Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The International Continental scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) funding process – part 1 by Melanie Leng

9 hours ago I touched down in Tokyo, Japan. I'm on my way to Sendai to represent the UK geoscience community on the ICDP Executive Committee. Here I fill you in on what I have learned so far about the ICDP funding process...

In 2012 the UK became a member of the ICDP, membership was sponsored by the British Geological Survey for the UK's geoscience community for up to 5 years. This enables us to apply for ICDP funding to drill through rocks and sediments as well as participating in (already funded) international ICDP programs. There has been a  lot of activity in the past year, UK scientists' are partners on a number of full proposals currently either underway or under consideration. For example Prof Philip Barker (Lancaster) is a Co-I on a project to drill Lake Challa in the foot hills of Mt Kilimanjaro. The workshop was funded and took place last year, and the full proposal is currently under consideration with ICDP. Prof Henry Lamb (Aberystwyth) is a Co-I on the part ICDP funded project: Hominin Sites and Palaeolakes Drilling Project (HSPDP) . I am a Co-I on Scientific Collaboration on Past Speciation Conditions in Ohrid (SCOPSCO) which is a lake in the Balkans which has recently been successfully drilled (see previous blogs).

Funding through the ICDP is approved through a process involving three committees: Firstly the Science Advisory Group (SAG) meets. This group last met in May where they considered the scientific cases proposed for both workshops and full proposals. Dr Kathryn Goodenough (BGS) is the UK's representative on the SAG. At the SAG each proposal (workshop and full) is described by "leaders", followed by a discussion. The highest regarded proposals usually have a clear understanding of the geology and often contain geophysical data. The proposals are graded 1-5 and a written agreed assessment of each proposal then goes to the Executive Committee (EC). The next EC meeting is the one I will attend next week in Japan.

It is the EC's responsibility to review SAG's recommendations and scientifically prioritise the project proposals. The EC place the fundable projects into a plan, considering both the funding requested and that is available. The EC then report decisions to the Assembly of Governors (AOG) who provide financial and scientific oversight. The AOG also make major policy decisions and review membership. Te AOG meet directly after the EC.

The UK has members on the three boards that oversee ICDP activities. Prof John Ludden (BGS Director) sits on the Assembly of Governors, I sit on the Executive Committee and Dr Kathryn Goodenough (BGS) is part of the Science Advisory Group. Please feel free to contact us about any ICDP related activities. The next deadline for ICDP proposals is January 2014. You can keep up to date with ICDP-UK activities through the website.   

Some research areas funded by ICDP
When the proposals have been reviewed and decisions made on funding I will blog again.


(you can also follow me on twitter @MelJLeng, the ICDP-UK hashtag is #ICDPUK)

Spot the Geologist - the start of my PhD..... by Leah Nolan

Leah and Peter with their supervisory team from Leicester &
BGS (from left: Melanie Leng, Peter Saycie, Mike Stephenson,
Leah Nolan, Sarah Davies and Vanessa Banks)
 Leah starts her PhD research, in Geology at Leicester University and in association with the BGS, in October. Here she describes her first field visit to the picturesque Lathkill Dale in the Peak District where famous Lower Carboniferous limestones out crop...

Spotting the geologists was an easy task as we arrived in the village of Monyash in the Peak District last Sunday. Sat outside the local cafe were three people from the British Geological Survey with their boots, hammers and compasses at the ready, looking at maps of the local area – these were my guides for the day! The point was to introduce me (and MGeol student Peter Saycie) to some of the local geology that I will be studying for the next three years. We soon set off in the sunshine down Lathkill Dale, a dry valley cut by huge rivers that would have flooded through the Dales over the Quaternary when glaciers retreated at the end of ancient glaciations. We aimed to look at Lower Carboniferous limestones, find the famous Gigantoproductid fossil bed (which I have been working on as part of my MGeol thesis over the past year), and start to think about a plan for my thesis research which is due to start in October.
Leah and fellow student Peter looking at brachiopods
in the fallen blocks within Ricklow Quarry in Lathkill Dale

