Thursday, 17 December 2015

Jedi geology or Sith science: the Force was Kirstin Lemon

Unless you have been living in a bubble for the past few months, you won't have failed to notice that the greatly anticipated seventh Star Wars movie has finally made its appearance in our cinemas. You can't help but get swept up in all the excitement! There has been a huge amount of debate regarding the story line; will we finally have a female Jedi (girl power!), will Luke have gone to the Dark side, and just exactly what are those new lightsabers all about?

I'll be the first to admit that up until a few years ago, I had absolutely no interest in Star Wars, in fact I had never even seen any of the movies. I was born one year after the first movie was released in 1977 so most of my friends, especially the male ones, were completely obsessed with them. I knew the characters, I think that they are a firm part of our popular culture, but I had no idea what there role was. However, that all changed a few decades later. I now have children of my own, two boys no less, and they are both Star Wars mad! For a while, I managed to simply feign interest in the movies, but one Friday night as they were watching what I now know to be Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, I happened to look up and saw something that would change my opinion of Star Wars forever. It was the famous fight scene between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, as they both battled with lightsabers whilst balanced on rocks floating on a river of lava. Something clicked that day, whether the Force was calling, or whether it was the rather impressive CGI work with the lava (let's be honest, this is more likely given that I'm a geologist), I don't know, but from then on I was hooked as well.

Over the past few years, I have been making up for lost time and have watched all of the movies more times that I can remember (although I have never watched them all in the correct order so my version of the story may be different from yours), I have been to numerous Comic Cons and have even made Star Wars gingerbread! I have also taken a great interest in the filming locations because whilst the story might be set in a galaxy far, far away, the filming has to be done here on planet Earth (for now). As always, the geology and geomorphology plays a key part in the location choice for all of the movies so just for a bit of fun, I've given a brief run down of some of the key planets and the geology of their real-life filming locations.

Twenty Mule Team Canyon, Death Valley, California
By far the most commonly used location for filming is Tunisia, where the desert landscape has been used to film Tatooine, the home planet of Anakin Skywalker and his son Luke.  A great number of sites were used around the city of Tozeur, where the stunning landscape provided the perfect backdrop for at least four of the movies. Some of the features include the yardangs, enlongated erosional landforms that resemble the shape of a sharks fin that were the location of the Jedi duel between Qui-Gonn Jin and Darth Maul in Episode I. One of the most famous geological features used is Star Wars Canyon or Sidi Bouhlel as it is known locally. This canyon is carved out of Middle Miocene sandstone and contains fossils of a number of vertebrates including crocodiles that provide vital evidence for changing palaeoclimate in the region. It was used during Episode IV and is where Luke Skywalker meets Obi-Wan Kenobi for the first time.

During the filming of Episode IV and V, shots that were scheduled for Tunisia were filmed in Death Valley, California, as production had gone over budget. Taking advantage of the typical 'badland topography' with its densely spaced drainage, deeply eroded hills, and lack of vegetation, Twenty Mule Team Canyon became the new Star Wars Canyon and was where R2-D2 was filmed as he made his way to Ben Kenobi's hut.

Tower karst in Guilin, China
The homeland of Chewbacca and the rest of the Wookies, Kashyyyk is perhaps one of the most stunning planets. No filming actually took place here, but background shots were taken from Phang Nga Bay in Thailand, and Guilin in China. These two locations are known for their breathtaking tower karst, the name given to steep sided hills of weathered limestone that typically develops in areas with thick limestone, warm wet weather and slow steady tectonic uplift. The landscape from both of these locations can be easily recognised in Episode III during the battle of Kashyyyk.

Everyone remembers the icy wasteland of Hoth from Episode V but it's real location was the Norwegian glacier of Hardangerjokulen and the area around the nearby town on Finse. The glacier itself is the sixth largest in Norway and is around 380m thick. It has played a significant role in the education of glaciologists over the past decades as it has been used as a base for a number of glaciology courses. Hardangerjokulen has also been the subject of a significant amount of recent research into glacier fluctuations during the Holocene period. 

Hardangerjokulen, Norway
Regarded as being the most Earth-like planet, Alderaan is probably most famous as being the home planet of Princess Leia. It was mentioned in both Episode I and IV, but was not actually seen until Episode III. Filming for Alderaan was done in Grindelwald, a municipality in the Swiss Alps, but also the name of  a glacially-carved valley and glacier adjacent to it. The area around Grindelwald has received a significant amount of publicity over the past few decades due to the  retreat of the Lower Grindelwald glacier.

Mount Etna erupting in 2002
Last, but by no means least is Mustafar, the planet where the epic battle scene between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker took place and the one that got me hooked on Star Wars. Obviously, filming two men fighting whilst balancing on rocks floating on lava is impossible but some of the lava scenes were actually shot at Mount Etna in Sicily. Europe's largest active volcano was erupting during the filming of Episode III in 2002 so a film crew visited and got some shots of the lava flow to use as the backdrop for the planet Mustafar.

This impressive array of global filming locations has given us the planets that we know and love in the Star Wars series so far but what about Episode VII? The filming locations have been kept under wraps, although a few leaks have come through here and there. Rumour has it that filming has taken place in Iceland, and given the geological wonderland that Iceland is and the fact that it is used for a number of other science fiction movies and TV shows, then it comes as no great surprise. It has also been rumoured that filming took place at Skellig Michael, a small island off the south-west coast of Co. Kerry in Ireland. This relatively inaccessible place is a World Heritage Site as it was the location of a 6th century monastic site, perched on top of strongly deformed Devonian rocks that appear to burst up from the sea floor. A truly spectacular site but not an easy one to reach! It's been said that the producers of Episode VII have relied much less on CGI this time, and have instead used 'real' locations so let's hope we get a few geological surprises as well as a few storyline ones.

Skellig Michael, Co. Kerry, Ireland
May the force be with you.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Extreme field testers wanted; wimps need not Kirstin Lemon

Me sheltering from the rain.
There's a saying amongst us that the best geologists are the ones that have seen the most rocks. But what about the people that have seen the most rocks, do they make the best geologists?

Some of the people that see the greatest amount of rocks are hill walkers, who spend their spare time exploring and enjoying our great outdoors. Many hill walkers have a practical understanding of the ground beneath their feet, and many of them are geologists themselves. But quite often, those that aren't, want to know more and that is where Mountaineering Ireland came up with an idea to address this.

