Friday, 25 January 2013

Tyrannosaurus rex mapped out in East Midlands! by Bob McIntosh

In the map world, there is a famous (or maybe infamous) topographic map of an inaccessible part of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) where in 1923 the surveyors, a group of young army officers used their imagination and drew the contours in the shape of an elephant. This remained undetected for some time, see it here.

Back to the present day, when BGS are carefully scanning their old historical hand-coloured one-inch maps of England and Wales, and Scotland to put on the web for researchers. We came across what looks like the outline of a dinosaur from the shape of it, probably Tyrannosaurus rex! Now here is the fishy bit – if you look carefully there is text close by on the map denoting 'Saurian Bones'. Is this a coincidence?

Tyrannosaurus rex – can you see anything else?

(England And Wales Sheet 71 SE Outlier of g1 Lias Shale and Limestone)

We are going to leave it to the readers to consider whether this is a similar work of 'imagination' to the elephant or indeed, just a true shape of the outcrop of the outlier of Lias Shale and Limestone. The readers' attention is drawn to the fact that the dinosaur map pre-dates the elephant by almost 70 years!

Historic map scanning project

The map scanning project is nearly finished and we will be delivering over 2,200 of the early 1:63,360 scale maps of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland and the horizontal/vertical sections for the period when the Survey was formerly known as the Geological Survey of Great Britain and Ireland.

Jayne Kmieciak scanning an early one-inch map

The maps and sections will be released on the OpenGeoscience part of the BGS website. We will be using the latest map delivery technology, a jpeg2000 image server, to allow users to view the maps in detail. This feature may be previewed in the Irish historical geological maps web site, released a few years ago in conjunction with the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland and the Geological Survey of Ireland based in Dublin.

Extract from an England and Wales map sheet

Extract from a horizontal section
Bob McIntosh

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Expedition 347 - Offshore in the Baltic Sea Basin

This coming spring/summer, Expedition 347 is venturing into the Baltic Sea Basin (BSB), a 373,000 km2 glacially eroded basin in Northern Europe, with Expedition Project Manager Carol Cotterill from our BGS Edinburgh Office.  

Location of the Baltic Sea © NormanEinstein, May 25, 2006 and the proposed expedition drilling sites © ECORD
The answers to many globally significant questions relating to climate forcing, climate systems and microbial responses are locked in the deep sea sediments of the BSB, and a geotechnical drill ship complete with a team of international scientists and operations staff, all working in mobile laboratories, are heading out to attempt to answer them.

Typical geotechnical drillship used in a previous IODP offshore expedition, with our turquoise mobile lab containers

As this basin is located in the heart of an area that has been through numerous glacial fluxes, it holds an unparalleled and unique archive of high resolution information for climate change over the last 130,000 years. Expedition 347 aims to retrieve a complete record of this history and answer questions concerning  the last interglacial period – can we tie together the North European terrestrial records with the Greenland ice core records and the North Atlantic oceanic records; the last ice age and whether the past Scandinavian Ice Sheet was active in causing climate changes or merely responded to changes; causes of the climatic fluctuations and how the microbial communities responded to changes between glacial and interglacial times.   Importantly this wealth of scientific information can be used to help predict how climate interactions between the Asian monsoon systems, oceanic circulation and changes to the ice cover in the northern hemisphere may influence the BSB and North Western Europe in the future.

Carol on a previous expedition in 2009 – Chatting with the Operations Superintendant Dave Smith (BGS Loanhead) and driving the BGS ROV

If you want a more in-depth read on the scientific background, aims and objectives please follow the IODP link to the Scientific Prospectus. I’ll be taking a simple look at each of the 4 aims over the next few months in the run up to Expedition 347's launch. I’ll also be posting regular updates from Carol about life and the activities onboard as she sails out with the Expedition later year. 

By Lauren

Monday, 21 January 2013

Tiny fossils reveal evidence for climate change and melting of Antarctica by Melanie Leng

About a decade ago I had an idea, it wasn’t the only idea I had at that time, but it was a particularly good one! We needed to start analysing the chemistry of the hard skeletons of a type of microscopic algae called diatoms to obtain environmental information.

Diatoms occur in all ponds, lakes and oceans but are less than the width of a human hair so difficult to see and analyse, and they are particularly sensitive to environmental change. Their skeletons accumulate in the bottom of oceans and lakes in layers – year by year, decade by decade, piling on top of each other. By taking a “core” of sediment through these accumulations we can obtain a time sequence of environmental history much like an old fashioned tape recorder captures information. The environmental history information comes from tiny differences in the chemical composition of the oxygen atoms in the diatoms skeleton.

A collection of diatom  skeletons from Antarctica, these shells are less than the width of a human hair.

