Saturday, 29 December 2012

Snow from BGS Scotland

As the UK missed out on a white Christmas this year here are some stunning snow photos of Scottish winters past. Thanks to Fergus (our Higher Photographer in Edinburgh) for showing me these. Hope you enjoy them too!

Murchison House

Hope you had a very merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year,

Thursday, 13 December 2012

BGS thin sections: 150,000th image taken! by Isla Simmons

BGS is currently running a programme to digitise the entire collection of rock thin sections. This consists of 100,000 thin sections in the Scottish Sliced Rock (S) Collection, 11,000 in the later Scotland and Northern England (N) Collection and 80,000 in the England and Wales (E) Collection. A number of minor collections will also be captured.

Sample number: S57865. Coarse-grained Metabasic Rock, Scourie dyke suite, W side of Loch Claidh, Scotland

Sample number: S3216. Quarry N of Stichill, 3.5 miles N by W of Kelso, Scotland

 Since March 2012 a team of volunteers in Edinburgh has been documenting, cleaning and photographing every thin section in the Scottish collection. Each section is photographed twice, in plane-polarised light and under crossed-polars, and last week saw us taking the 150,000th image!

When we’ve finished the Scottish (S) collection we’ll be moving on to the Scotland and Northern England (N) Collection. A team of volunteers is also being established in the BGS headquarters at Keyworth to begin digitising the England and Wales (E) Collection.
Sir Archibald Geikie

The origins of Petrology

Petrology was introduced in the Survey in the mid 1800s with the advance of the petrological microscope allowing detailed analysis of rock thin sections. Sir Archibald Geikie, then Director-General of the Survey created a slicing department in Edinburgh because of the relative abundance of crystalline rocks in Scotland, and it was here that most early thin sections were cut. Specialist petrographers were appointed in Edinburgh and in the Survey headquarters in London. Field geologists could send rock samples to one of the petrographers who would slice a thin section, examine it then send a report back to the geologist. The first thin section, numbered S1, was collected by Geikie himself around the early 1860s – a sample of dolerite taken from the Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh, though later renamed teschenite.

Sample number: S57774. Foliated tuff? Girvan-Ballantrae No. 6 bore (NX 18NE/5) at 288 feet, Scotland.
The thin section photography process

The first task in digitising the collection was to create a list, an inventory of every single thin section. Some sections were missing, either lost over the years or borrowed for examination and never returned. These had to be noted. Some had duplicates which had to be numbered individually as every section must have a unique number to allow us to link images to the correct thin section. As thin sections have been in the collections for up to 100-120 years they all have to be cleaned, and any broken slides have to be repaired. This second task is often a great social occasion with the volunteers sitting around a table cleaning sections while discussing recent field trips, coming exams or the latest hot topics in geology!

Photography of the thin sections
Once the thin sections have been cleaned we can start on the real business of the project – photographing them. A digital SLR camera with a 60 mm macro lens is permanently set up on a custom made jig and the thin sections are illuminated by a LED lamp.

To capture the images, all that is required is for the operator to follow the previously compiled inventory of thin sections, insert the section in a holder, take an image in cross polarized light (XPL), remove the analyser and take another image in plane polarised light (PPL). The camera image number must then be recorded against the number of the thin section in the inventory so that the images can be referenced back to the thin section they correspond to.

Sample number: S57855. Ultrabasic body in gneiss; Laxfordian? E side of Loch Claidh. Shieldinish? Scotland

Once the photography is complete, the next stage will be to link the images to Britrocks, the BGS database and web application for the rock and thin section collections: The overall purpose of the project will thus be achieved – to allow the public to view the images. Britrocks already has data for every single thin section in the collection – rock type, where it is from, who collected it and when it was collected. This project will supply the two images of each section to allow researchers and the public to search, browse and now view representative images of the thin sections.

For now though, we’re still cracking on with the cleaning and photography!