The first stop was not far along the Dale. Here we looked for calcretes (fossil soils) on top of massive ancient limestones. I’m not convinced I saw them (!) so I have somewhere to revisit! Progressing down the Dale towards Ricklow Quarry I was really excited to see really good rock exposure. The quarry debris is littered with huge shells of a single type of brachiopod! In particular the back face of the quarry displays a huge thickness of shells, all in life position, thought to have been living in small pools around coral reefs about 350 million years ago when the Dales were at the equator. Peter will also be working on this material, and pretty quickly we were collecting shells even though this was only a “look and see” day (the shells are beautiful and we couldn’t resist it)...We moved on down the Dale, taking a short cut through tall nettles, where I wished I had worn thicker trousers...nettles are not friendly! We soon found another shell bed below the level of the reefs although the shells had been heavily recrystalised by fluids passing through the rocks.

At the end of the day we visited Butt Quarry near Worksop where we hoped to see the equivalent limestones, unfortunately the brachiopods were about 100m up the quarry face and not easily accessible! However what was interesting is that the quarry shows numerous faults and late stage fluids have brought lead ores that penetrate the limestones – these mineral rich veins must have been an added bonus when they were quarrying the limestone. Overall a good day was had by all. I left with more question about the area than when I arrived with, but that’s the point of a PhD (right!?!?).  I am excited to get stuck in and look forward to spending more time in the Dales...I have a feeling that myself and the local campsite owner are soon to become good friends. Roll on October...and another blog... 

Lathkill Dale in the Peak District which contains some
spectacular Lower Carboniferous limestones
Leah Nolan will start her PhD research at Leicester University in October 2013. She is also  sponsored by the BGS BUFI scheme. Her PhD is concerned with reconstructing palaeoenvironment of the Lower Carboniferous of the Peak District, and how this has controlled subsequent diagenesis and the development of fluid pathways through the limestones. She will be supervised by Profs Melanie Leng and Sarah Davies at Leicester and Prof Mike Stephenson and Dr Vanessa Banks from the British Geological Survey.

Does the Ionosphere really hum?? by Ciaran Beggan

Dr Ciaran Beggan works in the Geomagnetism team at our BGS Edinburgh office. He's currently looking at what happens when the Earth's naturally occurring magnetic fields interplay with the ionosphere. In time, he hopes it'll lead to a new data set for monitoring the magnetosphere, space weather and related ionospheric phenomena; but for the time being here's Ciaran explaining a bit more:

Since June 2012, BGS have been running two induction coil magnetometers at our geophysical observatory in Eskdalemuir in the Scottish Borders. The induction coils measure the very rapid changes of the magnetic field from frequencies of around once per second (1 Hz) to fifty times per second (50 Hz).  

The BGS Induction Coil webpage shows a set of daily spectrograms – one from the North-South orientated coil (Channel 1) and the other East-West orientated coil (Channel 2). Spectrograms are images of power at each time during the day for a particular frequency.

The most obvious features in the images are the Schumann resonances (fuzzy bands at 8, 15, 22 Hz), lightning storms local to the UK (occasional horizontal lines) and the continuous vertical line from the power grid at 25 Hz. The lower frequencies below 5 Hz have been damped down to stop them over-powering the much smaller signals between 6 and 50 Hz. Here’s an example from the 26th April this year.
Spectrograms for 26th April 2013, showing the Schumann resonances, lightning storm activity between 11.00 and 18.00 and the induced 25 Hz signal from the power grid
However, that does not mean there is nothing of interest at frequencies below 5 Hz – quite the opposite, in fact. I have been looking at the low frequency data (0.1 – 10 Hz) for the past few weeks, as I am putting together a poster for the National Astronomy Meeting (NAM2013) in St. Andrews in early July. There are some fascinating effects from the Earth’s magnetosphere (the part of Earth’s magnetic field which extends into space), which can produce regular ‘pulsations’ at low frequencies (around 0.1 – 1 Hz) when it interacts with Sun’s magnetic field. This is a natural response of the magnetosphere when it has been disturbed by a passing Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) for example. Energy from the CME passes into the Earth’s magnetosphere which causes it to vibrate. It’s analogous to the vibrations of a bell when struck with a hammer. The images below show some long lived pulsations recorded on the 2nd April from midnight to around midday (the bright vertical patches between 0.1 and 1 Hz). 