Mark Cooper introducing the Rocks to Ridges map
Late last year, Mountaineering Ireland approached the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland and the University of Ulster to see if they would produce a simple geological map for the north of the island of Ireland. The idea being to help hill walkers, and anyone else using the outdoors for recreational purposes, to understand the rocks and natural landscape that they are using. The map, called From Rocks to Ridges, uses a digital terraine model (DTM) that shows the topography in 3D over which is draped a simple bedrock geology map. On the back of the map is a general description of the geology that helps provide an understanding of how the main rock types formed. Of course, it's not just the solid bedrock that we see but the superficial deposits that provide a thin veneer on top so in addition to providing information on the general geology, a description of the main superficial deposits and the features that result is also given.

But producing a map is one thing, checking how it functions in the field is another altogether. So on one of the wettest and windiest days in November a handful of us from GSNI together with two members of Mountaineering Ireland decided to test it in the Mourne Mountains, in Co. Down.

The day got off to a 'good' start when Alex Donald, Information Officer with GSNI tried to test our new Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), otherwise known as a drone. Even in the car park at relatively low levels the UAV would have been simply blown away so we had to shelve that idea for another day.

The view looking down valley (before the cloud came in).
Chief Geologist for NI, Dr Mark Cooper began by giving us an overview of the map and then we set off. Starting off at Meelmore Lodge with its stunning glacial features, we were treated to some interpretation by our Quaternary geologist, Dr Sam Roberson. We made our way up the track and lunched at an old granite quarry on what was apparently the calm side of the mountain. The high winds were only just beginning and our colleagues from MI started using the phrases 'a high level of grimness' and 'death zone'. But we are geologists in Northern Ireland and we could cope with this. As we continued upwards, on at least one occasion each of us managed to be blown over, with the smaller members of our group (me!) being blown over several times.

The view (or lack thereof) on our way up! 
Onwards and upwards we went, into horizontal rain and increasingly poor visibility. For all of our expensive outdoor clothing, all of us were starting to think that it was time to invest in upgraded equipment. We reached the Mourne Wall, a 35km wall used to mark the perimeter of the water catchment area for NI Water, and more importantly a place for shelter as we crouched down out of the strong winds. At this point we should have been getting spectacular views of the rest of the stunning Mourne Mountains with their glacially carved granite peaks. All we could see was rain! The paths that we were walking on were simply rivers, but we did manage to stop to have a look at some tuffasite (veins within the granite that formed during explosive events) that was lying loose along the way.

The sun came out as we walked back to the car park. 
We eventually began our descent and as we did so, the rain stopped and the cloud began to clear and we were able to catch glimpses of the glacial valley that we were walking down. We took shelter from the still very strong winds in an old quarrymen's hut. This time it was our colleagues from MI that were able to tell us about the granite quarrying heritage in the Mourne Mountains, something that has all but ceased.

As we reached the bottom of the valley, the rock type changed and this time it was Silurian metasediments. These were the original country rocks that the granite would have been intruded into about 55 million years ago. From a walkers point of view, these require a different approach altogether with their sharp edges and slippery surface. Although I can assure you, that falling on to the granite was no delight either, and I have the bruise on my shin to prove it.

But what about the map? Well we brought it out on several occasions to see what the various rock types were. Despite it acting a bit like a sail in the wind, and the exceptionally heavy rain that it was subjected to, it faired very well. It has been printed on waterproof paper and fits easily into a leg pocket so it is designed to be used in the field. We were also told by our colleagues from Mountaineering Ireland that a number of schools have requested to use the map so it is definitely being put through its paces. I'd like to think that the conditions that we took it through were some of the roughest that it could possibly experience so if it survived that, then it can survive anything!

Click here to download your free copy of From Rocks to Ridges.

No geologists were harmed during the writing of this blog

Monday, 14 December 2015

Rare minerals and community cohesion: impact through geological Kristine Pommert

BGS Executive Director John Ludden introduces the blog below, shared with us by Kristine Pommert from Bulletin after their recent Impact Skills Training: "As a world-leading geological survey, focusing on public-good science and research, we are required to generate and demonstrate the impact of what we do. BGS recently enlisted Bulletin to develop our skills in this area and we are delighted with what they have been able to achieve. Their recent blog summarises the positive results from their training and gives an insight in to further excellent results."

Before I say anything else about the British Geological Survey, I have to declare an interest: I like them. Not just because what they do is intrinsically interesting, which it is; and not just because they’re a good bunch of people to work with, either.

The geological walk at the entrance to BGS headquarters  in Keyworth 
The added attraction is what you walk into when you enter their headquarters at Keyworth near Nottingham: an Aladdin’s cave of a shop, featuring intriguing geological books and maps and – best of all - a wealth of covetable stones and minerals, with rows of boxes proffering colourful samples from agate to (if my memory serves me right) zebra jasper. And don’t get me started on those glass cases holding beautiful pendants with semi-precious stones, many far superior to what you find in regular jeweller’s shops.

But on Bulletin’s most recent visit, once I’d torn myself away from these distractions, we discovered things which were even more fascinating: a kaleidoscope of the impacts BGS researchers are achieving in the real world. In a series of coaching conversations, we worked with research teams from different areas to discuss their planned impact case studies for the next NERC evaluation exercise.

Measuring mine water temperature and chemistry 
The range of where and how BGS researchers are achieving impact is impressive: among the projects that have particularly stuck in my mind is one exploring the sub-surface of some of Europe’s major cities, providing governments and councils with a wealth of useful data for urban planning and regeneration purposes – even down to new options for harnessing heat from abandoned mines.

Another project examines the effects of fracking on groundwater, shedding light on an important aspect of a highly emotive public debate. Yet another explores the future availability of rare metals needed for digital and low-carbon energy technologies, allowing governments and industry better resource planning and all of us a better understanding of how our own consumption habits may impact finite resources.

And then there are the kinds of impacts you would never expect from geological research: such as the building of bridges between Protestants and Catholics from both sides of the border in Ireland through geological tourism projects. Perhaps the most spectacular of these projects is the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark near Enniskillen, which takes visitors through a natural underworld with stunningly beautiful cave formations – in the process uniting the two communities through a common interest exceptional features of their natural environment.

Bringing communities together in the
Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark
What makes coaching conversations such a valuable tool for developing impact case studies is that as often as not, new impacts emerge which no-one has thought of. In a discussion on landslide research, it came to light that fire services had changed their professional practice in direct response to the research findings: clear impact, but one which the case study author had not thought to include in her draft.

For me as Bulletin’s training lead, the two days’ of sessions at BGS were also highly satisfying for another reason: the case study drafts I was shown demonstrated very clearly that the impact training I had run there in 2014 had borne fruit. Almost all of the case study authors began their description of the underpinning research with a clear and convincing outline of the “real world” context that made their research relevant and desirable; and most had succeeded in choosing a manageable scope for their impact cases.