Isla Simmons
BGS Volunteer, Murchison House, Edinburgh.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Earthquake Risk Reduction in Bangladesh by Dr Susanne Sargeant

As a seismologist at the British Geological Survey, and a NERC Knowledge Exchange fellow, my work focuses on finding ways to ensure that our scientific understanding of earthquakes has maximum impact on decision-making (from government to community level) and people’s behaviour. In Bangladesh I’m working with Concern Worldwide to increase the way in which earthquake information is used in their operations.
Last month I was in Dhaka with Willie McMartin*, Operational Director for the International Rescue Corps (IRC), to deliver an earthquake risk management training course to country staff from Concern, Plan International, Oxfam, Save the Children, Islamic Relief and Action Aid.

Participants on the earthquake risk training course
Between us, we hoped that during the training it would be possible to:
·         increase general understanding of earthquakes
·         raise awareness of the earthquake threat in Bangladesh
·         consider the potential impact on these organisations, their staff and operations,
·         help the participants to be better prepared when an earthquake happens either at home or at work.
To be honest, it was a bit of an experiment. This is the first time that Willie and I have worked together (and the first time I had delivered any training) and we weren’t sure how our different fields of expertise would fit together. Luckily, we’re both happy to improvise and as it turned out, we (Willie, the participants and I) spent a really rewarding three days working together and learning from each other. In fact, we’ve now set up a working group so that we can continue to work together and share information.

Willie & I also visited pupils at Alhaz Abbasuddin High School where they gave us a first aid demonstration as part of an earthquake preparedness project facilitated by Concern Worldwide

Willie (centre) and me (far left) and the pupils and teachers at  Alhaz Abbasuddin High School

As a hazard scientist, I learnt a valuable lesson from my visit: living somewhere where a potentially devastating earthquake could happen is frightening – especially when you have no control over construction practices and compliance with building codes. That’s where someone like Willie comes in, with the experience and understanding to give people hope that there is something they can do to protect themselves and their families if an earthquake happens tomorrow.  Implementing building codes and issues around non-compliance are tougher nuts to crack.
Typical construction in Dhaka
by Susanne
* IRC do amazing work. Their dedicated volunteers regularly respond to a whole range of international disasters and since 1985 Willie has been involved in the response to 24, including many earthquakes (e.g. Armenia 1988, El Salvador 2001, Gujurat 2001, Muzaffarabad 2005). Willie kept a daily blog of the  Bangladesh training trip that you can read here, lots of great photos!

An extra word from Lauren
For Dhaka travel tips, earthquake history and facts about the hazard and vulnerability of Bangladesh and it’s people keep an eye out for Susanne’s guest post on the Geology for Global Development blog. This [Geology for Global Development] is a wonderful organisation founded by geologist Joel Gill in 2011 and Susanne sits on the advisory group. I can’t say it better than they say themselves….
Geology for Global Development (GfGD) recognises the significant contribution good geoscience can make to international development and fighting poverty by reducing risks from geological hazards, sustainably exploiting the Earth's resources, and improving environmental conservation. We therefore aim to encourage and support young geoscientists in the growth of appropriate skills and knowledge in order that they make a positive, effective, and greater contribution to international development throughout their careers.”

Crowdsource mapping for disaster management by Dr Charlotte Vye-Brown

Last week BGS was in Vienna at the UN for a three-day international expert meeting on ‘Crowdsource mapping for disaster risk management and emergency response’.

What is crowdsourcing?
It is a process that involves gaining data from a distributed group of people and translating the real-time information into maps to assist in disaster management. For example, during flood events people could contribute photos, water heights, the extent of flooding or road closures to a central body to improve the abundance of data about the event and assist in the response to help those affected.
A group of 81 experts representing:  crowdsource mapping networks, researchers,
humanitarian aid groups, space agencies and UN organisations attended the meeting.
Our vulnerability to natural hazards is increasing due in part to population growth, reliance on infrastructure, and climate change. So, the potential for disasters is also increasing and more people than ever are vulnerable to hazards. Crowdsource mapping is one way that communities can contribute data and add value in real-time to satellite data that is used during an emergency to reduce the impact of an event. We see increasing use of social media and tweeting, e.g. during the Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011, that contain vital information about an event. This meeting brought together the communities involved in space-based information for disaster and risk management to exchange ideas and establish networks to increase the use of this valuable information in the future.
Charlotte Vye-Brown (Volcanologist)

See how Charlotte and her colleagues use crowdsource mapping (and citizen science) during volcanic eruptions. During the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull and the 2011 Grimsvötn eruption this data proved invaluable and helped not only researchers from BGS but many UK universities and the MET Office.