In the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica these differences are due to changes, through time, of the amount of freshwater entering the ocean from the melting of glaciers that fringe the continent. Recently we measured these differences over the last 12,000 years from sediments that had accumulated off the Antarctic Peninsula and showed changes through time related to the rate of melting of glaciers.

Another example of a diatom skeleton from Antarctica

The equipment to do the measurements was already at the British Geological Survey but we had to develop the method, and prove we could do it exceptionally well. At that time there was really one other laboratory in the world that was doing this type of analysis.

Me stood by the equipment used to gain information on environmental change from microscopic algae.
Technologically the analysis of the oxygen isotope composition of diatom silica is extremely difficult, the British Geological Survey are world leading pioneers in this technique.

We showed that there was a significant melting due to global warming around 9,000 years ago when ice shelves around Antarctica collapsed, and that a second significant warming occurred between 3500-250 years ago. During this latter period, cycles of atmospheric warming occurred every 400-500 years and these have been linked to changes in the temperature of the low latitude Pacific Ocean (the El Niño – Southern Oscillation phenomenon).

Overall this research shows that changes in temperatures of the equatorial ocean can influence high latitude climate.  It is very important to understand changes in the polar regions, the western Antarctic Peninsula for example is one of the fastest warming regions on the planet. Scientists continue to debate the causes of this warming, particularly in light of recent instrumental records of both atmospheric and oceanic warming from the region.  As our  atmosphere and oceans warm, so the ice caps are in danger of disappearing.

Ross Island off the western Antarctic Peninsular
This research was published by Nature Geoscience this week and involves scientists at the British Geological Survey, and universities of Cardiff, Nottingham and Leicester.
By Mel Leng

Further reading: BGS Press Release (opens PDF in new window) Cardiff University Press Release (opens link in new window)

Friday, 18 January 2013

Todays Loughborough earthquake & the role of citizen science

Loughborough Earthquake

Location of the Loughborough EQ this morning

Our seismologists have been busy analysing data from our monitoring stations located around the UK following the 2.9ML earthquake in Leicestershire this morning. Preliminary data was published on the BGS Earthquakes website which triggered an automatic alert on the main BGS homepage, facebook and twitter. The analysts then had a few minutes to respond to the many media requests that have come in from TV, radio and newspapers.

Seismogram for Loughborough EQ
Following this it was back to the grind and the analysts began interrogating the various channels of data from monitoring stations, investigating the historic earthquake records for past ones in the same area, reading reports from the public that are coming in following the media coverage.

Glenn Ford (top) and Davie Galloway (bottom) analysing seismic data from 
the New Ollerton earthquake last week


The important role you play

There's an online BGS questionnaire that you can fill in if you've felt an earthquake. This contribution is vitally important as it allows our analysts to assign a value of Intensity to the earthquake. In the case of todays Leicestershire earthquake over 160 'citizen scientists' have already kindly taken the time to answer the questionnaire, enabling our analysts to identify it as Intensity 4.

The earthquakes website says this about Intensity " ....assigning an intensity requires a sample of the felt responses of the population. This is then graded according to the EMS intensity scale. For example, Intensity 1, Not felt, 2, Scarcely perceptible, 3, weak, felt by a few, up to 12 assigned for total devastation. Study of intensity and the production of isoseismal maps, contouring areas of equal intensity, is particularly important for the study of earthquakes which occurred prior to instrumental monitoring."
Map showing location of Loughborough EQ and of those 'felt reports' from the online questionnaire
Most felt reports lie within a 25 km radius of the epicentre. Furthest report received from Matlock, 42 km to NW
The seismology team is very grateful for everyone who completes the online questionnaire as it really does help the study of earthquakes. So if you did feel this earthquake and you want to help then do a bit of citizen science then fill out the questionnaire here.


UK Earthquakes

Between 200 and 300 earthquakes are detected and located in the UK, by the British Geological Survey annually. Whilst the magnitude 2.9 Loughborough earthquake is regarded as an insignificant event by world standards (because of it's rarity, occurring around only 4 times a year) it does attracts public attention.
Earthquakes of such minor magnitude don't cause any damage but can make house shudder slightly and wake the occupants. Here are some answers to Frequently Asked Earthquake Questions .

Lauren (your friendly neighbourhood Press Officer)

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The labour of Hercules

So why is there a statue of Hercules at BGS Keyworth? ... John Stevenson asks Gill Nixon. 

Hercules in his 'intended place' at the Museum of
 Practical Geology, Jermyn Street, London.   
Hercules was one of the larger exhibits intended for the Museum of Practical Geology, which opened in May 1851. It was carved out of a single block of Portland Stone by the sculptor (geologist and architect) C H Smith; commissioned to ‘illustrate the fitness of the material for such purposes’. 

Smith also provided drawings to the 'Survey'; to show where the sculpture should be placed in the Museum in order that he could make Hercules the right size to ‘fit the space’. 