The BGS is part of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), which is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training, and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. The NERC reports to the UK government's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). There are, of course, considerable imponderables surrounding the next NERC evaluation exercise. Although the Nurse review has restored confidence in that NERC and the six other research councils will continue to exist (albeit under a different umbrella), we are still waiting to find out when the next evaluation will take place, and what exactly the rules will be.

Yet, as in the higher education sector, there is little doubt that impact will play a part. BGS research teams are doing well to start preparing their impact cases now. Many will need considerable development over time, but some solid groundwork has been laid.

So all in all, our visit to Keyworth felt eminently worthwhile. And who knows, I might yet find one of those beautiful pendants from that glass case in my Christmas stocking. At least I’ve encouraged my husband to pay a visit to the BGS shop.

Kristine Pommert is an impact and training consultant with Bulletin

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Going South Part 3: Doing some science! PhD student Rowan Dejardin

Rowan collecting samples from the seafloor sediment
As described in my previous blogs, I’m travelling south with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to collect samples from the South Georgia shelf, as part of my PhD (jointly funded by the BGS and the University of Nottingham, and within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry). Having dropped off a team of scientists and technical staff on the remote island of Signy we started heading north in the general direction of South Georgia. After a day of slow sailing through the brash ice we head in to open waters. Whilst we’re going to miss the ice behind, with its attendant penguins and seals, the entry into open water means it will now be possible to undertake some science! Also, a gigantic tabular iceberg, that fills the horizon at times, is soon sighted and keeps us company for much of the day, with other smaller bergs.

The first proper science deployment is the CTD, and impressive contraption made up of many instruments to measure a range of oceanographic properties, including conductivity, temperature and depth, and 24 bottles to take water samples at various depths. The first couple of CTD deployments are at locations where data has been collected in previous year and therefore add data to ongoing studies of the Southern Ocean. The instrument first descends to its maximum deployment depth (approximately 1km at these initial locations) continuously recording data as it goes. As the CTD ascends the bottles are activated by an observing scientist on the ship collecting water at different depths for later analysis.

The CTD equipment
Having deployed the CTD at two stations we then sailed to the location of a scientific mooring, known as P2. The mooring consists of a buoy, with a range of instruments measuring parameters such as pH, salinity, CO2, connected to the seafloor more than 3km below by a very long and strong Kevlar rope. Attached to the rope at various depths are sediment traps, measuring variation in sediment flux through the year, and water samplers. Once we arrive at the approximate location of the buoy an acoustic signal from the ship fires the releases and everyone rushes to the monkey island, at the top on the ship to watch out for the buoy breaking the surface. Despite being left in some of the roughest waters in the world the P2 mooring was just where it had been left, unfortunately after it was recovered to the ship it became clear that the buoy had been hit by a huge iceberg that had dragged it to a huge depth, damaging many of the instruments.

Humpback whales circling the ship
Whilst we deployed the CTD at the P2 location we could see whales blowing all around the ship, presumably feeding on the large krill swarm that was visible in the ship's acoustic data. Initially, the whales were quite distant from the ship but they slowly got closer and closer until a pair of humpbacks were circling the ship, repeatedly surfacing just a few metres away!! Apparently humpbacks are often quite curious and attracted to the noises of the ship and the scientific instruments, and this pair spent the next couple of hours hanging out with us.

Leaving P2, and the whales behind, we continued towards South Georgia where we would be resupplying bases at Bird Island and King Edward Point. On the way we were able to deploy the box corer to sample the sediment on the South Georgia shelf, the reason I joined the cruise! The box corer is essentially a big box with a shovel that closes when it hits the seafloor, collecting around 30cm of surface sediment. We were able to deploy the box corer at two locations, in around 250m water depth, and recovered sediment from both locations, in spite of the box corer failing to fire a couple of times! Once the box corer was on deck, I subsamples the sediment with my supervisor, Vicky Perk, collecting four cores and as much of the top 1cm of sediment as possible. I am now processing the sediment so that can study the foraminifera (a single-celled organism that grows carbonate shells in a range of beautiful forms) in the sediment. Observations of which species live in the surface sediment, under current oceanographic conditions, will inform how I interpret fossil data from the Holocene cores that make up my PhD project.

Rowan is supervised at the BGS by Melanie Leng, at the University of Nottingham by Sev Kender, and at BAS by Vicky Peck and Claire Allen. 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Symposium on former gasworks in Darren Beriro

The 6th International Symposium on Manufactured Gas Plant Sites (MGP 2015) held in the historical city of Ghent, Belgium, was a great success, with 150 delegates and speakers from five continents. The symposium was attended by consultants, remediation contractors, environmental regulators and site owners, making it both practical and applied
Panoramic photo of Ghent old town taken from the famous Belfry
 The relevance of MGP 2015 to BGS is the discussion around contaminated soil and groundwater present at former gasworks. Conferences like MGP 2015 play an important part in the regeneration and redevelopment of gasworks. This links directly to UK government policies on reuse of brownfields, facilitation of housing and the protection of human health from environmental pollution. The contaminants present at former gasworks are dominated by hydrocarbons, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). This is because the process used to produce the gas relies on the heating of coal (or similar fossil fuel) to high temperatures in a low oxygen environment, resulting in a number of by-products, residuals and wastes including coal tar.  These mainly organic chemicals are complex and are known to be hazardous to human health.

Tondelier former gasworks undergoing remediation on the edge of the city of Ghent
Author asking an inspired question!
The BGS contribution was made by Dr Darren Beriro in the opening presentation of the symposium entitled The Application of Bioaccessibility Testing to Assess the Human Health Impacts at Former Gasworks Sites. The talk gave a concise overview of the bioaccessibility of PAH in soils and made reference to BGS’ in vitro method  called FOREhST (Brownfield Briefing Best Scientific Advancement Award Winner, 2013) and a recently accepted paper on the dermal bioavailability of PAH in soil. Both pieces of work were funded by National Grid Property

In addition to the risk-based management and remediation of former gasworks there were also presentations on the role gasworks played in the industrial revolution around the world. This includes the contribution gasworks made to extending factory operating hours using gas lighting and the utilisation of gas as source of energy. For those that are interested further information about heritage and operational characteristics of gasworks has been produced by Prof. Russell Thomas (Technical Director, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff).

Inside a former gasholder at the Tondelier gasworks
As with any good conference there was a field trip. Instead of the typical jewel in the landscape crown of a country, this one was to the Tondelier Development project and involved descending into a former gasholder.