We'll be following this post with more information about all crowdsource opportunities and future initiatives but for now see our crowdmap and find out more about citizen science! Lauren

Monday, 10 December 2012

Core sampling in Windermere - meccano, cheese wires and liquid nitrogen

On Wednesday Carol explained why the work on Windermere is so important. Read all about that here.

But I wanted to know more about the nitty gritty and the hard graft. How do you collect sediment from the middle of a lake, how do you sample it and what's liquid nitrogen got to do with it? Plus why has it taken until now to finish the sampling?! Well here's Carol and her camera to illustrate.....

The journey begins in April

To collect core from the bed of a lake you first have to get out on it. For this you need a coring platform, and this can be a bit like building a giant meccano project - and no we didn’t have any parts left over!!  
The fully built Uwitec coring platform on a serene Windermere
We used a 'piston coring' system with a 'seabed re-entry cone'. What this means is that as each 2m section was pulled out on deck we could guide the next core barrel down the guide wires and through the cone into the exact same hole. 
Deploying the re-entry cone prior to coring
The cores were collected inside plastic liners that were immediately “curated” on deck ..... assigned a unique identifier that included the Latitude and Longitude of the core, the type of coring (piston), the core number and what section number that 2m liner represented.

Daniel Niederietter (Uwitec) and Helen Miller (BUFI student) pose beside a 2m core section in its plastic liner

Me labelling the recovered core section

But what happens to the plastic liners full of mud?!

We transported all the cores back to Edinburgh, and in October Helen Miller, a BUFI PhD student, and myself got together and spent a week splitting and logging the cores at our Marine Operations building in Loanhead. We started off by cutting the plastic liner and end cap with a router and hacksaw, and then using a cheesewire to run down the core.

Me splitting the core using a cheesewire

This divides the core into a working half and an archive half. The working half is cleaned up and then described in terms of grain size, colour, any organic material in it, the type of boundaries between different sediment units such as erosional or graduated, the size and frequency of glacial varves.....and anything else that Helen and I spot!

Helen Miller cleaning off the core surface prior to logging

The archive halves are left pristine as a legacy record for other scientists to use. Once described, the cores were then photographed for a visual record, both in the splitting workshop and later using a 32 megapixel camera for detailed images in our photographic suite.

Now for the science bit!

We recovered one core that appeared to show, condensed into just a 10m section, most of the sedimentary processes and units observed in all the others cores! We decided to concentrate on this core to start with, and so the working halves were transported to Southampton to the National Oceanographic Centre (NOCS). It was here in mid-November that a group of scientists with different specialties met to discuss how we would start sampling this unique core.

The first step was to take a U-channel sample from the centre of the core. This sampled pristine sediment that was hopefully least affected by any coring disturbance or contamination due to contact with the air or water at the edges of the core.

Overview of the U-channel (labelled plastic tube) and slabbing instrument in one of the sections

This is right now in the process of being run through an ITrax system to determine the chemical, density and optical composition of the core. It will then be run through a paleomagnetometer to determine paleointensity and secular variation as recorded by the magnetic minerals within the sediments. If you're interested in this we'll post more as it become available.

The cores were then “slabbed” – extracting a 2cm deep and 1cm wide sample for detailed analysis of any cyclical laminations and glacial varves. The slabs are run through an X-ray initially, and then later a sub-sample is flash frozen in liquid nitrogen and then embedded with resin to bind all the grains together. 

Flash freezing a sediment sample in liquid nitrogen
This process allows thin sections to be taken which can reveal the micro structure of the sediments, including glacial varves and any lithological boundaries.

Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image of a lithological boundary

Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image of glacial varves
So what's next?

The next stage is to begin to collate the results as they come in. This will probably take a number of months as the various scientists involved work on research as varied as dating organic matter to identifying microscopic diatoms and pollen grains to counting sediment laminations and varves! We will then gather together again and look at how the various results answer the questions that we have, and indeed what other questions they raise!

