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