The conference was a very useful way to meet industry and regulatory representatives from across Europe as well disseminating new and forthcoming BGS science on risk-based brownfield management and redevelopment.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Going South Part 2: Signy Relief… by PhD student Rowan Dejardin

Rowan on board
As described in my previous blog, I’m travelling south with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to collect samples from the South Georgia shelf, as part of my PhD (jointly funded by the BGS and the University of Nottingham, and within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry).

A couple of hold-ups (to fuel the ship – important, and to get a replacement chef – very important!) meant that we were a couple of days late leaving the Falklands to head south. Whilst this was a bit frustrating it did mean we had a couple more days to explore the Falklands and see some more penguins. It also meant that we missed a big storm in the Drake Passage that had looked like it was going to make the crossing interesting, therefore our trip through some of the roughest seas in the world turned out to be quite peaceful!

The trail through the sea-ice left by the JCR,
seen from the stern of the ship 
The first job for this cruise was to drop off the BAS team who will be working on Signy through the summer, with their supplies. As we gradually got further south icebergs started to sporadically appear, becoming more and more frequent until the whole horizon turned white – we had reached the sea-ice ! Up until this point we’d been making good time and might have made up some of the time we’d lost earlier but the ice had been threatening for a while on the satellite images, looking thicker than is usual for this time of year.

A rare sunny view of Coronation Island
At times the sea-ice slowed the ship to a crawl and at one point we virtually stopped. Eventually we made it to Signy, nestled in the lee of Coronation Island, this is the most southerly place the ship would reach on this trip and at one point we were the second most southerly ship in the world!. The cloud lifted and the sun shone on an incredibly rugged landscape of jagged peaks and blue glaciers, surrounding the ship on all sides. The next couple of days were spent unloading the supplies for the Signy summer season and digging out the base form the winter snow, with a chance for everyone to set foot on proper Antarctica and get our passports stamped! The science that the team will undertake on Signy includes a census of the Adelie penguins on the island, the continuation of long-term monitoring of a specific Adelie penguin colony, and a study of lichen community structure. We also had a mini-expedition to collect some seaweed for another of the students on the cruise, which was very intrepid!

Leaving eight of our former ship-mates on the remote island we then set off back into the sea-ice to begin out journey north towards South Georgia. On the way north we’ll have the opportunity to conduct some of the first science of the cruise, deploying the CTD at a number of stations on route. The CTD takes a range of measurements, including conductivity, temperature, and depth, as well as collecting water samples from a range of depths. These water samples will mean that one of the other PhD students on the cruise, Jenny Freer from the University of Bristol, can start conducting her analyses, looking for the DNA of lantern fish.

The tender delivering people and supplies to Signy 

Rowan is supervised at the BGS by Melanie Leng, at Nottingham by Sev Kender and George Swann, and at BAS by Vicky Peck and Claire Allen.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

New appointment in the Stable Isotope Andi Smith

Me in the lab preparing lake sediments for
O and C analysis of carbonate
In early November Andi Smith was appointed as a Stable Isotope Geochemist in the Stable Isotope Facility (SIF) in Keyworth. Here Andi explains a bit more about his new role and some of the work undertaken within the SIF.

My Background… 
Before moving to the SIF I undertook a PhD at Lancaster University focused on the use of cave speleothem (stalagmite) deposits to reconstruct past climatic conditions in Northern Spain. As part of this project, I worked with staff at the SIF (my CASE studentship partner), undertaking the analysis of O and H isotopes in karst aquifer waters and O and C isotopes from speleothem carbonate. We used these stable isotope measurements to help trace seasonally variable water infiltration into the cave system and to reveal millennial scale fluctuations in European rainfall intensity over the last 12,000 years.

Following the completion of my PhD I moved to the SIF as the Isotope Intern. This position offered an excellent opportunity to get involved with a range of new sample preparation and analytical techniques and allowed me to diversify my areas of research interest. My new Isotope Geochemist role within the facility will allow me to continue to work in new areas of scientific interest, focussing mainly on the use of stable isotopes as tracers of environmental pollution, nutrient cycling and monitoring subsurface processes.

Me at my cave research site (Cueva de Asiul) in northern Spain
But what exactly do we do at the Stable Isotope facility?

SIF capabilities 
The Stable Isotope Facility provides analytical and scientific support for projects and scientists who wish to use stable isotopes to help answer a wide variety of environmental questions. This means that the current science team work on a diverse range of topics, from tracing the impact of modern environmental pollution within delicate ecosystems to the reconstruction of past climatic conditions over 500 thousand years ago. To cater for these projects the facility specialises in the analysis of different light stable isotopes in a number of materials; including O and H in waters, O and C in sedimentary carbonates, N, C and S in bulk organics (including soils and plants), Phosphate-O in soils, bones and teeth (soon also in carbonates) and N and O in nitrates. This diversity in techniques and our cutting edge analytical facilities means that the SIF works with a large number of collaborators both within the BGS and UK Universities, supporting a number of PhD students and postdoctoral researchers in the process.

Recent and future projects
To try and highlight the diversity of stable isotope applications I have selected two of our published projects from 2015.

The first, published in Environmental Science and Technology (led by Darren Goody, BGS) uses the oxygen isotope composition in phosphate (PO4), a relatively new stable isotope tracer, to assess sources of phosphate in drinking waters. The study conducted a series of tests on UK drinking waters and showed that the O isotope composition of P-O is primarily dependent upon the isotope composition of orthophosphoric acid used for dosing the waters, rather than original water source P-O composition. This study highlights the potential problems with phosphate pollution due to leaking mains water distribution systems.

The second study, published in Geology (with Andy Farrant, BGS) presents the first terrestrial climate record from southeast Arabia. This climate archive highlights several periods of increased rainfall and vegetation expansion during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 6 (ca. 160–150 ka), MIS 5 (ca. 130–75 ka), and during early MIS 3 (ca. 55 ka). These finding lead us to believe that there were multiple windows of opportunity for human dispersal out of Africa, linked to climate amelioration.
In the future, we hope that the SIF can also offer invaluable support to the wider projects within BGS, including using C and H isotopes of methane (CH4) to monitor methane pollution in groundwater’s and importantly help distinguish between biogenic and thermogenic methane sources.

How to work with SIF?
We work with a wide range of collaborators so if you think that your environmental research could be improved or diversified through the use of stable isotopes get in contact with one of the team!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The front line of geoscience - now with added Kirstin Lemon

Earlier this week, Unesco legally endorsed the new label of Unesco Global Geoparks, their first new programme in over 40 years. Many of us have known about Global Geoparks for years, but what are they, and why should we care?