Thanks. Dr Carol Cotterill

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Cores to Climate – Do our lakes hold a clue to the past? by Dr Carol Cotterill

Windermere is a beautiful part of the English Lake District and the BGS have been working here for many years, discovering lots about the glacial and post-glacial history of the region. This April, a team went back for a further two weeks of intense and dirty fieldwork collecting cores of the lake bed sediments. Last week they finished sampling on one of the cores (more coming about that process later in the week). So why exactly is this lengthy study necessary, why is all this hard graft essential?

 Hard graft on and after Windermere

Dr Carol Cotterill explains:

Taking cores of the lake sediments will allow us to carry out a full suite of investigative work, looking into a number of different areas including:
  • Detailed analysis of glacial / pro-glacial varves, enabling us to accurately track seasonal climate fluctuations such as winter ice freezing and summer thaws and glacier advance and retreat pulses.
  • Detailed analysis of anthropogenic pollution signals, both in their distribution across the lake and whether the signals tie into specific catchment drainage areas, but also in  the depth downcore. Dating of these upper sediments will help us establish when the pollution signals began to influence the lake.
  • Pollen and diatom analysis – can we spot significant events such as Heinrich Events and the introduction of “exotic” plant species by the Victorian gardeners? We also hope to get a series of dates that will help us tie down these events.
  • Paleomagnetic analysis including paleosecular and intensity values  – what was the Earth’s geomagnetic field doing over the UK and can we use these cores to refine the UK master curve?
  • pH, bulk carbon and deltaC13 analysis to help guide our understanding of reservoir effects in freshwater lakes.
  • The micro and macro deformation observed within lake “flows” – how can flows be triggered; do they move as a cohesive de-coupled unit or as a mass flow; why are they often limited to a specific time period within Windermere – what triggered this mass behaviour across the lake?
  • Does the pollution signal help explain why certain fish species are now under threat, and how their spawning behaviours have changed between the two sub-basins of Windermere?  
These are some of the questions arising from the integrated datasets so far, and I expect more is to come as we delve deeper into the natural laboratory that Windermere is proving to be! As you can see the list above covers a wide range of disciplines and experts – a fantastic chance for BGS to collaborate on a wide range of science, and fully exploit the potential from this integrated lake surveying programme.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Flashbacks to Iceland - visit our YouTube Channel

The latest videos to be uploaded to our youtube channel are those Jez Everest popped on facebook whilst he was out in Iceland during the September fieldwork season. Now these glimpses into science and life at the BGS Virkisjökull Glacier Observatory are avaliable for everyone to enjoy:


The Dundee /BGS PhD student, Verity Flett takes control of the new steam drill as part of her project. She will be measuring the amount of glacier surface lowering, ie 
melting, by inserting 12m long stakes into the ice, and then measuring the amount that has re-emerged at periodic intervals throughout the year. With the help of one of her supervisors, Martin Kirkbride from Dundee University Geography, Verity is establishing a network of these ablation stakes across the glacier.

She will also be investigating the linkages between the mass balance of the glacier, and the hydrology of the wider catchment, including the groundwater monitoring already established this summer.

The steam drill is a custom build from Erich Heucke in Germany. It is certainly very effective at drilling through the ice, each 12m hole taking less than 30 minutes to complete. Apparently you can also brew up a cuppa and heat sausages on it. Result!


Well ladies and gents, this may well be the last trip we get on the ice from the front. The meltwater drainage system that we have been studying, is now starting, finally, to enlarge and collapse the caverns and tunnels in the ice buried under the sandur beyond the active glacier margin. The 'buried ice foreland' is changing on a daily basis, and changes are even visible from one minute to the next, as 
what was previously flat ground suddenly drops and reveals a sink hole.

We are being very vigilant, and staying to the ground we know is safe. This is helped by the experienced guys from the Glacier Guides company, who are escorting tourists onto the ice. We follow their footprints for the safe route to the ice front.

The video here will give you some idea of what it looks like- believe me on the ground it is pretty exciting!