Spectrograms for 2nd April 2013: pulsations between 00.00 and 11.00.
The 8 Hz Schumann resonances is also visible

Other interesting effects can be seen when the magnetosphere is very quiet. At night time, a series of oscillations of the magnetic field lines passing through the ionosphere can be detected. They vibrate slowly at 0.5 – 4 Hz in the local evening time and then over the course of a few hours begin to speed up to 5 – 7 Hz. Between 4-6 am local time (depending on season), they begin to dissipate as the ionosphere starts to change due to the effect of sunlight on its conductivity. These are called spectral resonance structures (SRS) and are generally clearer in the East-West orientated coil. They can be seen in the images below as the faint slanted lines starting around 18.00 UT, particularly in Channel 2 (right panel). This is what I have called the ‘hum’ of the ionosphere!

Spectrograms for 7th March 2013: Spectral resonance structures between 18.00 and 24.00.
The 8 Hz Schumann resonances is also visible

There are plenty of other odd (and for me, unexplained) phenomena in this new dataset. I’ll post some of the more mysterious ones for your opinion at some point (if Lauren lets me!).

By Ciaran Beggan

[you can be assured I'll be getting Ciaran to share some of these odd and unexplained phenomena, he's just signed up to a world of blog nagging encouragement - LAUREN]

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Earthquakes, dams and archives by Dr Roger Musson

Recently, the Engineering Group of the Geological Society started the preparation of a Special Publication to be called “Geological hazards in the UK: Their occurrence, monitoring and mitigation”. The intention is a one-volume reference work for the various geohazards in the UK, with each chapter in the book detailing a different hazard, and written by a relevant specialist in that field (several of whom are from BGS). I was asked to provide the chapter on earthquakes, and I recently completed the first draft.
Now, in the course of this, I needed to discuss the various sorts of damage that have occurred from British earthquakes, and not just to ordinary houses, but also special structures like dams. I have always said, in the course of talks, that there have been three cases of damage to dams from earthquakes in Britain: one in the English Midlands in 1957, and two in Scotland in 1839 and 1979. This is important information for the chapter, but the statement needed to be backed up with citations.
The first two cases were easy, as I knew of journal papers discussing them, but the last one was more problematic. I knew about it from remembered conversations back in the 1980s - but was there a written account of it anywhere?
My first step was a comprehensive internet search, which yielded precisely nothing. You would think the dam in question was never affected by any earthquake. The internet is a wonderful resource for many things, but it is not nearly as omniscient as some people would like to think. For some specialist areas it is particularly weak.
Secondly, I turned to conference proceedings. One of the characteristics of seismic hazard as a field of science, is that much of the scientific development is conducted as part of research projects conducted outside of academia. A consequence of this is that many important publications appear not in the high-impact journals so beloved of research assessment exercises, but in obscure reports and conference papers.
These are typically printed in small runs and can be very hard to access. Successive seismologists in BGS have carefully hoarded copies of these valuable documents, and in many cases, the copies preserved in BGS are the only copies in the country. Having ready access to copies of these plays an important part in the ability of BGS staff to undertake seismic hazard research to the standards required for support of the engineering industry.
Running through the BGS collection, I was able to find a paper that described the safety-related activities undertaken at the dam after the earthquake - but of the effects of the earthquake itself, there was no mention.
Failing to find a published account, even an obscure one, I finally turned to the seismological archives of the BGS, and a file of correspondence from the period. Here I soon found exactly what I was after - a contemporary letter from someone who had visited the dam immediately after the earthquake, and describing the damage. This is precisely what I needed: it had the details, and it was attributable.
This nicely demonstrates one of the important roles of a geological survey: to act as a permanent repository of archival data relevant to the earth sciences. It is easy to imagine that in a university department or commercial company, such information would be lost on the retirement of whoever collected it. Only in a geological survey can the long-term survival of such records be guaranteed. And such records, which might look on casual inspection to be just a bunch of old letters, may turn out, after the passage of many years, to be key documents relevant to safety from geohazards.

