Saturday, 28 September 2013

Photos from Expedition 347 - drilling the Baltic

Our Mary Mowat, aboard the Greatship Manisha, has sent us these snaps from the last fortnight of sailing!

First test of equipment

"quite glad it's not so rough today after yesterday!" !!!

Keep up to date with the expedition via the crew logbook and their Facebook page.

Monday, 16 September 2013

The TW:eed core arrives in Keyworth... by Andrea Snelling

Professor Sarah Davies, Dr Andrea Snelling and
Dr Carys Bennett examining the Tweed Basin core
Andrea Snelling has just joined the TW:eed team. Her speciality within TW:eed is to use stable isotope composition of the rocks to help interpret palaeoenvironment around the time of tetrapod evolution. Here she tells us a little about her first glimpse of the core material through the early Carboniferous collected earlier this year.

The 501m of fluvial and coastal plain
sedimentary rocks from the Early
Carboniferous of the Tweed Basin
The TW:eed project members met last week at the BGS National Core Repository, to get the first glimpse of the 501 metre core collected from near Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland. The core, which represents millions of years of rock record through the Ballagan Formation offers the chance for us to investigate environmental change through a crucial period of time when fully land-based vertebrates were evolving during the Early Carboniferous (from about 359 Ma onwards).

The core was laid out in its entirety in the BGS core store, so members of the team were able to see for the first time an almost complete record of the Early Carboniferous sedimentary succession, spanning 15 million years. The core is made up of three main lithologies: sandstones, mudstones and siltstones with occasional layers of gypsum/anhydrite and dolomite. With the whole core laid out we were able to see the intricate detail of the different rock types, the transitions between them and how they changed through time. It was easy to get lost in the fascinating sedimentary features, including evidence of ripples, fossils soils and burrowing, and not forgetting the fossil remains lurking within the sediment.

Gypsum and anhydrite formed in a
palaeo-sabkha in the Tweed Basin
Over the next month Carys Bennett (team Tw:eed sedimentologist and micropalaeonotologist) and Tim Kearsey (sedimentologist and statigrapher) have the monumental task of logging the core in fine detail, making sense of the transitions and deciphering the sedimentary structures, whilst Emma Reeves (University of Southampton) and I will follow closely behind taking samples for palynology, isotope analysis, thin sections (to examine the really fine detail of the sedimentary rocks) and recovering any fossil fragments that may be apparent. Together we hope to be able to reconstruct the environment at a crucial time in Earth’s history when tetrapods first emerged from the ocean onto land.

Andrea Snelling 

Friday, 13 September 2013

Stepping out of my comfort zone into soil science by Dr Sarah Bennett

On my arrival at Lancaster train station, the tell-tale sign of a poster tube bobbing along in the distance indicated I was in the right place.  I was here to attend the Annual Meeting of the British Society of Soil Science (fondly known as BS cubed) and with a background in oceanography this was definitely an area of research outside of my comfort zone. 

Four months ago I joined BGS as a Stable Isotope Research Geochemist in the NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory.  While still maintaining my links with the oceanographic community, this position gives me an amazing opportunity to work with scientists in all areas of environmental science.  It is my role to offer expertise in light stable isotopes i.e. hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and sulphur, which are typically used for tracing chemical cycles, inferring processes, estimating rates and determining temperatures.  This involves collaborating with scientists across the country and I was to meet the soil community at this conference. 

A peat core demonstrated by
Prof Ed Tipping (CEH Lancaster)
The aim of the conference was to deal with one of the more academic intellectual challenges faced by soil scientists: scale.  This means dealing with both spatial and temporal changes.  How do soils impact river basins, the atmosphere and climate and how will this change in the future?  This was dealt with in a three day program, starting on day one thinking big, through to the finer scale and ending on day three considering the long term and wider impacts.  On day two we had a day in the field and learnt about some of the latest developments being rolled out in the farming community and the importance of peat.  Many of the issues and analytical techniques discussed by the soil community resonated with my own experiences in oceanography.  Suddenly I didn’t feel like the beached oceanographer that I initially thought I was. 

One of the challenges of environmental research is working with people from a wide range of backgrounds.  Chemists, biologists, physicists, geologists, mathematicians, environmentalists and that’s just to name the core disciplines.  For me, that’s what makes this work so interesting and enables exciting collaborations.  The soil community was no exception to the rule and were extremely welcoming.  I am therefore looking forward to spinning up new collaborations and working with them into the future.

A day in the field – Near to the highest peak in the
Pennines (Cross Fell), we were rewarded with views
of the Lake District
By Sarah Bennett 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Landslide event at the British Science Festival

Our audience at the 2013 British Science Festival were treated to a Landslide fact bonanza today. BGS Dr Helen Reeves and TRL Dr Mike Winters teamed up to present findings from the cutting edge of landslide research......
 As well as the world premier (!!!) of the new Landslide Response Team video! See it here

Mike presenting

Before we get onto the jaw dropping numbers it's worth noting, as we're using the medium of online communication, the value that social media has had on the research. 