A Unesco Global Geopark (as they are now known) is an area with internationally important geological heritage. Here in the UK, there is no shortage of that so what else is needed? Well for a start, they must have a sustainable tourism strategy which in simple terms means that these rocks and landscapes must be used used to attract visitors to the region. In addition, they must also work with and for their local communities, making them the ideal places to disseminate geoscience information.

Unesco Global Geoparks provide a perfect platform to engage with the public, in particular in topical issues such as climate change mitigation and geo-hazard awareness. Due to high visitor numbers, quite often Unesco Global Geoparks are the front line of geoscience. They are one of the few places where the general public can easily learn about geology, and understand more about the dynamic planet that we all share.

Geoplay in English Riviera Unesco Global Geopark
All of the Unesco Global Geoparks in the UK have very successful public science engagement programmes. Some of them are very innovative when it comes to geoscience communication such as the Geoplay Park in the English Riviera Unesco Global Geopark that tells the geological story of the Geopark area through a series of themed areas in a carefully designed play park. The North Pennines AONB Unesco Global Geopark have the Rock Detectives children’s geology club, something that has now been rolled out in many other Unesco Global Geoparks.

But it’s not all about geology for the public, many of the UK Unesco Global Geoparks have been involved with and still are involved in cutting edge research. Fforest Fawr Unesco Global Geopark, located in the western half of the Brecon Beacons National Park has been used as an outdoor research laboratory for years. Some of the recent research activities have been focused on Traeth Mawr, a peat bog that was a former lake. This important site is being used to apply new and innovative research investigating the effects of climate change and human activities using sediment DNA and pollen stratigraphy. This includes evidence for the introduction of grazing animals at the site and on plant and animal biodiversity from prehistoric times to the present day.

Cuilcagh Mountain, Marble Arch Caves Unesco Global Geopark
Marble Arch Caves Unesco Global Geopark is located in the limestone uplands of Co. Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, and Co. Cavan in the Republic of Ireland. The hydrogeology (or the way that the water flows through the rocks) of Cuilcagh Mountain, the iconic mountain that straddles the border,  has been studied for a number of years. A great deal of the research was specifically for the Geopark as it was important to understand the flow of water into the Marble Arch Caves from a public safety perspective. However, the research in this area is by no means complete and an application has just been made for funding to compile a karst database, with particular focus on the area on the Marble Arch Caves Unesco Global Geopark in a bid to fully understand the complex landforms and their distribution in the area.

Many of the Unesco Global Geoparks have been mapped and surveyed by the British Geological Survey and are areas of what are known as ‘classic geology’. The Highlands of Scotland have been the focus of research for over 100s of years and now the North West Highlands Unesco Global Geopark is part of that area. Over the last decade, the British Geological Survey has been revising the geological map of the area and has constructed a series of cross-sections that show the geological structure below the surface (click here to download). This extensive range of data is invaluable as it is used for providing information and advice to underpin a range of major infrastructure developments but is also a vital educational tool and helps in the understanding of this complex region. The island of Anglesey is now home to GeoMôn Unesco Global Geopark that has a complex series of landforms and sediments that formed during the last ice age. This distinctive ‘footprint’ is seen as gently rolling landforms and glacial sediments and these have been displayed and interpreted in the interactive Anglesey i-Map. These fantastic landscapes that have been mapped and survey over many decades have now been transformed into a valuable resource for school students, teachers, undergraduates and academic researchers.
Communicating geoscience in Geopark Shetland

Communication is an integral part of this research and Geopark Shetland have taken the role of Unesco Global Geoparks as geoscience communicators one step further. They been involved with organising ‘The Geological Fabric of Scotland’ supported by the University of Aberdeen’s Public Engagement Enabling Fund and the Scottish Government. The aim of this was to share and discuss geological research in Geopark Shetland, allowing geological researchers to communicate their results to the general public at a suitable level, and also to help alleviate the problem of miscommunication of scientific information.

The UK's seven Unesco Global Geoparks are a valuable chink in the armour of geoscience communication. They play a significant role in raising awareness of topical issues, and due to the strong infrastructure, expert local knowledge and associations with research institutions many of them have a key role to play in furthering out understanding of these internationally important sites.

For more information on the UK Unesco Global Geoparks, then click here.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Going South Part 1: How to get to the Falkland PhD student Rowan Dejardin

My PhD project (jointly funded by BGS and the University of Nottingham and within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry) is focussed on trying to reconstruct changes in ocean conditions through the last 15000 years around the Subantarctic island of South Georgia. The marine sediment cores that I’m working on were collected in 2012 by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) ship, the RRS James Clark Ross (JCR), that sails south every year to conduct a range of science projects in addition to providing logistical support to British Antarctic bases. Earlier this year I successfully applied for funding from the Collaborative Gearing Scheme to join a BAS scientific cruise sailing from the Falkland Islands in November, so that I could collect sediment samples that will allow me to calibrate the proxies I am using to reconstruct past conditions.

RRS James Clark Ross
The first challenge of this adventure is getting from the UK to the Falklands Islands! The simple way to get there is with the MOD operated flight via Ascension that takes around 20 hours. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks before we were due to fly, we found out that there wasn’t room on the MOD flight and we’d be flying with commercial carrier LANChile on a slightly more circuitous route that takes around 50 hours! In spite of the excessive length of this route it did provide to opportunity for a flying visit to Santiago, Chile, where we spent the night awaiting our connecting flight to the Falklands. As this followed the best part of 24 hours travelling from the UK, via a brief stopover in Sao Paulo, Brazil and absent bags in Santiago, we were all a bit dazed but managed to drag ourselves into the city for gigantic steaks and Pisco sours, the local specialities! Somebody had evidently informed the tectonic plates of the time of our early morning flight as we were woken by an earthquake just in time to grab some breakfast before heading off again. The ‘quake was small by local standards but pretty exciting for us tourists!

The spectacular views allowed by following the Andes south
from Santiago to Punta Arenas
Another advantage of this longer route was the spectacular views afforded by following the Andes south from Santiago to Punta Arenas (where we briefly landed to go through Chilean customs), before crossing the mountain range on our final leg of the journey to the Falklands. We finally arrived at Mount Pleasant airport two days after we set off and were driven through stunning Falklands’ scenery, full of jagged stone ridges and rivers of rock, to the port of Stanley, where the JCR was waiting for us!

