Friday, 31 May 2013

Photographing our 'Edinburgh Collection' by Rachel Whitty

A volunteer positions a specimen and fires the shutter
by using a remote computer controlled ‘live-view’ image
(EOS Utility software)
After capturing and completing the 220,000 images of the Scottish Sliced Rock Collection project the volunteers were eager for something new and different. A new project is now underway in Murchison House, Edinburgh, as volunteers begin work photographing the British Geological Survey’s extensive rock hand specimen collections.

The collections include over 150,000 samples, so this is no small task, but definitely an interesting one. The Murchison House rock collections date back over 100 years, with the first Scottish rock sample registered in 1900 – a lump of basalt from Arthur’s Seat. Over the century, the Survey rock collection has been added to by specimens from Survey field mapping, university donations, samples from geological studies and personal collections.

There are five main sub-collections: the Scottish Sliced Rock collection, the Murchison Collection, the Edinburgh Collection, the Edinburgh Museum Collection and the Systematic Collection. We are tackling the last one, the Systematic Collection first as it has only 15,000 specimens, it is a small collection with high quality and nicely shaped specimens, and because it has ‘systematic’ coverage for Scotland. An attempt was made to bring together the typical/characteristic rocks found in each Survey One-inch to one mile geological map sheet area, and so provide an excellent reference collection to the rocks of Scotland. Being a small collection it also allows us to hone the techniques of capture before starting on some of the bigger collections. 
Lower Sill, Foundation of Museum at City Wall, 1912

As these rock samples were gathered they were individually hand-trimmed and shaped for display purposes, and to reflect the most geologically interesting aspects of each. With such large numbers being trimmed by hand perhaps it represents a great deal of Edwardian repetitive strain injury!

Starting with rock samples from around the Midlothian area (Geological Survey Sheet 32), BGS volunteers have begun the process of photographing the rocks. A digital SLR camera is fixed on a copy-stand and the samples are placed on the base beneath. The Canon EOS Mk. 1 has a high quality macro lens and is linked up to a computer system with live-view, so changes can be made to the arrangement of the sample before the photo is taken. Although the samples have been shaped for display, some are irregular on the reverse side so foam wedges are added to keep the sample on a level and maintain the image focus. A neutral greyscale indicator card is also added to each image and is carefully placed in the plane of focus and to one side of the sample. The rock is then photographed and the collection number and image number are listed to allow later linking of image and metadata.

Burdiehouse Limestone

The actual process of photographing the samples is just the initial step. Once this is completed, the image quality must be enhanced. The background is selected and a uniform black fill is applied, a scale bar needs to be added and the colour must be adjusted to the greyscale indicator which was added at the photography stage. These enhancements are undertaken in Photoshop. Thankfully a full step-by-step guide is provided for volunteers who aren’t Photoshop-savvy and who are learning the software.

A parallel metadata capture programme is also in operation to capture details of the rocks such as their type and location. This work involves meticulous transcription from old hand-written registers into a database. Grid References are also being worked out for a GIS approach to finding specimens.
“Curly” Broxburn Shale, Westwood

Technological inexperience aside, amenable working conditions at Murchison House allow for happy reflection on the labels adorning rock samples, some of which are fascinating, informing the reader of the terrible weather conditions when the sample was collected. Most volunteers are also geologists undertaking fieldwork in Scotland. These labels evoke sympathy for the original collector. There’s nothing like reading about horizontal sleet, swamps and biting flies to make volunteers feel cosy at their desks or in front of the camera in the warm studio.

The results of the project will be made available to the public via the BGS Britrocks application and also on Geoscenic, the BGS web-based image service.

Rachel Whitty, BGS volunteer

Friday, 24 May 2013

Notes from Geneva By Charlotte Vye-Brown and Susanne Sargeant

BGS scientists, from left to right,
John Rees, Charlotte Vye-Brown, Susanne Sargeant
This week BGS scientists from the Volcanology, Seismology and Geoscience in Society teams have been at the 4th session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction: ‘Invest today for a safer tomorrow: Resilient people, resilient planet’, in Geneva, Switzerland. 