The team has always used traditional media to find locations of recent landslides so they can be visited, logged and studied. Every case study adds to understanding how and why landslides happened in the areas and at the times they do. With the launch of the Landslides hub on the BGS website it became possible to encourage Citizen Scientists to report events and over the last 12 months the team has been monitoring Twitter too. This resource allows the team to see events unfold in real time and get minute by minute reports and data. So if you see a landslide then visit or tweet

So back to the all important numbers. Over the last 14 months there has been a staggering fivefold increase in UK landslides with 75 occurring in December alone. Since January 2013 there's already been 95 events which is more than recorded for a 'normal' year. So why has it been such an  exceptionally  above average year for landslides? Simply put it's been an above average year! Well it's all to do with the weather. Remember how the 2012 summer was VERY WET! In fact the MET office recently announced it was the second wettest UK summer in recorded history. 

Helen confirmed that it's this rainfall that has a direct effect on landslides. Yes, the higher the rainfall the more landslides we see, for the  science bit see the website......

40% of these landslides happen immediately after heavy rainfall events and are typically shallow events affecting the top 1-2m of soil and rock. 60% happen upto 2 months after the rain event and are deeper landslides, 10's of metres deep, because thats how long it takes to reach a  layer of rock susceptible to movement.

When we're back from the festival we'll follow up with a blog from Helen about the uses of this data including the Landslide Susceptibility Maps...... the big plans for the future of landslide research and how we're using our academic and comercial collaborations to protect infrastructure and human life in the future.

Signing off from the British Science Festival, this is Lauren Noakes from the BGS

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Expedition 347 prepares to sail by Alan Stevenson

A team of scientists and engineers from the British Geological Survey are preparing for the next expedition of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) to the Baltic Sea. Mary Mowat (BGS) has sent us some photos from the team preparing to sail from Falmouth, and Alan Stevenson (BGS) has written a few words about the overall project...... keep checking the blog for the latest updates.

Sunny day on the docks in Falmouth

The team on-board the Greatship Manisha will be joined by 17 of the 31 scientists who have been selected to carry out the research into cores collected from seven sites in the Baltic Sea. 

Preparing the Petrophysics container. 
Two of the main objectives are:
•    to gain a better understanding of the history of the Baltic Sea Basin during the last interglacial (the Eemian Interglacial) 130,000 years ago, focussing on how this period ended at the onset of the last ice age.
•    to study the influence of the Scandinavian ice Sheet on North Atlantic climate oscillations as ice advanced and retreated across the Baltic region between 100,000 and 20,000 years ago. During the most recent glacial period, the basin was intermittently free of ice during which it was occupied by lakes.  The sediments deposited in the lakes are thought to have been preserved and could contain a record of climatic development.

Another important element of the work will be to study the microbiology of the Baltic Sea basin sediments to see how microbial life responded to changes from lacustrine, brackish and marine conditions.

The project is led by Dr Thomas Andrén of Södertörn University, Sweden and Dr Bo Barker Jørgensen of Aarhus University, Denmark. The expedition will last up to 60 days and the entire Science Party will meet again at the IODP Bremen Core Repository in January 2014 to complete their analysis of the cores. You can follow the progress of the expedition on the ESO website.

Home sweet home for the next 60 days
The Baltic Sea Paleoenvironment Expedition is the 5th to be led by the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD) on behalf of IODP. BGS, along with partners from the universities of Bremen, Leicester, Montpellier and Aachen (known as the ECORD Science Operator – ESO) are responsible for all planning and implementation of what are known as ‘mission-specific platform’ operations.

The ECORD-led contribution to the program complements that of the United States and Japan who operate the scientific drilling vessels the JOIDES Resolution and the Chikyu. Basically, MSP operations are those that can’t be achieved by these large drilling vessels and require contracting of whichever platform is most appropriate for the work. In the past, the ESO has organised expeditions to the Arctic, Tahiti, the New Jersey coast of the USA, and the Great Barrier Reef, using a range of vessels from a converted supply ships to a jack-up liftboat. The expeditions are organisationally complex and can take several years to reach the stage when offshore operations can start.

For further information contact David McInroy (ESO Science Manager – or Alan Stevenson (ESO Outreach Manage –

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Drilling an ancient orogen by Nick Roberts

Me [Nick Roberts] on top of Åreskutan, Sweden
The UK has recently become a member of the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP); Mel Leng recently blogged about the UK’s involvement and her trip to Japan for the ICDP Executive Committee’s meeting, where new potential projects were discussed. Sweden became a member of ICDP in 2008, and has one ICDP project that is currently underway in Scandinavia: COSC – Collisional Orogeny in the Scandinavian Caledonides. Last month I returned from a field-based workshop on this drilling project, where I discussed the potential involvement and collaboration between the BGS, particularly the NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory, and scientists from the Nordic countries involved in this project.