However ‘unavoidable and unexpected delays arose’ and Smith took delivery of the 15-ton Portland Stone block in June 1851; a month after the Museum was officially opened by Prince Albert.

The statue was installed into the Museum in November 1851, but ‘much work had to be executed upon it’ to call Hercules complete.

It was previously thought that Hercules may have been commissioned for the Great Exhibition of 1851. This must have been incorrect, as work on the statue had only recently been started by the time the Great Exhibition was drawing to a close in October 1851.

Changes in the Survey's name and mergers followed over the next 135 years of our history and a few Museum pieces, including Hercules, travelled north in the mid 1980s to the 'new' British Geological Survey campus at Keyworth, near Nottingham. 

Hercules has had some surgery, not on health grounds, but that’s another story for Gill Nixon and the archives folk to tell. 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

And the winner of the Earth Data Models survey draw is.... By Gemma Nash

Asselefech Mitiku won the Kindle Fire HD,
seen here with Carl Watson, project coordinator
So it is our last full day in Addis Ababa (we fly home early tomorrow morning) and our time here has been very productive.

Of the 110 surveys we gave out, to gather information about what people would like us to develop next with our Earth Data Models, we've had 72 returned and it's not yet the end of the day.

The delegates indicated that they wanted geophysics and geochemistry models as their top priorities, with groundwater models coming a close third.

Luckily, we have already released a geochemistry data model, and Andrew McKenzie is confident we can  also release a groundwater model .

We asked the main organiser of the CAG 24 conference, Girma Woldetinsae from the Ethiopian Ministry of Mines, to draw the winner of a Kindle Fire HD at 10:00 today (the Kindle was an incentive to fill in the survey) and a lady from the Ethiopian Mineral Development Share Company, in the booth opposite to ours, won!

Previous days

Thursday was a big day for BGS talks; John Ludden, Tim Duffy and Carl Watson delivered their presentations and other BGS talks are during the week. Thursday's talks brought many people to our booth both to fill in the Earth Data Models survey and to find out more about BGS and OneGeology.

John Ludden presenting his plenary talk

On Friday we had a day off where many delegates went on various mid-conference excursions.

There was a city tour, and two different visits to nearby volcanoes - people kept mentioning the friendly monkeys, which I am upset I missed; there weren't enough places for us all to go along, so Carl and I went on our own mini city tour.

We visited the National Museum to see 'Lucy' (Australopithecus) and view the various galleries and artefacts  After we walked down to the piazza and then for a stroll through some shops for souvenirs.

On Saturday, like today, we were back at the booth, encouraging more interest in our projects and finding out all about the different organisations people work for. We have also established some solid collaboration possibilities; Carl may be visiting some other African countries to help with their database developments!

On Saturday night in the gardens of our hotel, it seemed that everyone who had been married earlier in the day had congregated to have their photos taken! It was a very social affair with much singing and dancing, quite different to an English wedding.

'Lucy' (Australopithecus)

Lessons learned

A key learning point for me, after attending some of the earth science education talks, was that more resources for teaching are needed.

Patrick McKeever, of UNESCO, said that translating 1Gkids into French would really help as a teaching resource for much of Africa. Therefore, I am looking for a volunteer French translator!!!

Visiting Ethiopia has been an inspiring trip. Learning about the many African cultures and the challenges faced by the people of this continent has been quite an experience, which has both awed and shocked me.

The African people we met were all very friendly and I will miss the wonderful weather here, we fear it will be snowing in Nottingham!

(Read John Luddens CAG24 Blog here)

Gemma Nash

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Remote monitoring of volcanic activity - the EVOSS workshop in AddisAbaba

This week BGS are leading a workshop at the 24th Colloquium of African Geology on a web-based system that we have been developing over the last 3 years on an EU-funded FP7 project alongside partners from across Europe. The European Volcano Observatory Space Services (EVOSS) project provides near real-time monitoring of volcanic eruptions. Our system provides processed data and delivers these via a web portal to users including volcano observatories.
EVOSS products include: thermal, deformation, ash, and sulphur dioxide data. During eruptions that affect large areas or threaten ground-monitoring networks, monitoring can be entirely based on satellite remote sensing. The coverage of EVOSS includes European Union territories, Africa, Caribbean and Iceland.

Our workshop participants represent volcano observatories from: Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Comoros Islands, Italy, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo and Djibouti. This one day workshop introduces the observatories to the EVOSS products including the sensors and science behind the processing, the validation of satellite products with ground-based systems, and instructs users in the use of the portal to access data during a volcanic eruption. EVOSS currently provides the only near real-time monitoring system for the ongoing volcanic activity in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Participants are providing feedback for future development of the EVOSS system so that it continues to be an essential monitoring tool during volcanic eruptions.