Dr Roger Musson

To lean more about BGSArchives visit our website

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Smiles & Science at Nottingham Open Day..... by Carrie Soderman

A-level student Carrie Soderman and her sister Jenny visited the BGS site in Keyworth with their mum for the open day last Saturday. Here are her thoughts on the day!
I was excited about all of the activities and areas on offer at the BGS open day but I definitely wanted to visit the ‘Anthropo-Zone’ and ‘Fossil Fun’! We went to the ‘Anthropo-zone’ first where I learnt about storing CO2 deep under the North Sea in a dense fluid state (Carbon Capture and Storage), and the possibilities of fracking (extracting gas from shale rock) in the ‘Frac-Shack’. However, one of my highlights of my day was examining Antarctic ice cores and learning about what they can tell us about past climate.
Jenny and Carrie Soderman

Here is what I learned:
As snow falls and gets compacted over time, the air that was present at that moment becomes trapped as air bubbles within the ice. Lines of summer and winter snowfall and any periods of melting can be identified within ice cores. It felt very bizarre to be holding ice from Antarctica that was releasing 500 year old air, the purest air I will ever breathe, and listening to it crackle as it did so! I was soon beginning to understand how analysis of this air and specifically the CO2 levels within it enable us to track fluctuations in global temperature through glacial and interglacial periods (Marine Isotope Stages) back nearly 800,000 years ago – and compare our current high atmospheric CO2 concentrations to those from the past. All this and I met a very stylish penguin called Petula J
Some other highlights for me!
‘Fossil Fun’ was an incredible part of the day. I saw a gigantic fossil of a mammoth thigh bone and the tiniest of micro-fossils which were barely distinguishable under a microscope. There was a huge range of fossils to admire and learn about! Not only that, but a 3D printer was in action, printing a dinosaur claw in just 24 minutes!
In the ‘Maps to Apps’ area I learnt about “OpenGeoscience” and why the garden at home is so difficult to grow plants in – with a bedrock of Murcia mudstone and then glacial till on top, it’s no surprise that the soil is so clayey and gets water logged so easily. The BGS iGeology app (which I promptly downloaded) is a fascinating resource...
I examined zircons and learnt about how they are used to date rocks by radioactive decay from uranium to lead. I discovered ‘calcareous ooze’!! I also saw Professor Iain Stewart!!
The whole day was great fun and a wonderful opportunity to improve my geological knowledge. Having just finished my AS exams, it was a lovely way to kick start some post-exam learning. The weather was ideal for walking along the Geological Walkway and taking a fast-track tour from the Precambrian (2500 million years ago) to the Quaternary (up to present day). Two of my favourite rocks were the Wiltshire Sarsen sandstone and ‘Bluestone’ which make up Stonehenge.
Thank you to BGS and to everyone I spoke to (as well as everyone else involved) who helped make it such an enjoyable and successful open day!
Carrie Soderman is an A level student at King Edward VI High School for Girls, Edgbaston, Birmingham

100 years of dating rocks and minerals, and counting….... Part1 by Dan Condon

Time was born 100 years ago. Geological time, or “isotope geochronology”, to be exact. This may sound like an odd statement but 1913 was a year of two very important scientific events that gave us the tools by which we could date the age of our planet.