The Global Platform is hosted by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and the meeting brought together around 3500 people from 170 countries representing national and regional governments, civil society organisations and communities, academia, the private sector, and humanitarian and development organisations. The focus of the discussions was how this diverse group can work together to support disaster risk management and reduction to reduce losses (averaged at $16.2 million per hour since 2000) and build a more resilient world. Discussions from this Global Platform are being synthesised to assist in the development of the successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action from 2015. This is the global policy framework that guides efforts to build resilience to natural disasters. Its successor will build on the progress made since 2005 at local, national and global scales. 

Part of the work presented at this Global Platform has been the Global Assessment Report for 2013. This report delivers ready to use risk data mapped at the global scale to support a comparative assessment of the risk posed from hazards and the potential impact on lives, livelihoods and assets critical to the functioning of communities.  BGS are working in collaboration with partners around the world as part of the Global Volcano Model network to deliver, for the first time, a volcano section for the next report (GAR15) to be released in 2015. We will, be establishing a relative global assessment of volcanic threat, taking into account volcanic hazards, monitoring capacity, population and critical infrastructure exposure.  The GVM network will also produce stochastic models of volcanic ash fall and risk case studies

We also send huge congratulations to our friends and colleagues from the National Alliance for Risk Reduction and Response Initiative (NARRI) in Bangladesh. NARRI have been awarded the UN-Sasakawa Award for Disaster Risk Reduction at the Global Platform for demonstrating the benefit of collaboration in building resilient communities.  

Dr Charlotte Vye-Brown, Dr Susanne Sargeant (photos from @BGSvolcanology & Dr John Rees

Monday, 20 May 2013

Lake Ohrid borehole hits 568m by Jack Lacey

I arrived in Macedonia just over a week ago and travelled to Lake Ohrid in the south west of the Former Yugoslavian Republic. The drilling and science team had just completed a 568 meter hole!  

Drill tool showing bit and core catcher

The DOSECC drilling and science teams work in two 12-hour shifts, with each shift being able to drill around 30 meters on a good day (and up to 60 meters on a great day!). I work on the night shift so start my day at 7pm and spend my nocturnal hours waiting for core to arrive on deck. The drilling process starts by constructing a chain of outer pipework the length of the hole (over 650 meters of it when I joined!) and then a drill tool is dropped down ready to recover new sediment. The tool is attached to a 3 meter long pipe containing a plastic liner which houses the newly drilled core. At the base of the tool is a drill bit to churn through the lake bed, behind which is a core catcher that acts like a valve to allow the sediment to pass through but not fall out and also provides a sample for immediate analysis. After drilling a wire line is lowered down to recover the tool, complete with sediment core, which is then pulled back up to the surface – which takes around 20 minutes at depths of over 700 meters. This is where the science team’s job starts.

Plenty of cores- a successful nights drilling!
On the barge the main task is to separate the core into 1 meter lengths and accurately record from what depth they were recovered (really important for all later work). It is then secured in the plastic liner and labelled for identification and the depth recorded. The cores are transferred at the end of each shift back to the office where more data is recorded and a Multi-Sensor Core Logger (MSCL) is used to determine some sediment properties for preliminary analysis. Once everything has been completed that can be in the field, the cores are stored in a refrigerated unit and await transport back to the University of Cologne, Germany. 

Bentonite plumes in the water
The campaign is recovering the deepest lake sediment ever drilled, and as such some problems do occur. On several occasions the wire line used to recover the drill tool has broken, which to retrieve it, last week required 90 meters of the outer pipe work to be removed. Also at these depths maintaining a stable drill hole is really important so the pipes can rotate and stay free for drilling. This is achieved by pumping a mix of water and clay down the drill which acts to remove waste material and support the structure of the drill hole. On one night shift we used 56 bags of bentonite (clay) which weighed over 2000 kg, luckily the drillers have to load it!

The barge being moved to the SE of the lake
This week the barge has been towed into a new position to the south east of the lake where we will start coring shallower holes, with an aim to investigate lake level fluctuations and catchment dynamics (similar to the Lini core I am currently working on, see future blog posts!). A second location is planned to the north, nearer our hotel, to look at land slide deposits and water input into the lake via underground springs. 

For more frequent updates and a more in depth account of the drilling process follow me on Twitter @JackHLacey or take a look at my blog Jack is a BUFI-University of Leicester first year PhD student and is being supervised by Prof Mel Leng and Prof Randy Parrish at BGS/Leicester and Dr Bernd Wagner in Cologne.