The COSC Project: 

The objectives of the COSC project are to 1) improve our understanding of collisional orogenesis, 2) investigate the geothermal gradient and its response to palaeoclimatic influences, along with the nature of the hydrogeological-hydrochemical state of the crust and deep biosphere, 3) calibrate the surface geophysics and geology. These have direct relevance for society by improving our understanding of mountain building processes, hydrological-hydrochemical regimes in mountain areas and Precambrian shields, deep subsurface conditions for underground engineering, ore genesis and assessment of geothermal potential. 

Prof. David Gee on Areskuten mountain,
close to the proposed drilling sites, explaining
the origin and transportation of this 'hot nappe'

The Scandinavian Caledonides provide a well exposed example of an ancient continental collision, where Baltica (Scandinavia) was underthrust beneath Laurentia (Greenland), leading to thickening of the continental crust to at least 100 km. Slices of Laurentia and Baltica were buried, then exhumed, then transported large distances (>300km) over the Baltic continent. Such processes are seen in the Himalayan orogen today. The COSC drilling project will drill two holes through one of these slices, with one penetrating all the way into the underlying basement crust. 

The workshop:

The aim of this workshop was to bring together scientists ranging from Masters’ students to Professors, with expertise on both the Caledonides and on orogens further afield, such as the Himalaya. The workshop was led by experts on the geology of the Caledonides, Professors David Gee (Uppsala), Alan Krill (Trondheim) and Peter Robinson (NGU); who between them have nearly a hundred years of experience working on this mountain belt! Following in the footsteps of pioneering geologists, such as Goldschmidt and Törnebohm, we traversed the Caledonian mountains from central Sweden to western Norway, observing key localities where the history of the Caledonian orogen has been studied. 

Prof. Allan Krill explaining how a 1200 million year old
granite has been involved and deformed in the Silurian
Caledonian orogeny
Along the way we discussed in the field and in evening lectures, how we could investigate this orogen further, and how we might go about answering some of the unresolved questions; many of these questions boil down to one important factor – timing. As a geochronologist, I offered my advice on what dating techniques and which minerals could be used to look at specific objectives, for example the timing of individual nappe movements. The NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory is highly experienced in using geochronology to understand orogens, having been involved in many projects in the Himalaya-Tibet orogen amongst others over the years. Now we have the opportunity of pushing the limit of these techniques in a much older orogen, and one that has been described as an ancient example of a Himalayan-type collision. 

Prof. Peter Robinson explaining rare exposures of micro-diamond
bearing rocks that have undergone ultra high pressure through
their burial to depths greater than 150km
Drilling will start in early 2014. It will take several months for the first borehole to be drilled, and then drilling will commence in the second location at a later date. The extracted core will provide excellent samples for study, which will no doubt be used for ongoing research for many years after drilling. Watch this space for future news on NIGL’s involvement in the COSC drilling project. 

By Nick Roberts

QRA Post Graduate Symposium blog by Mel Leng

In the last week of August the Quaternary Research Association held their annual post graduate symposium. The symposium, held at the University of Southampton, was a meeting arranged by- and for only PhD and MSc students studying climate and environmental change over the last 2.6 million years (the Quaternary period). This relatively short (in geological terms) time period is characterised by multiple glaciations and the appearance and expansion of anatomically modern humans.

The meeting involved only two non students, i.e. Prof. Iain Stewart and me, as the invited keynote speakers. While I waxed lyrical (as I usually do) about the usefulness of stable isotopes in palaeoenvironmental research (the #isotopesareawesome hashtag is still going strong), Iain talked about the importance of science communication and our duty as scientists to help deliver our messages in an interesting, coherent and even entertaining way to our non peers. In particular he highlighted social media as the way forward (Twitter, Facebook, blogs), these media are great for students as they allow for great practise and outreach. I tweeted his talk (!) and you can read all about it on my twitter feed or using the twitter hashtag #QRA13.

The student talks (from a variety of geology, geosciences and geography departments across the UK) were fantastic with sessions on lake sediments, tephrochronology, palaeoenvironmental modelling, environment and human impact, peatland palaeoecology and dendrochronology. The best student presentation and poster went to Adam Griggs from Swansea (a Faroe tephra project) and Chris Darvill from Durham (boulders in Patagonia). But also congratulations to BGS and University of Leicester student Jack Lacey for his talk on the ICDP project on Lake Ohrid in Macedonia.

The next symposium will be hosted next summer by Exeter University (and lead organiser is Nicole Sanderson). 

Many thanks to the organisers, Helen Mackay and Kim Davies (both of Southampton), who did a superb job!

Melanie Leng 
Twitter @MelJLeng