Dr Charlotte Vye-Brown

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Christmas comes but twice a year... if you visit Ethiopia. By Gemma Nash

Carl Watson and I arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Monday 7 January, their Christmas day and our second in a month. There was a festive tree up in the hotel reception and Christmas dinner was on the menu; the diet's on hold for another week.

We had a relaxing first day, after a sleepless night flight, watching some people getting married in the gardens of our hotel. The bride and groom danced down the aisle to the music of a saxophone, singing and clapping.

Later, we sampled some authentic Ethiopian food including Injera, which is like a cross between pancake and sour bread. I'm not too sure I like it, but it seems to be served with everything!

After a long night's sleep, Tuesday was more productive. Carl and I brushed up on our 'About BGS' knowledge ready for the registration and ice-breaker at the Colloquium of African Geosciences conference (see

On arrival at the conference we set up our 'BGS booth'; primarily to promote Carl's new knowledge exchange project ''. This new initiative is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council to create a community for open, ready-to-use database designs that are free for all.
We have instant interest in our new project, despite only completing the website a few days ago! Carl handed out flyers and a survey to gauge the delegates’ requirements for new data models. After the first hour 20 surveys were returned; the delegates were quite encouraged by the prize draw!

Wednesday was the first full day of the conference and enthusiasm was high. We almost ran out of surveys by lunchtime and were inspired by the interest shown from people from many African countries. We also met up with our BGS colleagues and connected with many new potential collaborators.

There is a very full programme of talks and workshops, including several sessions by BGS staff at this major biennial meeting, of over 450 delegates, organized under the auspices of the Geological Society of Africa (GSAf).
  • Plenary Talk by Prof. John Ludden, Director, British Geological Survey: The Neoproterozoic: planet in flux and a frontier for research and for resources
  • Tim Duffy: OneGeology Web Services in Africa: progress and enhancements
  • Carl Watson: Sharing the most valuable database designs in African geology
  • Robert Thomas: Geochronology and structure of the eastern margin of the Tanzania Craton east of Dodoma and Salt domes of the United Arab Emirates: evidence for late Neoproterozoic sedimentation and rift volcanism in the northern Arabian-Nubian Shield
  • Charlotte Vye-Brown: Temporal evolution of rifting and volcanism in the Manda Hararo rift segment, Afar, Ethiopia
  • Gemma Nash: manning the BGS booth, promoting BGS research, Earth Data Models and OneGeology.
More to follow later in the week.

(Read John Ludden's Blog on CAG24 here)

Monday, 7 January 2013

News on the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program by Prof Melanie Leng

2012 was a particularly exciting year for the UK’s geosciences community because the UK became a member of the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP).  Membership was sponsored by the British Geological Survey for the Earth science community to enable the proposal of and participation in International research projects involving deep drilling. At the kick-off meeting in July held at BGS over 70 UK scientists attended. At that meeting it was decided that the key areas that we want to collectively address include: processes that force global change, resource development, better understanding of natural hazards, and investigating deep time biological processes.
In the 6 months since the initial meeting I am happy to report much activity. I have become a principal investigator on the Lake Ohrid drilling project ;  and even better,  we got “the GO” for drilling to start on 1st April. The Lake Ohrid project aims to look at how climate has forced evolution of plants and animals in and around the lake over the last 3 million years. Prof Philip Barker (University of Lancaster) and I will be involved in a proposal to deep drill Lake Challa in the foot hills of Mount Killimanjaro. Dr Henry Lamb (University of Aberystwyth) and I along with several other UK scientists are now involved in the Hominin Sites and Palaeolakes Drilling Project  – an amazing proposal to test the hypothesis that hominin evolution was driven by periods of rapid climate change. Prof Stephen Hasselbo (University of Oxford) had a workshop funded  for his proposal to drill through the early Jurassic in North Wales (at Mochras) to provide a new global standard for the environment at that time. Prof Paul Pearson (University of Cardiff) is also working on a proposal to drill the Palaeocene –Eocene sediments onshore in Tanzania – where the depositional rates and fossil preservation are exceptional. It is also great to hear that other members of ICDP-UK can now access previously obtained sediment core (eg. Dead Sea, Lake Van). It looks like we are getting involved in some of the big geological questions in the best places on Earth with specialist teams drawn from multiple countries.
The UK community now also has representatives on the three international boards that oversee ICDP activities. Prof John Ludden (BGS Director @BGSBoss) represents the UK on the over arching Assembly of Governors, I will sit on the Executive Committee and Dr Kathryn Goodenough (BGS) is part of the Science Advisory Group. Please keep us in touch with the ICDP related activities. The next deadline for ICDP proposals is 15th January  You can keep up to date with ICDP-UK activities through the web site and via twitter @MelJLeng and  #ICDP-UK . 
Me in the field
 Melanie Leng