Me @JackHLacey

Friday, 17 May 2013

Scotland's Environment & BGS information by Keith Westhead

Some twenty-five BGS information layers, including the onshore Digital Geological Map of Great Britain at 1:50 000 scale, are part of ninety-nine new Web Map Service (WMS - wiki link!) layers just released on Scotland's Environment Web portal.

This further collaboration between BGS and Scotland's Environment Web is a significant step in the continuing drive for open access delivery of information to support successful management and understanding of our natural environment. The BGS already delivers huge amounts of information openly through our own OpenGeoscience portal and the Geology of Britain Viewer - but the true power comes from seeing it alongside major environmental WMS layers from many other providers.

Scotland's Environment Web is a major European Life+ project managed by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and its partners, which aims to bring together information on Scotland’s environment in one place. The BGS is a partner in Scotland's Environment Web, along with all the key organisations across Scotland which hold data relevant to the environment (including but not limited to SEPA, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Government and Local Authorities, NGOs, Marine Scotland, Universities, NHS, Historic Scotland, the Met Office and Scottish Environment LINK).
Now available on BGS website
: Geology of Britain mobile!

The aims of Scotland's Environment Web include a description of the ‘state of Scotland’s environment’, presentation of the most relevant and up-to-date information to support it, and help for the wider public to understand and engage with their environment. The latter includes the ‘Get Involved’ initiative which supports networks of citizen science projects. So Scotland's Environment Web provides organisations such the BGS with an opportunity to see our information used actively in ways that really matter for the environment.

By Keith Westhead – BGS Marine & Coastal Geologist, Digital Publishing, and Member of the Scotland's Environment Web Management Board

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Getting to know you...... by Jez Everest

Your name: Jez Everest
Your job title: Project Leader: Iceland Glacier Observatory
What that means in 5 words or less: Science coordinator and general dogsbody
Date: 8th May 2013
What did you do today: Got up at 4.30 to fly to Nottingham for a day of panicked meetings to organise our Royal Society exhibition

What creature comforts from home do you travel with? iPod and a good book
What did you want to be when you grew up? Han Solo
Who’s the best movie villain? Goldfinger
And fave movie hero? Silent Bob
Pet hate? Poor grammar
Favourite geological words? Bergschrund; pingo

Hammer or hand lens? Hand lens
The Day after Tomorrow or Ice Age? Day after tomorrow
David or Richard (Attenborough): David
Hutton or Smith? Hutton
Cox or Stewart? Stewart

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

NASA and the Soil Testing Kit by Wayne Shelley and Steve Richardson

Last fortnight, more than 9,000 people and 484 organizations from around the world came together in 83 cities across 44 countries to engage directly with NASA at the largest hackathon ever held. Volunteers ranged from graphics designers, hardware and software developers, school teachers, project managers, database engineers and scientists. Wayne Shelley and Steve Richardson, from our Nottingham office, are advanced GIS developers and part of the team behind our app production.... such as iGeology and mySoil..... here they recount the experience of the NASA hackathon.


We joined the ‘Soil Testing Kit’ challenge at the Met Office in Exeter with a video link to the Growers’ Nation team at the Google campus in London:

This challenge had several desired outputs:
  • Hardware development to automatically detect soil parameters
  • Apps to view and disseminate the results with other people
  • Guidance on how to test soil parameters

The Exeter and London teams created two different hardware devices:
  • In Exeter we hacked a cheap solar powered garden light to include a temperature, humidity and soil moisture sensor. These sensors were then connected up to an Arduino board and a Bluetooth transmitter.


  •  The London team created a similar sensor device but transmitted the data via SMS.

The Ardunio software was developed to retrieve values from the sensors and transmit the data via Bluetooth. Then an Android app was developed to retrieve this information and publish it to a database in the Amazon EC2 cloud.

Source Code available here:

Our team also included graphics designer Tom Rogers. He created some really nice instructions on how to collect pH and soil texture.

The ‘Soil Testing Kit’ won first prize at the London event and was Highly Commended at Exeter. A collaborative entry will now be entered into the International finals.

Well done everyone involved. We both had a great weekend.
Wayne Shelley and Steve Richardson