The next couple of days were spent setting up scientific kit and making sure everything was securely lashed to the deck before set off to cross the unpredictable Drake Passage. In between this work we were lucky enough to get some free time to walk out to some of the islands’ beautiful white sand beaches were we saw a Gentoo penguin colony, a young elephant seal, a lonely king penguin, and tiny Commerson’s dolphins playing in the surf!! We’ve tested some of the new equipment (and I saw my first ever live foraminifera!) and we should be heading out to our first destination, Signy in the South Orkneys, in the next 24 hours or so. We’re all keen to start doing some science as soon as possible and I will endeavour to provide more updates on the progress of the cruise!
The wildlife on the Falklands 
Rowan is supervised at the BGS by Melanie Leng, at Nottingham by Sev Kender and George Swann, and at BAS by Vicky Peck and Claire Allen.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

A PhD on understanding the properties of shale rocks and their ability to hold gases…by Patrick Whitelaw

Hello, my name is Patrick and I have just started my PhD within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry, between BGS and the University of Nottingham Faculty of Engineering.  My research focuses on understanding the properties of shale rocks and their ability to hold gases specifically methane. Due to the commercial success of the US shale gas industry the UK has become increasingly interested in trying to understand how much gas is generated and stored within our shale reservoirs.  I will be comparing shale rocks matured under high pressure water pyrolysis conditions in the laboratory to natural shale rocks matured under geological conditions to understand gas storage as a function of maturity over geological timescale.

The aims of my research involve determining the ability of shale rocks to hold gas within their pores using high pressure methane isotherms, to characterise these pores using BET surface area measurements, as well as using Rock Eval to determine the ability of the shales to generate hydrocarbons. Together these techniques will allow a better simulation of how deep subsurface shales generate and retain gas, and overall a better estimation of the UK shale gas reserves.

Currently as I have just started I am focusing on becoming familiar with both the equipment I will be using during my PhD, such as Surface Area and Porosity Analysers (for BET calculations) and HPVA (for high pressure methane isotherms)  and high pressure pyrolysis equipment, as well reading the literature related to the subject.

My supervisors for this project are Dr. Chris Vane (BGS), Dr. Clement Uguna (BGS/University of Nottingham) and Professor Colin Snape (University of Nottingham).

Monday, 2 November 2015

The start of my PhD research into iodine Olivier Humphrey

Hi, my name is Olivier and I have just started my PhD within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (University of Nottingham and the BGS). My research revolves around iodine geodynamics and plant uptake. This is an important and worthwhile research project because iodine deficiency affects around 2 billion people worldwide. Iodine deficiency diseases (IDD) have a range of effects including goitre, growth impairment and mental retardation. My work will help to inform practical strategies to tackle iodine deficiency, such as correct land management and biofortification of iodine into crops. Parent material contributes very little to iodine concentrations is soils. Soil-iodine is predominately derived from volatilized methylated forms in seawater, which enter the soil-plant system via rainfall and dry deposition. Whilst coastal-proximity is an important factor in iodine concentrations, many other soil characteristics contribute to its mobility and availability once deposited in soils.

The main aims of my PhD research are to: develop methods for identifying organically-bound species in soil solution, investigate whether plant uptake is active or passive and to improve the model assessing the dynamic relationship of iodine in soils.

So far…I am becoming familiar with relevant literature and developing laboratory skills that will be required throughout the course of my PhD. I have been conducting microwave TMAH iodine extractions on vegetation samples collected from Tanzania and plan to measure total iodine concentrations in these samples using ICP-MS.

In order to accomplish the aims of this research project, a comprehensive array of laboratory experiments are required: pot trials, using a wide range of English soils, will be spiked with iodide and iodate in a variety of inputs methods, including (i) progressive addition in irrigation and (ii) initial addition. Grass will also be grown and I-129 isotopic labelling techniques used to distinguish the dynamics processes controlling iodine mobility and plant uptake.

The results of these experiments will ultimately lead to a better understanding of iodine geodynamics and will be used to develop a variety of practices to help improve iodine concentrations in food therefore reducing the number of people suffering from IDD.

More blogs when I get some data!

PhD is supervised by Dr Scott Young, Dr Liz Bailey and Professor Neil Crout (University of Nottingham) and Dr Michael Watts and Dr Louise Ander (BGS)

Friday, 30 October 2015

Soil Geochemistry for agriculture and Michael Watts & Martin Broadley

Four RS-DFID PhD students from Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 
In September we launched our Royal Society-Department for International Development (RS-DFID) doctoral training programme, Soil geochemistry for agriculture and health, in Harare.  The programme runs from 2015-2020 and is being co-ordinated by the joint University of Nottingham (UoN) / British Geological Survey (BGS) Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (CEG).

This is an incredibly exciting programme, involving core PhD projects based at partner institutions in Malawi (Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Department of Agricultural Research), Zambia (University of Zambia, University of the Copperbelt, Zambian Agricultural Research Institute), and Zimbabwe (University of Zimbabwe, Chemistry & Soils Research Institute). One PhD project is on understanding selenium/iodine dynamics in tropical soils (Ivy Ligowe, based in Lilongwe); one is on managing soil zinc and iron supply to crops in smallholder systems (Grace Manzeke, based in Harare); one is on metal speciation in soils affected by mining (Belinda Kaninga, based in Copperbelt/Lusaka).

There are other aligned PhD projects registered at UoN, focusing on wider agriculture and public health questions developed in collaboration with our African partners. These include Felix Phiri, a human nutritionist from Malawi (Director of Nutrition, Ministry of Health) who is aiming to develop urinary biomarkers of selenium status, and Elliott Hamilton, from BGS, who will work on improving our understanding of chromium speciation and bioavailability in tropical soils.  Elliott will work closely with Belinda in Zambia. Felix and Elliott are both combining part-time PhD studies with their day-jobs, and we hope to bring other students into the network on this ‘professional’ basis in the coming years. We have one more PhD full-time student within the CEG, Olivier Humphrey who will focus on the highly specific analytical method development for measuring iodine dynamics through elemental speciation and isotope geochemistry. Olivier’s work is very much linked to Ivy’s PhD, which will focus more on developing soil management strategies.
Delegates attending RS-DFID network-training event in Harare.

During a wonderful two weeks in Harare, hosted by the University of Zimbabwe, ~30 participants engaged with technical and generic training activities, as well as specific project development meetings. Training sessions included those on Geographical Information Systems (GIS), sampling/geostatistics, stable isotope techniques, ethics, data management and technical writing. Many people contributed directly and remotely.  The meeting also included an assessment of the projects capacity strengthening (CS) goals and guidance on using appropriate metrics tools to demonstrate progress from the Capacity Research Unit from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.  Our consortium chose the University of Zimbabwe for the programme launch in part because of their strengths in GIS.  The next training session will be in the UK in May 2016, then Lilongwe in September 2016.

There are many opportunities for developing new joint PhD projects, in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, UK and linking with activities elsewhere in Africa. There are also many opportunities for getting involved in specific training activities (participation and delivery!).