Our Dr Daniel Condon explains more about these exciting events and the birth of isotope geochronology…. 
In 1913, Frederick Soddy’s research on the fundamentals of radioactivity led to the discovery of “isotopes.” Later that same year, Arthur Holmes published his now famous book The Age of the Earth, in which he applied this new science of radioactivity to the quantification of geologic time. Combined, these two landmark events did much to establish the field of “isotope geochronology” – the science that underpins our knowledge of the absolute age of most Earth (and extraterrestrial) materials. In celebrating the centenary, this series of blog posts (tagged #geochron100) will highlight a discipline that reflects and responds to the demands of studies ranging from the early evolution of the Solar System to our understanding of Quaternary climate change, and the 4.5 billion years in between.
To paraphrase Monty Python, what’s geochronology ever done for us? Quite a lot it turns out. The quantification of time is fundamental to our understanding of planetary evolu­tion and the geologic processes that shape our own planet Earth. The origin and evolution of life on Earth is recorded within stratigraphic successions that we sequence and order using radioisotopic dates. Geochronology informs our understanding of plate tectonic processes, their influence on the development of topography, and in turn the climate system.  The integration of disparate geologic records via absolute dating illuminates the connec­tions and feedbacks among the biological, climatic and tectonic components of the coupled Earth system, such as those exemplified during the Neoproterozoic era when snowball Earths were followed by the rise of animals. Their causal links to phenomena like biological mass extinctions and changes in atmospheric composition are also tested and revealed by radioisotopic dating. Geochronology has become a key tool of geological mapping and exploration for the mineral and energy resources upon which our society is built. And equally relevant is the role of chronology in under­standing environments during the last tens to hundreds of thousands of years, an understanding that provides the context for anthropogenic climate change. Indeed, geochro­nology has done quite a lot for us.


Arthur Holmes (left) ca. 1910 published ‘The Age of the Earth’ in 1913.  Frederick Soddy (right) in 1922 published a paper on the concept of ‘radio elements chemically non-separable’ which at the suggestion of Dr Margaret Todd, her termed ‘isotopes’.
As I’ve mentioned the year 2013 marks the centenary of two landmark publica­tions that laid the foundations of modern geochronology. Soddy (above right) received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work, which contributed to the burgeoning field of nuclear physics. At the same time Arthur Holmes (above left) carried out pioneering studies on the application of radioactivity to dating rocks and his prescient realization of the impor­tance of a quantified geologic time­scale instigated the quantitative study of the stratigraphic record, which continues to this day (Gradstein et al. 2012). 

This conver­gence in 1913 of physics and geology marks the birth of isotope geochronology and while these centenaries deserve an auspi­cious marking, the current state of isotope geochronology also merits celebration. This month we are holding a science meeting at The Geological Society entitled ‘The first century of Isotope Geochronology: the legacy of Frederick Soddy and Arthur Holmes’, where speakers (but not including Prof Iain Stewart! ☺) from across the globe will be talking about a wide range of applications, from Mars rover exploration through to mass extinctions 200 million years ago, and recent climate change that gives us some insight into what magnitude of change we could be expecting in the coming years.  Geochronology has never been more relevant.  So please stop by GeoBlogy in the coming weeks/months for a look at the exciting work we’re doing and how it attempts to answers some really important questions. We’ll also try and answer why “ABSOLUTE AGES AREN’T ALWAYS EXACTLY?”, what Donald Rumsfeld has to do with dating rocks, and what we’re doing to make them better dates…


Follow Dan on Twitter @DanJCondon to hear more about his work and the upcoming meeting #wsmith13
Gradstein, F., Ogg, J., Schmitz, M.S., and Ogg, G., 2012, The Geologic Time Scale 2012 2-Volume Set, 1st Edition.  ISBN: 9780444594259

Friday, 7 June 2013

15 million years in 56 days.... by Tim Kearsey

Last week members of the TW:eed project completed a 501 metre deep borehole, just outside Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland.  After eight weeks of drilling seven days a week, a near continuous run of core has been recovered from the Ballagan Formation representing approximately 15 million years of the rock record in which the earliest terrestrial fossils of our ancestral tetrapods, have been found. Dr Tim Kearsey explains all in his video and interview below:

How does drilling a hole in the ground help us understand the origin of vertebrate life on land?

