO2 in the growing environment to the values predicted by the carbon isotope composition of Thale cress. The data show that there is a wide variation in carbon isotope composition of Thale cress as a function of water availability and actually the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was less important. In particular there was a strong under prediction of CO2 in experiments designed to simulate very high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic (250 - 2 millions of years ago) eras (≥1500ppm). Our experiment casts doubt on the use of carbon isotopes in plant material as a proxy to reconstruct palaeoatmospheric CO2 and suggests other aspects of the growth environment are probably more important on the carbon isotope composition of plant matter. For now other proxies probably provide more viable data of palaeoCO2, these include changes in stomatal frequency, the Br isotopic composition of foraminifera, the carbon isotopic composition of marine carbon including sedimentary alkenones, dinoflagellate cysts and coccoliths…

Dr Barry Lomax is a lecturer in Environmental Science at the University of Nottingham and his research is focused on quantifying how the Earth's climate has changed over geologic time, how these changes have influenced the Earth's terrestrial biosphere and how in turn the Earth's terrestrial biosphere has influenced climate. Dr Janice Lake is an Independent Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield focussing on plant physiological responses to atmospheric CO2. Dr Phillip Jardine is a researcher at the University of Münster with interests in the fossil pollen and the development of palaeoclimate proxies. Prof Melanie Leng is the Director of the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry at the British Geological Survey and the University of Nottingham and leads a lab group in stable isotope geochemistry. Twitter @MelJLeng

Friday, 1 February 2019

Simulating the human gut – the story of BS ISO Joanna Wragg, Mark Cave and Paul Nathanail

Twenty years in the making, the Unified BARGE Method (UBM) of measuring bioaccessibility has become a British and International Standard method used to improve estimates of the risks from ingesting contaminated soil.

As a geological survey, we are interested in the details of soil chemistry and how that affects people’s health.  It’s not just about measuring the total concentration of elements, but more about estimating risks from contaminant absorption into the bloodstream.

Children regularly eat soil, usually accidentally but in some cases deliberately. This soil can contain important nutrients, but also contamination. Ingestion can happen by licking fingers after playing in the garden, rubbing faces with soily hands and making ‘mud pies’.

Human exposure to soil contaminants may be damaging health. It is therefore important that we know how much soil we ingest, the amount of contamination within it, and the mineralogy so that we can better assess the risks of activities such as leisure use of parks and gardens or to support regeneration of post-industrial brownfields in our cities. 

Any soil contaminant that dissolves in the gastro-intestinal juices is termed ‘bioaccessible’. If dissolved contaminant is transferred through the gastro-intestinal wall and into the blood, it is ‘bioavailable’ and has the potential to reach organs where it can cause harm. Any remaining bioaccessible contaminant and undigested soil is excreted.

The Northampton Sand Formation as naturally high concentrations of arsenic. However our research at several proposed housing sites showed that only a small fraction would dissolve in the stomach juices and potentially pass into the bloodstream. This helped risk assessors from Land Quality Management Ltd demonstrate to the local authority that remediation was not needed before safe development of the land for much needed homes.

The longer-term legacy of our industrial past is now becoming evident. Some contaminants can still be detected at potentially toxic levels decades after they were first released. We have shown that bioaccessibility studies on soils and made ground at post-industrial brownfields can improve decisions on future land uses.

We can measure the bioaccessible fraction of soil contaminants by simulating the chemical and physical conditions found in the human gastro-intestinal system, e.g. the composition of fluids, body temperature and the amount of time solids stay in the gut. 

For the last 20 years, staff at BGS and our industrial and international research partners, have been developing a robust laboratory based method for the correct estimation of bioaccessibility.  Such estimates provide defensible information for use in risk assessment and policymaking.

The BGS is part of BioAccessibilty Research Group of Europe (BARGE). BARGE started as a small network of European research teams, comparing methods for a range of soils. We have now expanded to 20 researchers, with groups from Canada and America and we are looking forward to more joining us. Perhaps we should change our name from Europe to ‘Everywhere’!

Back in 2005, BARGE decided to use a single method with agreed gastrointestinal parameters, for measuring bioaccessibility; the Unified BARGE Method was born. We worked together on a pooled set of samples from various countries with different concentrations of potential toxic elements: arsenic, lead and cadmium. The results of a round robin trial were compared and the group explored the whats and whys for any difference in the data.

Then there was the question of validation: 'How well does our in vitro test compare with in vivo analogues?' Colleagues in France at the University of Lorraine and the French National Institute for Industrial Environment and Risks (INERIS) vivo-vitro validated the UBM measurements using a pig analogue, resulting in a paper in the high-impact journal Environmental Science and Technology (Denys et al., 2012).

The UBM has now been used and cited internationally by a range of science disciplines, including environmental, soil, toxicology, public health, pharmacology and medical sectors and helped inform many risk assessments.

In 2007, the International Standards Organisation published guidance on the application and selection of physiologically based extraction methods to estimate the human bioaccessibility/bioavailability of metals in soil. In 2018, BARGE’s hard work paid off when a new standard was introduced: BS ISO 17924:2018 specified the UBM as the method to use.

From the start of the journey through to the publication of the ISO standard, the BARGE group and researchers around the world have published over 30 peer reviewed papers and articles for non-specialists and given oral and poster presentations at too many conferences for us to remember.

The UBM has been used by researchers and commercial laboratories alike for assessing the human health risk from contaminants in soil, herbal medicines, changing land use, dust, air particulates, mine waste and food. It has been coupled with other laboratory based methods to understand why a contaminant is soluble in the gastro-intestinal environment, not just how much is available to do harm. Bioaccessibility information can be used by environment & health professionals, amongst others, to make better informed decisions on the need for remediation (and its success), land redevelopment and planning applications, and to potentially reduce the cost associated with returning brownfield sites to beneficial use.

In 2009, NERC funded a study on the financial impacts of bioaccessibility testing. It showed the savings achieved by using it at potentially contaminated sites. The results are given in the table. Similar savings will have been made at an increasing number of contaminated sites since the study reported.

More recently, bioaccessibility data has been used to predict bioaccessibility of contaminants on a regional scale. The map uses UBM data and geochemical survey data on soils to predict the bioaccessibility of arsenic in the soils of south west England.
Please visit the BARGE website for a flavour of what has been done by the group, and who is involved. Be prepared for some photos of when we all looked a lot younger. 

The development, validation and now publication of an ISO standard is an important scientific milestone. But sometimes, when you are in the thick of it, you don’t realise how many people and how long it takes to go from inception to completion. Don’t forget to have a look at BS ISO 17924:2018 via our library.