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Quality Accreditation in Inorganic Charles Gowing

The Inorganic Geochemistry Laboratories in Nottingham successfully achieved re-accreditation to the Quality Standard ISO 17025 (competence of testing and calibration laboratories) and the Environment Agency's Monitoring Certification Scheme (MCERTS) for soils.

The laboratories have held accreditation to ISO 17025 since 1998. Maintenance of this accreditation is by re-accreditation every four years and ongoing competence is assessed annually via external audit by independent experts from the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS). Accreditation for laboratory data output demonstrates a standard for the quality of analyses against an internationally recognised standard, namely ISO 17025.

Why is this important?

  • Many external clients in industry commission only laboratories who have appropriate accreditation for commercial or regulatory purposes.
  • Accreditation against ISO 17025 provides an internationally recognised Standard of quality that is accepted by our clients and partners around the world.
  • Accreditation provides confidence in the quality of data outputs which helps to bolster submissions for research funding to appropriate funding bodies.
  • Experience in evolving an accredited management since 1998 provides a wealth of experience when Inorganic Geochemistry are employed in overseas science partnerships or capacity strengthening projects e.g. Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Liberia, Malawi, Tajikistan, Zambia, Zimbabwe (see previous blog).

What is covered?
Analysis of water by ICP-MS. 
The scope of accreditation includes determination of cation, anion and aqueous parameter concentrations in natural and experimental water samples and for determination of pH in soil samples.

Although this does not cover all of our laboratory techniques it does cover the most common techniques required specifically by clients or regulatory authorities. Moreover, the IG laboratories management system is central to the ISO 17025 accreditation and all other methodologies and techniques are operated within this environment.

Why are not all of the techniques included in ISO 17025?

The IG laboratories provide a range of specialist analyses that are research focussed for our own activities or bespoke for external clients and collaborative research. Therefore, these methodologies require a degree of flexibility on a project by project basis that would not be possible to achieve with formal accredited status of individual methods and would not be cost efficient. However, the ISO 17025 environment and mind set is embedded within all of the IG activities to demonstrate confidence in data output, whether it is for bespoke analytical packages requested by clients or data reported through peer review publication.

Additional recognition of high data quality in Inorganic Geochemistry

The quality of the analysis we provide is reinforced by regular participation in independently organised Proficiency Testing Schemes, which supply samples for analysis blind to the analyst.

Analysis of river water by ion chromatography. 
The reputation of the Inorganic Geochemistry laboratories is recognised by our contribution to the Steering Committees of two of these schemes: Contest, run by Laboratory of the Government Chemist (LGC); and GeoPT, run by the International Association of Geoanalysts (IAG).

Inorganic Geochemistry routinely provides primary source analysis for candidate Reference Materials (RM) to a number of reference material producers, including Geological Surveys across the world, LGC and IAG, exemplified this summer by excellent performance in analysis carried out for 23 elements in a hard water standard (LGC 6026) and 4 anions in a River Water Reference Material (LGC 6020). In terms of accuracy, the data we provided were among the highest quality of all of the preferred supplier laboratories in the UK.

In addition, our excellence in this field is reflected as one of the preferred laboratories to some of the principle suppliers of certified reference materials to industrial and academic laboratories. The provision of reference materials is an opportunity for the future, with potential to reinforce the external reputation of the Inorganic Geochemistry laboratories.

Dr Charles Gowing is the UKAS Quality Manager for the Inorganic Geochemistry Laboratories in The Centre for Environmental Geochemistry.

Monday, 26 October 2015

The International Ocean Discovery Program (UK) Student Conference Rowan Dejardin

The Joides Resolution (JR), the IODP’s flagship vessel
(courtesy of UK-IODP).
In late September 2015 29 PhD students from across the UK headed to Northumberland to learn about the scientific work carried out by the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). After registering at the University of Newcastle the group were taken by coach to Allendale, in the beautiful North Pennines AONB, and the conference got off to an excellent start with a hearty meal! This was followed by a talk from Kate Littler, from the University of Exeter, describing a typical day in the life aboard the Joides Resolution (JR), the IODP’s flagship vessel, and an exciting live Skype tour of the JR. The first full day of the conference began with an introduction to the UK-IODP from conference convener Sean Burke, after which all the students presented ‘elevator pitches’ on their research, with the best pitch winning a spot presenting at the IODP general conference. This proved to be a very successful session revealing the wide range of science that is possible when working on material collected by the IODP, from the investigation of past climate to planetary formation, from evolution to invasive jellyfish! It was also a good opportunity to practice presenting research in a conference environment, vital to all early career researchers.

After an excellent lunch and following discussion of how to apply for an IODP expedition and the site survey requirements for such a proposal, led by Bridget Wade (UCL) and David Long (BGS), we moved on to the practical part of the conference: formulating a proposal for an IODP expedition! In teams of around six people our mission was to develop an expedition proposal, a process that would normally take many months, in less than 24 hours. The proposal needed to encompass as many of the four core research areas of the IODP science plan (Climate and Ocean Change, Biosphere Frontiers, Earth Connections, and Earth in Motion) as possible, in addition to being scientifically and logistically feasible, as well as safe.  After initial discussions, the team I was part of decided that we would be able to shoehorn all our various scientific objectives into one expedition to the Southern Ocean. Our objective decided we retired for yet another feast provided by our wonderful hosts at Deneholme House, to prepare ourselves for the busy day ahead!

A group photo of the delegates (and organisers) at the UK-IODP 2015 conference in Newcastle.
The morning of the final day of the conference proved to be a frantic one as we raced to gather the information that would allow us to present our proposal to the conference after 2 pm. Although the activity was quite frenzied will still found time to design a striking logo for our team’s proposal, an important part of any IODP expedition! Against all odds all five teams were able to reveal their proposals in a series of excellent presentations, with a very diverse range of scientific targets advanced, that stimulated a lot of feedback from the other students and the IODP scientists who were running the event.

The logo designed as part of the
conference to represent a
(fictitious) research proposal.
The meeting had been organised so that it was possible for attendees to head to the UK-IODP general conference, being held at the University of Newcastle the following day. This was a great opportunity to see proposals for future expeditions (with some interesting parallels with some of our own ideas!), preliminary results from recent expeditions, and the ongoing science from older expeditions.

Overall the student conference was a really useful event allowing all the attendees to meet up with lots of other researchers a similar stage in their careers, hopefully creating lots of contacts for future collaborations, as well as learning a lot about the work of the IODP and about the process of proposing an expedition. I look forward to being able to attend future events and would highly recommend any other PhD students working in this area to do so too.