The borehole is crucial in understanding how the different fossil locations in the Tweed area relate to each other in time. All the localities where tetrapod fossils have been found are in river beds where only a few tens of metres of Ballagan Formation are exposed. So it is impossible to correlate between the sites using the rocks exposed at the fossil sites.

What is needed is a continuous section of rocks through the sequence containing all the fossil localities to work out the order of evolution. A continuous section exists at Burnmouth, about 10km north of Berwick, but this is in a fault zone and at the coast which means we don’t know for certain how it relates to the fossil sites. By drilling the borehole inland, close to the fossil sites, we now have another continuous section and by comparing it with Burnmouth we can erect a time frame in which the fossil localities can be placed.

Crucially the core from the borehole also provides a continuous record of the climate and environmental change through the time that the tetrapods evolved. This will be created by assembling evidence from the sedimentary rocks in the borehole, along with geochemical information and the occurrence of fossil plant spores (palynology). Unlike the coastal outcrop at Burnmouth the borehole core is unaffected by weathering and erosion which can alter or destroy many of these types of evidence.

So what have you found?
Gypsum (pink) and anhydrite (white) in the core ; top/youngest rock is to the left
borehole is 7 inches (102mm) in diameter
On-site inspection of the core has found some interesting things. Some of the core contains plant fragments (see video), usually associated with the base of sandstone units. These are probably bits of tree and plant caught up in the rivers sediment in times of flood.
Also, we have found a lot of beds of gypsum and anhydrite (see above). These are tend get weathered way in the sections at the surface so the only preserved in the borehole. They are interesting as today they form in sabka environments in places like Persian Gulf and are formed by high rates of evaporation.

The carbonado diamond drill bit ; before (left) and after drilling the borehole (right)

What next?
Over the next few weeks the core will be shipped to BGS National Core Store in Keyworth, Nottingham. Once there it will be catalogued, split in half and photographed. Then, in the autumn, Dr Carys Bennett of Leicester University and I will spend over a month studying the core in great detail and taking samples for analysis.
We would like to thank our drilling partners Drilcorp of Seaham, County Durham, who drilled the high quality cores for us; also Alistair Berkett of John Wilson and Sons Farmers Ltd. for allowing is to drill the borehole on their farm.

by Tim

Catch up with past TW:eed posts here

Volcanic Hazards in Tanzania by Charlotte Vye-Brown and Kay Smith

Our volcanologists have been in Tanzania this week to talk about monitoring volcanoes in Tanzania. Among the many volcanoes of Tanzania at least ten are known to have erupted in the last 10,000 years, the most recent event being the eruption of Ol Doinyo Lengai in 2008. However, until this week there has been no systematic in-country monitoring of volcanic activity in Tanzania to support the management of volcanic crises.

We have been in Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania, to lead a workshop at the Geological Survey of Tanzania (GST) on a new satellite-based system for monitoring volcanic activity. The EU FP7 project European Volcano Observatory Space Services (EVOSS) of which we are part, has developed a system that provides near real-time satellite-based monitoring of volcanoes across Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. Our system provides processed data and delivers the products via a web portal, the Virtual Volcano Observatory, to users including volcano observatories. The products delivered include: thermal anomalies, deformation, ash and sulphur dioxide emissions to enable the monitoring of eruptions and eruption products including lava and pyroclastic flows. The one day workshop introduced staff from GST to the EVOSS products, the sensors and science behind the processing and provided instructions in the use of the portal in order to access data during a volcanic eruption.

Prof Abdul Mruma, Director of GST, reported that the delivery of EVOSS to Tanzania means that for the first time they will be able to observe future activity and use this information to advise both the Tanzanian National Disaster Committee and local communities about the type, style and changes in eruptive activity as well as any threat the activity poses to people, infrastructure, livestock and livelihoods.

Follow the Volcanology Team @BGSvolcanology