By Rowan Dejardin (University of Nottingham and the British Geological Survey PhD student). Rowan is supervised at the University of Nottingham by Dr Sev Kender and Dr George Swann, at the British Geological Survey by Prof Melanie Leng, and at the British Antarctic Survey bd Dr Vicky Peck and Dr Claire Allen. 



Tuesday, 20 October 2015

How to heat a Ashley Patton & David Boon

Ashley Patton and Gareth Farr measuring groundwater temperatures
at the famous Brains Brewery using a specially adapted water
level ‘dipper’ equipped with a thermometer and conductivity meter.
No beer was consumed during the survey, honest! 
Ashley Patton and David Boon from BGS Wales explain how an exciting new project in Wales is helping to tackle fuel poverty through urban geology.   

For the last year BGS scientists have been monitoring shallow groundwater temperatures across the city of Cardiff, and surprisingly they found that the ground beneath the city is significantly warmer than expected. The heat lost from buildings and sewers in cities is naturally stored in the ground, as well as released to the atmosphere, in a process referred to as the ‘Urban Heat Island’ effect.  Our work has shown that, in Cardiff at least, this anthropogenic effect has increased the groundwater temperature from 11 to 14o Celsius in many places.  So why not use this abundant source of free, low-carbon heat to warm poverty stricken homes in the city?

To learn more about our project read on...

A flooded basement in the city centre shows
how shallow the water table is under the city. 
Cardiff, a city of some 350,000 people, was once the largest exporter of coal in the world, however the majority of its docks are now infilled and there has been significant urban redevelopment over the last 20 years. Cardiff is underlain by geologically young ‘superficial’ deposits such as estuarine and river alluvium deposited by rivers and marine waters, and sands and gravels deposited from glacial melt waters at the end of the last ice age.  The shallow sand and gravel deposits hold significant quantities of groundwater which can be readily accessed by drilling boreholes into the ground. Using 168 existing groundwater level monitoring boreholes distributed throughout the city we measured the seasonal temperature of the groundwater at 1m depth intervals using a thermometer attached to a long wire. In Cardiff groundwater is often encountered just 3-4m below the surface making GSHP systems more cost effective to deploy compared to standard deep borehole systems that require larger water pumps. The image on the right provides an interesting illustration of depth to groundwater below the city. We found that the groundwater in Cardiff is several degrees warmer than expected (Patton et al., 2015) making it an attractive prospect for the development of ground source heat systems. To help planners and developers make the most of this resource we produced a city-wide map showing the distribution of the groundwater temperature and it caused developers to reconsider their future renewable energy strategy for city.

A shallow groundwater temperature map for the city of Cardiff (average 2014 spring time temperatures, in degrees Celsius) (after Patton et al., 2015). 
A local partnership formed between the BGS, City of Cardiff Council, Cardiff Harbour Authority and WDS Green Energy Ltd led to a follow-on project funded by Energy Catalyst InnovateUK in 2015. As proof of concept for a city-scale underground heat capture system, we are installing an open-loop ground source heating system in a local nursery school and monitoring the sustainability of the system.  Boreholes have been drilled to abstract water from the sand and gravel aquifer. The video below shows a cable percussion (or shell and auger) drilling rig installing one of the boreholes to be used for the ground source heating system.  Groundwater will be pumped from the aquifer so it can be passed through a heat exchanger, then returned into the ground via a second borehole. This type of system is called an ‘open-loop’ ground source heat pump. The heat we remove will be used to generate hot water to keep the school warm during the winter, whilst also helping to increase energy security, as well as reducing CO2 and our reliance on conventional fossil fuels.

Future work in 2015/16 will involve analysis of groundwater temperature and chemistry data, and installation of the first telemetered urban groundwater temperature network in the UK, which you will shortly be able to view live via a BGS Webportal. We are also creating a 3D geological model to support subsurface planning and sustainable integration of future systems.  Watch this space...

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Urbino Summer School in Paleoclimatology… by PhD students Hennie Detlef and Amy Sparkes

Hennie Detlef 
From 15 July to 1 August, 71 students from all over the world came together in the small town of Urbino, Italy to attend the 12th Urbino Summer School in Paleoclimatology (USSP). After several long hours spent travelling, at times asking ourselves why anyone would choose such a small, relatively remote town for a summer school, we finally arrived and the reason instantly became clear. Urbino, a World Heritage Site set in the spectacular hills of the Marche region, has retained most of its beautiful old town with the university and accommodation situated right in the centre!

The scientific backgrounds of the students were as diverse as their nationalities, but all of us had at least one thing in common; an eager interest in how the Earth’s system and climate has evolved through the past. It was great to engage with a wider scientific community of young researchers all interested in the same area. USSP illustrated the breadth of palaeoclimatology as not only the students but also the faculty, an amazing group of scientists researching at the forefront of our field, was as varied as it possibly could be.

USSP Field Trip 
After an icebreaker party on the first evening, lectures began the next day. The first week was spent learning about basic palaeoclimatological approaches, including biostratigraphy, the construction of age models, climate modelling and sessions on biotic and geochemical proxies. After a one day field trip to the PETM and the K-T boundary, sessions became more analytical with orbital analyses of data collected in the field, providing some hands-on experience with “astrochron” and climate modelling in general. Towards the end of the summer school we travelled through Cenozoic time learning about the newest insights on key geological intervals, from the PETM to the Holocene. Not only did the lectures prove invaluable; so did the interaction with both faculty and other students during poster sessions and breaks. This opportunity was more than helpful, enabling us to discuss our research, exchange ideas, seek opinions on our research questions and data interpretation and foster future collaboration possibilities. Even though it could be a little intimidating to approach some of the world-leading scientists in our field, they encouraged discussion and were always happy to help.

Amy Sparkes 
We were fortunate enough to attend USSP with the help of an ECORD scholarship and would recommend attending USSP to anyone interested in palaeoclimatology. It is a fantastic opportunity to advance your knowledge of fundamental palaeoclimatological principles and increase your understanding of how proxy data interpretation and climate modelling interact. Best of all, it is a chance to meet like-minded people at the same stage of their research careers. The last day in Urbino felt a bit like the last day of summer camp when you have to say goodbye to all your new friends and go back to reality, but everyone went home bursting with new ideas and enthusiasm about their research! We are very grateful to all those who made USSP such a fulfilling and unforgettable experience. This year’s USSP shirts are green and pink, so watch out for us at the next Conference!

By BGS BUFI student Hennie Detlef with help from Amy Sparkes (both from Cardiff University)

Hennie is being supervised by Dr Sindia Sosdian, Dr Carrie Leah, Prof Ian Hall (Cardiff University) and Dr Sev Kender, Prof Melanie Leng (BGS).